The Importance of Poetry #2 – Su’eddie Vershima Agema

We asked the poets shortlisted for the PEN Nigeria/Saraba Poetry Prize 3 questions about their practice and contemporary poetry, and they responded with staggering insight. Here is Su’eddie Vershima Agema, author of Tales one shouldn’t tell often.


Su’eddie Vershima Agema

Why do you write poetry, and what fascinates you about poetry?

Sometimes it is hard to simply say why one does something especially when that thing has become a way of life. It is like asking ‘Why do you breath?’ Several answers come to mind: ‘I write to pass messages’ ‘I write to change society’ ‘I write to … this or that’ I can think of a million reasons why Ithink I write, but the truth I believe is that I write poetry (scribble what I hope passes for poetry J ) because it is something that has come to be a part of me. Everything else follows – to pass a message, to let my soul speak to someone, to carry a code and all. All these follow but first, I write because it is part of who I have become. True as time goes on, it gets harder to write poetry because you are conscious of each word. When a few people begin to take you serious, more, when you begin to take what you do serious. Every word has its purpose. Is it really saying what you stand for? It becomes a tool … But maybe I am beginning to talk much like those writers with a purpose thing, abi? Hee hee hee. I be Naijarian man original!

One’s fascination with poetry comes in a myriad reasons and when one is limited in words, you have to only pick a few and wonder if it suffices to show the extent of its beauty. Poetry is one genre that gives you the opportunity to tell a lot in so little. It brings the entirety of the vast lines of prose into a few tight lines that leave you as fulfilled as if you had read the whole work of prose. Imagine Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ as a poem. I dare say that many more people would have read the book to the end and enjoyed the profoundness. Imagine Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ as prose… Poetry weaves a lot into smaller fragments of such beautiful conciseness that leaves one marveling. Yes, it carries the action of plays too in that same conciseness. More than that, if you consider poetry to be the air out there, the breathtaking wonder of life, the stillness of nothing, the spirit of the moment; everything and nothing – then you see that poetry is indeed so much more than can be contained in words. It is the glue that brings it all together in beauty and just leaves you marveled with that ‘Wow’ feeling. Poetry. I can almost taste it now.


Is poetry important?

Who knows? Maybe. Maybe not. Okay, I am just being naughty. Poetry is important. It holds much together. While not too many people can grasp it singularly in its form in lines and stanzas, you can’t help but notice them bow when it comes out in other forms. Imagine the words as someone tries to woo another. Imagine the words as pearls of infinite wisdom pour out, for instance, in that form of our civilization that came from years on years till we can now contain in a few scripts. Think more now of apt descriptions in such imagery that leaves you marveled. Whether you find it in its strictest sense (of lines and stanzas that most people take as some form of Mathematics) or in its various other forms – as prose descriptions (as used by Toni Morrison, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Carlos Ruiz Zafôn, Unoma Azuah, Maik Ortserga, Pever X, Ada Agada, Toni Kan, Habila, Iduma e.t.c); those lines in a play (as perfected by the likes of Soyinka, Shakespeare, Hyginus Ekwuazi, Femi Osofisan, Jude Idada, Joshua Agbo and numerous others), then you would understand.

For the beauty of the other forms, there is reason to have poetry go on and on. Little wonder then that Chimamanda Adichie says she reads a lot of poetry before writing any work. NOTE that she stresses that she doesn’t write poetry… Read her work again and find out if you wouldn’t find it there.

So, in every way, yes, poetry is important as glue holding all together and on its own, as a distinct form that unites so much in so little bringing a beauty that only the most perfect of paintings or music can compete with.


In your practice, what do you aim for, especially in relation to your shortlisted poem?

Saying what I aim for in ‘my practice’– I like the sound of that, practice, much like the lawyer stuff – is really subjective to time, and specific experiences. It is always a response to something – a feeling, a movie watched; a poem or other literary work read; to a call for submission or a competition (kidding)…

There was once when I had to beg a sweet heart when we had an issue. ‘Mea Culpa’ (a poem I wrote) was born. At another time, I had to just bury some thoughts that wouldn’t leave except if I let them out. I spoke them much but they remained. I wrote, they remained but without the former burden they had carried.

