A Critique of Layrite’s Random Run Poem Series
Taking a cursory look at the first installment of the Random Run series, any reader would be forgiven for immediately thinking “what the hell is this?”
Well it is what it is as the title aptly indicates. It’s a series of poems broaching a random collection of issues, subjects or topics plaguing our beloved nation Nigeria.
Being a budding fan of poetry, I will attempt to somehow dissect this work looking at the tone, mood, structure, delivery and the message itself.
Poetry as we all know can either be simple and straightforward to understand or complicated. Enjoying poetry has a lot to do with sharing or knowing the background of the poet or better still owing to the reader’s background, the reader is able to understand the poet’s point of view. This goes a long way to help with understanding the poet’s use of language and words as imagery.
Layrite’s Random Run series is obviously satirical and about Nigeria, for Nigerians, but I reckon you have to be in touch with occurrences and life in Nigeria, so as to facilitate an understanding of his message.
So, how do the poems read?
Layrite uses simple words to get his message across, but his choice of words are carefully nuanced and wrapped in metaphor that requires you to think a little harder about the message the poems intend to convey. The norm for most readers of poetry is generally to find understanding of the poem within the poem by the time they get to the last stanza.
Random Run does not permit the leisure or pleasure of doing this. It demands that you think; if you desire and can be bothered to want to understand and appreciate it. On a good day, most of us are too lazy to want to begin decoding any poem. So, though written with simple words, Random Run 1 is not immediately easily comprehended.
What makes this so is the structure of the poems; each stanza is autonomous, yet part of a collective. Instead of the entire poem being about a single subject matter, each stanza discusses or draws attention to a specific topic. This explains the title, Random Run.
Below, I will give my interpretation of each stanza alongside the poems themselves.
Random Run 1
Solo has always been the main mode (Addresses individuality)
All the craziness in the cranium takes abode (All thought is carried out in the brain)
Me, you and them; can we really together (Can we really all work together?)
All in good faith get an operation going? (Can we in good faith get something worthwhile going?)
Don’t answer me, just nod your neck. (Since it’s impossible to nod your neck, the tone of the speaker is one of pessimism and sarcasm)
Stanza 1 (Interpretation) – is about the pessimism and cynicism of the speaker, who believes in working alone and doesn’t believe we can work together as a people. The speaker reinforces his pessimism with an impossible challenge; he asked for no other response than for the reader to “nod their neck”. If the reader can nod their neck, then yes we can work together.
It is no longer news, dude (Everything is the way it’s always been)
That nothing can be done (Resignation)
To change this dammed world (Despair)
Or do you really think otherwise? (His pessimistic view stands as evidence; unless proven otherwise)
Don’t nod your neck, just answer me. (Confident his pessimistic view stands unchallenged, he demands an answer)
Stanza 2(Interpretation) – The speaker is still pessimistic and cynical. And since the belief is that nothing can be done to change the way things have been. The speaker is quite confident that the evidence supports his view and therefore demands an answer; He believes the response of the reader or person engaged in dialogue with him will support his view.
We were asked to look out (To either observe or be cautious)
With our two eyes shut (There is a hindrance to us achieving or ‘seeing’)
We see nothing but nothingness (The inability to ‘see’ means we cannot achieve)
But what else did we expect? (It should not be surprising we can’t progress)
Don’t answer me, don’t nod your neck (The facts are clear and indisputable)
Stanza 3 (Interpretation) – In my opinion, based on what I can deduce is about how we cannot improve or progress as a people, when we cannot ‘see’ and the reason we cannot see is because we are not given the right info at the right time or rather we are being misled by wrong information. Since we are told to “look out with our eyes shut”, we are being fed wrong info, or misled, so it only makes sense that we cannot ‘see’ or achieve anything.
Dance if you may or wish (To ‘dance’ is to be in acceptance of the ‘tune’ being played)
It may certainly be your last (If we continue to accept what we should reject; we’ll eventually regret)
Don’t mind the out of tune drummer (Is inconsistent, incoherent, inadequate leadership)
He is certainly absent his wit (Clueless leadership)
But we already knew that, didn’t we? (We are largely aware of our leaders’ the shortcomings)
Stanza 4 (Interpretation) – We can continue ‘dancing’ if we choose or be accepting of mediocrity, but it may very well be our ‘last dance’ or the end of us (the instance of the Dana Air tragedy comes to mind). We can continue to ignore our inadequate, inconsistent and mostly clueless leadership. And we are aware that our leadership is lacking on all counts, unless we choose to be blind or pretend to be blind.
