Posted in INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS

Documentary Review: Dancing Mask: The ANA Story by Carl Terver

I once learnt that the title to a piece of work is like an abstract, letting the consumer in on what the work is about. My head is still dancing around how the idea was begat that the title of this documentary should have anything to do with ‘dancing mask.’ Whoever thought up the idea it doesn’t matter, even if it is adapted from the words of the master himself, C. Achebe, in ‘The world is a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.’ But what can I say? The documentary is about an association with the name ‘Nigeria’ in it; a name itself that has been on a journey like that of a ‘dancing mask’ trying to understand itself. Either way, ANA – Association of Nigerian Authors – in its long years has decided to tell its story, and Dancing Mask: The ANA Story, a 54 minutes documentary straight out of Box Office Studios, directed by Tee Jay Dan (Mr Tukura), helps us see it, not standing in one place at all, thankfully.

Few seconds after 0:00 the story begins. Prof. Olu Obafemi starts it. The storytelling is batoned to Kole Omotoso, then to Mabel Segun, first generation writer, and then to Wale Okediran. The passing of the baton by the quartet is accomplished with such charm that the story flows, as if premeditated, from one narrator, or interviewee, to another. A technique the director will rely on for the rest of the documentary. It is perfect. The quartet handle the storytelling taking up to a quarter of the 54 minutes before other players, counting up to twenty-one (not specific), come in, prominent amongst them, Denja Abdullahi (ANA President 2015 – 17). Quite a number to tell ANA’s story in all its 30 years of existence; yet it is done leaving out almost nothing, apparently, if you ask. But this task – getting the story, putting the backstage work together, editing and all, to show that JohnBull is a speller of his name, relies largely on the intelligence of the director, to pull it off.

As it runs through the pages of Nigerian literature about the earlier times that a story cannot be told without the interruption of the military and their accompanying martial music so is ANA’s, formerly SONA (Society of Nigerian Authors), rattled at its birth by the coup of 1966. And martial music, too, interrupts the documentary’s soundtrack just when the narration of ANA’s story begins. This soundtrack effect is repeated at 10:25 as the story of Ken Saro Wiwa is told, and heightened at 11:49 towards a short rendition of the Ogoni struggle and demonstrations. Many things begin to come to light as the minutes read.

No minute wasted, The ANA Story (I decide to use only the subtitle of the documentary for our convenience) is unfolded. Those who have been in the Association long enough – your quartet – take the viewers (or now, listeners) to the history, the motivations, the spirit and the come about of ANA. They share their experiences too, which like a memoir, arrest the viewer, so that even only at the eighteenth minute before the introduction of new narrators the documentary will seem to have lasted for hours because of the weight of story covered, an element of compression deftly handled by the directing. (This is maintained throughout.) As this goes on, pictures, which narrate faster, lend subtextual and complementary consolidation to the documentary like some sort of album art, playing on the screen at intervals. For instance, a good number of book cover images are used to back-up where a narrator mentions the works of writers who had written out of ‘psychological distress,’ about dictatorship in their time, civil unrest, the Biafra War, and such. Same thing with the introduction of Mamman Vatsa, military General, whose literary history has almost been annihilated from our memory, an image displays beautiful lines of poetry (his’) hardly found today.

But with every good thing there are spoilers. The ANA Story begins to lose its mirth when it kindly left its more inspiring history of the eighties up to early 2000s and begins to brag about achievements in the years 2011 upfront. About its Teen Authorship Scheme at about 31:00; NWS (Nigerian Writers’ Series); Denja Abdullahi, becoming too sell-speak in his remarks about the strides of ANA, talking about how ANA ‘touched the grassroots’ and ‘carried the whole country along,’ reminding you of the pain of listening to our politicians speak. As if to continue with the spoiling an interviewee tells us about when she won the Best Literature Award in Africa (38:00) and you begin to think of coloured Sergeant Bombay.

In The ANA Story like its proverbial mother, Nigeria, it comes to light or officially known that it has bore the woes of experiment, sharing the pains of the limbo its mother is in. It has been suffering from lack of funds; ANA has no staff and no asset, per se; it has no secretariat; sometime in its past one of its president with a ‘sober’ hand had to curtail its excesses and ‘amorphous activities’; it has to tackle the atrophying culture of reading. But ANA has better days ahead. Someone should call Teju Cole because history is about to be contested: a Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village is going to be built to immortalise the pen-comrade who fell by the hands of evil men.

Before the ‘shooting-devil’ at 45:35 (when the person behind the camera starts to be careless) the director, too, begins his own kind of creative carelessness: 38:00 to 45:00 and so on. the ANA story here is about the bewailing of the reading culture, the debate of the death or life of the book or libraries and about funding. The soundtrack seems out of sync, sounding more apposite for a clip where a scientist is studying the progress of a specimen in a lab, or reminding you of the underwater soundtracks in Nat Geo Wild, or even something to take you to the site of some ancient shrine. At 44:21, too otherworldly eliciting the wrong effect from the viewer. Not even when Mabel Segun gives the description of a piece of land property owned by ANA in Abuja as resembling paradise, the soundtrack again, too intense, relegates her rendition to the background causing an internecine effect. But the viewer is saved some minutes later.

Done in memory of Chinua Achebe, it features clips from Dike Chukwumerije’s Made In Nigeria (2017) show, courtesy of Box Office Studios, with the artist of the same name doing a tributary at the beginning and end – as the credits disappear at the edge of the pixels – of the documentary.