It is the way my first published collection, ‘Bring our casket home: tales one shouldn’t tell’ was born. An answer to many situations. In ‘Tales one shouldn’t tell often’, I was playing with the origin of man and sex. You know, both are so intertwined. If we can find an answer to the quarrel that has us at ends to choose between our ‘rod’ and the ‘Lord’, we might find some peace and ease to conscience and yes, loins (perhaps). That’s on the surface. Deeper levels? We can go on forever.

So, there you go: My poetry is a response to situations in the hope of a message passed that would touch someone somewhere and cause some change – whether it be a laugh, a hope or some transformation. Do I dare hope for so much?


(From Saraba Magazine)


CALL FOR ENTRIES: The Tom-Gallon Trust Award (DEADLINE 31 OCTOBER 2013)

The Tom-Gallon Trust Award
Annual prize of £1,000 for a short story

Deadline for entries: 31 October 2013

(i) The author must be a citizen of the United Kingdom, Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.
(ii) The author must have had at least one short story published or accepted for publication.
(iii) The story submitted must be in English and must not be a translation.
(iv) The story submitted may be published or unpublished.

Please complete this form and submit it with:

  • One (and only one) short story (maximum length 5,000 words), published or unpublished and typed in
  • double line spacing, with your name stated on the first page;
  • A list of your previously published work including the publisher and date of publication;
  • If you would like an acknowledgement, the return of your story, and/or to be notified of the winner
  • please provide stamped addressed envelopes marked accordingly.


PLEASE NOTE that entries submitted by fax or email will NOT be accepted.

Send to: Paula Johnson, Awards Secretary, Society of Authors, 84 Drayton Gardens, London SW10 9SB.


Download the 2014 form here







(by Chinyere Obi-Obasi…NOTE: This is a challenge that also has prizes to be won!! Can you beat that?!!)

Hope you have not forgotten the challenge

One of the reasons why I am a hit with my children is because of my fertile imagination. So while telling the story of Joseph and Portiphar’s wife, I tell them for example that Portiphar’s wife represents a female or male boss who wants to take advantage of you and believes he/she has the ability to sack you whenever he/she feels like it.
Joseph represents you with the fear of God. You believe God will establish your home even if you are sacked.
Develop a short story by situating the story of Joseph’s encounter with Portiphar’s wife in modern times.
Best entry will get a prize from me. Spread the word. All entries will be published in my blog.
TIP: You can read about this Joseph/Portiphar’s encounter in Genesis to appreciate it before writing.


1. Open to all ages
2. Not more than 2,000 words.
3. Send to me via
4. Closing date for receipt of entry 20th April, 2013
5. Short bio data to accompany entry
6. Winner will be selected by Dr. Eghosa Imasuen
7. Winner will be announced on 1st May 2013
8. The prize is a digital voice recorder.

If I was taking part, this is what I will do;

1. Read the story from the bible to understand and appreciate the woman’s obsession and Joseph’s trauma. Try to capture their emotional state of mind.
2. To replicate it in modern times, I will think of all the superior/subordinate relationships. Father/child, boss/colleague, pastor/member, landlord/tenant etc. a relationship where you have a lot to lose when you say no.
3. I will not just think of sexual relationship. I can think of something that has to do with somebody asking me to do something unethical.
4. I will then do the plot of three of such different scenarios.
5. I will spend another day thinking of which I am more comfortable with.
6. I will then ask myself which voice i want to use. The 1st, 2nd or 3rd person voice.
7. I will then do the first draft early in the morning or whichever time is convenient to me
8. Then do the second and third draft.
9. Use pro writing to edit the work to remove cliches lurking around, excessive use of a particular work, sticky sentences etc.
10. Send it to a critic for his assessment and help.
11. Take some or all of the corrections or advice and rewrite.
12. Keep the draft for a few days. Look at it again for mistakes before sending it off.

