The Poetics Of Place And Memory In Yusuf Adamu’s Poetry By Paul Liam

Born on 9 March 1968 in Katsina State, Yusuf Adamu hails from Tsafe Local Government Area of Zamfara State. He graduated from Giginyu Primary School, Kano State in 1980, and from Government Science Secondary School Zuru in 1985. He attended the Usmanu Danfodio University Sokoto where he graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science Degree (Hons) in Geography. After his mandatory national youth service, he enrolled in the prestigious University of Ibadan where he graduated with a Master of Science Degree in Geography in 1994. His love for knowledge and education led him to enrol for a doctoral degree at the Bayero University Kano where he graduated in 2004 with a PhD in Geography. Adamu’s interest in education as shown by his dedicated schooling culminated in an academic career as a lecturer and professor of Medical Geography with the Bayero University Kano, where he continues to teach and conduct research as well as pursue his passion for writing, promoting literature, and photography. As a Professor of Medical Geography, he has published extensively in local and international journals. He is a Fulbright Fellow, Social Science Academy of Nigeria Laureate, and a Member of the Nigerian Academy of Letters. He has also served as the head of the Department of Geography, and as the Director of Bayero University Press, Kano.

It is striking to note that one of the unique things about Adamu’s exploits is that his creative writing predates his academic life as a lecturer which began in 1995. Adamu’s first creative output as an author was a novel in the Hausa language, Idan So Cuta Ne, published in 1989 by Adamu Joji Publishers, Kano. He was a gifted young man whose writing talent manifested quite early in life as he was only twenty-one years old in 1989 and a 300-level undergraduate student when his first novel was published.  During this period, his novel was used as a study text by the Department of Hausa Language, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, for their B.A. Hausa programme. However, despite his brilliance as a writer, Adamu went on to specialise in the sciences rather than the arts where his talent would have been further harnessed and his contributions would have been more profound. Regardless, Adamu built a successful career in academia as a medical geographer while still holding onto his first love of writing. He successfully married his passions which resulted in his evolving a dual and unique literary identity of a “poet-geographer”. This multidisciplinary background also enriched the corpus of his work. Thus, for three decades, he published a total of twenty books including five novels in Hausa, nine poetry collections in English, a play in Hausa, children’s fiction, and science-related books.

His published novels include Idan So Cuta Ne (1989), Ummul-Khairi (1995), Maza Gumbar Dutse (2007) and Gumakan Zamani (2015). His published poetry collections include Litters (2000), Landscapes of Reality (2008), They Can Speak English (2010), A Flat World (2012) Places: A Poetic Geography (2018), and Wordless Sounds (2021). Adamu’s other published works include children’s titles such as Our Wonderful Planet: Poems for Children (2015), Butterfly and Other Poems (1995), My First Book of Rhymes (1998), Animals in the Neighbourhood (2007), Clever Squirrel and the Great Wedding Contest (2013) and What Do Scientists Do? (2014). Adamu has also edited and co-edited several anthologies including a reader on Hausa prose fiction, Hausa Prose-Fiction: A Reader (2021), Pregnant Skies: An Anthology of Fifty Nigerian Poets (2003), Mazan Fara: An Anthology of ANA Zamfara (2008) and co-edited Kwaryar Kira (2010), an anthology of Hausa fiction, poetry, and drama. His novel, Dukan Ruwa won the 1990 prize for fiction in Northern Nigerian Languages, and in 2020, his poetry collection, Places: A Poetic Geography came second in the ANA/Shehu Sani Poetry Prize.

Adamu is a bilingual writer and member of the Association of Nigerian Authors; his rich literary oeuvre has earned him a prime position among notable Nigerian writers and poets. He is more famous in northern Nigeria for his Hausa language novels, while his poetry in the English language, on the other hand, has gained considerable traction among non-Hausa readers both locally and internationally. The choice of Hausa as the language of Adamu’s novels is connected to the overriding influences of the robust Hausa literary culture in which he was born and raised. Growing up under sturdy literary influences such as Abubakar Imam’s Ruwan Bagaja and Magana Jari Ce, Muhammadu Bello Kagara’s Gandoki, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s Shaihu Umar, Sa’adu Zungur’s poems among other pioneer Hausa writers whose writings foreground the tradition of modern Hausa literature. Adamu came of age in the 1980s, during the boom of the Hausa Literary Movement otherwise known as “Kano Market Literature,” which was characterised by an unprecedented rise in interest in Hausa literature in the north, especially in Kano. The Soyayya subgenre of the Hausa novel form became popular during this period, particularly among young women and men. It is instructive to stress that Adamu became a major contributor to this culture with the publication of his novel, Idan So Cuta Ne (1989), and other works that followed in the ‘90s and 2000s.

