A Contrastive Analysis of Ayoola’s “spirits I” and Ayinla’s “How men die I” by Ola MacWayh, M.A.

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Poetry is a spiritual endeavor, in that a poet is thrown into a passage. Of flight — into a peaceful vastness — unprecedented transitions— consequently, conscious, unconscious trappings into the very soul of variant thoughts are birthed.


This form of poetry in its entirety is light. Light, however, in this sense, is used as a defining factor for illumination and as a direct opposite to heaviness which a poet engages to achieve a fine elevation and arrival. It is important to reiterate that the transition into poetics is paramount on peace — in all its extensive connotations.

It is quite intriguing to find out that the above perception is practically true when a reader engages in a deliberate literary dissection of Ayoola’s ‘spirits I’ and Ayinla’s ‘How men die I’. It is equally marveling how one is completely captivated into the hearts of these two poets through the compelling objectivity of their weaves right from the take off—through the middle— down to the climax. One would wish the poems are not ended. Each line burning with a gripping poignancy and one is left awe-struck in transit.

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Of a note and based on the objectivity of this critique, both poetic explorations are stringed on different thematic foci, which of course is sensitive on the challenges in the poets’ immediate environments, the world at large and the constant crave for healing.

Ayoola’s ‘spirits I’, in its simplistic experimentation and profound creativity, explores pertinent issues in the areas of concern for world welfare, political orientations, societal responsibilities and selfhood, mutual coexistence and peace; drawing a precise element of racism through the symbolic feature of the “piano”:

“i am a finger on many keys

i don’t know why i feel racism started from here

on a piano

why keys feel like languages

blacks on top and whites down

is this racism?

why C-major all whites

is this also racism?” (spirits I)

While Ayoola’s spirit dwells on diverse issues in his poem, Ayinla’s takes a sturdy poetic stance on feeding our intellectual repertoire about death and how men acquire it. He draws his pen on the issues of homosexuality and feminist orientations. Is this a condemnation? Perhaps, the poet, through the eyes of his poem, intends to bring to the readers’ awareness how these currently celebrated ideas are subtle shades that kill us and we do not know. Or— in clear terms, how men (male and female) have deliberately prepared themselves a life of tugs and a death trap. In a way, Ayinla’s poem connects us to a channel to live; like how his father did:

“i will write the future of men in the index finger

that led my father through the facade

of heaven and gave him his reward

peace” (How men die I)

An expo as such where life is traded for dead men to take a U-turn to life; as a way of saying “what you know cannot kill you”:

“and you shall know your deaths

and it shall set you free…” (How men die I)

Ayoola’s and Ayinla’s language use is inseparable. Simple on the surface outlook, but then, is embellished in depth. A reader is led into a prophetic parlance that holds significance first to the poet; as a prophet— and poetry, as a medium of creation and preservation of arts:


let us write poetry in our own image…’’ (spirits I)

since the days of John

poetry has become a chronicle of many deaths… (How men die I)

Within the grip of the language, both poets bend—consciously in control of the language— to drive the messages in their poems to the fore. The voices within the confines of the language use are of confidence and almost explosive. Ayoola’s “spirits I”, while expressing his heartfelt condolences to victims of disasters, uses the Haiti experience of “Matthew Hurricane” to illustrate the political instability and domination in the black nation using his country as a setting:

“my city is not without a storm

men here are cyclones


take the road up the valley in my veins

you shall find a field of dead dreams

i must tell you—

matthew was once a still water

last night when he became president his first request was a garment of storm…” (spirits I)

A “little black bird” is connotatively deplored to represent Africa at heart. It is interesting to find that this is also a deliberate deconstruction from the attached cliché of a black bird to represent evil. The “hen” is a metaphor to represent negligent black leaders who leave their own to the peril insecurity and loss. The use of “song” and the “piano” portrays an electrifying illumination.

As earlier observed, Ayinla’s “How men die” does not fail to create complex threads of thoughts in the beauty of simple language. He uses “father” to interpret death and dying in piece. The “father’s radio” also comes handy to introduce the ecstasy of sensual onomatopoeias:

“this room is for two opposites

-of hairs and sweats colliding with bust and tears

a mirror of my grandpa’s senescent radio

which screams at the input of cells inside its anus-” (how men die I)

The drawing of contrast with between “peace” and “flames” is of an important note, where the poets takes essentiality in the reader’s imagination of the transitions of his father to peace. One is left to wonder— and perhaps question, if crossing to peace is actually a difficult ordeal. The paradoxical use of “Adam and Steve” to suggest “homosexuality”, the pertinent questions introduced in the poem with the use of symbolism such as “Pencil and Eraser”, Stranger and Map”, “House and Roof” are of a note in the poem to interrogate feminism.

Ayoola’s and Ayinla’s poem experimented on free verse which aids expressiveness, rather been confined, in the case of experimenting on rhymes and patterns. Ayoola’s “Spirits I” and Ayinla’s “How men die” are made up 6 stanzas respectively and while Ayoola’s poem has 53 numbers of lines, Ayinla’s has 34. Just like E.E Cummings’ style of writing in lower cases, both poets lend their thoughts in the same pattern of orthography, except for Biblical names in Ayinla’s poem which are capitalized.

Imagery creates beauty and gives poems a special effect on readers. Both poems utilize this aptly. Ayoola’s “spirits I” invites the readers to travel with him in his transitions— a kind of conversation into heights of exposure: something I would call “spirits travelling”

It is relevant to state that these poems are metaphysical in nature through the poets’ similar poetic patterns of transitions, language and departure.


let us write poetry in our own image…’’ (spirits I)

I think this is deliberate move in Ayoola’s poem and equally significant: a kind of introduction to create a new world of poetry. A reader, without the thoughts of delay, is plunged into imaginations. In the same vein, Ayinla’s poem, with the first two lines, opens his readers into his poetic insights; a significant endeavor to mark off the intent in his poetry:

“since the days of John

poetry has become a chronicle of many deaths…” (how men die I)

Ayoola takes us, through his poems, into his teeth, flings us into nights, a dead dawn, into “the belly of a crimson sun” Within a twinkle of an eye, we are found in his bones, running through Haiti and victims of water, out of water into political scenes. We quickly metamorphosed into a black bird brooding over a foolish hen. He rolls us into his thoughts, into the selfhood of a poet struggling with himself and finally on the clef of the piano where racism is questions. Ayinla, like Ayoola, in a conscious effort, also touches our eye to see his father exit into peace; he draws our imaginations to “fire” “spirits” and “gods”— Elysium. He takes us into “rooms” compelled our ears to stay at “his father’s radio”. We see “Adam and Steve” and we are quickly taken to symbolisms—Pencils to Poetry—to question feminism. The obvious use of biblical allusions is profound in both poems. From this, one can easily imply the religious orientations of both poets. There is also brilliant use of metaphors, conceits, similes, contrasts and oxymoron. The tone and the mood in the poem are similar; agitations, lamentations and pathos are predominant elements in both poems. At this point, one is tempted to ask if Ayinla is Ayoola’s protégé.

Finally, the intent of art is change; beyond poetic beauty and creative use of language. And here Ayoola and Ayinla have kindled a refined fire to clear the harmattans of societal ills through their extended poetic prowess. It is then our responsibility to open our eyes and see.



Ola MacWayh is a Professor of English, Celebrated Poet, Author, and Literary Scholar.

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