‘Touchless Times’ A Review of Olayiwola’s Poetry

by Jeffrey Gan (December 2020)

I think of the old truism that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture;” as if to say that dance, which is form in fluid motion, is fundamentally incompatible with architecture, which is form in stillness. And yet a building is not a sterile construction; it is not a blueprint, a rendering, or a model. Its solidity is enlivened by people moving through its form. The form of a building, then, is a kind of choreographic partner to the movement of bodies within it. Dance and architecture are not so much opposites as they are co-conspirators. 

If dance has an opposite, I think it may be poetry, particularly the imagistic kind that Olayiwola writes. In the hands of a different writer, these bodies would be frozen in tableau; placed on a slide to explore in microscopic detail. Instead, Olayiwola preserves compact form but his images breathe and move. The bodies he writes about are pulled together and repulsed away again. 

As a choreographer and dancer, it is perhaps no surprise that Olayiwola’s poetry is concerned with bodies; the material fact of the body; erotic, animal, blood and hair and skin curled up in beds. Unsurprising, too, is his concern for bodies in space. The bodies which Olayiwola describes are hunched, erect, “supine and prone.” Olayiwola’s bodies are arranged in relationship to others, too. Proximity can turn, in an instant, into a painful distance, and back again, as in his poem Aubade in Overcast: “…–– on our backs, leaning us homeward/like lovers being watched/in the snow—how it changes you…” 

These are touchless times. Writing from my house in Texas, where distance and touch have been rendered politicized, by the venomous partisan response to the pandemic, I read Olayiwola’s poetry as an elegy for touch. He does not rhapsodize on touch as much as he mourns it. His poems speak about the ache for the touch of another person and the dissatisfaction it can hold. This tension drives you through his work, the push and pull of erotic connection. For example, in the poem Invisible Speaker – Drone: “Powerlessness –– the want we hate our bodies with./Endeavor –– all the steps I take leading up to his door.” Proximity is something to be longed for and feared – a dangerous consummation, devoutly to be wished.

Olayiwola’s poetry features in issue 1 and can be read here: Invisible Speaker and other poems by Oluwaseun Olayiwola

Jeffrey Gan is a dramaturg, performer and PhD student in Performance as Public Practice. He holds a BA in International Relations and a BA in Theater from The American University, as well as an MA from the University of Texas at Austin. Gan’s scholarly research and performance practice explores time, distortion, and colonial nostalgia in Indonesia and its diaspora. He is particularly interested in food, festivals, and live performance.