IN SEARCH OF EQUILIBRIUM BY THERESA LOLA

By Carmina Masoliver

One of the first things that strikes me about Lola’s debut poetry collection is the innovative use of form and the consideration of how text and space are on the page. The subject matter is essentially natural – life and death – yet, the poems are experimental and bring in cultural elements such as technological language and hip hop references, as well as religious allusions.

The collection is book-ended with Lola’s own prayer and psalm, with numbered lines at the side. Dealing with grief, there is naturally a sombre tone to the poems. From the first, there is an expression of doubt about the poet’s faith, though holding onto it ‘even when I fear God might be a thin shadow.’ By the time we get to the final poem, there is a loss of innocence to the reality of the world around us, but a certain strength that comes with ‘fighting darkness’. Referencing the collection title, Equilibrium considers new life balanced with old, and we get the specificity of the grandfather’s illness, confirmed in the next poem as Alzheimer’s.

The death definition poems give a sense of inevitability, as well as a struggle to find the right words when it comes to death and grieving. There is a sense of the two opposites in each of these three poems, placed at different intervals within the collection through the separation and the word ‘or’, where the first part offers a direct, emotional response, and the second tries to rationalise the experience in a more positive or neutral light, realising that ‘we are all made of the same clay’.

Another form that stands out is the wikiHow poems that use a step-by-step guide for dealing with loss and mourning. Insomnia is a Cheap Drug uses the form of drug prescription notes where each stanza is placed inside a table. Closer is divided into seven small sections with subheadings, including a questionnaire and a series of prose poems.

Lola takes on her grandfather’s voice as a computer engineer, beginning as a familiar Google search for a cure for disease, until the concept of searching seems to allude more to the collection’s title…

Reporting Live from Grandpa’s Funeral is another example of Lola’s experimentation with form, taking on the structure of a news report. As well as Alzheimer’s Algorithm, the poem Cutting Back on Work Shifts

embodies technological language, this time through the inclusion of coding. This time, Lola takes on her grandfather’s voice as a computer engineer, beginning as a familiar Google search for a cure for disease, until the concept of searching seems to allude more to the collection’s title, finding peace through silence. Even one of the collection’s more classic forms – A Shattered Ghazal On Understanding Existence – has an original twist, using a double forward slash to separate words beginning with ‘ex’, used in each couplet.

One of my favourite pieces in the collection is Lean Back as instructed by Fat Joe. Here, the movement is dissected through prose poetry exploring identity, feigning confidence and memorising lyrics in order to fit in and make a name for yourself:

‘to tell / others you wear shinier ghosts, shimmy your name in their / face. What better instructor to mimic if not Hip Hop.’

This idea of arrogance as a kind of mask or protection is also explored in Black Marilyn, where the speaker celebrates life ‘by buying more clothes than I can afford.’ Like much of Lola’s work, she mixes concrete images with the metaphysical: ‘I must be a god the way I keep resurrecting / into prettier caskets.’

Lola has produced a wonderful collection, that has clearly taken time to perfect, and is a massive accomplishment for any poet, let alone one so young.

What interests me the most is the grandmother’s experience of mourning, which is touched upon through several poems, including Tailoring Grief, where the real is  used in a metaphorical sense. Lola’s Nigerian background is tied to this exploration of grief, dressed in orange, where her grandmother ‘wore a dress / with sleeves puffed like swollen lungs’. There are also great lines that integrate our behaviours from a feminist perspective: ‘Get used to laughing at how crazy a betrayed woman is, / a man’s favourite joke to tell.’

Lola has produced a wonderful collection, that has clearly taken time to perfect, and is a massive accomplishment for any poet, let alone one so young. This shows the way that grief can force us to grow up, that with it comes a loss of innocence as we can see how painful the world can be.

Get Lola’s In Search of Equilibrium here.

photo of cover courtesy of Carmina Masoliver


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