Will we ever go back
To the old glorious days
When everything including damsels oversupplied
But then did we really have them?
Of course, you too are ignorant of that, abi?
Answer me! And nod your neck!
Stanza 5(Interpretation) – Are we ever going to return to the period when everything was good and there was abundance in the country. Were things ever really as good as we claim or are we actually ignorant of the truth? Do we have conclusive evidence of how things really were? We should nod our necks since we really can’t provide this evidence.
Are they just in our imagination?
Brain’s way of protecting us?
From the reality of our past and present?
And from the inevitability of a certain bleak future?
Do not answer me in empty words;
Just let your face tell the story.
Stanza 6 (Interpretation) – If things were not as good as we claimed in the past, how did we come to this realization that they were? Is this our minds’ way of protecting us from the harsh reality that things were never good and they will never be good? Still pessimistic and quite cynical, the speaker believes any words uttered would be false hope in the face of the stark reality of a bleak future, which deep within we are supposed to realize and a reality our faces cannot hide.
Summary of Random Run 1:
The overall tone of this first poem in this series is cynical and pessimistic. Its mood is melancholic.
You have such lines in the first, second and last stanzas which aptly convey this cynicism and pessimism:
“Me, you and them; can we really together?”
“That nothing can be done,”
“To change this dammed world”
“And from the inevitability of a certain bleak future?”
The height of pessimism in this poem is when he asks the reader or individual engaged in this dialogue to “nod your neck” an impossible feat in itself, signaling his total cynicism.
The structure of this entire poem series is free verse. Layrite consistently uses metaphorical devices in these three poem series.
Random Run 2
Random Run 2 in keeping with the structure and layout of the first is also free verse. The tone still melancholic, but neither cynical nor pessimistic. This installment is much more easily understood than the first. Evidence of this is captured in some of the comments quoted below:
Anzaa Msonter: “The poem itself is great in its simplicity. It captures the reality rather sadly, but has a hidden tone of resignation which is not the poet’s fault anyway.”
Afronuts: “was it the way the words were woven? or the simplicity of the metaphors or the creativity of the simplicity… I just loved the random topics each verse dwelt on.
Dotta Raphels: “On the money Layrite…Suppose our rhymes of suffering and smiling holds no water these days. In the midst of plenty, yet many starve! Man’s inhumanity to self has staggered to an all-time high and PRINCIPLES…? Let whatever guides ONE be the judge of that.”
As can be seen from these comments, Layrite easily manages to draw his readers in. They easily identify with and understand the inhumanity and injustice conveyed. This piece is implicitly asking and hoping for change; which explains why the structure and tone of this piece suggests that the plight of the people is not self-imposed or inflicted, but exists as a result of bad governance. The implication is that circumstances like these can and could be avoided with better governance.
We will now take a look at the poem itself:
We once went to the farm empty minded (Going into the workforce/government/Church or service of God ignorantly)
And came home with a stray black cat (Inconsistent, incoherent, inadequate: expectations/returns/ leadership)
Of what use is it to an empty ‘mach? (How does this alleviate, change or better or circumstances?)
Will the hungry ear listen to the Sunday sermon? (Can we listen to sermons when our plight remain the same?)
I seek no reply, just open your ears.
Stanza 1 (Interpretation) – Going into the farm not empty handed, but empty minded, is priceless! I particularly love the manner in which Layrite weaves his words here. The farm is our world, work, our community, our society and also the vineyard of God. How do you go into the ‘farm’ ‘empty minded’? I believe this to be symbolic of ignorance, carelessness, negligence and sloppiness.
How do we go to work without proper work ethics? How can anything tangible come from such a situation? How can we continue to have inadequate, unqualified and inappropriate leadership and continue to expect good governance? How can our nations prosper with bad leadership?
We have languished in poverty and lack, yet our ‘leaders’ and ‘pastors’ continue to fatten! How can we honestly assimilate any sermon coming from the like of these?
Once upon a time, a long time ago before colonization, we were just about okay. Along came the white man bible in hand. He gave us the bible with one hand and plundered our resources with the other (the stray black cat).
Today still, we attend church. The white man has been replaced by a black man and he encourages us to sow ‘seeds’ while he feeds, clothes and lives in luxury. We the mindless fools continue to live and dream of a paradise to come whilst dying of hunger. The Saviour himself chose to be born in a manger. He despised affluence, especially when used to oppress and suppress others. He lived to serve other, yet today’s pastors, prophets and leaders choose to be served and not serve.
