Chapbook Review: Chibueze Obunadike’s Smoke Is Just A Fancy Word for Burning is a dissection of the human condition and a discussion about the stigma surrounding mental health | Temitope Abigail Larayetan


Pause, take a moment to think about the title of Chibueze Obunadike’s chapbook. It reminds me of the popular saying “there is no smoke without fire”, which is without doubt, faultless. Now that you have really thought and understood it, prepare to look at your inner self in the mirror of Obunadike’s poetry which according to him;

Focuses on the different ways we all burn, whether we are set on fire in the mouth of a lover’s desire, or in battle with ourselves, or from the charred pages of a dark past, and how these burnings can manifest like smoke, silent but extremely deadly, seeping into our actions. We don’t need to see the fire to validate the smoke, which is visible across the events of our daily lives, choking everything we do. We are already burning. We don’t need to vocalize our trauma to give them permission to exist. The smoke is already visible, rising, and all we are trying to do is make it out alive.

And I agree. This is reminiscent of Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis that explores unconscious ore repressed thoughts, desires feelings and memories (www.simplypschology.org/psychoanalysis).

Away from Freud, how does Chibueze Obunadike’s Smoke Is Just A Fancy Word for Burning explore smoke and fire in relation to humanity? Bear in mind that the content and context of Obunadike’s work is “centred around self and identity; the human nature and the fragile openings (wounds) through which we experience the rest of the world.”

The author wastes no time in jumping into the confines of psychology. In “Rainy Days,” which is the first poem in the collection, he interrogates the place of therapy as a cure for depression. Even though “this poster on the therapist’s wall says/there is no key to happiness/the door is always open,” he has to pay and sit behind “closed doors” to find when his “happiness escaped.” The poet persona also goes on to express frustration at the fact that he cannot “locate exactly where the rot begins” for something that wants to kill or rather wants him to kill himself. Still, he hopes for days when he would no longer be wet by the “dark cloud” of depression. Obunadike’s decision to bring the issue of depression to the forefront of his collection is appreciated by individuals, particularly creatives who live with the depression condition especially in societies where it is not discussed. Nonetheless, sends a message on the importance of hope in the midst of dark clouds. The poet seems to say Obunadike, “I see you and someday, it will get better.”

In the eponymous “Smoke Is Just A Fancy Word for Burning”, Obunadike dissects the idea behind his collection. As in his author’s note, he investigates and shares the foundation of his smoke, the cause of the burn he now experiences in adulthood. “My depression has the nasty habit of wearing my father’s face/ every poem is a burning house from my childhood. Even though he does not blame his father, the memories of his “father’s belt (which) is a two-teethed beast,” among other disturbing memories are etched in his head thus, he has to write to “self-therapize.”

Although it does not seem so, the poet persona’s decision to trace the origins of his depressive episodes is the first step to quenching his flame because these memories exist as long as the boy exists. His writing about it is also significant because several writers all over the world, myself included, started writing as an outlet for life’s many hurdles.

In conclusion, Chibueze Obunadike’s Smoke Is Just A Fancy Word for Burning is a double-edged sword; a dissection of the human condition and a discussion about the stigma surrounding mental health in Nigeria from the perspective of one who lives it. Still, it is not harsh about it, only shares stories and leaves you to be the judge.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Temitope Abigail Larayetan, a three-time Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP) outstanding entrant, is a graduate of English Language and Literature from the University of Lagos. Temitope’s short story was published by Farafina in the International Sisi Eko anthology. She currently blogs at “Medium” where she wrote every day of 2019 as a personal challenge.

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