Doing just more than a cameo in the documentary includes, again, Dike Chukwumerije, Su’eddie Vershima Agema, Richard Ali, Khalid Imam, Charry Ada Onwu, Lola Bala Gbogbo and Ado Dangidan Dabino, a guy who speaks only his language. Save for a few peccadillos here and there the director, Tee Jay Dan, has done his best, so far as one can tell, earning a B with or without a plus, I leave the viewer the verdict.

After 52 minutes of screenplay Mabel Segun tells the viewer ‘ANA will live forever.’

 

 

PS: The documentary shall be premiered later this year (2017)

 

 

Carl Terver is a porer of the English sentence and a critic of pop-culture. He likes to think of himself as an imaginary grandmaster. He is a fan of contemporary writers, Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, Adam Gopnik, Hua Hsu and Teju Cole.He is a critic at Praxis. @CarlTerver on Twitter. carl terver

Posted in ESSAYS AND LITERARY JOURNEYS, FICTION, FLASH FICTION, INTERVIEWS, LIFE, LITERARY MISSIONARY

DUL JOHNSON: PERSONAL NOTES, SHARED MEMORIES AND A SUBTLE INTRODUCTION

As with most of my friends especially writers with whom I have grown a deep bond, I cannot exactly say the first time I met Dul Johnson… There’s been this contact for some time. One of my first memories with him was when he had a reading with the Abuja Writers’ Forum; he was to be a facilitator at their workshop and also a guest writer. I told my father where I was going and he smiled. He said he had worked with Dr. Johnson in NTA and that the man was a rascal. I smiled… I passed the greetings of my father to Dul and he took it with good humour and yabbed my father back. Since then, there were different meetings including a memorable talk at the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) convention in Minna in 2009. Other areas and yup, I attended his reading at the Abuja ANA where he read from Why Women Wouldn’t Make it  to Heaven alongside 2013 Caine prize shortlister, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. IT was a fun read and the joyful noise in the air was testimony…

I remember when he became my client…The link was another good associate of mine, Salamatu Sule. She gave a referral and voila, I was in Dr. Dul’s office trying my best to sell our work. He had a work that had

Dul Johnsonbeen done, Deeper into the Night, which needed some rework. Well, long story short, SEVHAGE published the novel (Deeper into the Night) and a play of his, Melancholia (which was shortlisted for the Association of Nigerian Authors’ 2014 prize for Drama).

Dul Johnson is a man easily spotted with his huge beards, which sadly have been trimmed. With a rich voice and a joyful personality, he is almost always noticeable in any crowd. Did I mention his glasses? He has written much across the genres but there’s some history to him…

He started early life as a farmer, then apprentice blacksmith, something he carried to his school where he succeeded in at metal works. He was meant to go to a polytechnic but providence played its hand differently… Well, he ended up in the Abdullahi Bayero College, the Kano campus of the Ahmadu Bello University (which is now the Bayero University, Kano). Now, by 1976, Dul had started writing plays, with radio plays for a radio station in Sokoto called Rima Radio. It would take two years before his first play was performed on stage. In 1978, as an undergraduate, his first play was performed in the Abdullahi Bayero college. [I tried getting the title of the play from him many times but the man’s memory decided to play a game that didn’t produce it… So, we can be resigned to the fact that it is a title lost in the archives of forgotten memory] He wrote and produced many television plays for NTA Jos in the 80s and 90s before turning his attention to film.

The last time we had a major event together was the twin launch of Deeper into the Night and Melancholia. Professor Hyginus Ekwuazi — a mutual friend of ours who is a great poet, academic and film person – was meant to present the review for Deeper into the Night. For a million reasons, Prof Ekwuazi couldn’t make it and asked that I help him. So, I wore two caps; as reviewer and publisher. I presented the piece while tweaking some parts. I got positive reviews for the presentation and I was all smiles. I can’t remember now, but perhaps I thanked the heavens that Professor Ekwuazi couldn’t make it J

The launch was not as well attended as I would have thought – which is not to say people didn’t come, we had over a hundred people… But it was a great event. There were more than enough chops. People got free copies of the book in the benevolence of the Dul, and *coughs* his publisher. After the whole event, we had time to chat on a whole lot of things… I also got the chance to meet the Dul family; Chalya, the guy Duls and Mrs. Ruth Dul Johnson.

Dul Johnson
Dul Johnson

We laughed as I left that day, but I couldn’t forget the warmth that I felt in the office with Dr. Dul and his family.

But this isn’t about us or mushy stuff… Oh! I didn’t mention part of his creative writing publishing history:

Dul has published to his credit, two collections of short stories, Shadows and Ashes and Why Women won’t make it to heaven; a novel Deeper into the Night (SEVHAGE, 2014) and a play, Melancholia. Dul Johnson is also a seasoned scholar and academic who has taught at the University of Jos; the National Film Institute, Jos; the Television College, Jos and Bingham University, Karu.

I did an interview with Dr. Dul Johnson last year shortly after the shortlist for Melancholia. The deep man had much to say… His interview marks the first of our now to be regular SEVHAGE Reviews Interview that can be found at http://sevhage.wordpress.com…Specifically, find the interview by clicking HERE.

Enjoy him and please drop a comment… Many thanks and cheers!