Adamu’s prolificacy as a writer and poet is not in doubt as evidenced by his long years of productivity and commitment to the development of literature even as a scientist. However, the crux of this exercise is a focus on his poetry and in particular, his poetics of geography. Thus, this essay seeks to x-ray the relationship between poetry and place through the experienced realities of the persona in some selected poems of Yusuf Adamu. Adamu’s poetry has remained committed to reflecting on the issues of the environment, places, and spaces. His poetry explores the intertwining relationship between place, human experience, memory, and meanings. In accessible language, Adamu establishes an existential link between place and the human experience in a sense that presupposes that man is intrinsically connected to his environment spiritually and culturally.

In providing a contextual base for this analysis, this analysis will lean on the expertise of two phenomenal scholars whose thoughts on the poetics of geography and the environment I find very instructive and relevant to this exercise. Eric Prieto and Sule E. Egya in their respective scholarships have dissected extensively the concept of poetics of geography and environment, and imagination. Eric Prieto, in appropriating the phenomenology of place submits that,

Place is perspectival—that is, it requires the presence of an experiencing subject to be activated as a place. Place is not an objective, material fact there to be discovered but rather an interaction between a physical environment and an active, experiencing agent who both shapes and is shaped by that environment.

(Literature, Geography and the Postmodern Poetics of Place, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012:29)

Prieto’s explication presupposes that place is conceived in relation to the experience of a subject or persona that has lived or experienced the realities of a place or an environment, hence it is the experience of the individual that gives meaning to a place. In other words, a place that has not been experienced cannot be considered to exist unless it exists in the consciousness of an “experiencing subject” according to Prieto. Consequently, when we talk about a place or an environment, we are talking about the experiences associated with the said place which are often shaped by the person that experiences it or it shapes the person.

Egya, in his contextualising the discourse of place poetics and environment within the precinct of Nigerian literature, identifies two categories of influences mainly the “physical” and the “non-physical.” Egya asserts that the non-physical influence is rooted in spiritual and cultural evocations, and is focused on the physical state of natural life which he links to environmental activism, and evokes a sense of morality towards the environment. Egya postulates thus,

Nigeria literature is famously rich in evocation of environment, both physical and non-physical. In the non-physical aspect, the environment is tied to writers’ cultural, spiritual connection to a place, usually their birthplace (as in the case of Christopher Okigbo hinging his inspiration to his birthplace’s water goddess Mother Idoto and Wole Soyinka to the god Ogun). In the physical aspect, there is a lot of attention to natural (biotic and abiotic) life forms such as water, trees, mountains, the sun, and the moon.

(Nature, Environment, and Activism in Nigerian Literature, Routledge, 2018:1)

Egya’s assertion is accentuated by two poets, in this writer’s opinion, whose poems illustrate the above quote. Gabriel Okara’s “The Call of the River Nun” and Christopher Okigbo’s “The Passage”. In these poems, we come closer to understanding the intricate link between humans and their connection to the environment through a sense of spiritual supplication. Also, as suggested by Prieto’s postulation, we encounter the aestheticisation of memory in the performative experiences of the personas in relation to their perception of place via the metaphors of the “river Nun” and “Mother Idoto”. Through the subjective glorification of the subjects of both poems, a sense of value and meaning is deduced by the personas’ exhumed realities or experiences connected to rivers. For example, the persona in Okara’s poem asserts; “I hear it coming through; invoking the ghost of a child listening, where river birds hail your silver-surfaced flow”. Okigbo’s poetic persona on the other hand responds as though concurring with Okigbo’s persona, by positing thus; “Mask over my face–/my own mask, not ancestral—I sing:/remembrance of calvary,/and of age of innocence, which is of…”

