Manorism: Sode's Ode of Defiance
Manorism is an economic system that dates to the Middle Ages where landowners assign plots of land to workers to cultivate. In return, these serfs offer labour time or produce from their cultivation efforts to support the Lord of the manor. In his debut collection of poems Manorism, Yomi Sode borrows context from this system to explore familiar themes: culture, manhood, family, and some peculiarities of the Nigerian-British diaspora experience.
With fifty poems divided into four sections, Sode analyzes history, documents reality, and expresses emotions. Leveraging his words and those of other people, the Nigerian-British writer articulates the cracks of a flawed system. Poets have written about and around racism for centuries, protesting this form of discrimination in verse, yet Sode's poetry of defiance makes it new.
Born in Oyo state in Nigeria, Sode belongs to a class of Nigerians and Africans with a hybrid cultural identity. Most times, this is a consequence of migration. While the implications of this identity are not as rosy as it is highlighted in some of the poems from Manorism, a perk is the license it offers the poet to challenge the ethos of modern English society. Because Yomi Sode is British, he questions some elements of British culture freely. Because he is also Nigerian, he uses language and other elements of his Nigerian culture to express.
In the opening poem of Manorism, “Adura Mama Mi,” Yomi takes down language barriers. Adura Mama Mi is a prayer in Yoruba. The prayer of a mother for son solicits favour for the latter in their endeavours in the diaspora. The last verse of the prayer in English, leaving an attentive reader to wonder why he is spotlighting this part of the poem.
The verse reads,
"…God, that makes way for the Israelites on the red sea
will make way for you where there's no way."
A second read of the spotlighted verse suggests mischief in Sode's selection of this prayer as the opening poem: the poem re-appears later in the collection with the languages inverted. While the poet would speak about family and loss later in the collection, other poems in the first section explore slave trade, racism, and their implications on modern Black life. To achieve this, Sode also takes down the barriers of time, allowing the reader to commute across timelines and between the poems.
Located in Ouidah, Benin, the Door of No Return is a memorial erected in honour of the slaves shipped from the Ouidah ports in the seventeenth century. The poem La Porte du non-retour (The Door of No Return) is named after this monument. In the poem, Sode describes fictional scenes from the time and place. In Manorism: On the cultural Representation of 'Black Britain', he brings readers back to modern Britain, using real-life events and comments from Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Stormzy, and Piers Morgan to spotlight a systemic discrimination against Black people.
Sode's campaign also requires invention and reinvention. Aneephya is a recurring concept throughout the collection. Every Google search on Aneephya circles back to Sode.
Defining Aneephyitis, he writes,
“Aneephyitis: the release of the aneephya toxin into the bloodstream. Announced by a sound similar to that of knuckles quietly cracking, it is generally first triggered between the ages of nine and eleven and continues thereafter into adulthood and old age. It is known to occur in heightened levels in Black people as a result of inherited trauma and 'weathering' carried down the generations.”
Later in the same poem, Sode refers to a book on Aneephya, suggesting that the concept might yet be established, albeit not as popular. The poet's definition of aneephya as a generational burden further justifies his transitions through time in the collection, suggesting that some modern reactions are consequences of slavery and slave trade from a different timeline. But Sode's defiance of time is not limited to aneephya and its implications.
Manorism is partly a tribute to the seventeenth-century Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Carravagio. Several poems from the collection draw inspiration from the life and work of the Italian artist. While poems like About Hands: An Uncle; On Fatherhood: Proximity to Death; The Inspiration of Micheal, From the Block; Elegy: An Embalming of Okonkwo were written after certain works of Carravagio, poems like A Plate of Artichokes and Fugitives feature the artist as a comparative standard of the 'white man' from his timeline. Sode's choice of Carravagio in this regard is not fully understood but is justified by the poet's meticulous research of his character.
Sode also finds characters in contemporary life to feature in his narratives. Borrowing TV shows characters, 2020 FIFA world cup, and social media trends, Yomi finds people and events to highlight some realities of Black people in Europe. These realities establish the parallels between the manorial system and Sode’s perception of Black culture in Britain.
The goal of the landowner in manorialism is to enjoy the benefits of the land without the labour involved, so he barters with another who is willing to labour but does not own land. The tragedy of this transaction is the illusion of ownership offered to the tenant. This is Sode’s grouse with his society.
Why do some laws apply to white citizens and not to Black citizens? Why can Black people not make certain mistakes when white people do not even consider the same actions as mistakes? Why do Black people respond to certain stimuli differently from white people? These are the questions posed by the poems at the core of the collection. The poet also offers a hypothesis in response to the third question: Aneephya.
Another notable attempt to answer these questions from the collection is a quote by Ghanaian poet, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, from the poem Manorism I: On the Cultural Representation of ‘Black Britain.’