Posted in INTERVIEWS

CAINE, BETTER WRITING AND LIFE: A Conversation with Abubakar Adam Ibrahim by Su’eddie Vershima Agema

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Author’s Facebook Photo January 7 2015)

 Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is an award journalist and creative writer. More known for his short stories particularly The Whispering Trees which earned him a shortlist in the 2013 Caine Prize, Abubakar is a writer who is as deep as it gets. To get to the heart of this writer is simply to move in a variety of things that would leave you wondering. Join us as we talk on his writing, African writing, prizes, the famous Chimamanda Adichie Caine talk and more…

  • Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, who really is this cool guy that we would find smiling or just being cool more often than not?

Abubakar Adam IbrahimI wish I know this cool guy you are referring to, Su’eddie. I am just me, I suppose. I was born and bred in Jos but I live in Abuja now where I work as a journalist writing about arts and culture and other things that interest me. I write fiction also. Mostly prose, my poetry is very, very occasional.

  • What is the story of your writing? How did it all start, when did you get serious with it?

My desire to tell stories is innate, I guess. Before I could write as a child, I would tell stories with a series of drawings in the fashion of comic magazines. But then I learned to write and started writing down stories in a typical puerile sense of course. I wrote about things that would interest a child and progressed as I aged. It was all fun until my brother asked me to enter for a radio play competition and when I eventually did, I realized that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, to write. It has been serious for me since then.

  • Born writer then? Okay. So, what’s your take on writing generally?

My thought on writing is relative of course since for me it is an inborn passion. It is a way of life, it is life. So from this perspective, writing is an avenue through which one does not only express thoughts and creativity, but also through which one exists. It is that winding path that in some instances leads to immortality and sometimes a lot of people are in pursuit of this immortality and have their names endure like Chaucer, like Shakespeare, like Chekhov. But there are those who are lured to writing by the glitz, as opposed to the grit of etching ones name in the rock of time, and these are the writers who are drawn to easy success, who rush to printers with barely completed manuscripts or do all that cyber hustling we have been witnessing recently on social media all in the name of writing. So writing means different things to different people and different people come to writing for different reasons.

  • Are there people that inspired your writing? Not just the books read and the like, the real people who made it for you.

I don’t know if there is any one individual I can credit with my writing since my passion for writing is somewhat inborn. I did not start meeting other writers until after I had won the BBC prize in 2007. So prior to that I was like this hermit in isolation, writing in the obscurity of my room. But if my brother hadn’t insisted I enter for that prize in the first place, perhaps I wouldn’t be here so if there is any person I would put it down to it would be him.

  • So, let’s say your brother is the main person who made it for you. You have linked your establishment much with him. We thank the Almighty for him, who knows what might have happened if he didn’t convince you. Well, still on the inspiration and making questions: Which books have really inspired you the most? Which writers?

I remember my earliest influence being Anthony Hope. I read his Prisoner of Zenda when I was 12 and wanted to write like him, the way he structured his sentences, the way he used language. Later I discovered Ben Okri’s Famished Road and thought it was brilliant. It opened me up to the possibilities of magical realism. And then I discovered writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison and many others. We are continuously being influenced by other writers we read but in the main I try to remain true to myself in the way I write my stories.

  • To your short story collection, The Whispering Trees. It was published traditionally by Parresia with a sign-on fee for you as an author. How did the deal come about and what was the whole writing plus publishing process like?

I am not certain I know all the answers to that question. What I know is that I was writing my short stories for different reasons. And when I was writing them down, I never ever imagined I would publish a collection of shorts, I was always thinking of writing a novel. But some of these stories had been published online, some in newspapers and then one day, Uche Peter Umez, who is a wonderful writer and a totally amazing person came to me at work and said, I think you have enough short stories to put in a collection and they are really good, so you should put them together and see. My initial reaction was surprise and the thought that I would never do that. But then here was a totally awesome guy telling you something nice like this and encouraging you, and to think he sought you out for it, so I started collecting the stories together. Incidentally, I was talking with Richard Ali about a short story I had just written and he said to me, look, we are trying to start a publishing company with this woman and we think we would like to start with your collection of short stories. I was a bit sceptical initially because I had no idea who the other partner was. It turned out her name is Azafi and she had read one of my short stories online and had fallen in love with it and she had called Richard to ask if he knew me and he said yes. So, she said ok, let’s reach out to this guy and see if we can start Parresia with him. So that was how the offer came. And because at the time, I had acted on Uche’s advice, I had put the stories together, selected the 12 I felt would go into any collection I will likely have and I sent it to them. They read them and said well, definitely we are publishing this. And here we are.

  • Which story is your favourite in the collection?

This is not a fair question, Su’eddie. Not a fair one at all. But I will oblige you. I have many favourites, all for different reasons, of course. One of them being ‘The Whirlwind’. I almost fell in love with the character of Kyakkyawa. I was intrigued by her. And I have met people who have read the story and confronted me about her and the situation of her life and how things played out with her. It is always funny the way some people want to take it personal with me over her fate. The title story, ‘The Whispering Trees’ is another favourite, purely for sentimental reasons, not because it is masterfully written. It was the first story I wrote way back and it was significant in that it marked some really significant transformation in my life. I also have a soft spot for ‘The Garbage Man.’ In the entire collection, it was the most challenging to write and I wrote it over a period of two years. It didn’t flow out like the others; it came in staccatos, one paragraph, sometimes two. And sometimes for months, nothing comes with regards to that story so I moved on to other things. After two years, after I had written the last word, I took the story apart and re-wrote it. And it remains the only story I had to re-write in that collection.

