Lyric Essentials: Chloe Honum reads “To Be My Father” by D.M. Aderibigbe


Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Chloe Honum reads “To Be My Father” by D.M. Aderibigbe.

Chloe, this is a really incredible poem you’ve shared with us today—very haunting. How did you become familiar with the work of Aderibigbe? Do you recall what it was like to first read his work?

Chloe: Damilola and I first connected about a poetry matter on Facebook. I looked up some of his poems and found them breathtaking. I think there’s both an intimacy and a mystery to his voice, and a sense of reaching out to communicate a deep piece of experience. I love when a poem makes me feel like someone is whispering something in my ear, that I’m being trusted to hold something important. His work gives me that sensation.

Chris: There is an interesting effect created in this poem with the repetition of “A doctor, two nurses.” The repeating phrase creates a revolving sense of time and the whole poem, made of these really tight, almost terse, lines establishes a sense of rigidity, but remains fluid. I’m not sure I even understand what I just said, but what do you make of Aderibigbe’s repetition and play with chronology? There’s so much going on in this really compact poem—it’s phenomenal!

Chloe:  I was drawn to the repetition, too. I like your idea about there being a revolving sense of time in the poem. Hospitals, in my experience, do give that sense. I remember being in hospitals as a kid, during family emergencies, and feeling suddenly at the mercy of a big system, with unfamiliar protocols. It did feel like time had changed its rhythm in a bewildering way.

“To Be My Father” is concise and exact, yet to me it has a dreamlike quality, too, like when the hospital workers ask the speaker “to fill their past / With my footprints.” For me, that moment evokes both the formal feeling of being at a hospital in a crisis and the deep wildness of human interaction in such situations.

Chris: What elements of “To Be My Father” are most essential to you as a writer?

Chloe: I admire the concision, the restraint coupled with the rendering of emotion, and the cinematic quality. I’m a greedy, somewhat impatient reader. I like it when poems go straight to the bloodstream.

Chris: Is that concision characteristic of all of Aderibigbe’s work? What other poems of his do you enjoy and where can we find more of his work?

Chloe: Yes, much of his work shares that concision. He has an ability to crystallize a moment yet remain fluid and tender. Many of his poems are intimate, or familial, in a similar way as “To Be My Father.” They’re at once enchanting and cutting, and always original. Take the opening to his poem “Pink,” for example. It’s a voice I want to close my eyes and listen to.

Because my father dips himself
into the vagina of a Swedish woman

and is never found again,
my mother’s heart dies.

I follow her, a chick follows the hen
it sees when crawling out of a hatched egg.

My sister follows her like a goat with a rope
fastened around its neck…

Aderibigbe’s chapbook, In Praise of Our Absent Father, was selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for the APBF New Generation African Poets Chapbook Series. It can be purchased as part of a limited-edition nine-piece box set at:

More of his poems can be found online at the links below:

“Pink” and “Out of Water” (Hobart)–41

“In Praise of Our Absent Father” (Connotation Press)

“To Be My Father” and “Mirror” (The Normal School)

“Birth” and “Becoming My Mother’s Son” (The Cortland Review)
_________________________________________________________________Chloe Honum is the author of The Tulip-Flame, selected by Tracy K. Smith for the Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize, a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award, and the winner of Foreword Review’s Book of the Year Award and the Texas Institute of Letters Best First Book of Poetry Award. Her honors include a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship. Raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Honum currently teaches at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Chris Petruccelli is making this post from somewhere in CT/RI. Nice. You can find his poetry in Connotation Press, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Still: the Journal, and elsewhere. His chapbook Action at a Distance is available from UIndy’s Etchings Press.