Showing pages tagged "poetry"

We Need an “Elbow Room”: An Appraisal of Younglan’s "Elbow Room"

by Alewa House, published 9 months, 3 weeks ago

There is a philosophical argument which proposes that man is a product of his surroundings. The notion argues that the sum of man’s decisions, actions and inclinations are innately imprinted by the impressions he/she has witnessed. Although the counter argument proposes that some persons can transcend the complicated social conditioning of their society. It is inherently difficult to outrun the impact of the experiences that one has grown accustomed to.

Poetry has a way of baring out our impressions of the society. It is a channel that expresses the deepest sense of our vulnerability, our strengths, our fears and even our love. But sometimes, a poetic piece has the power to transport us into a place where we can both reflect and introspect on the choices, the experiences and the decisions that have led us to the moment that we are in.

Younglan’s “Elbow Room” begins with the familiar angst of a character in contradiction. The contradiction arises from the most familiar of places.

The human desire to navigate the pitfalls of the emotions of love and hate.

“Everything you seem to love now

You might just end up hating

And everything you seem to hate now

You might just end up loving

So I am hating the President now,

So that I might just love him later”

Across these few lines, a deeper story unravels.

It is a story that lays its soul bare over the rest of the poem.

A story of the contradictions of man’s experiences.

An experience which in some ways; has grown accustomed to the futility of the system.

When Younglan discourses the society in the way it projects its values, he replays the very plot of the sad society that we are immersed in. He discusses a society where hardwork is constantly being preached, but in hindsight; the most successful individuals are the persons who are steeped in the less than stellar ways of politics.

The contradiction in the experience is thus; while the politicians live a life that is different from the one the masses experience, the masses still lie in awe of the politician who continues to pillage the values of the masses. The politician has no restraint. His lack of restrain, by default creates a sublet of identities. It creates the “collaborators” who are content to wallow in fear and live in the status quo. The second group is the one he describes as the ones that might become “monsters.”

There are other contradictions within the story of the Have and Have Nots that he projects.

For instance, when he talks about getting guns, his answer is thus,

“But if we all get guns

Then we all might be gone soon”

Or when he talks about the state of the poor, he says

“The earth has had enough of the poor man’s blood

These days, it regurgitates it even,

For it thirsts for the blood of these bloodthirsty politicians, so”

Up until this point in the poem, the biggest question had been what direction the poet wanted the story to go to. The end goal was not to just offer up the state of contradictions within our society, or to just highlight the experiences of the masses who suffer inexhaustible hardships while politicians loot, pillage and walk away.

The end goal was something more subtle.

A certain kind of defiance that wiggles its way out of a dilemma.

Younglan projects himself as an outsider on the inside of a society that offers him as much contradictions as the one he battles within himself.

When he plays within the fringes of love and hate at the beginning of the poem, he found himself choosing to decide upon a route that will end in an outcome that feels the most secure.

His decision is to approach the tougher end of the contradiction first.

His experience and the nature of the society he has grown in, makes this a herculean task.

But it is a task he can maneuver because he has found a way.

The way, and in the end, the “safe space”, lies in the manifestation of the people.

Ever since I listened to the poem; my greatest question had been what the elbow room was.

The truth is, the “elbow room” is a free scope. An adequate space for work or operation; when it comes down to it, the “elbow room” is every individual deciding to choose what side of the contradiction they will prefer.

What Younglan has succeeded in showcasing is the binary of society, where action and consequence is deeply visible.

This is the part of the story that we sometimes fail to see. Every line of the poem is in constant conflict with the next because every line is a consequence of the next action. The politician, the collaborator, the masses who may become monsters, they are all deep psychological products of the society that they are familiar with. Their actions and decisions, whether dictated by love or hate, remains inherently dependent on the experiences that they witness.

The impact of that decision will decide how every individual unites under a common protest, a common election. The revolution in the end is for the common man.

The man in the streets may feel imprisoned by the way of his society. That is only for a while. He/she will find his/her free scope. And when he/she does, the revolution will be as they always say “televised.”

“Elbow Room” is not a typical poem that allows you to be outside of the experience. It drags you in because it speaks of a familiar space that we all understand.

From the moment Edge Golbador’s Falsetto warms over the sweet chords at the beginning, and he wails those enchanting cries, you are drawn into the experience that suggest that whatever is being said requires your mind to be at peace.

The society we survive in is burning into its nadir.

From the deepest hooks of oppression, we must find an elbow room to move into our own truths.

Maybe this piece is a rallying call to us all.

What is your elbow room?

Reviewed by Elijah Abuni Peter

Listen or download Elbow Room by Younglan for free.