Adamu’s poetry evokes both spiritual and cultural influences as well as non-spiritual realities in annexing the relation between its persona’s experiences and the experiences of the environment. For example, in Adamu’s most celebrated collection, Places: A Poetic Geography, we experience multiple realities of the physical and non-physical entangled in a marriage of poesy. The collection is divided into seven parts with distinct subthemes suggesting variant realities, representing the seven continents in the world. The collection also contains a prologue and an epilogue. The division begins with a nation then it is spread across continents which represents the perceived experiences of the persona. The first part is subtitled “Nigeria”, the second part is “Africa”, the third part is “Europe”, the fourth part is “Asia”, the fifth part is “North America”, the sixth part is “South America” and the seventh part is “Australia and the Poles”. The epilogue is subtitled “Fellowship and Mankind”. Each categorization is defined by a unique focus on countries and experiences within each continent. Adamu’s poetry in general can be viewed as a celebration of memory and experiences recollected through the eulogised reflections of the persona.

It suffices to posit that Adamu outdid himself in a visible attempt to forge intercourse between his professional calling as an academic medical geographer and his vocation as a poet. His knowledge of spatial science and poeticity has resulted in a scientifically poetic collection. In the epilogue section, three poems problematise the question of belonging and the meaning of existence in a rather non-rhetorical manner. In the poem entitled “Search: for NASA”, the persona interrogates the human quest to understand the world. It is this quest that drives the activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the American Government, which seeks to unravel the mystery of the other planets. The persona seems to suggest that this search is perilous in nature and often leaves humans with more questions than answers as collaborated by the following stanzas,

Looking up at the night sky

Catching glimpse of the starry sky

Gives us a feeling of loneliness

In the endless space above our heads

We peep through our telescopes

And map the starry sky

We land on the moon

Which we find as silent as a cemetery

We search all over the Solar system

For other civilizations like or greater than ours

We send unmanned flights to spy neighbouring planets


The second poem under the prologue section entitled “Geography” highlights the importance of geography as the gateway to man’s understanding of the world around him. The person in the last stanza of the poem wonders albeit sarcastically if humans are not blind without the aid of geography. In this poem, geography assumes an anthropomorphic essence in that it is given the attributes of man-like eyes and to be able to see and direct man towards understanding the universe. The last stanza is provided below to further illustrate this postulation;

On our beautifully designed living planet

Longitude, latitude, equator and hemispheres

Tell us about where we are in space and time

Are we really spatially blind without Geography?


And in the third and last poem of the prologue section entitled “Visa Process”, the persona recounts the various challenges that citizens of third-world countries go through in a bid to acquire visas to travel to foreign countries. The persona also reflects on the “almighty” attitude of visa-issuing officials whom he describes as “high priests” at such embassies. A few lines of the poem will suffice to illustrate this position,

Getting a foreign visa is an uneasy and uncomfortable task

You must travel to Lagos from anywhere you might be

You must be at the embassy as early as 6:00 in the morn

Make sure you are in the queue before he c{a}me talking

A process in phases, each phase, {and have} its unique problems

Phase one is like an endless waiting with uncertainty

“I will not entertain any question from any of you”

So decreed the visa high priest with all seriousness


In the first part of the collection entitled “Nigeria”, the persona takes a journey through the different cities of Nigeria highlighting their cultural nuances. Some of the places or cities are represented by their tourist attractions. The sheer depth of poetic description of these places leaves no one in doubt of the persona’s adept knowledge of the particulars that characterise the uniqueness of the people and places being talked about. For example, in the first poem in the section, “Kano”, the persona x-rays the evolution of the ancient city of culture and commerce by juxtaposing it with its present touch of modernity.  Kano is described as a cosmopolitan city that houses all including saints and sinners. The persona enthuses,

Tradition and modernity

Inseparable like a mixture

Buy and sell

The city offers more

To engage in and more to marvel at

For saints

For sinners

For the active

For the dormant

It has a place for everyone.


While Kano is revered for its commerce and cosmopolitan nature Katsina on the other hand is regarded as the centre of knowledge and enlightenment by the persona. The persona’s recollection of Katsina exudes nostalgia and pride. The persona submits thus,

City of hospitable people

Of brave men and courageous women

Center of learning and scholarship

Ta Dikko dakin kara

And the land of my birth

Tell me, Katsina

Do we still view the Ka’abah

From the top of the Gobarau minaret?


