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Violence and Healing: “Flintknapping” in Conversation with Aremu Adams Adebisi

Aremu Adams Adebisi challenges his readers to reimagine grief, conflict, and hardship in his poem “Flintknapping”. Inspired deeply by the vastness of the human experience, Arabic poetry, and the voices of his five older sisters, he inspires his readers to journey with him: “My writing style is not decided,” he states in our interview, “I say it is nomadic and unrestrained. It goes where the themes go, where the language goes.” In constant exploration, Adebisi unearths newfound lyric and meaning from his original ideas. This freedom is ever-present in “Flintknapping”. The haunting couplets and cryptic lowercase letters are constant throughout the piece. However, upon closer look, one senses a spontaneity to his writing style. “[L]oudly, loudly, ever so loudly” is both ruminative and sudden. It is a reference to flintknapping itself, the act of shaping a blade. 

He begins and ends with ostensibly despondent questions that illustrate his willingness to sit with discomfort and uncertainty. He asks at the very beginning, “ever heard about the therapist who murdered the depressed?” At first glance, this could fill a reader with despair; however, the progression of the poem reveals the simple job of the therapist: to chisel away at the grief until one discovers its beauty. 

Adebisi enjoys how the poem “explores the different forms of healing and breakage to a fault”. “It’s like a dance, starting with the movement of the head, then the stretch of the arm, then the stamp of the feet, then all of these parts at once — like that, the poem reads procedural and I love every bit of its procedures.” His depiction of the blade and its many uses reveal this procedural nature. “I love blades,” he states tersely in the poem, “How they cut away from your body, make sure no body parts are in the cutting path or interfere with it. The subtlety of flesh-tearing, the grand opinion it holds, unfazed. A blade’s last urgency is not blood, but dust.” We watch the blade, from its first urgency to its last. 

The simplicity of the blade is striking. Adebisi’s use of these familiar symbols makes the poem all the more captivating and relevant. When asked to give advice to growing writers, he emphasized the importance of writing despite the writer’s constant inclination to search for new words before doing so. “I should also add that diction does not make poetry, but coherence,” he insists, “A poem with incoherent diction is nothing but a stone to a golden piece of simple coherent words.” 

Adebisi takes his own advice, emphasizing the symbol of the blade throughout the poem. He distinguishes between “blades” and “flowers,” indicating that there are varying degrees of violence that conflict and coincide. “Anything with teeth is a blade,” he declares, “Anything with fingers has pines or nettles or awls or saws.” At the poem’s end, he asks “what do we have to live for when the end is coming in with thistles?” The thistles are the blade’s soft counterpart: cutting and soft, much like death itself. We possess teeth and fingers alike, meaning that we are all subject to the violence of one another. We “nurture flowers with blade hands” regardless of what we intend. Even with our most delicate and treasured beings, we cut in a blade-like motion. This happens daily, as we live through “nights with claws, days shackled in teeth.” 

This does not leave Adebisi despondent, despite the unanswered question that he poses at the very end of “Flintknapping”. I believe Adebisi finds strength in recognizing this impact that our days, nights, and companions have on us. “[G]rief has never been the enemy,” he reflects in the poem. His love of the blade is a love for humanity, a love that can compel us to heal from grief.

Skye Tarshis
Skye Tarshis

Skye Tarshis is an eighteen-year-old first-year student studying at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and Bienen School of Music. Her writing has been featured in high school publications such as BeaconInk and The Beacon Beat, as well as choral works written by composers André de Quadros and Pulitzer prize-winning Ellen Reid.

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