Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, ESSAYS AND LITERARY JOURNEYS, NAIJA POETRY, POETRY, POETRY FROM THE WORLD, REVIEWS

OKIGBO – MYTHMAKER & TOWNCRIER AT HEAVENSGATE by Hyginus Ekwuazi

English: Christopher Okigbo photo
Christopher Okigbo

Osofisan recounts this incident about how Okigbo took him to Mbari club one night to work. He was barely out of the secondary school and Okigbo was mentoring him. How for a few hours he managed to bang away at the typewriter before falling asleep. How in his sleep the smell of the midnight oil mingled with the aroma of tobacco as Okigbo hammered and chiselled the night away. How in the morning, Okigbo showed him the outcome of the long night of creativity: a sheet of paper with some four lines of poetry. Bewildered, he watched as Okigbo read the four lines, crumpled the paper – and threw it into the wastepaper basket…

This incident flows into my mind as I examine the new edition of Okigbo’s Labyrinths, issued by Apex Books (2008). The cover – a picture of a sitting, long-sleeved, youngish looking Okigbo contemplatively lighting a pipe – is a ‘sunny’ departure from the sombre density of the earlier edition(s).

The edition was issued by Heinemann as number 62 of the African Writer’s Series in 1971 and reprinted in 1975. A solid phalanx of over a decade separates the Heinemann reprint from this new edition. Within this time, a lot of waters has gone under the bridge and left the sands thoroughly ruffled. The poems have spawned countless imitations, more often than not, poorly; sometimes, with remarkable success. They have featured in essays, theses/dissertations and symposia: they have been subjected to all manners of criticism, including post-modernism. Icons from the universe of the poems now dot our literary landscape: one quick example – the Ibadan Department of English journal is called Idoto… Okigbo has since become the quintessential study of the making of a classic – in the context of a generation whose posturing indicates that it is more difficult to read poetry than to write it. Anyway, I find it significant that this slim volume of 72 pages has since transformed into the vertebra of African poetry. No wonder the Heinemann edition has since become a collector’s item.

Okigbo is a mantra; a roadmap and a marching song; he is the cultural property of all (would be) poets, critics and lovers of good poetry. He is, therefore, sacrosanct – like a holy book. And no publisher alters a holy book. He may tone up the colours; illustrate; annotate – but the body must remain inviolate. “The versions here,” Okigbo had noted somewhat presciently, “are final”: and his death set them in marble. What I’m leading up to is this: I can’t fathom why this new edition has been titled Labyrinths & Path of Thunder – though it contains all the five poems (‘Heavensgate’, ‘Limits’, ‘Silences’, ‘Distances’ and ‘Path of Thunder’) which together constitute Labyrinths – the title of the Heinemann editions. The other remarkable difference in the new edition is the insightful foreword – the 1994 toast of the poet by his elder brother, Pius.

Perhaps it is the picture of Okigbo on the cover page but as I thumb through this edition and wonder at his enduring legacy, kaleidoscopic fragments of his life mingle with lines from his poems… The Okigbo in the maelstrom of controversy for his unapologetic assertion that he does not write his poems to non-poets… The Okigbo that turns down the Langston Hughes Prize for African poetry on the grounds that there is nothing like African poetry: there is good poetry; and bad poetry… What memory, I wonder, has Labyrinths of this controversy?

From the opening strophe of ‘The Passage’, to the forlorn final notes of ‘Elegy for Alto’, the stock of references are intimidatingly global: Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek; Eliot, Hopkins, Melville, Tagore, etc are interwoven with haunting references to the oilbean, the funerary ram, kepkanly: the fauna, flora and human life of the poet’s world – deftly turning them into “globules of anguish strung together on memory” and, thereby, hanging them on that sublime height “to which all imperishable cries must aspire.” Indeed, good poetry by any standard; and it only happens to be African. Ben Okri, is, therefore, right: ‘Labyrinths…is a meditation on everything from our origins to our obscure destinies.  It should be read by everyone in every country.’

“Fanfare of drums, wooden bells; iron chapters: / And our dividing airs are gathered home…/” Finally home across the Niger, among a people traumatised by the events of 1966, Okigbo divorces his wife on the other side …over the telephone… “Grown are the ears of the secret!” But Labyrinths, published posthumously a year after the war, is dedicated to “Safinat and Ibrahimat/mother and child”: a dedication that pulls at the reader’s heartstrings; and that has since been turned into a formula and recycled to death.