And in the poem entitled “Bauchi”, the persona showers praises on the royalty traditions of the people, sportsmanship, and masa. There is a sense of history, culture and pride in each of the poems in the collection, the persona assumes the role of a historian retelling tales of golden years lost to the only constant force in life; change! So, in the poem ‘Bauchi”, we relive history and the beauty of its people.

Bauchin Yakubu the gift of revolution

A city of littered inselbergs

Home of sports and noble folks

Where everyone thinks royal

And the tanda of perfect masa.


In the second section of the collection “Africa”, we encounter narratives woven around experiences harvested by the persona through various journeys across Africa. In this section, we encounter Africa in its equally diverse nature. But here we also encounter the politics of borders and how it divides rather than fosters human interaction and learning. Borders could become a stumbling block to people’s aspiring of exploring other realities as highlighted in the first poem of the section “Adare”. In the poem, the persona bemoans the inability to access the town after being stopped by immigration officers at the border but through the power of the imagination the persona and his co-travellers were able to cross the border mentally and even explore the town as the persona narrates in the poem,

When they stopped us at the border

They could only stop our physical frames

But they cannot stop our imaginations from crossing

On the wings of imagination, we flew across the border

We landed in Adare and trekked its streets

We met its beautiful people and inhaled its fragrance

We were at the border; we crossed the border

For no immigration hullabaloo could ever stop us

We are now good to go, to go back home

For us, it was a mission accomplished!


And in the section titled “Europe”, the persona explores the beauties and ugliness that make the various cities represented in this section thick. This section explores the cultures and social realities of Europe through the experiences of the persona, and each of the cities is remembered for its uniqueness and place in history and global politics. For example, in the poem entitled “Paris”, the persona alludes to Paris as the headquarters of France and French-speaking people of the world, and the defector headquarters of its former African colonies. This particular reference is made to slight France for its exploitation of African countries even after independence. The poem is a subtle jibe at France for its continuous appropriation of the resources of these countries. The poem is hereby presented,

Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame will always ring a bell

When this European city of arts and fashion is mentioned

It is the capital of the French no one is in doubt

Yet, a de facto capital of its former colonies

A destination dream for youths in the Francophone

A city of increasing diversity and struggling assimilation.


In the section titled “Asia”, the persona reflects on his experiences through various cities that make up the content. It is interesting to note that the descriptions of the cities represented in the collection paint pictures that suggest the persona has truly lived the experiences he narrates. One uniqueness of the collection is that each poem has the date and month that it was written. In the poem “DIERA” the persona x-rays the multiculturalism and commercial nature of the city. The persona relates,

In a swarm of Indians, Pakistanis and Bengalis

Of buyers, sellers and very busy streets

The bustling streets of Diera never sleeps.


In the fifth section titled “North America” and “South America”, we share in the persona’s reflections and expressions of his prejudices on the way of life and cultures of the Americas. For example, in the poem, “New York”, the persona projects the city as the centre of glamour and American life, characterised by opulence, money, power, lust, and fun. He goes on to portray the city as a paradox box when he states in the ninth and tenth lines that what fascinates him about the city is also what intimidates him. He employs the personal pronoun “me” to indicate ownership of the experience conveyed in the poem. The short poem is replicated below for emphasis,

This city that is always awake

New York is always a new city

Not only to visitors and strangers

Even to those you made your children

The Statue of Liberty welcomes the new arrival

High-rise buildings intimidate the visitor

Skyscrapers are turned into walls

It harbors money, power, lust and fun

What fascinates me most about you

Always also intimidates me

New York, the capital of capitalism.


In the section “South America” under part five, we encounter a change in the thematic focus in the opening poem, “GITMO”, we see a swift shift into the political discourse of America’s failed system exemplified by the presence of the United States Military prison characterise by the abuse of human rights. The persona describes GITMO as an embodiment of shame and dishonour. In a mocking tone, the persona enthuses albeit rhetorically,

A spaghetti flash of shame

In a naked dance of dishonour

What happened to freedom and liberty

In the land of the brave?


