Before and after Burnt Men

Hello world!

In the month of March we presented to you The Ikemefuna Tributaries by JK Anowe The chapbook was warmly received and we are excited to announce that a number of readers who interacted with it and found it worthy of a rejoinder have sent in some fine pieces which, Laura our hardworking Chapbook Editor is putting together as a response chapbook to the IKEMEFUNA Tributaries.

For the month of April we are excited to present to you Burnt Men by Oluwasegun Romeo Oriogun and to see what you do with it. BURNT MEN is Oluwasegun Romeo Oriogun’s debut collection of poetry with a foreword by John L. Stanizzi and cover photograph by Chibuihe-Light Obi. Find below, the foreword and download the chapbook!

Download: Burnt Men by Oluwasegun Romeo Oriogun


In a poetic landscape dominated by what reads so often like the same old language focusing on the sad tired themes, there emerges a voice of courage and passion, wisdom and strength, power and tranquility. A voice that is utterly unique and surprising, and at the same time, familiar and welcoming. This is poetry in which we are welcomed, in which we feel accepted, and although the ideas are often challenging and sometimes heartbreaking, what holds this collection together, and what ultimately embraces the reader, is the profound sense of humanity ascending from the pages.

Oluwasegun Romeo Oriogun’s chapbook Burnt Men refuses to acknowledge the evils of the world as anything more than necessary roadblocks along the way toward enlightenment, a way cleared by love and spirituality and powerful restraint.

The book opens with the startling burnt men.

a preacher said gay men are dead men.
i wake up to the smell of burnt men
in my veins

From the outset we understand Oriogun’s response to his world. Is there malevolence on the earth disguised in a garb of goodness? Of course. But the moment the death sentence has been cast upon all gay men, those men enter Oriogun’s being, they abide in his veins. He cannot – and will not – ignore such iniquity.

i swear my tongue burns
every time i say the word love,
i do not know when men began to burn men
for saying the word love
but i know that a man in love is so close to God,
he can hear his heart beat.

In the poem called Wreckage, the themes of love gained through loss, and of beauty recognized through sorrow are further developed, this time with startling images that are so fresh and inventive that one must read with two minds – the mind that tries to breathe in and assimilate such absolutely incredible images – and the mind that, at the same time, reads and comprehends what is right there in front of us, told in language so beautiful, so powerful, so unique, that we’re left shaking our heads in amazement. Amazement at the originality of the language. Amazement at the poetry. And those are two distinctly different entities in the poems of Oluwasegun Romeo Oriogun.

I see you in abandoned ships,
You walk through cabins that hold scented memories of lovers,
The ballroom where we danced before our clothes fell into water
Calls your name and you dance to strains of memories.

Wreckage continues…

We were dangerous memories of storms,
To survive we had to run from the wars in our hearts.

And Wreckage ends with…

This death of ships filled with flowers leaves me in tears,
This place of death and life mourns in silence
While two lovers with dead hearts
Stare at pictures that will leave pools of tears in their bones.

It is a lovely and startling irony that we are left immersed in the poet’s anguish and yet uplifted by his genius at the same time. I’m not sure how there can be a more satisfying experience when reading poetry.

It seems to me a staple of such delightful tasks as having been asked to pen this Foreword is to say something like “…over and over again,” or “…in poem after poem.” And often I think these devices are for form more than they are to actually tell us anything about the work. But in Oluwasegun Romeo Oriogun’s work, over and over again, in poem after poem, I am astonished and delighted and wounded, at once.

There are not enough memories to keep the dead awake
Deep in my heart a little house is burning,
There is no river nearby.

someone once said, when the sun is dead
we take light in small sips.
i do not know what it means,
i only saw stars
falling as butterflies.

Over and over again. In poem after poem.

Oluwasegun Romeo Oriogun’s poetry confronts what is haunting, what is debilitating, what is most precious, and presents it to us gloriously and with absolute honesty. And whether his primary subject is politics, spirituality, or the sensual (all are present in nearly every poem), he does so with such mastery, such originality, that on first reading it was difficult for me to not just forge ahead mining for the gems I knew were there. And while there are many from which to choose, these lines from Maps represent a prime example of that marriage between the political and the spiritual, swaddled in Oriogun’s sensuality.

still men on broken streets will look for God in rolls of marijuana,
they will wait for the fumes to lift them through the dark,
for a light to burn the emptiness in them.

Among recurring images of ships and water, stars and love, butterflies and tears there is the “idea” of home – home in the city, home in the country, homes on fire, homes that are castles, and, ultimately, homes in the heart….

i’ve learnt to shape my mouth into a roof
and make home out of my bones.

Yes, Oluwasegun Romeo Oriogun knows, perhaps better than many, the necessity of journeying roads rife with struggle, but what he teaches us – intentionally or not – is that, although we may well live in rooms…

…that fold their hands over my eyes

…it is also true, if we are willing to open our hearts, that…

there is always someone calling your name softly,
open your ears and walk

…and that, indeed…

The sky will not fall at the end of the storm…
…the end we will be beautiful houses full of scars and stories.

Not since I first read Dancing in Odessa by the young Russian poet, Ilya Kaminsky, have I been so taken by a book of poems. Oriogun tells us…

The doors of my house are pillars of dreams…

…and he most generously invites us in, asks us to sit, stay awhile, and partake of the gifts he offers. Among the many gifts in this book that he has blessed me with are these lines…

  i once held a baby girl to the sky
only to find the sun calling her God.

Come in. Sit. Stay awhile. Oluwasegun Romeo Oriogun has gifts enough for all of us.

John L. Stanizzi,
Adjunct Professor of English, Manchester Community College

Download the chapbook here: Burnt Men by Oluwasegun Romeo Oriogun

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