Woman, Eat Me Whole is Ama Asantewa Diaka’s second book of poetry, following (and including some poems from) her APBF chapbook, You Too Will Know Me. The book is organized in four sections, each named after one word in the book’s title. Indeed, the book seems designed for consumption foremost by a female reader—but don’t let that scare you away if you’re not a woman. There is value in this collection for a reader of any gender.
On the topic of poems we’ve seen before: Over the past few years, I have engaged more deeply with Poetra Asantewa than with Ama Asantewa Diaka. That is to say, I’ve heard her work far more than I’ve read it. And so it’s interesting to see some of the poems that I know well in audio form translated back into the written word, including “A Good Day for Redemption (Dear Nalorm)”, “Love Yourself”, “That-which-must-not-be-named” (otherwise known as “F-word” on The Anatomy of a Paradox) and “Masked Commoners”. The lines and layers of meaning that jump out to me as I read aren’t the same ones that do when I hear the poems aloud.
There is something about the composition of these poems that make me feel as though Diaka is a prose writer masquerading—quite effectively—as a poet. Many of her poems tell stories almost as effectively as flash fiction. Chunks of lines would work equally well as prosaic sentences, as some stanzas would as paragraphs. This lends a consistency to her voice as a writer. Between this and her choice of themes, I feel that if you spend enough time with this collection, you will have unconsciously learned how to recognize a Diaka poem anywhere.
Despite the energy of the lyrical composition, you’d be hard pressed to mistake the form for prose, in most cases. The poems that do not follow the more typical blocking of poetry include some delightful experimentation, especially “Ordinary Speak”, which is written in the form of an official doctor’s report, and “@mAnsPlainA”, written in the form of a Twitter thread.
I have also never seen somebody remix a poem, much less their own poem, which made “V for Pink” and “V for Pink (remix)” novel experiences for me. Several lines in the original poem are shocking; the speaker strings you along on a theme and then yanks you abruptly to the side. After several re-reads, you think you finally understand certain lines, only for the entire poem to be rearranged in the remix, and the same lines that slapped you on your left cheek the first time boomerang around to give you a whack on the right—or upside the head, just to spice things up. If you ask me, there is not a line in that pair of poems that means just one thing.
Thematically, Woman, Eat Me Whole is as consistent as Diaka’s voice. It’s no surprise that womanhood—especially Black womanhood and Ghanaian womanhood—is such a prevalent theme. It has colored just about every body of work Diaka has ever produced, whether written or spoken. Naturally, the first section of the book, “Woman,” is the longest, even as the theme continues to shine boldly in the subsequent three sections. Also familiar are the themes of chronic pain and spirituality/Christianity/faith. The former is often in relation to the female body, and the latter is often used scandalously, reverently, or in a clever combination of both.
Two of my favorite poems fall under the themes of wealth and privilege: “Our utopias are different” and “New-roses”. Both poems invite the reader to be simultaneously empathetic about what a lack of wealth can do, and critical about what an abundance of it can lead to, with a nuance I think should be included in more conversations on the topic. Speaking of those themes, I am convinced that these two poems—“Our utopias are different” and “Our father who art in heaven”—are deeply in conversation with each other, as far apart as they are in the book. They succinctly capture the ways different types of people envy each other’s versions of struggle, again with an impressive nuance.
Someone close to me commented that the title of the collection sounds like something one might say during sex. This added an extra layer of humor to the fact that the first poem in the “Eat” section—“Take, Eat”—evokes the connotation of “eat” that is peculiar to Ghanaians in the sense of, for example, “Me I dey eat.” As if this is not enough, there are the extra layers of cheekiness that come from a poem so loaded with innuendo being equally loaded with imagery of Holy Communion, and that the poem is apparently addressed to the parent of the speaker’s lover. Let’s just say, it is as easy to imagine a Ghanaian boy’s mother receiving these words as it is to imagine snow falling in the heart of Accra.
“Eat” is the book’s shortest section, but its theme meanders over several interpretations: eating as a form of swallowing down loss, pain, words; eating as a metaphor for affluence, sex, love. Another of my favorite poems, “my love is a warm pot of soup”, is in this section. It is a sensual and passionate love poem, simultaneously awkward (a unibrow as a metaphor for two people’s attraction? Wild), supremely confident, and provocative. It is precisely the sort of poem I would love to recite to my lover.
The third section, “Me,” includes the highest number of my favorite poems in any section: “the awesome in Me”, “New-roses”, and “Anatomy of a Body”. The third is a love letter to oneself and feels like an affirmation I should be reciting every morning and evening. The running thread of this section is a striving for hope and self-love in the midst of pain, guilt, insecurity, and life coming at you fast from all directions of time: past, present, and future. I love it when a work of art finds a way to face somber reality and yet fiercely resist the despondency it inspires.
For some reason, the running thread in the last section, “Whole,” seems to be Ghana (and often, more specifically, Accra), with a few exceptions. “Bloom”, a lovely love poem to Accra, is dedicated to individuals going about their daily lives, flirting, sharing, working, and staying alive. I am amused by how it follows two poems about the country’s and the city’s erasure of women, respectively. “w-i-p” is an ode to the varied messages found on the rear windows of tro-tros. My melancholic junkie in me found another favorite in “Saturday Evening WhatsApp Message,” which poignantly captures the tension of being a writer in pain who writes about pain. My favorite line in that poem:
“I want to be resilient forever. I am happy when I overcome.”
Overall, Woman, Eat Me Whole is a collection well worth owning, for poetry enthusiasts and casual readers alike. However, I have to say that between “No Panties” (one of Poetra’s earliest recorded works from the Motherfuckitude EP) and the first part of “Letter to Afua” (one of the last poems in Woman, Eat Me Whole), those of us who consider ourselves fans of her art might have to start asking some serious questions about whether Ama Asantewa Diaka actually wears panties.