And his untimely death. “The wailing is for the fields of men/for the barren wedded ones/for perishing children…” Sporting the emblem of half a yellow sun on his sleeves and on his shoulders, the lone eagle of a major, he was among the Biafran troops that fought to the last man to hold Opi Junction. Had the outcome of the war been different, I’m sure a sagacious Biafran directorate of national orientation would have placed a plaque there exhorting any passer-by: Stranger, go tell Biafra Okigbo lies here in obedience to her command. A romantic death – though contentious. Thus we find Ali Mazrui (The Trial of Christopher Okigbo) condemning him for wasting his life on the altar of sectionalism; and Odia Ofeimun insisting that when all else fails, it behoves the poet to take up arms and fight for a poet’s vision of the world. I stand with Odia.

Like Byron, Okigbo was a romantic: the evidence is strewn all over the poems, especially in ‘Silences’, ‘Distances’ and ‘Path of Thunder’: a swashbuckling cavalier who’d fight for liberty – his, or anyone else’s. Biafra only chanced by, and his roots happened to be there. The Okigbo so vitally alive in Labyrinths and in the retold tales of his friends would have found enough casus belli in the Niger Delta: “The wailing is for the great river; / Her pot-bellied watchers/Despoil her…” and we can imagine him “Riding with the angry stars/Toward the great sunshine.”

Okigbo saw only too clearly, the abyss into which Nigeria was plunging: “The smell of blood already floats in the lavender-mist of the afternoon. / The death sentence lies in ambush along the corridors of power; / And a great fearful thing already tugs at the cables of the open air, / A nebula immense and immeasurable, a night of deep waters – / An iron dream unnamed and unprintable, a path of stone.” The time was really out of joint; and like all romantics, he felt he had been born to set it right. Living in a state of emergency, he knew the perils of talking in the wrong company: “If I don’t learn to shut my mouth, I’ll soon go to hell, / I, Okigbo, town-crier, together with my iron bell”; and the intimations of morality was heavy on him: “So we must go, even mist on shoulders, / Sun’s dust of combat  / With band end burning out at hand-and.” When Okigbo penned those words (“The version here… are final”) on his manuscripts, it is not unlikely that he was seeing through a grave darkly: “And the horn may now paw the air howling goodbye…”

I like to think that I was a witness to the canonisation of Okigbo – “The mythmaker accompanies us…/ Okigbo accompanies us the oracle enkindles us.” Obumselu, Anozie, Azuonye, etc: their works have been in inestimable in the Okigbo cause. Besides, to be published under the Heinemann African Writers Series was a much coveted prize. To my mind, however, the apotheosis of Okigbo was done in Echeruo’s Poets, Prophets and Professors, his inaugural lecture at Ibadan. The title, I believe, must have been cribbed from Okigbo’s ‘Heavensgate’: “Screen your bedchamber thoughts/with sunglasses/ who could jump your eye/ your mind-window/ And I said: / The prophet only the poet/ And he said: Logistics/ (which is what poetry is)…” Echeruo’s inaugural, in effect, rifled the contents of Okigbo’s ‘logistics’ and scattered the contents every which way. Scholars and would-be scholars of Okigbo are still picking up the contents. It was only after that inaugural that Okigbo started figuring prominently on reading lists in our universities.

The enduring legacy of Labyrinths can be traced to a number of reasons. The romance of the poet’s life and death. Also, the uncontainable and uncontaminable passion of Okigbo lovers. But in the main – and this is the point – because, in the words of one of his protégés, “Okigbo wrote damn good poetry.” “O mother mother Earth, unbind me; let this be/The ram’s hidden wish to the sword the sword’s/secret prayer to the scabbard.” In other words, we have in Okigbo that vintage poetry that makes “broadcast with/eunuch-horn of seven valves”: the poetry that remains evergreen.

This vintage poetry will be encountered less through secondary sources. That, for me, is the value of this new edition of Labyrinths by Apex Books.

Dr. Hyginus Ekwuazi, multiple award winning poet and writer is a lecturer in the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan, Oyo, NIGERIA.

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

FRESH NIGERIAN GRIOTS (INTERVIEW 1): HYGINUS EKWUAZI

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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…

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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)

 

 

Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, ESSAYS AND LITERARY JOURNEYS, FUNNY, LITERARY MISSIONARY

HOW TO BE A NIGERIAN WRITER by Elnathan John

Writer's Stop
Writer’s Stop (Photo credit: Stephh922)

 

 

You know the value of books. The process of making them intrigues you. You want your name on the front cover of a book and, like an earthworm inches through dirt into the ground, you want to make your way into people’s homes, heads and hearts. I am here to help you achieve that.

