Friday 8 June 2012

News of Dana

I was at the airport with two of my children on 3 June, waiting for the Dana aeroplane that was to fly us from Lagos to Abuja. It never arrived. At the airport, the news of the plane crash started off as a rumour but quickly became a horrible reality. It was terrifying for the people who were waiting for their loved ones at Arrivals.  Many Nigerians have been affected by this tragedy, one way or another but things can never be the same for those who lost family members and friends. 

I dedicate this poem to those whose love will always remain with us.

News of Dana
(for those we lost in the Dana Plane Crash- 3 June, 2012)

Before it arrives,
We recline on the cold metal seats
Of the departure lounge, chat idly.

It filters through the aisles
Until we mouth the word ‘crash’,
Speak plainly to God about His mercy.

Our phones die quickly
From the din of anxious kin. 
They have heard it too:

Beak broken, wings ablaze,
Dana has fallen out of the sky.

It penetrates our portable pads like poison,
We ignore the forty-four feet chasing leather
On local screens. 

At arrivals, the joy of expectation takes off.
Tongues fold back, hearts pump,
Fear presses a nail on hope’s vein. 

The horror is made true in images -
flames fanning a tail feather.
Then the flight manifest creeps into the conference room

Here, a terrifying call and response.
For every name, a chord is broken.
For every letter, a new reckoning with loss:

Of a father who will never come home.
Fingers fumble and scratch at numbers.

Of a mother who will never soften or soothe.
Legs weaken and bladders split open.

Of a sister whose face will frame a condolence register.
The concrete floor cannot comfort them.

Of a brother who will only be liked on a facebook page.
The walls offer no relief to the palms that pummel.

Of a child who will never whisper in deep sleep.
This is neither night nor a dream?

A firm embrace for the grieving,
one heart beats the other.
We must hold on to the living
In this moment of melancholy.
The degrees that separate rise,
And clotted blood thins
into a common stream.

-Lola Shoneyin

Friday 2 April 2010


The UK edition of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives will be launched on the 6th of April at Daunt Books, Holland Park. If you are in London, come along for an evening of palm wine and akara. I'll be signing books and reading from the novel. The wonderful thing is that you'll be able to buy it two days before it actually hits the shelves.

Hope to see you there.
LS xx

Listen to my interview with Harriet Gilbert on the BBC World Service programme
The Strand

I'm also on Women's Hour on Tuesday the 6th of April.
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Friday 19 February 2010

Blurbs and Launches

The UK edition of my novel went to press on the 17th of February. It's funny because I still have nightmares about the text being upside down when I open the book for the first time. Obviously, this won't happen but I can't help but feel exposed. I am very excited though. I have the same publishers as Alain Mabankcou so I know I'm in really good hands.

I got a blurb from the lovely Petina Gappah! She blogs here and you should check her out. Her blogs are beautifully-written and I have learnt a lot from her this week. Some recently-published writers refuse to write blurbs but not Petina. I put it down to a real generousity of spirit and the ability to be genuinely happy about other people's successes. And guess what? She described the book as a "jewel". In case you didn't know (knock, knock, Nigeria) Petina Gappah wrote An Elegy for Easterly which won the Guardian First Book Award.

This week, friends and family, lost a lovely man. Rufus Orisayomi passed on on the 18th of February. He was a painter, photographer and film-maker. I used to plait the one lock of hair he had at the back of his head and attach a cowrie to it. He would travel across London just to have it done. RIP, Pappy-Ru! I still can't believe you're gone. I will miss you a great deal.

On the 25 of this month, my new book of poems, For the Love of Flight (Cassava Republic) will be launched at JB's Grill. I am very excited. I'm having a book party so come along, not just to listen but also to have a shot at the mic yourself. Where having an open mic session.

Here's a preview of the collection.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Book Covers

Just thought I'd share my book covers with you.
This is the UK edition (Serpent's Tail) which will be out in April 201o.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Bath Day

Bath Day

Strange how the morning

you spend a lifetime trying to forget

is the one you want most

to remember.


Stranger still,

how joy can be rinsed

from a moment set apart

for laughter,

leaving the memory frayed

like a threadbare rag.


Morning at the ward.

Women coo-calm infants

fresh from the womb.

Nurses, heavy of hip, roll round beds

with padded hands.

All morning the mantra: breast is best.

All morning they latch open mouth

to swollen breast.


I am in awe of the worm

I spewed that morning,

I watch it squirm

at the unrest of our world.

It jolts at every whimper,

jumps at every whine.

I wish I could swallow it,

save it from earthly rustlings.


By afternoon,

incessant cry and tear-glazed eye

tell me my august visitor

is a task master.

