by Olatunde Osinaike
Tender Headed, selected by Camille Rankine as a winner of the 2022 National Poetry Series, is a musical and formally playful meditation on Black identity and masculinity
"In Tender Headed, Olatunde Osinaike asks the question, what makes a man, and what makes a man like me? As he interrogates the inner and outer workings of masculinity in all its sharp and tender parts, and the way a Black man meets the world, his poems strut and duck and weave across their pages. These poems unpack the ingredients of being and make a meal of language. They relish every word, every sound, every syllable. Their music is the sugar that makes us take our medicine, but their beauty refuses to be disguised. They disturb the peace while asking, ’whose peace?’ The poems are playful, not playing. They pulse and spin and push us forward, never carry us away. Even as we dance along, we never close our eyes. This work is nimble. A two-step on a tightwire. Tender Headed grooves and shines, holds us wide awake and mesmerized." —Camille Rankine, author of Incorrect Merciful Impulses
THE IRONY OF TRANSFORMATION often is that we mistake it to have occurred long before it does. Tender Headed takes its time in asserting the realization that growth remains ever ahead of you. Examining the themes of Black identity, accountability, and narration, we encounter a series of revealing snapshots into the role language plays in chiseling possibility and its rigid command of depiction. Olatunde Osinaike’s startling debut sorts through the many-minded masks behind Black masculinity. At its center lies an inquiry about the puzzling nature of relationship, how ceaseless wonder can be in its challenge of a truth. In the name of music and self-identity, the speaker weaves their way through fault and how it amends Black life in America.
This is demonstrated best in how the demanding, yet vulnerable tone for the collection is set in "Men Like Me," its restless opening poem. Here, we find the speaker reciting a chronicle of generational neglect from men that became him also. Earnest and sharp, there is a beauty in seeing a poet not shy away from both the melancholy and resolve of rescripting their path while cherishing their steps and missteps along the way. This collection is a panel aching of fathers, sons, uncles, grandfathers, all of whom would do well to join in and confront shared privileges that are typically curtailed or altogether avoided in conversation. Tender Headed entrusts the heart to be a compass, insisting on a journey unto itself and a melodic detour toward tenderness precise with its own footing.