People let’s not make Dr. Eghosa Imasuen’s work easy LOL

NOW PEOPLE, get ready to get that Digi Voice Recorder!!! May the best person win! – Su’eddie


Wordsmiths in Nigeria: Relics of a lost age? by Chika Nwakama

Art is life. Life’s art. Writing is an art, it could also be a life. What else captures the details of the past, intertwining it with the occurrence of the present, yet plodding the way for the future but writing. With just a few words, your imagination travels between time and space, thus making geographic demarcations of boundaries look seamless. The secrets of life are kept afresh and handed down to subsequent generations through writing. So why aren’t the wordsmiths leaving up to their billing?

Arts in Nigeria has gained a lot of momentum lately. The actors, musicians, painters, even photographers and make-up artistes are gaining prominence and recognition in our society. The fashion industry riding on the success of the entertainment industry is recording quantum strides. All, but the writers. How could this be, that the queen and bride of all creative manifestations be relegated to levels befitting of paupers? The beholders of the secrets that lay in the lairs of the deep are fast drifting into oblivion. Some say writers can’t survive in our society. Many others say Nigerians don’t read. Indigenous literature it seems lose their footing to foreign ones. The average girl would hastily grab a Sidney Sheldon over a Lara Daniels. The Dibias would only receive accolades but we stock up our libraries with Grishams.

However, lest we rush ourselves into hasty conclusions, based on the obvious, let us remind ourselves that our counterparts in the sister arts equally faced this clog. But unlike us, they did not hurl accusations. Like them, we need to take action. We need to start appreciating indigenous wordsmiths. We hear there is a dearth of good writers in the country. This is a farce. Ever year, my compatriots receive accolades globally. It is up to the writers to test the waters and create the butterfly effect that would enable a literary environment flourish in our country. The works of Pulp Faction book club, Naijastories, Nigerian Writers forum and Debonair Bookstores are appreciated but a lot still needs to be done. Reading competitions have to be inculcated in our primary schools. Book clubs and literary groups with emphasis on local content have to be re-introduced in our secondary schools. Arts festivals and book carnivals have to be taken to the national level. We have the capacity to host art events that would rival the pedigree of the hay festival.

Only then would the publishers, corporate world and film makers come to share in the slice of the cake. The onus is on us as writers to partake in defining a new Nigeria for our youths. Where intellectualism thrives over ignorance and sentiments. Where jingoistic views would be overtaken by enlightenment. Though it is not an easy task, nor one with immediate visible results, the fruits of such venture have generational implications. He who plants a seed today leaves a shade for the next generation. In this plethora of misguided conceptions and ideologies, what seed are we planting that would provide shades for the future one? How do we preserve our fast depleting culture , if not through writings.

Do we want our children to hear of our stories from the lips of foreigners? Let us stimulate the taste buds of indigenous literature and keep them salivating for more. More importantly for our sakes. The only way to attain immortality is through writing. A writer never dies, he merely lives in another form. Through his writings.


First Published on Naija Stories



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 … 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






ANA Prose Fiction Prize 2012

Pride of the Spider Clan – Odili Ujubuonu – Winner

Beyond the Yard – Inyang E. Ekwo

A Time To Heal – Seye Oke


ANA Poetry Prize 2012

Inside my Head – Umari Ayim – Winner

Canvas – Saddiq Dzukogi

Go Tell Our King – Betty Abah


ANA Prize for Drama 2012

Hard Choice – Sunnie Ododo – Winner

Tear Drops of the Gods – Karo Okokoh

Climate of Change – Elaigwu Ameh


ANA/Chevron Prize for Environmental Issues 2012

No entry merited shortlisting in this category.


