2 weeks and 20 Australian Dollars. That’s how long and how much it cost to get Olatundji Akpo-Sani’s new chapbook halfway across the world to me.
11 or so years ago it woulda taken about 2 minutes and 0.00 postage in any currency. That was before the former Burnt Toast/NoName Open Mic co-host and Baobab Tree press co-editor left town on an intercontinental spiritual wandering by which he eventually settled in a mystical country the legendary bards Men at Work referred to as ‘The Land Down Under.’
Look, I am an extremely nostalgic person. I’m already nostalgic for just a few nights ago when all I did was fall asleep with the dog watching Boogie Nights on Netflix (Burt Reynolds’ character: “I never let him block his own scenes”). I’ve just never been that comfortable with how moments of minor pleasure are constantly disappearing and being replaced by the unpredictable future, let alone moments of major significance you might consider your ‘artistic heyday.’ Needless to say I deeply miss Tundji and our shared era of the Poetry Scene.
Some time recently I sent him a message like, “C’mon, man, come back to Boulder and do all the great things for this community that you used to do. No one else can do it right.”
And he responded with something like, “Everything changes always and you hafta get over that nostalgia shit, Jonny, or at least not let it paralyze you cuz the present moment actually needs you.”
And maybe I said something like “blah blah blah.”
But then we worked out the arrangement for the international delivery of his new chapbook “Post Surrealistically Challenged,” which attempts to rise to this moment to save us from it.
All the political division and injustice and plague and environmental destruction and general stress and malaise we’ve seen in this country for the last few years is just as apparent in the continent of Oceania, and Tundji boldly tries to offer us another way, despite his awareness of the looming possibility that we’re ultimately helpless to change anything.
The first piece keeps repeating, in a spirit of postmodern self-awareness, the eponymous lines “I am making art.” The mantra, repeated with different variations and presented with plenty of text/space experimentation, simultaneously conveys the silliness and seriousness of the endeavor. While it appears to be in vain, what else are you going to do? And maybe art can always function at least in the capacity of “the ultimate fuck you/ to reality.”
The pressures of society is a major theme in the book, especially the ones resulting from capitalism. Lines like “Investment firms keep telling me/ that I should prepare today to do what I love tomorrow/ When I just want to do what I love today/ in preparation for tomorrow,” from the piece “Orwellian Warnings,” are relatable, and now that the problems have been established the author can’t help but try to rally us to do something about it “Let’s be radiant in our fearlessness to create solutions/ that benefit more than just the infamous ‘us and them,” “Let’s be in this together.”
This is where the cynical part of me wants to resist Tundji’s optimism and dwell in more hopelessness, yet its continual reassertion throughout the book, along with the whimsical illustrations from Tundji’s wife Kathryn Manekshaw, the poet’s skilled artistry (playing multi-syllabic abstractions like ‘entropy’ off visceral images like ‘cold salami’) as well as the right dose of fun yet generation-specific pop culture references (Chuck Norris, Moonwalking,and Meg Ryan) has a charm that starts to break you down.
It’s further convincing that Tundji consistently shows he is well aware of what we’re up against – the ease of hate – whether by military, religion, or just mundane. He even recognizes that in himself, concluding the laundry list of grievances “In These Lands of Power” with the self-reflective lines “Even this poem has refused to acknowledge/ the unbelievable marvel of love\ until the very end.”
But the All-You-Need-Is-Love philosophy is ultimately the hill Tundji is willing to die on. In the penultimate piece titled “The Unbelievable Marvel of Love” the poet reminds us that “Love/ needs to be that unconditional acceptance of everything/ we think we hate,” and urges us to “[Hold] your twinkle high/ with an unnerving belief/ in the wondrous humanity of nature.”
By the final piece “Polka Dots” Tundji attempts to delivery a finishing blow of inspiration, opening with the lines, “To those who can hear me/ I say do not despair!” It gives a further call to action to consider what we can do to free ourselves rather than the platitudinal saving of the world – “If you can help just one soul/ it’s a start,” before prescribing the inner-child satisfying “paint polka dots every where/ and don’t worry about the stares.”
When Tundji writes “Don’t shade your light/ just because others/ are afraid of their own/… You are a gift,” I feel like he’s speaking directly to me. It causes me to consider the gloom I have so often felt, particularly in relation to my creative life, over the last few years may not be so much the result of exterior conditions such as Tundji leaving, etc…, but rather because, for a variety of reasons, I have not been honoring my own light and gifts enough, and maybe I do have some control over that.
Tundji is probably not coming back, but I am here, and I can keep his spirit going and blend it with my own. Maybe this is the time to make The Stand. Fuck, I’m getting fired up by this! This is the Right Energy. The book did it’s job. Let’s see what happens now…
Jonathan Bluebird Montgomery is the Editor-in-Chief of Boulder Poetry Tribe. The author of Pizzas and Mermaid, The Reality Traveler, and the soon to be released Nine Books (at Once!), he’s been on the Boulder Poetry Scene since he got his MFA at Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School in 2005. You can find more of his work at jonathanbluebirdmontgomery.com