He who must be fed like a seed,

he whose bottom must be wiped,

whose suckling cuts my nipple

and makes me bleed.


Mid afternoon,

the bathroom is free

for me to wash away the shame of birth

‘Clean up for Daddy!’ a nurse teases.

That word rattles a silenced bell clapper.

My insides ring.

I kiss Augustus and bolt

the door behind me.


God! How the silence of the tiny room asserts itself.

The echoes flush me to the drain

but I stand firm. One and whole.

Then, quite unexpectedly,

pain seeps from every pore.

Yowl begets wail begets howl

for wounds that will never scab,

for the abscess of afterbirth.

Sunday 8 February 2009

Recent Work

Just thought I'd draw your attention to an article I wrote that appeared in The Times.  I am also doing a weekly blog for Next so check it out if you have time. 

Friday 15 August 2008

Writing Poetry Again...

I know I have been very poor at updating my blog but hear me out!

For the last year or so, my hands have been very full. I've been completing my novel while cracking on with my full time job and raising four children. The good thing is that these summer holidays, for the first time in years, I've had a little time on my hands, time which I have devoted to new writing.

This has been very exciting for me because I'm writing poetry again, after a three-year drought! In all those years, it was fiction, fleshing things out, sharpening the eye and all that business. Now, at last, I can compress my thoughts into a compact piece. I have found this truly liberating!

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting some of my new poems here and on my website. I will also be sharing the publication details of my novel with you.

Anyway, I would like to share one of my poems with you. I would love to hear your comments.

For Kiitan

(Who is not forgotten)

I remember the ease with which

I stride into St Mary’s,

bosom full. Your sister, newly weaned,

clings to my hip.

Twice I’ve been there so I am unafraid.

‘An old hand,’ I call myself.

Stroke my expanding stomach

with fondness. This one will be my prince.

In the waiting room, I wince,

watch other women strain

to balance wombs on benches,

lest waters drain away.

A ray of light baptises us, burns our necks.

A cheery nurse muddles my name;

a mother’s name ought to be heavy

on the common, unholy tongue. I follow.

The table is green. On it, a soft paper sheet uncurls

like a worn-out wave at dusk. I lie belly up.

Glub glub, farts the gel.

The young doctor smears it belly down.

The ray of light is back. Its wand

shines a halo on the screen.

Shadows swim round the room.

I nearly miss the doctor’s wrinkled brow.

Is there something wrong? I ask.

I read her thoughts like a new scroll:

What should I tell her; how did she guess?

Yes, she says, and leaves me scrambling for her tailcoat.

Frozen, I lift to my eyes to the hallowed screen.

What could be wrong with my blue-blooded ball?

Another doctor marches in. She is older,

has a face like rubber and two honest chins.

It doesn’t take her long to find my prince’s cracks,

his imperfections. She tells me

his nerves will never ripen

and his brain is already shrivelled like a rotten nut.

I don’t wait to hear the rest of it:

how it came to be or what made him so.

Instead I fall to the hard, pitiless floor,

splayed out and twisted — an over-beaten rug.

They lead me to a small, windowless room.

A plastic vase adorned with dusty flowers.

An empty bookshelf. A large, luxurious sofa.

Tissues for tears. I wipe away the hours.

Here, they tell me the things I won’t believe:

that he will be born still, if born at all,

that he will be unsightly, ungainly, unprincely,

that it will be better to scratch him from my womb.

How little they know me, I think,

through deep-belly sighs and red, unseeing eyes.

I clutch my belly so my palms form a shield.

Perhaps they will forget he is there and let him be.

In the car, I am beside myself,

un-comfortable and desperate for someone

to blame, someone to name,

someone to feel as torn, as insane.

Weeks wonder by. I drag myself through streets,

questioning female forms, wary of open faces.

I don’t smile back. There’s a pink slip in my bag:

my appointment card —my menstrual rag, my price tag.

I don’t know that my body goes to the ward with me

but two will go and only one will return.

I feel like Abraham dragging Isaac at the altar,

only I won’t lay my prince on leaves and dry twigs.

The nurses are a transparent white.

Archangels of death, they swoop in, read notes,

rub the back my of quivering limbs.

Breath out, breathe in, they sing.

I tell the consultant I want to be asleep

but he says I’m too far gone.

I must push my prince into the world.

O empty arms! O wasted teat!

An archangel hands me a large purple pill.

Swallow it quickly, she whispers.

I place it on my tongue. It is poison

to stop my prince’s pulse.

Next, she digs a drip into my arm.

Veins narrow, fists tighten.

Blood battles bag. My body will not give in.

Eyes split and spill onto the pillow.

You will feel a heaviness when it comes, she says.

Here’s a bedpan and here’s a lid.

I cannot bear the way she refers to him. It!