Why wouldn’t we come back from the ‘farm’ with a stray cat? What we get from our lives is also what we permit in it. We do have to take some responsibility for what we see and permit in our world. Yes we do believe in God, but God has never demanded that we worship him blindly or that we follow pastors and preachers who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
How can we learn or progress or be better human beings when our very existence in neither here nor there? This time around he does not require us to do anything. Maybe, just maybe we can listen and probably make an informed decision to change.
We were at Odo-ori market last Monday (Market = our community, society, nation, work place etc)
Nothing we could afford but old newspaper (Our situation affords us nothing but the same old shit!)
For how long can a man return home
To his dependents with the same old news?
You may frown your face, but I need an answer.
Stanza 2 (Interpretation) – Looking everywhere, all you find is the same old story, the same old song. How can we change our circumstances when our situation remains exactly the same? People go to work, yet the pittance they receive is unable to adequately provide for their families. People our qualified yet unable to gain employment. How does this help feed a family?
There are those amongst us able to assist and alleviate the suffering of others, but it’s too much of a chore. There is no look anywhere or frown your face: do something worthwhile!
Its 9pm, and I swear you won’t meet her at home (A woman/ mother, who should be in the comfort of her home)
Under a shade somewhere she sells cigar and paraga
To men, ring on the finger means nothing to.
You really think my concern for her is misplaced?
Do not look at me, do not frown your face.
Stanza 3 (Interpretation) – The plight of people; their situation and circumstances has led to a compromising of values, ethics, sanity, justice and a sense of right and wrong. Nowadays, everyone does whatever they can to get by, illegal or not. Right or wrong, acceptable or not; this woman most likely has an unemployed husband or someone who makes insufficient funds for the family. If she doesn’t do this, how else can she help her family survive? But to the society at large, more so, those with the ability to bring positive change, what are they doing standing by? No one is asking for handouts! Give everyone a fair chance or opportunity to better themselves. There is a major difference to us failing ourselves as opposed to when the system or our government fails us.
Hey, come and take a look at my cave (home, government, our nation)
The leaking roof and the empty space (Too many things gone wrong)
Where mosquitos’ summit holds in rowdy session (The House of Senate/Representatives)
Can a successful metamorphosis take place in such place?
Your guess is as good as no one’s guess.
Stanza 4 (Interpretation) – Our home, country and nation is evident for all to see. Our problems are glaring. Basic infrastructure is non-existent. Yet our so called representatives gather in rowdy sessions to make noise and fill their coffers. How can they represent us or further our cause, when their sole aim like mosquitoes, is to suck out whatever goodness they can from our nations’ coffers?
You see that Okada man devouring sugarless garri
He is a cousin of mine, you know?
All his life, he was on the trail of a grail
He found it, useless, and then he misplaced it
Do you think he will ever find it again, useful?
Stanza 5 (interpretation) – The down on his luck man is a relative. Owing to circumstances beyond his control, cannot afford a basic meal. At with every young Nigerian, he sought after, pursued and attained his education; the highest peak being a university degree. Despite his educational achievements, gainful employment becomes an elusive golden fleece or holy grail. Who would think that despite his educational achievements he would still end up an okada man? Will there ever come a time that his hard earned qualifications come to any use?
We were taught of peace and unity
Of honesty and contentment
Of crime and punishment
Of virtue and reward
But is the reverse not the case now?
And why did no one tell us of lack amidst plenty?
In the face of all this, my friend
Should our principle still hold still?
Stanza 6 (Interpretation) – As a people, we were raised to have a conscience. To be God fearing and follow after those things that are right, just, true, honest and virtuous. Today the reverse holds true. Thieves rule us and call themselves leaders. Corrupt people lead us and we hail them as pioneers of good. Bob Marley sang, “In the abundance of water a fool is thirsty”. Should we join the staus quo or fight for what is just and true?
Anzaa Msonster: Captures the essence of this issue,” We just have to stand by our principles because they are the only things that define, confine and therefore, refine our lives.
Despite corruption, misplaced loyalties, deception, dishonesty and a downward spiral of moral fiber being the order of the day, being principled should still hold its sway. The time will come that those who still have principles will lead those without. The law of karma is fully in force and very much at work…it just takes justice a little bit of time to season and dish out some slow cooked, sweet tasting and pleasant smelling payback.
Summary of Random 2
Layrite did a wonderful job of highlighting the woes plaguing of society in Random Run 2. He captures and addresses issues that have long plagued our beloved country Nigerian. His poem suggests that it’s time for change. It is said the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but heaven is filled with good deeds.