  • A certain mysticism and the supernatural flows through The Whispering Trees as witnessed in several stories like ‘Twilight and Mist’ (one of your first stories I came across on the African Writer website), ‘The Whispering Trees’, ‘Pledge of Fidelity’, ‘Cry of the witch’ – to mention a ready few. There’s an extra air of the supernatural flowing with the
    Discussing: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Su'eddie Vershima Agema
    Discussing: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Su’eddie Vershima Agema

    natural. What’s your view of the supernatural in human affairs generally? Can you discuss it in relation to your stories?

As an African, I think our connection to the supernatural is greater than we are willing to admit. We grew up hearing ghost stories, hearing about gwaigwais in boarding schools, about inexplicable apparitions and influences. Whether we can empirically prove the existence of the supernatural is irrelevant to me at this point. What I find significant and I think I tried to capture in some of the stories is the impact these beliefs have on many people and how they live their lives. How their lives, and sometimes their deaths, are streamlined and governed by these beliefs. But my principal concern has been to interrogate the often neglected fundamentals of our existence, the things that constitute our dreams and realities without us really realising how significant they are, and how we react if these fundamentals are tampered with, as often happens.

  • In The Whispering Trees, there is a Northern feel to most of the stories – characters and setting. Is it deliberate? What informed this?

It was deliberate, yes. I am writing about a people and culture I am very familiar with and which I feel has been under storified in the canon of Nigerian literature. And this is a huge geographical spread we are talking about, as well a significant population. We have previously had the likes of Cyprian Ekwensi, an Igbo man, none the less, writing about this part and most often the north is romanticised in such literature. In contemporary writing, the portrayal of this region and its people as cesspit of violent ignoramuses, not without cause admittedly, is the order of the day. But there is a lot more going on in this part and there are a lot more coming out of these part than the stereotyped maigadi [security man also derogatively called ‘Aboki’] whose English is the butts of jokes in contemporary literature and home videos and so on. There is no single story about the north, about Nigeria. The people in this part of the country share universal concerns as other people in the word; they worry about broken hearts, about failed marriages, about their children joining Boko Haram, about coping with grief, about their internet connections not working properly, about viruses on their computers and broken phones or Ipads and so on. For me, it is about capturing the human condition in this wide geographical spread, and anywhere else that my muse fancies.

  • You have strong female characters in your works on whom the destinies of men are hinged. They are scattered everywhere in your collection – Kyakkyakawa in ‘The Whirlwind‘, Farida in ‘Night calls’… Almost all of the stories, in fact. What informs this portrayal and what’s your take on women and gender in general?

Ironically someone kept bugging me about what he sees as the vilification of women in some of my stories and I wondered what on earth he was talking about. I respect women for what they are, for what they do, for what they represent and I find them rather fascinating entities. They bring a lot of dynamism to a story and most of them are stronger than we would want to give them credit for. I do not buy into this idea of feminism where women are expected to be portrayed as perfect, as indomitable as heroines as opposed to anything else. There are really strong women like Kyakkyawa in ‘The Whirlwind’, or determined women like the butterfly girl in ‘Twilight and Mist’, there are bad women like Barira in ‘Closure’ or even Farida in ‘Night Calls’. There are really good women like Faulata in ‘The Whispering Trees’ and there perplexed or confused women like Zainab in ‘The Garbage Man’. There are all sorts, a whole range of them, and I tried to capture them in this collection.

  • The Caine Prize shortlist: four Nigerians on the shortlist with two buddies, Elnathan John and you there. How did the magic happen? What was your reaction and can you relive the moment of the experience for us?

Relive the moment? What moment? It wasn’t as much fun as people thought. The irony about being on such a platform is that your story is just a story but because it has been shortlisted for such a major prize it suddenly becomes an “African story” and people who call themselves experts want to pull it in different directions to meet certain criteria of what an “African story” should be. It is not an African story. It is just Salim’s story.

The Caine Shortlist 2013: Tope Folarin, Pede Hollist, Chinelo Okparanta, Elnathan John and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
The Caine Shortlist 2013: Tope Folarin, Pede Hollist, Chinelo Okparanta, Elnathan John and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

I have absolutely no idea how the magic, as you called it, happened. I wasn’t aware Elnathan John had entered for the Caine this year. We didn’t sit down and say ‘Ok, how do we get on the Caine Prize shortlist this year?’ It was just incidental that our separate publishers sent in our stories and they happened to have been shortlisted. It was also incredible to see a lot of Nigerians on the shortlist. Four out of five. And yet in 2010 and 2011 there wasn’t even a single Nigerian on the shortlist, so there is no telling how these things work. But I think it has done a lot of good to the morale of writers here in Nigeria, especially the young ones who are hustling to write and are struggling with how to find electricity to connect their laptop to write or how they are going to publish these stories. I am excited about the shortlist for that reason.

  • There was some talk about your harsh reaction to Chimamanda Adichie’s comment about the Caine prize not really been representative of Africa’s best short stories. What’s your take on it?

My take is that everyone is entitled to their opinions and to their say. I have had my say on this issue and a lot of people had their say as well. I am not one to be going over the same incident over and over again, especially a notorious one as such. I will not defend the Caine Prize, I am not its spokesman, but I will speak for the struggling Nigerian writer who is working his socks off to get something done and make headway without the privileges some people enjoy. It is absurd to assume that the Caine Prize is representative of the best African fiction, not even the Nobel is necessarily representative of the best fiction in the world. But what the Caine Prize has done for African writing in the last 14 years is incredible and people should appreciate that.

  • Concise. Let’s spare extra steam on that. In the spirit of awards still, let us in on the awards that have lined your literary career and the ones you are eyeing.

