Title: Dead Dogs Don’t Bark
Author: Tolu Akinyemi
Publisher: UK Book Publishing
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
From the author of Dead Lions Don’t Roar comes another poetry volume, Dead Dogs Don’t Bark. Tolu Akinyemi’s collection of over 160 poems is subtitled “Poetic Wisdom for the Discerning”, and the reason isn’t farfetched. He isn’t interested in art for the sake of it. He sees himself, rather, as an artist on a mission to inspire flagging spirits, to turn their lives around.
For a dog to bark and bite, it has to be alive. Once it is dead, it is the end of the road. The same goes for a human. While alive, you can make hay. Once dead, dreams die with the corpse. In order words, don’t procrastinate to actualise your visions now that you still have the chance.
From Newcastle to Manchester; from Nigeria to the United States, the author weaves lines that makes us regurgitate facts about existence. Lifestyles that don’t add value to humanity are disparaged by the poet. Instead, individuals who have made their mark are recognised as exemplary. The bottom-line is: yes, you can make it.
Akinyemi is one of those poets who believes that, for poetry to gain a wider readership, the diction must be accessible to all. Hence, in Dead Dogs Don’t Bark, he sacrifices the esoteric for the simple; the symbolic for the commonplace; the ornamental for the lyrical. So, if you are not sold to poetry, you can’t run away from this one.
Reading Dead Dogs Don’t Bite, one gets the impression it is written with performance poetry in mind. The rhymes and cadences strike a blend of euphony. The poet admits he has performed his poems at Northeast London several times, and it shows in the musicality of his verses and the deliberate paucity of nuances to dig into for palimpsest excavations. In the opening poem, “Who Am?”, for instance, lyricism strikes a boom: “I am the best/Not like the rest/I am the first amongst my peers/ I am royalty/ I don’t need your loyalty…” (p.2). It is hard to find a blank verse in this collection.
Akinyemi’s poetry sounds like Sunday school sermons with didacticism as a selling point. In “Individual Affair”, you are cautioned that “The world owes you nothing” and “The onus is on you to make your life count”, therefore, “Enough of the pity party” (p.6)
The use of assonance in “Why Sorry” gives the poet away as one who subscribes the fundamentals of classic poetry: “Why sorry?/When you are not from Surrey? And you don’t live in the storey// Why worry? When you are not from Warri?/And there is no need to hurry” (p.8).
The poet’s adoration of the English city of Newcastle, in “Newcastle –The City of My Rising Star” is in contrast with the bemused, black faces on the Lampedusa route to oblivion. Here, the speaker, a migrant, sings of Newcastle in hyperboles, having gained ultimate satisfaction from dwelling in it: “It’s been a beautiful story/Look at me roaring/Newcastle, a city after my heart/ Hear me out, I have played my part…” (p.10).
But Newcastle isn’t the only song on the lips of the poet in Dead Dogs Don’t Bite. In a eulogy dedicated to a remarkable English teacher, the voice in the poem, “English Teacher”, celebrates that “this dame” who “speaks Queen’s English/The type that will make you shiver” with her nice diction.
To the good ones who came and made their mark in the world, the poet is full of praises for them: “We appreciate your commitment” and “We wish you the best for the future”. No matter what happens around you, the poet doesn’t want anybody to be constrained: “Stay true to your conviction”. He cautions, too, on us not to bully others we are bigger than.
A poem like “Pharisees and Sadducees” awakes us to the reality that despicable characters in the world are not necessarily from the much maligned Far East but are the ones who inhabit “Our very lives”, noted for their idiocy. Besides, they cry more than the bereaved and exude holier-than-thou attitude.
One of the poems that encapsulates Akinyemi’s conviction to inspire others is the poem “Yes, You Can”. In it, he carols that you should do away with anybody that criticises you for not being good enough. Instead, “Go forth and conquer” (p.41). The poet is also a keen observer of the society where he domiciles. In response to the lives lost during Beast from the East and Storm Emma menaces between February and March, 2014, he pens the poem, “Snow of Death” in which he bemoans the excesses of nature, evidenced in “The snow of death” that “always makes me fret”.
Though resident in England, the poet is disturbed by the bad political leadership and social decay in his native country, Nigeria, hence the poem with the same title. He laments thus: “Our leaders have bled us dry…/Roads filled with potholes/Streets abound with electric poles….” (p.65). United States of America is also lampooned in the poem, “United States of A”, especially Trump’s America.
Away from the gloom, you have “Yaya Toure” to brighten you up. This poem celebrates the Ivorian player with the English Premiership side, Manchester, for setting the league alight with his power and skills, while applauding him as “Africa’s true son” and “A supporter of other talents”. Not only Toure can bark. Akinyemi says: you, too, can bark!