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Review of “Telling It” By Chiwenite Onyekwelu

Submitted by Editor on 5 February 2024

By Nwuguru Chidiebere Sullivan

In the poem, “Telling It”, published in Cincinnati Review, Chiwenite recalled a moment of a near-destruction in his life; a memory although old, still lingers with an indelible L-shaped scar in his flesh. In his words, ‘scars are nothing more than a body’s way of recalling.’ This brings us close to the near-death experience the writer had while growing up, and with the scar still noticeable, he recalls the moment while having us, the readers, witness the experience as though we were right there when it happened.

Throughout the poem, from lines such as ‘On my back, every lump is holy. The ovals & the square, the thick stamping of an L into brown flesh.’ and ‘I learned pain the way you learn a frantic dance.’ we could feel the vulnerability of the writer which is one of the major themes he explored in the poem. This vulnerability was what the boy twice the writer’s age as captured in the poem, leveraged during a play to single out the writer and attempt to set him ablaze. Oftentimes, among children, especially during a play, there are always the ones who find joy in bullying; this was exactly the encounter the writer had which almost led to his death. We can see this through the poem, and to make this even clearer, the writer metaphorically captures his surrender to the bully in these lines; ‘In many ways even plants submit to butchery. Vulnerability or trust, that is where my burning begins. O shimmery scars the size of mischief, I still wonder why a child would try to set another child on fire. What small hand has all my infant blood?’ While he was busy having a fun time with his peers, the bully stepped in to cut it short; this was the sort of experience some of us had while growing up. “Telling It” is just the kind of poem that mirrors the intricate part of us we never really talked about, or probably were unable to capture in words; such profound artistry was what Chiwenite achieved with this piece.

Beyond the writer’s vulnerability which he exceedingly explored well in the poem, his use of simple language and expression is another thing that draws every reader close to the poem, such that we can feel the impact of every word in a very honest manner. Also, the metaphors in the poem as direct and vivid as they are, make the imagery very clear to the readers such that we are able to relate so well with the writer’s feelings. The poem although started off as a profound meditation of the scar on the writer’s back, later went on to grow into a vivid account of pain, before finally coming off as an in-depth evidence of grace with the writer surviving the attempt on his life.

Above all, the poem fulfilled its purpose with how intentional the writer was with every expression that went into the poem. The delivery and coherence across the poem made it even more lively; a piece I would recommend for everyone’s read.

Link to The Poem:

Chiwenite’s Biography:

Chiwenite Onyekwelu is the author of the poetry chapbook, EXILED, forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks (2023). He was recently longlisted for the Writing Ukraine Poetry Prize 2023. He was also a runner-up for the Foley Poetry Prize annd the Anita McAndrews Poetry Award 2022.