I have said this before, long before the Caine Prize shortlist, in fact immediately after The Whispering Trees was published, the biggest prize I covet is to win the readers’ heart. How many awards did Shakespeare or Dickens win? For me, my priority remains winning my readers’ heart and I got an incredible amount of goodwill during the run up to the Caine Prize and I am still overwhelmed by it and I truly, truly appreciate the support. It was amazing. The fact that people from across the world read the story and felt a connection with the characters for me was a great positive to take away from the entire experience.  As for the prizes that have come my way, I am grateful for them. I was fortunate to win them. With prizes there is always that element of luck and I think I was lucky in most instances.

  • Aha! Now, you get the spirit of my question on reliving the moment of the Caine prize. I nearly invoked those your spirits to come and give you understanding aid (Smiles). I think that truly is special – the heart of the reader. Nice one, Abubakar. I admire that. I would quote that somewhere for use too. Hee hee hee. Don’t worry, I had it already so don’t think I got it from you first. Well, for asking sake, what is literary journalism and how does it affect literature in general?

Well, shouldn’t this be an academic question? Literary journalism is deployed in two ways. One is the journalism that focuses on literature, writers, literary events and so on. The other, and this is often in core journalism, the style of reportage that brings some elements of fiction narrative into news reportage. So instead of the traditional, straight jacket coverage of news or features, the journalist takes some stylistic liberties to embellish his reportage for instance being more descriptive, more ornamented diction, all these without distorting the facts.

  • The key question there is how does literary journalism affect literature – that is, this literary journalism. Well, let’s skip it a bit. Can you let us in on your journalism and all? The excitement of it, best and worst moments and the like.

Journalism for me was a deliberate choice. growing up in Jos. I realised that I wanted to be a writer and I didn’t think I needed any formal training to write but I realised I needed exposure, an opportunity to travel and meet people and interact with them. So I chose to study journalism in order to do that. Now I am ok engaging a junkie in a conversation or interview as I am grilling a senator or minister and the wonderful thing is that they will both open up to you because of the position you occupy. My best moment is writing about arts and culture, being in my home zone. My worst moment in journalism was reporting a massacre in Jos. I wrote the story and realised my face was wet with tears. It was a moving moment for me.

  • Maybe you should fix that into a story someday. I feel you on it. How has your job as a journalist affected you as a writer?

Other than taking a lot of my time? Well, it has given me what I wanted it to give me—access to all sorts of people, political big wigs, common folks who would want you to listen to their story because they want it told and would open up to you. It helps, if one is observant in creating more believable characters. It has also given me access to all sorts of writers and people working in the creative industry. But otherwise, I think my writing is trying very much to retain its own identity outside of these influences.

  • What’s your take on contemporary African writing?

Contemporary African writing? There is a lot of it going on and the social media has stepped in, in the absence of publishing industries, to open up the literary space. You could sit in your room and read writers from Uganda or Kenya or South Africa on your laptop or mobile phone. There is a lot of it going on, a lot of people are writing and taking courage from the inroads being made by other young writers.

  • Abubakar, if there is one thing I know about you – and I do know a lot but don’t worry, I wouldn’t tell them those secrets – it is, that you read a lot and seem to be always reading. Now, who’s world are you stealing into at the moment?

Currently, I am reading Anton Chekhov, the Russian master of the short story. It’s about time I discovered him, I think.

  • I guess so. The Russians surely are in a class of their own when it comes to that genre. What are you currently working on?

A novel. Hopefully, if my publishers find it interesting enough to publish, we will see what happens.

  • What other genre should we hope to see you as the time goes on?

Most likely prose, and then prose, and then more prose.

  • Parting shot…

I don’t know if I have anything sagely to say here. But I have always thought it is wise to invest in the pursuit of happiness. Whatever makes you happy, invest your time and resources in it. Life is too short to be miserable.

Into the sunset: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Into the sunset: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Posted in INTERVIEWS, LITERARY MISSIONARY, POETRY

Good Poetry should evoke feelings – Su’eddie

Su’eddie Vershima Agema, writer, editor and poet is the author of the collection, Bring Our Casket Home: Tales One Shouldn’t Tell. In this interview with Kenneth Azahan, he highlights on what poetry means to him, his book that is gathering waves in the literary community, the state of poetry in Nigeria, the NLNG long list, as well as sundry issues. Excerpts: 

 

What inspired the book, Bring Our Casket Home: Tales One Shouldn’t Tell and what is the history to it?

BRiNG OUR CASKET HOME coverThe book is a collection of poetry written at different points. The book is a product of some seven years of writing, rewriting, editing and the like. In its current form, the inspiration can be said to be simply life in all its ramifications – that includes death. The death of dear people like Mr. Charles Ayede, Ify Omalicha, Tayo Awotosin, Orvendega Gberikon and some experiences, plus some mischief (yup!) helped. Love, nationhood, adventure, mischief – that word again! – and the like, find their way there. For most of the mischievous poems I had to get the garb of a persona. So, don’t go there reading and expecting to find me everywhere (Laughs).

 

The title of your book appears to be scary, what do you have to say about this?

Scary abi?  I have heard some people say so too. Hmmm, What can I say? I have heard people say ‘Bring your casket’ ‘take your casket’ or things like that simply to avoid the ‘our’. Maybe it is the fear that words are spirits and if they mention it, they would find their deaths, Laughs. There’s more to a book, to a poem, a story – a poetry collection – than the title. I find that in the end all of us walk towards the casket, no matter how long it takes. What happens within our lives up to that time? Love, life and everything else, when we reach the stage of the casket, whether it be in coffins or as ashes, what happens? Would we be committed to the home of the soul? When the hearts of people are knocked at, would your casket – the entirety of your being and memory – be found at home? Would you live life well enough to be committed to the hearts of people? The last line of the poem, ‘Bring our casket home’ carries part of this:

‘Keep us in you, spread our word and you would find the soul of our poem: Bring our casket home.’