The sixth section is titled “Australia and The Poles” and contains only two poems that pay tribute to the wonders of nature. The first poem, “Uluru” speaks about the myth and tradition associated with the Uluru rock in Australia, and the persona compares its magnificence to the “royal mummies of Egypt of old.” The persona also ascribes spiritual and tourism signification to Uluru as indicated by the inferences deducible from the last three lines of the poem,

Curses rain on those who remove any piece of Uluru

Uluru, you attract and fascinate tourists the world over

They pay you homage in thousands every year


Through Adamu’s introspective memory and perspectives, we travel around the world without visas and enjoy the elegance of nature and cultures of the diversity of the world. In Adamu’s works, humanity is portrayed as the shared heritage of all human beings irrespective of race, belief, or geographic location. For example, in the epilogue titled “Fellowship of Mankind” the persona bemoans the needless divisions and wars among humans when they can achieve a prosperous common world by living in peace with one another. This opinion is supported by the second and third stanzas,

So if Earth is our only home

If there is no other home for mankind

One wonders why the human specie

Is killing and maiming its only kind

When you view the Earth from outer space

One sees the futility of war, and other kinds of violence

Our future as a lonely specie in the universe

Lies in our ability to live peacefully.


It suffices to posit that, the collection is an anthropological legacy of beauty and memories documented through the instrumentality of poetry and photography, every poem and section is accompanied by photographs that illustrate the essence of the places represented in the collection.

Adamu’s poetic tropes are woven around the impact of place, memory, and culture on the consciousness of time, and how they influence how we perceive societies and people. And this motif runs through all his poetry collections. For instance, in the collection Landscapes of Reality, we encounter a similar consciousness as found in Places: A Poetic Geography. For example, in the poem “Time to Break Away”, the persona travels down memory lane to remind us of the ugly history of colonialism and the many wounds it inflicted on its colonies. The persona discusses the damages of colonialism within the prism of “places and homes” through the portrayal of a sense of helplessness. The persona bemoans the physical distortion and psychological displacement of Africans from their ancestral homes. The second stanza of the poem illustrates this point more succinctly,

few years afterwards we became

subjects of foreign rulers

whose army conquered us by the maxim gun

and enslaved us in our places and homes

for years exploiting the resources we have

and then redefining who we are

who we are supposed to be

what we are supposed to do


The reader’s knowledge of European colonialism and imperialism in Africa enables a plausible inference that situates the import of the poem rightfully within the purview of postcolonial discourse. The collection also focuses on the representation of the social realities in society including issues such as maternal mortality, child beggars, malnourishment, fuel scarcity, poor infrastructure, strike, and coups, among others. Landscapes of Realities is Adamu’s poetic representation and conversation with society and it does not pretend about the issues facing the advancement of the nation. The poems in this collection were mostly written in the 1990s during the military regime of the late General Sani Abacha. Consequently, it is not surprising that the poems are angry and don’t seem to paint a positive picture of things, the poems are mostly sad and reflective of an unhappy mind. For example, in the poem “Government Hospital”, the persona laments the deplorable state of public hospitals and the poor culture of professionals in these hospitals. The poem is a metaphor for the leadership and system failure of the country. The poem reads,

Uncounted hours waiting time

five-minutes consultation time

semi-empty pharmacies

sub-standard laboratories

ill-equipped theatres

it is a government hospital


In the poem, “Strike” we are reminded of the undemocratic attitude of the ruling class who do not listen to the people. The poem rationalises the instrumentality of strike action as a tool to get the government to act right and fulfil its obligation to its people. Unfortunately, this poem was written in 1999 and twenty-three years later, Nigeria is still experiencing a strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which has lasted for about months now without any hope of the government addressing the issues or demands of the union. This means that the education of many young Nigerians in public universities would continue to be put on hold until the strike action is called off. This is an indication of the dearth of growth, and especially the inability of the government in providing a better life for the working masses of Nigeria. The poem is reproduced below for emphasis,

When chief executives

decide not to have listening ears

when all diplomacy fails to stir them

when persuasions

go unnoticed

a little strike

may strike them harder.


