Here’s the tale before Silverbird. Please indulge me so you feel my mood. I was at a hotel, and had ordered my meal. Don’t ask what it was and I wouldn’t tell you it was noodles. I needed a meal that wouldn’t take long to prepare as this hotel’s restaurant was an ala carte restaurant. I had two thoughts in mind that needed me heading out fast: go make an appointment that would aid my medication and some much needed rest or go for the Silverbird Book Jam (done in collaboration with the Abuja Literary Society). I had done some MC work, then had a long meeting with the writer, Mrs. Chinyere Obi-Obasi who is simply inspirational. I was in my suit and taking my meal. I had gotten to the last part of the experience, the favourite part of the meal, eating the last of it when I was hit with some inspiration. I forgot the pretty lady across the room who was eating her meal. I was thinking of some options including whether to go see a different beauty elsewhere or just fulfil the obligation of the Book Jam… Well, inspiration hit me and finding no paper around, I grabbed a napkin to write. The waitress who had attended me earlier came and grabbed my plate and taking it away, asked sweetly:
‘Oga, se you don finish?’
I looked up in surprise at her, then at my quarter to finish meal. I felt the eyes around. Saying ‘No’ would mean I was aiming to scrape the plate – which I had intended [hee hee hee]. Well, the suit said ‘Yes’ in my voice and so I watched my meal leave. I tried to scribble something to the napkin but it would seem that my inspiration had left with that plate. Ah! Not funny.
Well, I left for the office of the Manager, my dear friend, and found her eating. She invited me but I saw in her eyes that perhaps it was her first meal for the day. I politely declined. After her meal, and mine in saliva, we walked to get me a taxi. It was then that I wondered why I hadn’t ordered a proper meal during the waiting time in the manager’s office. A headache was brewing, or was it a fever… The thought was to forfeit Silverbird when I was told I had some duty to perform… Groan.
I thought I was late but turns out I was among the first five. Good! Reward Nsirim usually gave movie tickets to early birds. Yaaay! Maybe he would anchor today… Then I saw the master poet-performer, Dike-ogu Chukwumerije. Okay, hopes of the bird trophy left. A familiar face hailed me. I remembered him from my Book Jam reading in June. We chatted a bit and I left him. I looked at the books on display, Olu-gbemiga Ojo’s Mull with me, Nnamdi Ebo’s There was a time and the 2013 NLNG Literature Prize longlist writer, Iquo Eke’s Symphony of Becoming. Nice! I’ve been trying to get all those
NLNG books to do a review. Phew! Four out of the others found! Well, for the Book Jam, the three books made for a good picture. I smiled at them. I looked at the name Olu-gbemiga again, it sounded so familiar!
Dike-ogu started the programme by introducing himself, everyone present did same. There was the first discussion segment. The talk was on ASUU. While some sided the government, others sided the lecturers. Of course, the talk raged on. When people affected by the strike were asked to put their hands up, I raised mine. The people told me to put my hand down o… How can I? Aren’t MSc students affected? Well, that passed. We had a full discussion that had to be cut so that the show could go on. We were asked to use the words, ‘Love’, ‘Excellence’, ‘Flood’, ‘Time’ and ‘Rowdy’. People had their attempt. I wrote:
‘Love propels excellence in a flood of time that fast gets rowdy.’ An impromptu panel awarded me 4, 4, 3 over 15.
Someone read something a bit less cryptic. He got 4, 4, 4 over 15. The last person got 7. Well, the 12 guy won the cinema ticket that was at stake.
The writers were called to the front. Iquo and Olu-gbemiga’s books are debut collections of poetry. The latter is the one who had greeted me when I entered. Mr. Nnamdi Ebo’s book, There was a time is a book, no surprises here, on Biafra. The 57 year old is currently a final year student of Law at the University of Abuja. Law being his third degree. He has another book to his credit, Legal Methods for 100 level students. Iquo came in from Lagos for the reading and looked finer than her picture on the back page. Somehow I kept thinking as I had since the announcement of the NLNG long list that she sure looked and sounded familiar – was it a thing of the digital social networks that makes you friends with someone you’ve never known before? No, felt different. Oh well. It was the time for them to take their readings. I noticed them bring out their books to look for what to read. Hee hee hee. Reminded me of some of my own readings. More and more I get to notice that most writers prefer to select what to offer on the spur of the moment. Olu-gbemiga read first. The Engineer recited some of his poems and gave room to Iquo who read a few of hers as well. Mr. Ebo took the last shot reading about low flying no-light aeroplanes in Biafra.