 

 

What’s new to your writing and what do you think stands you out?

Well, I have my Tiv roots showing in the book. This is in addition to other Nigerian influences. I have also taken time to explore different things that I believe would appeal to readers from history, contemporary themes and in full dose, love. I found lots of people saying we don’t have much love written in Nigerian poetry; a big misconception. So, I sprinkled much love. No pretense. There’s a poem on the origin of sex, laughs. Oh well, PG stuff. Some of the poems would leave you laughing – that’s humour, right. Yeah, I think there’s some humour there too. Strong emotions in all, flows through all the lines. I think what would appeal to readers of the book is the emotion behind the lines. Most of the poems – even those written in the garb of a persona – were written from the heart. There are those poems that were written with raw emotions made bare. I think these would make my work stand out and appeal to readers.

 

You have had some readings since your book came out. Would you like to share?

Sure! They have been fun. We had the Silverbird/Abuja Literary Society ‘Book Jam’ in June. I read with Joe Dauda, author of My Phlegmatic President. It

Reading at WriteHouse Artmosphere in Ibadan (Picture: 'Femi Morgan)
Reading at WriteHouse Artmosphere in Ibadan (Picture: ‘Femi Morgan)

was anchored by Reward Nsirim. I had my family there and it was fun. I also read at the Write House Artmosphere, alongside Reward Nsirim in Ibadan – August 17. There was so much intellectual engagement in that reading. The last outing was at the Abuja Writers’ Forum’s Guest Writer Session, August 31 where fellow guests Numero Unoma, visual artist and poet and Tope Fasua did their thing too. The event clashed with the PDP convention and so lots of people couldn’t come. We started late and when it got to my time, I spirited my way through some of my poems and a short story, ‘A Lust Intervention’. In all, it has been fun reading. I’ve met new people – great people – and had new experiences. There are more plans for the future. We are also planning some readings in Benue, not just for me but other people like what Purple Silver did for Dike Chukwumerije recently.

 

There seems to be much poetry in the Nigerian air. Comment on the state of poetry in Nigeria today, its ‘productivity’ and standards. Are people reading poetry at all?

We’ve always had lots of poets since forever. It is the genre that has produced the most writers, I dare say, in the country. It was Mabel Segun who said something to the like, that if one was to throw a stone in the market place in Nigeria, there was a great chance of it hitting a writer. Odia Ofeimun remixed it and particularized it to poets. In addition to all the early voices, there’s Chuma Nwokolo Jnr, Moses Tsenongu, Maria Ajima, Emman Shehu, Bose Ayeni-Tsevende, Unoma Azuah, Hyginus Ekwuazi, Musa Idris Okpanachi, Tubal Cain, Abubakar Othman and more recently, Eugenia Abu (have you seen her Don’t look at me like that?) Emmanuel-Abdalmasi Samson, Andrew Bula, ‘Kufre Ekanem the pidgin poet, Eriata Oribhabor. To mention a few more, from my generation now, there’s the performance king, Dike Chukwumerije, Dami Ajayi, whose chapbook is coming out soon and is something to look forward to, Agatha Aduro, Seun Odukoya, Sibbyl Whyte, Samson Iruesiri Kukogho, Major Robert Agee, Maik Ortserga, Jumoke Verissimo, Elvis Iorngurum, Gimba Kakanda, Ololade Olatunji, Rasaq Gbolahan, Stephen Alechenu Aba, Aondosoo Labe, Tosin Gbogi and Richard Ali… And here again the list begins to expand. You can almost write a thousand names and still keep going. These are simply people who would give you some pleasurable read. Now, don’t forget that these names exclude those dead ones. But any knowledgeable person would know I have not even mentioned the key players. You would realise they are names you might not have heard of.

But as there are good poets, there are some bad poets too.

Some people seem to be writing broken lines because of the increasingly mistaken view that poetry is the easiest of the genres to write. Or better put, considering that poetry is relatively the shortest genre to put down, people simply sit and put down whatever comes to their head.

It seems too many people are having too much fun with the poetic license thing. That and free verse. Most of us are learning too but we can do better especially if we would do more reading than writing. We have some people who write and don’t read.

That answered, yes, we have an increasing number of people reading poetry. The internet has also greatly contributed to the increased voices.

Phew! Did I talk too much on that? (Laughs)

 

Briefly comment on the role of the internet particularly Facebook and blogs on Nigerian poetry.

Facebook and blogs have led to more people writing poems and more people reading same. You know, you don’t have to pay to publish. Just write, click and post! Two of my most interesting Facebook poetic finds can easily be said to be Okwy Obu and Paul Oku-ola. Blogwise, Kola TubosunEmmanuel Iduma, Adaobi Okwy and Azafi Omoluabi Ogosi, some people don’t even know she writes! There’s the army of internet critics bashing poetry too to ensure that poetry gets better. The internet has opened our poetry to a wider audience and also given room to more people to be able to express themselves. On Facebook, on blogs, on different sites, literary e-zines – Naijastories, Sentinel, Saraba, there are more voices being heard So to say, the internet has grown us more.

 

What do you consider as good poetry?

