Bisola Bada's "Unashamed" Speaks of Feminine Resilience
I am tender in my creation
& do not need
to swallow a rock/
to prove my strength
Bisola Bada’s debut poetry, Unashamed, was released in September 2022, yet its themes are evergreen and resound even louder in today’s climate. Unashamed unfurls stories of self-assertion, femininity, resilience, womanhood, domestic abuse, and freedom, all seamlessly overlapping, all centering the female existence in a world that is often not very kind to women.
a woman is a fountain of survival
a woman is a woman
& not a woe-man
As a first born girl child, Bada was inspired by her personal experiences as well as those that many other girls go through in Nigeria.
The words of Bada’s collection are as easy on the eyes as they are on the ears. The poems feel faintly familiar, as though you’ve read them before. Perhaps it is the themes that speak to the lived experiences of every woman, or perhaps it is her use of simple, unpretentious diction which welcomes you, which gently pulls you into the pages like a hug from a friend, or like slipping into an old coat.
I speak with the language
of freedom because I
am of the religion of living
In I Forgive Myself, her apt use of metaphor to detail the horrors of the patriarchy forces the reader to engage with the experience: in pleasing patriarchy/
i am a sinner…
but I forgive myself…
I mean I am plucking out/
the incisors of supremacy
munching on my nipples
The subject matter in Not a Doll is a morose one. Yet Bada speaks to a man who would rather see her small and bent with a burst of imagery that dances above your eyelids long after you’ve flipped the page:
You kept forcing music out/
of a fatigued singer
but can a sun pour its light
into a closed room?
The first poem in the collection, Genesis, opens with an unabashed declaration of root, of identity. While motherhood can often be a complex subject for feminists, and has only recently begun to garner positive PR, Bada does not shy away from defining herself by it.
I am not without/a genesis, she writes.
I emerge from a lineage of persons
who carry tomorrow
in their wombs.
Bada writes of the struggles of body image in Autumn: when I speak of my body/I speak of the fullness of fat/ & stretch marks/ around my belly. In Bold, the gospel of unabashedly embracing her body, rolls and spots and all, continues: These lines on my thighs/stretch themselves/ in the language of water/unbroken/the river is without shame/so I am with my skin.
Stretch marks may be a sign of imperfection, but imperfection is not inferiority. In fact, she says, a flaw, too, is beautiful/for no sky is without black spots/yet it doesn't stop/to birth sun and moon and stars.
In Revenge, the poet allows herself to be vulnerable. She shows us that she is not above moments of self-critique, or succumbing to the world’s beauty ideals: when your mirror betrays you
with a reflection of an autumn tree of defeat
the ingratitude of living
the stupidity of validation
when your mirror speaks harshly
on a tender morning
Yet, in Universe, the poet persona refuses to be limited to the world’s definitions and standards of beauty:
but before a mirror, I see myself more/
than the world sees me. . .
I see myself beyond the world
I am a universe.
The gospel of self-love – or a lack thereof, doesn’t end there. In Dissimilar Bodies, Bada could be speaking to a similar but older/authority figure: I do not care/how you learnt/to despise your own body/insofar you do not try/to teach me/to be at war with mine. It reads like challenging previously imbibed values about one’s body and worth; refusing to continue a cycle of self-loathing which too many girls learn from their mothers or older female figures. You are watching a caged bird, seeing the light for herself, exploding out of shackles. You almost want to cheer.
In The First Man to Love Me, Bada poignantly recounts a delicate past with a man who did not value her. It evokes sadness without being maudlin: So when he came to me/opened the door and/pressed his love against my fragile existence/my body was a reception.
Imagine, one of the most powerful poems in the collection, takes its time setting the stage in the first three scenes. We are initially introduced to the agony of menstruation: a sky breaking/in the valley of your thighs. Pregnancy steals the next scene: Imagine/you are a cultivation/hoe opening your body/for an arrival of rain.
The next phase throws a nod to childbirth: Imagine/the biting in your belly/the aching in your legs/a lineage in you is transitioning into a new planet. The poem’s protagonist trudges through years of period misery, rises above the pains of pregnancy, overcomes the battle of childbirth. But to what end?
The fourth scene reveals that the character we’ve been rooting for all along, suffers domestic abuse. Imagine/this is you & a man, despite all/salts your suffering/with irate punches and deprivation. The last line employs sarcasm but is not irreverent. It stings like a bite: Glory to your bliss.
Riding on the legacy of mediocre men, Lost Sail relays the story of a woman longing for a disloyal lover: but each time he sleeps by your side/
he boats away from you…
he only returns/on a later date
to show you the smell
of another satisfaction/
tell me why you should wake up
searching for a lost sail?
But is a poem that encourages self-identity. Even in partnership, there is space for holistic individualism: you are not made/
just for him/
not for the fire that/
wilds inside him
not for every rising/below his torso
girl you are made just for you
and you only
A manifesto for growing girls, a love letter to a younger self, a bible for women who will not be silenced, Bisola Bada’s collection packs a punch. Unashamed belongs to women who are not afraid to voice dissatisfaction at the barest minimum, who stomp and shake their heads, who are ready to break free of subjugation:
i am no longer/
that girl christened after
a broken boat on water/
i am fiery in my breath
& there shall be/
a carnival of burning
“We aren’t blind to the systemic and cultural discriminations that exist against women,” Bada, a self-described girl child advocate who has been published by IceFloe Press and Konya Shamsrumi, and reviewed by Newcastle Review, says. “These poems are a protest against that, written to show us that women and girls can and do exist wholly and fully, beyond the definitions and constricts of culture and religion.”
While some poems are more difficult than others, and some stories bleed harder than others, some are light, too, and beat with tenderness. Some are coloured with optimism, like her last words.