Dike-ogu asked the first set of questions to all the writers. Mr. Ebo’s question was on the choice of his title which was similar to Achebe’s There was a country that features the same topic that There was a time looks at. The author explained that he had had his title since eight years ago when he put the work together in preparation for publication. The original title for the book had been ‘Once upon a time’ but his wife had refused the title arguing that it was childish and more fairy tale like than serious. ‘There was a time’ was agreed on much later. Achebe’s book published last year had caused some concern and created a division with some friends arguing that Ebo change his title while others asked that he go ahead with it. Those who suggested that he continue with the title won. To a question on the airport, Ebo replied that the airport was the only airport in the world at the time that operated at night under the cover of darkness. The Nigerian forces had tried a lot of times to destroy the airport knowing that if the relief and all that came through the airport was cut short, the war would have ended. They never found it in their confusion and the cleverness of the Easterners.
Olu-gbemiga Ojo explained that he hadn’t really always been into poetry. He got pulled to it in 2002 after a certain bereavement. A Ghanaian friend of his gave him some Awake editions which eventually sparked some writing enthusiasm in him. One thing led to another and he found himself writing. On another note, the poems in the collection are not all of his poems. He had lost his first manuscript. To beat the hard form missing, he decided to put all his writings to the computer and a hard disk which eventually also crashed. Somehow, he put together some other writings that came to form this collection. There are a lot of other poems. He answered me that his publishing experience had been hectic. He self-published with Trafford and had had to put in a lot of money in addition to working with an Editor.
Asked if she sets out from the beginning to write for paper or performing, Iquo replied that she simply wrote first without knowing what would end as a paper poem or a performance poem. She puts it down and goes from there. Her oldest poem in the collection is from 1999. To a question I asked, she mentioned that she doesn’t work with any particular style or thing in mind. She simply learns rules enough to break them. She writes first then works on them later.
Dike-ogu in the absence of any performer performed a poem, ‘Reserved Table’ which he said was based on a true-life experience. It was about a man
who had a fight with a ‘personality’ at his brother’s wedding. The poem in Dike-ogu’s natural style got more revealing as it grew. The personality keeps asking ‘Do you know who I am?’ and struggling for the chair till an usher notices and comes to tell the narrator. The personality is the Personal Adviser to the Special Assistant to the Senior Adviser to the aide of the Personal Assistant of the Senior Special Adviser of the President. The personality smiles, at last someone recognises him. The narrator apologises and then, yanks the seat from the hand of the personality for ‘You see, the seat was reserved’. Everyone cheered…
The writers had another session of reading. Mr. Ebo started this time, followed by Iquo and finally Olu-gbemiga. Mr. Ebo read from a section of his book that dwelt on propaganda. When Iquo started reading, the microphone had some issues and she had to use her voice. After a while, she paused to ask, ‘Can you hear me?’ There was a thunderous ‘Yes!’ When the mic came back on, there were groans at the muffling that it was now obvious the mic had done to her fine delivery. She went to her voice after a while.
