Titilope Sonuga’s This is How we Disappear, blends the personal and political through the powerful voice with which she writes. Tackling patriarchal censorship, trauma, the female experience, the political climate of Nigeria, and the portrayal of blackness within mainstream society, Sonuga prompts the reader to think and feel the weight of every word. Most pieces come from the “I” of the speaker, or the portrayal of dialogue through speaking to a “you,” inviting the reader into the intimate reflections and corners of the speaker’s experience as the poetry critically explores dark and complex themes.
At its heart, I believe This Is How We Disappear is an outcry to the disappearance and censorship of the disadvantaged female voice and the necessity to hear those underrepresented, as seen early on through pieces like “Missing.” This poem opens with a stanza infused with intertextuality surrounding the Chibok kidnappings as it cites statements from the Nigerian president, the leader of the radical militant group, witnesses, negotiators and even Michelle Obama. Yet, in sharp contrast to the media’s statements, the victim’s voice is silent. Sonuga asserts that, “years passed without a whisper from the girls.” This void for the victim’s voices is deafening, as she puts in a piece titled “They are Still Laughing”:
when a girl walks into a forest,
[…] when her body kisses the earth
like a felled tree
everybody hears it.
we go deaf with the hearing,
even if she never makes a sound.
The omittance of female victims’ voices is not a problem limited to one African state, but a global crisis, as is made clear by Sonuga’s invocation of the missing and murdered Indigenous women of Canada and, later, the general censorship around victims of sexual violence.
In addressing such sources of quietude, Sonuga’s writing forms powerful protest. These difficult topics inherently draw on emotion, but it is Sonuga’s ability to imbue meaning within the human experience through beautiful imagery and metaphor that creates the profound depth of her work. Victims
become a whisper
hands gather a scream back into her mouth
the only way we know how
palms clasped and reaching
elbow deep into a soft night
and a mother’s grief, “is a snake coiled / in her belly, in the space where her daughter/ once was” (“In The Howling House”). Amidst the challenges and trauma Sonuga writes about, she advocates that women need to “take our voices back,” stressing this advocation as the avenue for hope and change, as well as promoting defiance, survival, healing and empowerment for women.
Titilope Sonuga’s voice is loud and the conviction of her writing is powerful, making this text incredibly accessible and impactful. The eloquence of her craft and the cadence of its lines makes This is How We Disappear not only beg to be read but read aloud.
Born in Toronto and raised in the sticks of Tweed, Ontario, Jordan Prato is a Carleton University Alumni and aspiring teacher.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.