I believe that poetry is an expression of feelings – one’s feelings. Poetry should be able to evoke feelings in you. It should stir something and not just leave you wondering ‘Hun! What was that?’ either due to its complicatedness or due to its not making sense. You should work away from a poem feeling like ‘Wow!’ This is irrespective of what feeling it stirs in you – fear, anger, happiness, love, sorrow or whatever. Let it be able to do something to you. So to say, it is a big plus when you find apt metaphors and ample fitting imagery. These two things make a big difference in any work. You can add Osofisan’s famous words: poetry shouldn’t be like a nun hiding it all, or a prostitute showing it all, laughs. The perfect balance is difficult but that’s what makes good poetry, I guess.

 

What’s your take on the NLNG Prize for Literature (poetry) long list recently released? How come you are not on the list?

I didn’t enter for the contest. Bring our casket home: tales one shouldn’t tell was reissued after the deadline.

I had lots of people in the contest that I was rooting for – Musa Idris Okpanachi and Ekwuazi to mention two – but no, it wasn’t to be. Nice list still. Most of the people on the list are poets of some big reputation – Remi Raji, Okinba Launko (Femi Osofisan), Afam Ake, Obari Gamba, G’ebinyo Ogbowei (whose names kept on being misspelt for some reason)… You know, it’s nice. Have you read the books? I got Ogbowei’s Marsh Boy and other poems from the author and I am reading it; Lovely book. You should get a copy yourself. I have been following that poet for a while and I am glad he made the list; Great guy. I recently bought Ipadeola’s The Sahara Testament and Remi Raji’s Sea of my mind. I can’t say what they are like but I hope to get a good read soon. We can only hope that the best person wins. Even with the reputation of the current judges including Dr. Andrew Aba (a man of integrity, taste and high standards) and the international consultant, Kofi Anyidoho, I think these ones have their (judging) work cut out for them.

 

Is there anything you would want to add in closing?

Well, who is reading? That is the question? (Laughs) Well, no final word, just a few words to hold: If there’s any dream you have, don’t let it go. Keep pushing on. For writers, please, read as much as you can. It is the way to get better. Write, write, and write. Read, read, read, read, and read. We can’t really make much progress or become better if we remain static. Let’s put in our best and always give nothing more than our possible best. Yeah, we have great Nigerian poets. Take out time to buy their books and you would have a great time.

 

 

From The Nigerian Pilot Newspaper (http://www.nigerianpilot.com/good-poetry-should-evoke-feelings-sueddie/). This interview appears in The Nigerian Pilot Newspaper edition of 4th September 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in ESSAYS AND LITERARY JOURNEYS, INTERVIEWS, LITERARY MISSIONARY, SEVHAGE

FRESH NIGERIAN GRIOTS (INTERVIEW 1): HYGINUS EKWUAZI

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

INTRODUCTION: Dr. Hyginus Ekwuazi is a lecturer with the Theatre Arts Department in the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria. He is also a notable behind-the-scenes name in the Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood as well as the founding Director-General of the National Film Institute, Jos, Plateau. What is not so popular about him is his writing prowess despite his four collections of poems consisting of the trilogy Love Apart (2007); Dawn into moonlight: All around me dawning (2008); and Monkey Eyes (2009) alongside That Other Country (2010). These collections earned him the ANA/Cadbury Poetry Prize (2007); and ANA/NDDC-Gabriel Okara Poetry Prize (2007); ANA/NDDC-Gabriel Okara Poetry Prize (2008) ANA/Cadbury Poetry Prize (2010).

He also has to his credit a children’s novel, I’ve got miles to walk before I sleep and several plays including Morning yet on creation day. His major brush with literary fame came in 2009 in the now popular NLNG Award issue where none of the featured poets was offered the prize. In this interview with Su’eddie Vershima Agema [me of course!] at the University of Ibadan in June 2011, he talks on his poetry among other things, the interview starting with a strong statement…

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

I lost a lot of my poetry because I would write and just give out.

 

You would just write and give out. How?

I would write a poem and just give it out. If I collect all the poems that I gave out, it would be more than a collection. I would write and give to friends just like that. I wrote a lot of poems and would not [keep it], you know what I am trying to say. I was just writing, there was no thought of publishing them. I was just writing….

I wrote many like that. I would give to colleagues and give to friends. When I was in Jos, I wrote many like that, I would just write and give out. I edited the Idoto magazine in UI [University of Ibadan] as an undergraduate.

 

Wow! I never knew. What year was that?

That was ’79… [No] I graduated in 78… So, I edited it in my 200 level. I know that I published one or two articles in Idoto which was understandable but as a collection, it just didn’t work.

 

Are there extant copies of Idoto?

Yes, I think I saw… One time I went to the library and I saw some. Strange enough, the ones I saw were not the ones I edited but I saw some of my poems in an earlier collection. You know, Idoto died for a long time and then it was resurrected. One copy was published, then the next one was the one I published but I didn’t see that in the library. Sorry, the one I edited, not published but the other one I saw in the library and my poems were there.

 

So, there is no shop where anybody can get them again?

But you know the country that you are talking about.

 

Oh yes, oh yes. I think it is very sad.

Yes it is. I wish I could lay my hands on my earlier poems. They are not masterpieces, you know but I would have liked to…

 

See where it all started?

Yeah, see where it all started, you know. I had a lot of them. If I hadn’t done a lot like that, there is no way the lecturer in charge of Idoto could have made me the Editor. It means he already knew of my poetry somehow.

 

And was probably impressed.