Random Run 3
This third installment of the series like its predecessors is metaphorical and satirical in nature. It is decidedly optimistic in that it offers solutions to our given problems.
Random Run 3
Let it not be left unsaid
That we were no sadist
When we, in good, faith asked them
To do away with the excess water
That had made the Amala impossible
In the face of an insufficient Elubo
Or get more powder; anyway is fine.
Stanza 1 (Interpretation) – Let not the suggestion to shed our excesses or cutting our coat according to our cloth and not size as generally implied, be seen as being insensitive or uncaring. Having too much water and insufficient elubo (yam powder,) will only make it impossible to make amala. Logically, there are only two courses of action: get sufficient yam powder or throw out the excess water.
The Amala represents our economy. How can we have a thriving economy when our government is excessive? The solution: we either change government (bring in more yam powder) or change the manner in which our economy is being run into the ground (reduce the excessive water).
We were certainly not crazy
When we advised the whining hen
To shed some of its useless feathers
If indeed she wanted her sweat seen
What has no mouth, our ancestors claimed,
Ought not to be smarter than one.
Take it, leave it; who cares?
Stanza 2 (Interpretation) – Next we move on to the ‘whining hen’ and its ‘useless feathers’ which causes it to ‘sweat’.
This addresses our people and their incessant complaints about the general state of our nation and economy, hence the ‘whining’. Layrite suggests that if truly our ‘useless feathers’ (incompetent government) is the cause of our ‘sweat’ (suffering), we should want our suffering seen and known to the world.
This being so, we should do something about it. If not, we should shut up!
The undertones here is that if our ‘useless feathers’ prevent our progress, then maybe we should either change our government or the manner in which we elect those in government. Either way, the solution would be just fine. On the other hand, this is also about our leaders accumulating instead of shedding liability.
Finally he rounds up this part of the poem with another proverb. What has no mouth shouldn’t be smarter than someone or something that has a mouth and can speak. We the people are the mouth and we can speak, and therefore ‘smarter’ since we have the power and right to elect those that govern us.
We met him
Their brother we hoped would be different
On his throne like chair
Coffee cup still in hand
Hole in the head.
Stanza 3 (Interpretation) – For me this stanza has all sorts of connotations. This could easily refer to our President Jonathan. We hoped he would be different, but as things go, sitting on his throne-like chair could mean that he isn’t worthy to be on the throne, despite looking the part. The hole in the head connotes him being useless in office and therefore as good as dead.
Another take on this would be politicians we hoped would make a difference, but get killed before ever getting the chance. Similarly, this could signify a program meant to help the people but which never really took off or was killed off before anything could be made of it.
As to the cause of the hollow head
Unclassified disinformation? Executive lawlessness?
Institutionalized ignorance? Dis-national mis-security?
Take your pick; add you own
But do leave us alone.
Stanza 4 (Interpretation) – As for the cause of the untimely killing of prospective leaders or aborted or unsuccessful programs; this is all owing to the ignorance, lawlessness, lack of stability, lack of leadership, absence of proper checks and balances and simply no accountability.
Come to think of it
Do we really need to tell them
That the hole should be the point of origin
Of the investigation to reveal its maker?
We wonder in silence why the coffee cup
Is rather the point of fascination.
Stanza 5 (Interpretation) – The real solution to the problem highlighted in stanza 4 shouldn’t be looking at the effect, lack or loss created, but by ascertaining the actual cause of the problems in the first instance. Why do we continually start something and are unable to finish it successfully? Why do we have politicians and leaders only interested in self-serving?
Summary of Random Run 3
The tone here is one of optimism, hope and having a way forward. Random Run 3 is all about our government, our leaders, politicians and their excesses. Layrite wants us to take stock of our actions or in actions.If there is going to be any change in our society, such change must come from the grass roots. The poem suggests implicitly and explicitly that we should all strive for change or quit whining. Everything that is wrong or that has gone wrong has its roots in our doing business the same old way. If we keep doing things the same old way we cannot expect to achieve or see different results.
Personally, if I am to sum up all three poems, I would say Layrite draws the reader’s attention directly and indirectly, to the deplorable state of our nation. Our living conditions, the manner in which we survive; how we survive the injustice put upon us both by our government and ourselves.
Again, at first glance, it’s not immediately apparent that although seemingly disjointed; each thread of thought, or issue raised within each stanza, is actually connected with previous or subsequent stanzas. Its spider web connectivity, in my opinion, is what makes this a brilliant poem series.