Like he’s nothing but a hefty shit.

Soon, pain takes me hostage.

My stomach is cuffed, thighs bound together.

My prince does not want to leave my warmth;

I don’t want my warmth to leave my prince.

A weight drops from my womb.

I summon all strength and squat

over the bedpan. He falls from me like a coffin.

I replace the lid —graveside dust.

I can’t bear to watch her look at him.

She asks if I would like to bury him.

I mumble something about donation to medical science.

There isn’t a spot in the garden that’s worthy of him.

Instead, let him be enthroned in a crystal jar,

be revered and worshipped like a fallen star.

And let this be inscribed with a platinum pen:

‘To be collected by mother.’ Son, till then.


More later...

Tuesday 29 May 2007

In the seven years that I have been living in the UK, never have I felt a greater urge to be home in Nigeria. My reason is simple: I want to be one of those who boldly and proudly attend the funeral of Dare Odumuye who passed away not long ago, age forty-one. I can already hear those who do not speak Yoruba wondering why he was named ‘Dare’. Dare’s full name was Oludare which means ‘the Lord had judged in my favour’. Dare was fourth of five children born to a lawyer, Femi Odumuye and Gbemi Odumuye, a civil servant.
My father and Dare’s are from Ilisan-Remo and both travelled to England to study in the 60s, our families have been linked through the years in various ways. For instance, we both lived in Old Bodija, Ibadan in the 70s. Dele, my brother and Dare were agemates although Dele went to Bodija International School and Dare went to Maryhill Convent School. He was an excellent student. So studious was he that his Dad promised to buy him anything he wanted for his tenth birthday if he managed to come at least third in his primary 5 exams. Dare came second and couldn’t make up his mind what to ask for. He approached my brother for advice and Dele urged him to ask for a bicycle. On hearing his son’s wishes, Dare’s father sighed and said, ‘I just hope this thing you’re asking for won’t kill you.’ Dare’s arm was still in plaster from a previous bicycle accident. He got his bike all the same.
I went to the same university as Dare and although he left 3 years before I was admitted, people still talked about him and speculated about his sexuality. I found it refreshing, even then, that he was not remembered with the collective disapproval that all things remotely connected to homosexuality are met. Dare was talked about with fondness. I put this down to his personality; he was generous, worldly and fun-loving. He loved to dance, was known to enjoy a booze-up and was incredibly popular with the girls to whom he was both protector and friend.
It was not until 1990, when I began escaping to Lagos at weekends to sing at Jazzville that I started seeing Dare again. He would wrap me up in his big arms and plant a giant kiss on my lips. He liked to refer to me as aburo- younger sibling. When I started writing in the mid 90s, Dare would always make it a point of duty to let me know how proud he was of me. He would tell me the newspaper he’d seen my work in and quote lines from poems he’d read.
Those who knew Dare as a child were perhaps not surprised when he founded Alliance Rights, Nigeria (ARN), Nigeria’s first gay rights organisation. He was unapologetic for his love for beautiful things and unashamed of his large frame. He was so comfortable in his own skin.
I was surprised when I saw Dare a few years ago and he told me he had become a born-again Christian in the Anglican Church. This declaration immediately brought questions to my mind as I knew how vehemently the Anglican Church in Nigeria rejected homosexuality. He said he believed fighting for gay rights was his ‘calling’. I found it ironic that he so readily embraced an institution that suggested he was immoral and unworthy of God’s mercy. Dare’s email address was babalobi@ which Meaning ‘born of God’. He was an embodiment of all that is good about Christianity, much unlike those who proclaim that homosexuality is ungodly. What sort of God creates people only to condemn them?
Dare was a fighter and the manner in which he stood up for what he believed in should put most Nigerians to shame. Too often, we sit on the fence when we should be fighting against the world’s injustices or at least supporting those who are in the thick of such struggles. Dare was a flag-bearer, a revolutionary and a trail-blazer. He was undaunted in his struggle for gay rights in Nigeria and beyond. We have much to learn from people like Dare. We need to think more about the bigger picture and not just the small lives that we lead. Dare only saw the bigger picture.
He found out he was HIV positive in 2001. Did he curl up and lose his zest for life? No! Did he decide his life was over? No! Did he embark on some sick revenge trip? No! He was determined to live the rest of his life positively: contributing to HIV awareness campaigns; creating a safe haven for gay and lesbian Nigerians; campaigning for safe sex.
For me, Dare will always be an inspiration. I will miss his big kisses and bear hugs. I will miss reading about his animated debates with homophobic institutions. Most of all, I will miss knowing he is there, being strong, brave, living his life without a hint of self-pity. He was something special.
I know you are wherever it is that good people go. Sun re o, egbon mi, Dare.