TITLE: GARRI FOR BREAKFAST
AUTHOR: SEUN LARI-WILLIAMS
NUMBER OF PAGES: 147
PUBLISHERS: WORDS RHYMES & RHYTHM
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2017
REVIEWER: OYINDAMOLA SHOOLA
Seun Lari-Williams is entirely “a Nigerian” in his poetry. By this, I mean that, just like Tolu Akinyemi, he is very skilled in infusing sarcasm, wit, and a sprinkle of pure literary savagery to poetry.
In this book, Seun writes about human experiences, highlighting little things that we overlook and take for granted. He used the poems to bring meaning to some Nigerian traditions, norms, and beliefs.
Seun uses code mix in some places to add to the allure and effect of his words and in some places he compares Nigerian languages to the foreign English language.
Seun is also very creative in his use of titles. Here he proves that he is a master of his craft. Even the title of the collection, ‘Garri for Breakfast,’ draws a reader’s attention. Besides the titling, there is also his uncanny play on words.
It is through books like this that we experience writers who are honest about human experiences and who take delight and inspiration from them.
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We can see that Seun’s over-the-fence humor in poems like ‘Winches’ where he writes about an Oyinbo boy’s curiosity about African juju and witches. The Nigerian persona in this poem then says the following:
“I won’t tell him a thing
But I know that they are not called witches
What we have here is ‘winch”
The persona then continues to differentiate between witches and winches and he says that the for the Oyinbo:
“A witch may give you a knock
But a winch will konk you
While you say “ouch” to a knock,
You say “Yepa!” when they konk you…”
The overall message that Seun passed with the poem “Winches,” is that, the way we treat spiritual affairs differs by geographical location and race. This made me laugh and it also made me more conscious of the way black people, particularly Africans pray, compared to the way that White people pray.
This may be no more than a joke, but in the typical African church, we assume the Devil is more stubborn and so we have to shout, yell, shake our bodies, and hit the walls whereas in the Oyinbo’s church where the devil is gentler and even obedient, all the pastor has to say is “We decree all demons in this church to leave in Jesus name” and the demons will leave.
I repeat, this is a joke! And if you do not know, Oyinbo means ‘white person’ in Yoruba Language.
Another poem that I really loved is titled “I got married, I did not die.” Again, it is funny but it is also true that a slight change in status, especially in relationships, can affect one’s life experiences greatly. In this poem, the persona complains about how:
“Since the day I got married
My male friends have become dry
They don’t call me anymore
And I don’t understand why”
When I read this poem, I saw two sides to interpreting it and particularly, I recognized the feminist perspective. I think that for men, this situation is even better. For females, it is worse.
I have heard more stories of married women who shun down offerings to attend festive events and ceremonies “for the sake of their marriage.” Some women have lost so many opportunities in terms of jobs, financial investments, and even purchases “because of marriage.”
About two years ago when the hashtag #beingwomaninNigeria swept over social media platforms, I read stories of women who have been denied the opportunity to own properties because they were married and only their husbands are recognized by property owners as adult enough to access and sign documents to the properties.
Another poem that really caught my eye is titled ‘I saw my ex yesterday.’ With poems like this, Seun identifies the human vulnerability to pride, especially when it concerns someone or something that we have left behind. There is also vivid imagery in this poem that adds to the overall reading experience. Seun writes:
“My heart began to pound-
The hot yam I had for breakfast
I actually forgot to breath
Until she noticed my ‘flat stomach…”
There are so many other poems that I love from Garri for Breakfast, mostly because of the humor, moral messages, and inferences that Seun infused in them. The book gave me pleasurable memories of home, the culture, vibrancy, and heavenly “Amala” that I grew up eating in Ibadan, Oyo state.
Overall, Garri for Breakfast is a must read for many Nigerians. If you love being Nigerian, you will love this book.