“Because you are property & property doesn’t speak” -Nii Ayikwei Parkes
Some poems from Sode’s collection, while not about racism, speak closely to the hybrid experience of being Nigerian and British. In J Hus is Caught with a Knife, Samira Mighty Leaves Love Island, the poet writes about a reunion with an old friend who sees his skin colour as a mojo to attract white women but soon acknowledges that this attraction is often superficial. He writes in Nigerian Pidgin English, “Padi mi dey vent that the mother of his pikin wants nothing to do with his culture. She dey long for a Prince Hakeem without Zamunda.” which translates to, “My friend vents that the mother of his child wants nothing to do with his culture. She wants a Prince Hakeem without Zamunda.” The latter part references Eddie Murphy’s classic, Coming to America. He continues, “I watch as Yinka reimagines his Blackness: did she see him for him, or as a trophy to pose with?”
The poem describes an unusual racial bias; one that is not irritated by a different skin colour but is fascinated by it. The type of fascination that makes a person harvest a flower knowing that it needs its root to survive.
Sode describes other forms of biases in the collection. In A Sestina, for the Curious Oyinbo, he writes about an encounter with a white lady who starts a conversation by asking, “Do you want to be white?” The poet, in a fiery mix of anger and frustration, tries to stay calm and courteous. But even this is met with accusation as she responds later in the poem, “You think its racist to ask? I have mixed children. My question wasn’t meant to offend. Now you’re making me feel bad. I can’t help being white!” Like the poet’s pesky acquaintance, the ladies from Yinka’s philanderous adventures seem to use him as a bargaining chip in conversations about racism.
Manorism also explores masculinity and advocates for fatherhood. As the founder of Daddy Diaries, a platform built to support fathers/guardians in raising their children, Sode has demonstrated a strong passion for fatherhood support across several other platforms. On Fatherhood, A Street Sermon, and several other poems from the collection reiterate this passion. In these poems, Sode writes of his challenges as a father, the perceived implications of the absence of a father figure, and other issues around fatherhood.
"Son in hand, I walk past
A preacher's street sermon,
delivered to his mobile phone
before a congregation”
A Street Sermon II: On Ten Toes
The third section of Manorism is a tribute to a deceased relative. Titled Ara Ri (The Body Sees), the poet chronicles events leading to the demise of a loved one across eighteen poems and with the help of six characters, including himself. Expressing his and highlighting the grief of other relatives in these poems, they end up being more than tributary. These poems take the reader through a complex thread of family dynamics and relationships. With the deceased playing a central role in these narratives, the poet offers readers a glimpse into her life, making the poems somewhat documentary.
But the third section of Manorism does more than document, by exploring familial relationships between characters who also are Nigerian-British, Sode spotlights bits of the elements of this cultural identity. For instance, in You, Me, and Big Mummy, Sode writes,
give me updates from now on,
as though you were my child, You said okay; we hung up…”
The conversation portrays a kind of respect that is more Nigerian than British. One that is influenced by age and nothing else. On the other side, it also portrays responsibility that is also conferred by age. This kind of respect recurs through the section. In Reception II, the poet writes of the flamboyance that accompanies the celebration of life of of a deceased in Nigerian culture. These ‘celebrations of life’ express grief in the most unusual manner. Merry making, feasting, and colourful attires marked these kinds of events because according to the cultural beliefs, lives well lived were worthy of celebration, at least for the living.
"Ara Ri" in the context of use by the poet has deeper semantic implications, some of which are lost in translation. Experts of Yoruba grammar might even debate the correctness of the expression. "Ara Ri" is in the past tense. Reverse translation suggests that the expression the poet seeks is "Ara N Ri". This present continuous form of the expression also offers parlance to sight in the context of abstract things: The body sees pain, sees hardship, etc. highlighting some of the experiences that characterize illness, and even grief.
Culture, language, time, but Sode's ultimate defiance in Manorism is the disruption of form. A lot of the writing in the book is not poetry as usual. Some even qualify to challenge prize prose elsewhere.
A writer's uniqueness is in the gift of articulation. Not the emotions they feel when writing or any other kind of inspiration, all of these are shared. Yomi Sode is not the first person to experience modern systemic racism, explore Caravaggio’s work, or feel grief. Yet he articulates his perceptions and reactions to these stimuli unhindered.
Manorism grants Sode entry into the poetic canon that protests discrimination. But this collection does more. It tells the story of inherited paranoia of a collective, a flawed father learning to be better, and a grieving son. Manorism tells Yemi Sode’s story.
Joba Ojelabi is a Nigerian writer. He currently lives in Lagos, Nigeria and tweets @jobaojelabi