There were some final questions too… Mr. Ebo explained that his book is a book of his experience in the war which started when he was eleven and ended when he was fourteen. It was mixed with research. At some point, Mr. Ebo asked ‘How many of you read The Guardian?’ Hands shot up. ‘You should know me now!! I am Ebo, Mr. Nnamdi Ebo. I write a column there.’ The looks on most of the faces showed that the audience was made up mostly of people who paged through the paper or read every detail without quite memorising the names of the writers. Well, Mr. Ebo spoke on his writings in The Guardian newspaper and a piece he was working on shortly. He decried kidnapping and crime in totality saying that there was hardly any excuse for it. A member of the audience apologised for not being a reader of The Guardian (his voice didn’t really show he was sorry). He said that situation and troubles can push people to do things they’d rather not do. Hunger and poverty can make animals of men. Mr. Ebo maintained that there was really no justification. He continued on a different note that with the happenings in the country, the political troubles, a lot of people are talking of a civil war without knowing the full impact of it; ‘No country can survive two civil wars! War is horrible and is something we should not think of.’ On a light note, he answered a question on writer’s block that he overcame his usually with a glass of milk and some sleep [I wish I could do same… Hmmm].
Iquo spoke on stereotypes, saying she wasn’t pleased that most writers embraced the Western black washing of Africa negatively [my paraphrase]. There’s an overt generalisation by most people which isn’t right. Most people ride on it believing it is one of the easiest ways to attain fame and stardom especially in the Western world. Some others just think it is, in her words, sexy. On her role models, she mentioned Maya Angelou, Christophe Okigbo, Wole Soyinka, Leopold Senghor… and eh, okay, she couldn’t remember more or they were too much in her head at that moment so she said ‘To mention a few, not mentioning others in the other genres, let’s stick to poetry for now.’ Her writing is largely based on self-expression which she finds to be the key thing to everything else.
There was a raffle draw for people who bought the books. Two lucky ones got tickets for movies at the Silverbird cinema. Emeka Chijindu Nwakama who had come in a bit late and sat beside me, was one of the lucky winners. I couldn’t remember him from my reading (what is it with this headache and amnesia) but he was nice and told me some good things. It was one of the highlights of the evening for me. It put some coolness and sanity to my rising temperature… The main part of the whole session was ended.
The audience applauded… for what it was worth, it had been worth it 🙂
There was a final performance from Bash… We coordinated a few pictures. Hmm, had to tease Dike-ogu that he doesn’t pose for pictures when Iquo was taking a shot with him. A fever that ‘caught’ me earlier was increasing its hold on my senses. Already, a few friends I had been chatting with had noted I was acting strange. I noticed that my irritability was increasing and I wondered if I wasn’t beginning to irritate people more. I can only pray I didn’t get anybody pissed… Well, my suit went off sharply and I hopped gratefully with a cousin of mine into the cool comfort of my buddy, Gimba
Kakanda’s ride. We ended up driving some full hour instead of five minutes. That in itself is gist for a fuller post but true talk, who cared about that one, I had a fulfilling discussion with Gimba and kept thinking of a certain Doctor who I had called earlier, one worrying about these aches oooo…
The Association of Nigerian Authors’ 2013 Literary Prizes was announced on Saturday. Iquo’s Beginning Symphony, Dike-ogu’s On my way to azure shores and my Bring our casket home: Tales one shouldn’t tell were long listed for the poetry prize. They are really nice books and I can vouch for them… You can get these books in any major bookshop in Nigeria. Send me an e-mail at email@example.com and we can discuss how to get the book in any town close to you. E-books are in the works. Meanwhile, thanks for all the support.
And yes, I’m fine now. Cheers!
- ANA 2013 Prizes: Longlist ANNOUNCED!!! (sueddie.wordpress.com)
- The Official Unveiling of Kukogho Samson Iruesiri’s What Can Words Do? (full Dose) (sueddie.wordpress.com)
- Orange Crush Literary Awards (seaviewpoetryclub.wordpress.com)
- Good Poetry should evoke feelings – Su’eddie (sueddie.wordpress.com)
- Eliot Elisofon’s famous portraits of a young Chinua Achebe (africasacountry.com)
- Oh, For The Love Of Words (jgrwriter.wordpress.com)
- Tragedy: Chinua Achebe Is Dead! (akingbolagade.wordpress.com)
- Chinua Achebe – A Tribute (shirtnotie.wordpress.com)
- Take The Books Out Of Book Prizes? (dish.andrewsullivan.com)
- Lawmakers to Suntai: You’re unfit to resume (vanguardngr.com)