 

First, you must look the part. It is important to look like an African writer. Find multi-coloured kampala fabric and use it to sew shirts which you’ll wear to all writers’ events. Or an old t-shirt. You shouldn’t look like a model or banker. Your precious time is spent thinking of plot and theme and words, not on dress and grooming. Your hair needs to be unkempt. However, nothing says authentic-tortured-African-writer like dreadlocks. Please, note that in Nigeria there is a difference between dreadlocks and ‘dada’. Dada is less refined, naturally matted coils of hair due to superstitious neglect. Dada is uncool. Dreadlocks are deliberate. They are cool. They make you look wildly creative. If someone asks; no, you are not a Rastafarian. You are an African writer.

 

As a writer, you must flaunt your vices. You need to show that you are a flawed character. If you drink, drink too much. If you smoke, do it at inappropriate times. Show up at an event reeking of booze. People will understand. Vices are a tool of the trade.

 

Now, you have the basic tools: a multi-coloured kampala shirt, cool dreadlocks, and vices. You must set about the business of writing.

 

You do not need to read a lot to be a Nigerian writer. In fact, as a Nigerian writer you can make shameless statements like “I don’t really read much”, in public. All you need is a burning desire to write. It is sufficient to have read Shakespeare and Achebe, and maybe a little of Chimamanda Adichie for contemporary reading. The only thing you need to really study is a dictionary or thesaurus.

 

Please, note that all Nigerian characters are Africans who act the same: children are respectful of elders; parents are always responsible, wise individuals teaching children valuable lessons of life. Characters do not use cuss words or talk about sex, even when in the company of peers. Nobody’s mother smokes and we have no homosexuals in Nigeria.

 

Use big words instead of small words; ‘Discombobulate’ instead of ‘confuse’. How can you write like a layman when you are an African writer? It doesn’t matter how many people read or understand you. What matters is that you impress those who do.

 

Use many words. It is always better to err on the side of verbosity than to err on the side of brevity.

 

Protect your work fiercely and always insist that people give you constructive criticism. Anyone who points out, rightly or otherwise, that your writing isn’t quite there yet, is evil and an enemy of your hustle. You must believe that there is nothing like bad writing. After all, you were inspired by the spirits before you began writing – what do critics know?

 

Do not waste your time or money on editors. Editors are failed writers whose life ambition is to frustrate the hustle of real writers like you. Show your friends your work. But only the ones who are not jealous of your hustle, and who remind you that your writing is the best thing since point-and-kill. Find some popular person from your village who will write you a foreword without actually reading your book. Then, go to press.

 

Go to Ibadan or Lagos. Find a cheap printer who can print 1,000 copies without ink smearing on the pages coming out lopsided. Arrange for a transporter to bring your book home.

 

A book is not complete without a book launch. In Nigeria, a book launch is a fund-raising ceremony. It is not important to have writers at this event. Well, maybe the book reviewer. You need your state governor (who may not come but will send a representative with a cheque or a pledge); your Local Government chairman; your Pastor or Imam to bless the event; and any minister, senator or rich person that you know. It is important to find a Chief Launcher who will encourage others to donate to your hustle. Do not leave it to chance or the discretion of the Chief Launcher, unless you are sure of his capabilities. In Nigeria, nobody is allowed to embarrass the Chief Launcher by giving more money. So, if you can, gently hint that you know he will set the bar high for others to follow. That is the job of the Chief Launcher – setting the bar as high as possible.

 

You do not need a marketer, publicist or publisher. These people eat into your profit margin. If you have a car, carry a few hundred copies in the trunk at all times. Be your own marketer. Steer conversation toward your book and tell them you have written this really cool book. Someone will ask for it and you will tell them to hold on for a minute while you get it from your car. If you don’t have a car, have a big bag that can carry at least 10 copies. Do not be ashamed to carry your books to public gatherings. Book by book, God blessing your hustle, you may end up selling off the 1,000 copies your printer produced, and maybe even go for a reprint.

