In the beginning, there was a garden. And then, a fire. Except it was no fire. But what to say of the furnace that was my mother’s womb. And my father, without whom there’d be no kindling. I must be ash. I mean to say I was born the son of a god whose throne you could not approach. Imagine it, the hymn of my immaculate blossoming. O let me sing myself a song that’s yet unsung. I—the son of a gong, son of a pitch too holy for the devil’s mouth. Let me christen myself the son of a sun and I will bask in my own light. Son of a phoenix, I walk out of every flame robed in a coat that can’t be taken off. Some secrets even the moonlight can’t reveal. My father, he must’ve lost his wings to the fire. Unblushing, I was born under a furtive sky. I mean to say the body is a country, this tangled history of flesh, bone and blood. But who asked for it. My skin, this garment of fur, a flag forever in love with the flame. First of the flock, I was born by a river. I was carried here hanging on the beak of a bird whose name I do not remember. My mother, she was my first home. Her mother, too, her first. Ask me what it feels like to be so far away from home and I will say I did not come here of my own accord.
3 Questions for Ayokunle
What was your process for creating this work?
The two poems, Autobiomythography and Künstlerroman, are poems from my thesis manuscript. Of the two, Autobiomythography is the newest. Some poems come to me fully at once and require minimal edits but most are pieced together and edited over a period of time, as Autobiomythography was over the course of several months in 2019 and then again earlier this year. Its first drafts started in a creative writing class with a group of high school students in Houston. One of the lessons I taught that day in March was centered on origin stories. Another lesson involved a challenge to write something that incorporated nine words selected at random from Harryette Mullen’s Recyclopedia. The words were immaculate, blossom, unblushingly, tangles, moonlight, fur, furtive, imagine and garment. Some of them are words I otherwise wouldn’t use in a poem, if not for the exercise.
Much later, I realized that both drafts worked well together. After rearranging, removing, and adding lines, I finally had the poem as it is now. I’m particularly thankful for the suggestions of CM Burroughs (one of my thesis advisors), Linda Gregerson (whose workshop I was part of in the fall of 2019) and the folks I workshopped with that semester.
With Künstlerroman—written in October of 2018 (and whose original title was actually Origin Story)—the story is a little different. Aside from some lines edited out, the poem is for the most part as it was when it was first drafted.
What is the significance of the form/genre you chose for this work?
I’ll answer this question by bringing back to life some lines I edited out of the poems. For Autobiomythography, it is, “How many ways can a boy rebirth himself?” The idea of Autobiomythography (word to Audre Lorde/Zami: A New Spelling of My Name) is an attempt to answer that question. In the poem, as with the overall project of the manuscript the poem is part of, I wanted to see how much closer to the truth I could get by turning the biography genre on its head, or sideways—through the invocation of myths. For Künstlerroman, it is, “I have lost count / of how many times / I’ve been asked, / how this journey / with poetry began.” Hence the poem’s title. Whereas Autobiomythography is a personal origin story, Künstlerroman is my origin story as a poet. As the final words in the poem will make clear, my mother is actually the true poet and it was important for me to honor that. Whatever I am and will become as a writer, I owe a lot to her. For one, that she bought me books when I was younger and has over the years encouraged my love of reading and writing. I continue to be an apprentice of her supportiveness.
What is the significance of this work to you?
These two poems in particular are significant to me in the ways I’ve already discussed in the previous question. Additionally though, they are because they are representative of the work I’m trying to do with my thesis manuscript: the work of rewriting/re-righting the self, in as many ways as is possible. In so far as the self is not static, there will always be new ways to approach the question of where one comes from and how one comes to be whatever one is. I find so much freedom in the fact that I can look at existing forms and myths to see what they might possibly have to say about my life/who I am—and to ask what I might have to say back.
Ayokunle Falomo is Nigerian, American, and the author of AFRICANAMERICAN’T (FlowerSong Press, 2022), two self-published collections and African, American which was selected by Selah Saterstrom as the winner of New Delta Review’s annual chapbook contest in 2019. A recipient of fellowships from Vermont Studio Center and MacDowell, his work has been anthologized and published in print and online, including The New York Times, Houston Public Media, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Texas Review, New England Review, Write About Now among others. He is currently a Zell Postgraduate Fellow at the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program, where he obtained his MFA in Creative Writing—Poetry.