You know when you read a poetry book so good that you just have to stop what you’re doing and appreciate it for a minute? That was this book for me.
Ben Okri’s newest collection A Fire In My Head: poems for the dawn is undoubtedly one of the best poetry books I’ve read in awhile, and is a title you should definitely add to your 2021 reading list. I also found one of my new favourite poems in this book (Everest), which I did a reading of here.
WHO IS BEN OKRI?
For those of you who may not know, Ben Okri is a Nigerian writer, poet, essayist — basically any kind of writing and he’s done it. He won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1991 for his amazing novel The Famished Road, and has an extremely unique style that’s been compared to writers like Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez.
And it is precisely this unique, magical realist style that makes his new poetry book worth reading.
What I love most about Okri’s style is that it’s grandiose without being pretentious. This is a difficult combination to come across in poetry collections. When you read these poems, you know they’re trying to tell you something important without them having to use overly complex metaphors or rhyme schemes. Okri isn’t trying to be a poet, he’s trying to tell you something through poetry. And in my opinion, that is good poetry, when it can say something significant without having to say a lot.
WHAT IS THE BOOK ABOUT?
On the surface, this is a collection of Okri’s new and old poems. But I think the subtitle explains it best ‘A Fire In My Head: poems for the dawn’. These are poems that capture those moments of beginnings, those moments when we knew things had to start changing again, like the fire Notre Dame, Grenfell Tower and the murder of George Floyd. But it also captures inward-looking moments of reflection, like praying in a Buddhist temple in Seoul or what it means to call yourself an outsider.
And although his style is consistent throughout, no two poems are the same.
What I liked was that the book is split into five sections that describe a timeline of dawn and sunset — Unknown Hour, Convergence, Midday, Dusk, Invocation Hour. Sometimes with poetry books there is a tendency to have these sections arbitrarily, like they don’t really count for anything. But here you could tell why each poem was chosen for each section, and that was a detail I appreciated.
WHY SHOULD YOU READ THE BOOK NOW?
So why should you read the book right now (other than because it’ll literally blow your mind)?
Well, it’s one of the first collections I could actually read before bed and still sleep — which basically means, it’s a good pick-up-put-down, easy read despite being a poetry book. There was only one word I didn’t know in the collection and it was because it was an old-fashioned word for distiller, but everything else was so readable. In fact, I read a good portion of the book on a day where I had a bad migraine and couldn’t really look at screens or just exist, but I still managed to enjoy it a lot!
It’s also really great lockdown reading. I found myself pulling out little nuggets of wisdom from these poems and annotating them as I went, because I needed to hear those things in a time where my mental health is not at its best. It’s helped me to pick myself back up after job rejections, not being able to see my friends, and just generally living through the pandemic. It’s pretty small in size for a poetry book, and so is like a little friend you carry around with you. When you feel bad you can just open it up and find a line that will instantly speak to you and make you feel better.
And finally, you should read this collection because now is the time for a new dawn. If you’ve been feeling down or uninspired, read this book and I guarantee it will reignite your spark.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own and are not sponsored by Head of Zeus.