 

Get an award. It doesn’t matter what. It may be from your church bulletin which you have been writing for since you were in secondary school or your old boy’s association newsletter. You can even have friends get together to organise and award you the ‘Roforofo Prize for African Fiction’. Then, you can have on your book, ‘Award Winning Author’. No need to state what award it is. An award-winning writer is a good writer.

 

It is my hope that you make it as a writer and have many successful books in the market. And with well organised book launchings, you can be sure that God will bless your hustle.

 

 

ElNathan John blogs at http://elnathanjohn.blogspot.com/ … Follow his tweets at @elnathan

el jo

He is the creator of the Nigerian ‘How to series…’ Google it! You might also want to check:

How to worship the Nigerian God

Damn You – Letter to Nigerian Literature and all involved

How to show Nigerian love

http://dailytimes.com.ng/opinion/how-be-nigerian-mechanic

 

 

 

Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, LITERARY MISSIONARY

BENUE ANA PAYS COURTESY VISIT ON ANA NATIONAL PRESIDENT,PROFESSOR REMI RAJI

(This piece is dated and is published here for archival purpose only)

The Benue State Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (Benue ANA) paid a courtesy visit to the National President of the Association, Professor Remi Raji in his office at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State. Represented by the Vice Chairman of the Benue Association, Su’eddie Vershima Agema, the visit afforded the two parties to get abreast of issues at both the National and Benue State level as well as share ideas on the way forward for the association.
Su’eddie informed the Raji of the change in leadership at the state level and informed the President that a few meetings had already been held by the Executive in order to chart a course to move the association forward. Su’eddie mentioned that ANA needed lots of more literary sparks in order to be the true number one literary body that it is in Nigeria. He proffered some ways in which this could be achieved.
Responding, Raji congratulated the entire Benue ANA EXCO and the outgone EXCO led by Sam Ogabidu on the peaceful elections. He said that the Executive of National ANA was poised to take the Association to higher heights and had since gone into action doing several projects. He mentioned that the Executive had gone on a working visit to Minna and had seen the Governor and other stakeholders. It had been a very successful outing full of promise. He further said that the association had gotten a grant of three million naira from Yusuf Ali to sponsor a secondary school campaign across the country. Fifteen states had been chosen from the various geo-political zones of the country including Abuja, Lagos and Oyo which are the centre of literature in the country including capitals of sorts. Benue had also been added in order to show the full arms of fellowship that the association was poised to show. All the beneficiary states are to send a list of the schools they expect to reach out to, the books they intend to buy and the programme they hope to pursue. He said that a list of literary prizes for the 2012 ANA Annual Literary Awards had also been released. All this was in addition to the constitution being worked on. Professor Raji stressed the fact that there was an audit process going on and the state was meant to register all her members and collect dues appropriately and send list of same to the National Secretariat so that there would be a unified list that would forestall any problems at convention and the like in the future.
Su’eddie at this point commended Professor Raji on all the efforts of the National Executive and prayed that far more would be done to make things better for both the association and its members. He commented on particular aspects of the draft constitution that were somewhat faulty. He quoted in particular, among others, the reference to the creation of a branch needing to have 250 willing sponsors at the State level and 150 of same at the local level. Professor Raji agreed that this was outrageous and definitely needed amendment. He asked that the Benue ANA put all their thoughts on aspects of the constitution that they thought needed amendment to paper and present it to the National Secretariat. He also noted that there would be a meeting of ANA National Executive and State Chairmen and Secretaries on 2012 28th April in Abuja.
A copy of Benue ANA’s poetry publication, Bridge for Birds was given to Professor Raji who appreciated the gesture. A few pleasantries were shared with promises that Benue ANA and the National ANA would be at their best to do their bit in taking ANA to higher heights.

Remi Raji and Su’eddie Agema

 

29th March, 2012

Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, BOOKS, LIFE, NAIJA POETRY, POETRY, POETRY FROM THE WORLD

Ibadan’s ‘Artmosphere’ Charged with Hyginus Ekwuazi, DTone, Su’eddie Agema and others at the City of Words

It was March 31, 2012, the place was Chrysalis Place, an exclusive restaurant in Old Bodija while the event was the ‘Artmosphere’: an avant-garde literary event with the March theme ‘City of Words’. The event started with general introductions by everyone. To get things rolling, co-anchor, Olukayode Servio Gbadamosi (a performance poet) read from the opening passage of Amos Tutuola’s The Palmwine Drinkard much to the amusement of the audience.

The first performance came from Haastrup, an English student and poet of the University of Ibadan. He read his poems, which though laden with much thoughts and seemed deep was belied by the reading of the poet.