Sadly, in 2022, Nigeria is still confronted with the Academic Staff Union of Universities strike and the challenges of misgovernance and incompetence. Yet again, for several months now, ASUU’s demand for an overhaul of the public education system in Nigeria has met thick silence from the government. The Federal Government’s refusal to meet ASUU’s demands or reach an amicable resolution is a clear indication of institutional failure which the persona in the poem “Speak Out” enjoins us to resist by speaking out against the perverse system. The poem embodies the tenets of democracy of citizens’ participation and inclusion and freedom of expression, especially against injustice and indifference by the ruling elites. He concludes by pontificating that speaking out does make a difference in the end. The poem elucidates this assertion more succinctly and is hereby replicated below,

Speak out

tell them the truth

even if they refuse to listen

tell the truth even

if they like it or may not

hate you they may

arrest you they may

do not mind their act

do not keep silent

speak out

it makes a difference.


Yusuf Adamu’s poetry is conscious of society and the politics that govern human experiences and interactions. In accessible language and relatable metaphors, Adamu draws the readers’ attention to the salient issues surrounding them, and for Adamu, poetry performs more than aesthetic duties, poetry is an instrument of social discourse as already shown in this analysis. However, this assertion is even more explicit in the collection, They Can Speak English. In this collection, Adamu demonstrates a high sense of social consciousness and maturity reminiscent of a poet that has come of age poetically. We encounter in this collection a greater effort at artistry in terms of the aestheticisation of language and craft, we encounter a poet that is self-aware of his calling as a poet. While the collection addresses several important, we will dwell more on the socio-political realities.

The opening poem “They Can Speak English” counters the well-known assertion that the Hausa people of northern Nigeria cannot speak English because of the heavy influences of their mother tongue and the Arabic language. This stereotype is rooted in the prejudices that other Nigerians especially southern Nigerians have against northerners because southern had earlier exposure to western education and the English language. The poem more than debunking the notion that northerners cannot speak English illustrates the deeper identity dilemma and inferiority complex suffered by those who pride themselves as experts or better speakers of the language of the colonisers who displaced their native languages. Rather than see the ability to speak good English as an achievement or a mark of civilisation, the persona derides those who boast of their English-speaking competence and not their mother tongues which are more authentic to them than the foreign language. The persona links this identity crisis to the language displacement occasioned by European colonisers who imposed their languages on the natives of their former colonies, which resulted in the creation of a cultural and identity duality that inhibits the development of indigenous epistemology and by extension the socio-economic development of these colonies.

The greater disadvantage of the imposition and subsequent adoption of the language of the colonisers is the unhealthy craving by natives of former colonies to become more like their colonial masters rather than become more of themselves. But the persona instructs us in the seventh stanza of the poem that to become a complete human being we need to embrace ourselves as a whole. The persona profoundly declares,

You are only complete when you are complete

So, be proud not because you speak English

Be proud only in your mother tongue

Be it Hausa, Ashante or Berber

Swahili, Masai or Kwa zulu

Sango, Yoruba or Arabic

You can think and express your thought.


Perhaps, what is central to humanity is a difference, be it a difference in the mother tongue, skin, culture, belief, or geographical location. Humanity was created by nature to be diverse, and to be authentic is to be different from other people. Thus, the idea of difference is at the core of the second poem in the collection entitled “Global Village.” In this poem, the persona dissects the misconception of the concept of the global village which is loosely viewed, especially by Africans as the relegation or denigration of their own cultural identities for a supposed global one which also explains why many Africans pride themselves in adopting foreign etiquette in an attempt to become more English than English folks. The persona argues that to be global citizens in the context of living in a global village in which Africans strive to become more western than themselves by adopting western cultures and ideals is to impose the status of second-class citizenship on Africans.

The persona problematises the crisis of belonging to the global village in the fourth stanza of the poem below,

As long as we are second class

Within that large village fashioned

We would be subjected to

Someone’s standards

Someone’s culture

Someone’s technology

Someone’s understanding

Someone’s worldview

Someone’s theories and concepts.


The persona goes on to propose that Africans must resist the temptation to be drowned by the so-called global village ideology to retain their authenticity. The persona submits thus,

They try hard in harder ways

To make us part of that village

But we know we are different

And shall strive to live outside

That fashion unsafe village


Clearly, this is one of Adamu’s most celebrated poems, it has received critical attention internationally, especially in Germany, where it has been studied by several students across levels of learning. It is a powerful articulation of the convert implications of globalisation for the cultural identities of developing societies. Globalization, as propagated by the West and Europe, poses a threat to other cultures and this is the central message of the poem.