ANA/Esiaba Irobi Prize for Playwriting 2012

Children of the River – Nnamdi Okose – Winner

Tear Drops of the Gods – Karo Okokoh


ANA/Gabriel Okara Poetry Prize 2012

Songs of a Griot – Karo Okokoh – Winner

Pimples and Dimples – Fidelis Okoro

ANA/NECO Teen Author
Behind the Dust by Nuela Ononye – Winner
Trap in the Jungle by Chukwu Obelugu
Kidnap by Gbemisola Adeya

ANA/Latern Prize
Nkechi the Heroine by Camillus Chima Ukah – Winner
The Genius by Vincent Uduh
Mad Boy by Spencer Okoroafor



NOTE: Winners for the following ANA Prizes were announced at the 2012 Convention held at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State from the 8th to 11th November 2012. Congratulations all around. All winners who were not on ground to receive prize monies for the ANA Prizes should please reach the General Secretary via email at so appropriate arrangements can be made.Any other clarification should also go to the General Secretary via



There is something about the depth of the artiste – it is only gotten by going into the heart of this one. Several years ago, I would marvel at the profoundness of the works of lots of literary maestros. The depth of their creative springs and reaches left me bedazzled. I started writing, churning out tales easily with poetry and the seeming ‘myth’ of the work put into writing lost its hold on me: these were simply creative works thrown out. Unnecessary attention was usually given them – I thought. I read some critiques to show the pretensions of people’s works. But then, I got to change yet again as I became more of a writer by reading and growing values that I would hold on to.

Writing that was overtly easy to me became harder. Each word became important – what message is this giving? Does it speak what I want? Does it tell what I represent? Many thoughts died with words stifled out till at some point, it became somewhat more possible (but not easier) to churn out words. Poems and other write-ups took longer time and more edits. My being went into the process. Where is this leading to?

IT brought me to realise that the deep depths I saw in works several years ago were for real. I do not doubt that certain writers simply write without thinking. I do not doubt that several writers don’t write what they preach. Yet I know some do. It is these ones that make the writing process all worth the while. The ones that make the name ‘writer’ worth wearing with pride.

There’s no art to finding the mind’s construction in the face rings true in this case too. You have to read the work and in some cases, know the writer deeply to know if both tally: You make your analysis of a work and if you know the author well you can tell if it is a reflection of his/her thoughts or simply a blessing of some muse on a(n) (un)deserving ass (pun intended).

I do not doubt the humanity of the writer. I believe it greatly and know they are more human than many with their foibles, mistakes and all. Now, does it matter that almost everyone on the road or in their room for that matter claims to be a writer? I don’t really think so. What separates (the) writer(s) is the depth of thought that (s)he has come to garner and yes, experience too. It comes from the study of several ones – in books read. The experience in a rich life lived, no matter how such. It’s the varying experience carried. A writer who hasn’t read is not really a writer worth much salt. A writer who hasn’t lived really, hasn’t lived.

I have studied several works and had the pleasure of meeting, interacting and enjoying the unique grace of the friendships of many writers. The true writer still exists and I have seen him and her severally. I get to discover that what I thought of some of their work was far less than what lay therein. They – most writers – are far deeper. It has been very humbling but worth it all. To know these people who are peculiar yet similar in many lights. These ones who would many times just want to be alone to access the recesses of their innermost beings or others who would just want to go out and get it. These ones who look at a bland wall and discover lines to leave others amazed.

All this has made sense why some artistes would risk it all for their craft. It makes sense why a lot of them see that there’s a lot they can offer in words and actions. It’s in the definition of that depth that has become them from all they have drunk of and become – of the words of others, of the life they have lived.

For every true writer, there’s a depth…

Phoneys, have fun. Children, enjoy. Writers, live on.

We started here [Credit: Su’eddie V. Agema]




Yup, damn you!

I am usually conservative but even for that, damn me!

Nigerian writers and its literature is largely uncelebrated in the country – for most of that, damn Nigeria!

Nigerians prefer to read foreign books – damn Nigerians!

Readers would rather read a book by a known author than a least known one – well, I can’t blame them but damn both the readers and the unknown writer!


We all want to be taken seriously by the society and even government but are we even serious with ourselves?

Many times we rush off to print – without getting several things right

No proper editors or editing

Shabby production with lots of typos and grammatical blunders plus the tense

inconsistencies! Grrrr….