Yes, otherwise, he wouldn’t have picked me to edit the magazine.

How does your composition of poetry come about? Is there a particular mode to it?

Anytime I write, I usually need to have a structure. Sometimes, I have the work complete but I need the structure. I need a structure with which to render it. Sometimes, I need to have a vehicle with which to move the poems. It was the same thing with Love Apart and Dawning [into moonlight, all around me dawning].

 

When you wrote Love Apart, did you have it in mind that you were going to turn it into a trilogy or the idea for a trilogy came later?

It came later. When I started it, like I told you I always need a structure. So, when I had the idea for the second one, I discovered that I had a structure. So I said, ‘why don’t I build it?’ So, that is how it came because I had found a structure and part of the structure was to be in the same persona. You know, it came after.

 

And eventually Monkey Eyes had to follow the same pattern?

Yes.

 

Monkey Eyes seems to be a very sad and sick book, very sad and unlike the others…

Monkey Eyes was written at a very bleak period in the country. Nothing seemed to be moving. I had something in my head but I didn’t have a structure. I can’t work without a structure. Then it hit me: sick country, sick President. Where do sick people stay? So, I got my poetic protagonist to stay in the hospital and everything was set. I thought to myself, I already have a structure. So, I took the structure and constructed it in that light.

You know, I had the inspiration for that book a long while. I was looking for the structure for it and the work came. So the work was affected by time.

 

So, when you were writing Dawn into Moonlight, all around me dawning, you didn’t have any idea that the third book would complete the trilogy or…?

I thought I would have exhausted a connection with just two books but again when I started looking for a structure, I found I had a structure in this and to use this, this is what I was talking about separation and other things. I could actually use this person’s view.

 

So, let’s exploit the good old [persona of] Love Apart?

Yes, but I have rested that for now.

 

For now, I just hope we don’t get any addition.

No, because otherwise this one [his fourth poetry collection] has nothing to do with it.

 

You mean That other country?

Yes.

 

Why did you change the name Sir?

I know you loved that Memory Caught on a Fly.[1]

 

Yes, it was absolutely the best.

You know, what I thought about is what is poetry but memory? So, I saw it like a giveaway; Memory on a dark night, memory on thisthere are many poems that are titled memory. So, I said let me use that as a line that would be something else.

 

So, you named it That other country?

Yes, because memory is that other country.

 

More like that other planet.

Yeah, and I thought I had so much on the Civil War. So, I wanted to write a collection on the Civil War. I think I would write a whole collection totally on the Civil War; everything.

 

It [the civil war] really took lots of space [in your collection, That other country].

Yeah, it is something that has always been. Anytime I remember the Civil War, I get angry because do you know the number of people that died? I am not talking of those who were shot in the war o! I am talking of those who died behind lines and then, that one was very avoidable, very very avoidable. And everything that happened at that time, my God, you begin to wonder.

 

I think it was a foolish war.

It was a very foolish war, the provocation and everything. Look at the massacre in the North. Like I said, my family, we were all in the North so we saw all those things. If any family were touched by the hand of miracle, we were because somehow we all came home. WE didn’t really lose anybody in the Civil War or anything. My father was in the army. My father was in the State House, Ojukwu’s State House during the war.

I am about to say something; You want to guess who said this?

 

No, I am not good at quotes.

ONCE WITHIN THE GATES OF ROME, YOU’RE IN THE PRESENCE OF THE EMPEROR. Once within the gates of Rome, you’re in the presence of the Emperor. Who said that?

 

Ah, I am very bad. If you told me my quotes, I wouldn’t know it. Well, I would say Bernard Shaw…

*  * *

Okay. Nice. You know what one of my teachers taught me?

No.

He said no poem has ever been finished. You abandon it at one stage or another. Sooner or later, you abandon it and hope that you abandoned it at a good…eh…

 

At a good enough stage…

Yeah, but [usually] when you go back to it, you say ‘I should have done this.’

 

On retirement, what are your thoughts on it? Any hope to retire soon?

I noticed that when one retires and goes home to rest, they go home finally to rest. I signed many retirement cheques at the Film Institute and those who went home to rest died, and we went for their burials. Those who stayed behind doing one thing or the other grew stronger and stronger. It is like that even in the military. People are retired compulsorily. So, imagine being active all your life and being made to do nothing at all. My father got home and discovered there was a need for a motor park in the village. So he decided to construct a private and commercial one. My mother complained and then the elder sisters came and also quarrelled him.

My mother told me to see the madness that my father was doing. That if the people needed a park, what was his business? His [Dad’s] elder sisters said the same thing and said that I should call him back to order as he had refused to listen to them. I told my father that this is what they had said. He told me that didn’t I notice that with the park project, when he woke up, he had something to do. He would go out and come back, tired and ready to sleep. Did I expect him to just wake up and stay idle all day? So, I became a big supporter of my father building the park. He built it without receiving one single kobo.

That spells my view on retirement.


[1] That Other Country was originally scripted as Memories Caught on a fly (in which form I first saw and worked on) but was changed later along with a great part of its content, part of which Ekwuazi explains soon.

 

Dr Ekwuazi at Artmosphere, Ibadan
Dr Ekwuazi at Artmosphere, Ibadan (Courtesy Su’eddie Vershima Agema)

Personal Thoughts on Hyginus Ekwuazi

Hyginus Ekwuazi at Ibadan Artmosphere

A Review of That other country

The Unbearable weight of an unanswered prayer (a poem by Hyginus Ekwuazi)

Press Release for Short list of Wole Soyinka Prize (2012)