Adamu’s perception of difference as a cardinal feature of human reality can be seen from the perspective of the struggle by postcolonial nations to define themselves within the larger discourse of globalisation, in which the peoples of the colonized societies are often submerged in the ocean of western cultural and epistemological influences. In other words, globalisation is often perceived as fitting into the narrow ideals of western consciousness and values exemplified by the adoption, for example, of the English language as the official language of the world. However, Adamu through his persona is averse to this notion which explains why the persona in the above stanza insists Africans or people of the colonised realities must resist the urge to belong to “That fashioned unsafe village.” Carrying this notion further, Adamu, in a philosophical tone uses the metaphor of the “Martian sky” in the poem entitled “Difference” in the collection Wordless Sounds, to illustrate the significance of difference as the core of the world. The persona pontificates,

If the Martian sky is red

The sky above our heads is blue

Each place will in itself

Be unique.


Wordless Sounds is a collection of poems written in the quatrain style; all the poems are made up of four lines only. The poems are chiefly idiomatic expressions of life and the perceptions that define the poet’s worldview. They represent abstract thoughts bothering on love, death, future, tomorrow, selflessness, humility, age, ignorance, emotion, understanding, cowardice, knowledge, generosity, ego, ambition, change, language, thought, racism, trust, meaning, black, seasons poetry, hope, faith, memories, remembrance, weakness, muse, time, environment and of course, Africa and Nigeria. It is obvious that Adamu set out to experiment with this collection, unlike his other collections that focused on more concrete socio-cultural and political realities. In Wordless Sounds, the poet assumes the position of a philosopher musing and pontificating about the metaphysical elements while evoking and inviting the reader to the intercourse of contemplations.

For example, in the poem entitled “The environment”, the reader encounters a deep reflection not on the physical state of the environment but its symbolic importance for life. The persona draws a frightening conclusion on the implication of abusing the environment; which is that human beings will die if they destroy the environment which serves as a protective cover for them. The poem is an example of remarkable metaphorical representation; it is one of the most profound of Adamu’s poeticity. The poem is represented below for emphasis,

It is our garment

Covering our nakedness

We will be bare naked in the winter

When we destroy it.


Adamu’s fascination with the poetics of place and socio-cultural realities is manifest in a poet in tune with his environment and its aesthetic essence as this analysis has attempted to demonstrate. For instance, in the last poem of the collection Wordless Sounds entitled “Nigeria” the persona bemoans the dashed hopes of Africans in Nigeria which is regarded as the giant of Africa, the one who should set the agenda for Africa’s development. The persona infers that Nigeria’s inability to provide leadership for the continent is why Africa remains underdeveloped and concludes by positing that when Nigeria gets right is when Africa would come of age. Thus, Nigeria is perceived anthropomorphically as the big brother that must wake up from its giant sleep and provide direction for the rest of Africa by being the example that others should emulate. The persona submits,

Africa’s crippled hope

Refusing to wake up from unfathomable inertia

If and when it wakes up

Africa will truly come of age.


In conclusion, it is important to note that the scope of Yusuf Adamu’s poetry is as wide as his decades of experience in writing poetry, thus, this analysis does not pretend to provide a comprehensive analysis of his works and worth as a poet. This is but a mere attempt at appreciating some of the essences of primary motifs that foreground his poetry. Equally, this analysis left out his children’s poetry collections whose concerns are also not far from the ones explored in this reading. A reading of the actual collections would offer more delight and insights into the nature of Adamu’s poetic journey of imagination. However, it is instructive to observe that place and socio-cultural consciousness are at the core of Adamu’s poeticity.


Paul Liam is a poet, literary critic, and the author of two poetry collections; Indefinite Cravings (2012) and Saint Sha’ade and Other Poems (2014). He has written several critical essays and reviews on contemporary Nigerian writers. A 2014 Fellow of Ebedi International Writers Residency, Oyo State, he is currently the Head of Operations of Isu Media Limited, a development communication company based in Abuja.