Hyginus Ekwuazi, film critic, scholar, multiple-award winning poet and writer was the star of the event. He was accompanied by his friend and fellow poet, Su’eddie Vershima Agema who offered a poetry rendition of four captivating poems; ‘Tales One Shouldn’t Tell Often’, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Wrinkled Star’, ‘Bring Our Casket Home’and‘Let there be Light’. Su’eddie who is the Vice Chairman of the Benue State Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors was lauded by the audience for his ability to present his poems in simple, realistic and emphatic words. Agema is also a development practitioner with a strong online presence and has been published in several anthologies, both online and print.

Ayokunle Emoruwa, author of Living in the Restaurant noted that she observes and tries to understand contemporary issues, “I try to break complex issues to simpler ones, and it just flows out unconsciously. I don’t write poems but I write, when I think about society, I try to simplify trends and it flows out unconsciously”. She read her notes, ‘Dear Parents Teach Us, Our Mother Tongue’, for her “native language removes from limitations in the future-for language makes you understand the heart of the native”. She also read “Love in the Nursery”. Ayokunle usually creates vivid imageries that can be harnessed for children’s understanding of the issues happening around them. She relates different ideas in a familiar way.

‘Debisi ‘Degbohun, a fiction writer and poet presented an elegiac poem, ‘Akogun Okunrin-Ogun’, about a warrior who died for his society. Debisi who is also a business consultant informed the audience that he is still learning the ropes and that a writer must not assume “he has arrived”.  ‘Debisi has read his poems at several literary and music events in Ibadan, alongside folk music act, Babatunde, Afrofolk musician, Beautiful Nubia, and the late performing poet and writer, Ify Omalicha.

Popular and dynamic, alternative music act, Dtone Martins performed several of the songs in his upcoming album. The anchor described him as “one of Nigeria’s finest alternative musicians”. Dtone, a AfricSoul artist, noted that his music is motivated by “things I see around, books I read and my friends”. Dtone has performed at several art exhibitions, literary events and other events.  He performed his soulful songs, Kati Kati and Kosia san(‘there is no illness’).

It was time for the star to take his throne. Hyginus Ekwuazi praised the organizers for putting the event together. He gave copies of each of his titles to all the members of the audience. He noted that it was only right for readers to follow the reading if it was to make sense. (Adjunct Associate) Professor Ekwuazi is the author of four collections of poetry, three plays and a coming of age novel, I’ve miles to walk before I sleep. He has won the ANA-Cadbury Poetry Prize twice and also the ANA-NDDC/Gabriel Okara Poetry Prize twice. He was shortlisted for the NLNG Literature prize in 1999.

Ekwuazi spoke about his poems explaining that “You have a trilogy in Love Apart, Dawn into Moonlight and The Monkey’s Eyes. You have the same persona, the same worldview-its like a trilogy”. He noted some influence from Okigbo in his Love Apart: “In Love Apart, you have a persona who is separated from the lover, the title itself is gotten from some amous lines of Okigbo”. However “given the period it was written,…we have some kind of social realism that this lover who is away, critiques his society in meeting his lover, like you have in Dennis BrutusLetters to Martha”.  These books juxtapose the imageries of love and life with the seemingly distant realities of politics and economics.

Furthermore, some of Ekwuazi’s poems present a recollection of universal memories and a celebration of words that birth the philosophy of living. He also talked about the spate of violence, the social awareness of the society-questioning and revealing the innards of hypocrisy of society.  His book That Other Country is a collection on the Biafrian civil war.

Ekwuazi read a few poems from Love Apart and recommended other poems from his other collections for the audience who seemed engrossed with his reading to go ahead and read.

The audience also spoke about Osundare’s Katrina experience in relation to personal disasters experienced of other poets.

Artmosphere is an avant-garde literary development initiative based in Ibadan. It was an opportunity for literary enthusiasts and writers to connect, interact and synergise ideas. It was also leverage for those who only knew themselves through the mirage of social media and have never met themselves before to connect with full validity. There was poetry, music, and good food with drinks to match and make the March edition tagged ‘City of Words’ a fun-filled event. The event was co-anchored by Olukayode Servio Gbadamosi and Femi Fairchild Morgan, spoken word poets. The audience who were at the event was mostly bankers, business development experts, publishers, doctors, intellectuals and literary enthusiasts from all works of life.