Should we forget the horrible covers that adorn most of our books?

What about those stories that should rather be in a text book?

Furthering, we keep doing the same thing and expect something to get results that are different… Kai!

Damn us!

You don’t read at all or pay the price for writing and you expect to have something good? Hee hee hee – Damn you jor!

Other times, you don’t do anything to help other writers – no reviews, no good comments, and you expect that the reverse would be yours… this is more hilarious than the price issue! Yes, yes, damn you!

You put some exorbitant price on your book and would rather have them under your bed than sell affordably – damn you!

You refuse to buy a book by another writer – no matter how good and expect yours to be bought – haba, if you keep expecting to be dashed or don’t even buy, you should respect karma now… but still, damn you!

A book launch is called (and this is often) and if you do the mistake of going, you go only to drink the free mineral, buns or meat pie – faya your head!

Here now you find some others – yes, you who set up some awards just for the glory and then end up giving your cronies – damn you!

What about you who is selected as a judge and decide that it is time to give the favour to some pal… O! I guess I forgot to mention that other person who decided that only the one with a big name should get the prize to increase your prestige… Whether you are a judge, whether you are the organiser… hmm, need I say more? No, not damn you, have your head examined!

More, you as a literary association or its members are more political than literary – choi, go and join PDP, CPC, ACN or one of them parties! Literary associations should be L I T E R A R Y !! Shikena! Damn you!

You are in a literary association and your only aim is POSITION – nothing else… damn you!

Okay, you get the position and you can’t effect any change – damn you still.

You claim to be a publisher while you only print and get your full payment for the copies, at best collecting payments for the print job…The same you refuses to market the writers or pay royalties when you sell their work – whether it is one of these or all, Oga/Madam Printer, damn you!

In your academic circles, scorning any writing not from your literary circles, or flowing only those sent from high towers – keep those noses in the air, may mighty flies dance alanta inside! See your head – damn you!

Now, here we go with all these and we have to start to think about why this rant has come about but not to worry… It takes time and a lot of damns to get us into doing the right thing… It takes time to ignore the big names, it takes time to get to discover that we can make those small people to be big…it takes time to ensure that we make ourselves – polish ourselves right and give ourselves the utmost shine… it takes time to make people know our worth… It takes time to take time…and while we are taking all this time, why don’t we simply just damn time itself! Damn time! (If you agreed to this, damn you!) As the times grow, we have to give it its respect and let it slowly flow… After all, isn’t it with the passage of time that wine gets better? Well, you might be lucky and not need to go through all the wahala to get there… On behalf of us all who really do not have the luxury of that miracle, damn luck! Damn the luck that would make others to really suffer to make a name… Damn the pirates who help us spread our work but don’t give us pay… Come to think of it, maybe we should give them some commission for marketing … What happens to our hard work and labour? Damn you pirates! Damn! Damn! Damn! Double and double and quadruple damns to it all till it comes to a time when we have to even damn damn itself…

At that damning time, we would have to find a way to undamn ourselves in one or several ways…and if we don’t find a way to remove the damns…well, what more do I say?

Ouch! There’s a damning headache in my head and I just discovered that someone still hasn’t got this whole message – phew! Damn! Okay, here’s what I am saying and if you don’t get it still (do I need to say it? Damn you!)

IT takes one and all to bring all the change we want and we can do it…if we don’t, damn us all!

(First published in Conflate Magazine, June 2012)



Pearson Education
Pearson Education (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you would like to submit your work to the Heinemann African Writers Series for consideration for publication:
Please send a brief synopsis of one page or less, a covering letter and typed manuscript of the first 3 chapters (or around fifty pages) to the following address:

AWS Submissions
C/o Lynette Lisk
Pearson Education
Edinburgh Gate
CM20 2JE

Or email
In your covering letter please include some background about yourself, the book and if relevant your writing career. If the manuscript has already been published or is being considered by other publishers or agents in any country, please include this information too.
We will respond to all submissions.


What you waiting for?!!