Well, poetry speaks to us in many ways and comes to us in different ways. It is that place where there are many of us rushing in, especially with this whole advent of the social media. Now, while a lot of people have argued and bashed people who write so-called bad poetry on their blogs and spaces like Facebook, I’ve told these ‘critics’ to cool down. We are simply moving with the times. No writer should be judged for such posts. The only time when such a person should be judged is when the poem has been put into a book. So to say, when the poet has declared it final.
Life is one big contradiction in every field but it is more so when you are a writer—or so I think. You think you are there, you think you have the right words. You are in the moment and you bask as Mother Muse slowly pours herself unto your pages through the medium of creativity.
Depending on the time, you push yourself to the end or just rush it to a stop. Finally, you smile at seeming perfection. Ah! For the conscious writer, something pricks you to note that the work might have flaws here and there. So, you might decide to get editors or throw the work away. If you get the right editors, your headache begins. Have you ever noticed how those folks always seem to find faults here or there? Some of the faults are so obvious you have to hit yourself in the head! Ouch! How could you have missed that? This is the beauty of patience and seeking counsel. (Yes, if you miss the editorial seat, you might miss a lot of good stuff that might have made your work better.)
Anyway, you do your rewrite and maybe feel the work is okay… Or you keep editing till you tire out. I have been known on occasion to keep editing right up to the door of the final proofer and printer doors! Anyway, finally, you push the work out, hoping that someone will like it somehow and it will be the ticket to giving you something good. Some of us, and I am a front man in this group, edit and refine our work tying as many screws as possible.
In most cases, you get your work or book published and the feeling, for most, is indescribable. It is like a baby given to a parent. The looks of wonder at the new you is something the adjectives of the universe will not dare present. You hold that book close… Yes, I know there are a few who would look at their own book with bad eyes especially if it didn’t come out the way they like. Talk of all those parents who discover that their children are disfigured or not of the sex they want! But no, we are not talking of those sorts of parents. We are talking of the proud ones and yes, I didn’t derail. We are still talking about books.
It is easy to find authors who pick their published books and see things they wish could have been done or written differently. Many times have authors been caught reading what they hoped they might have put. Some would take a pen and correct a few lines shortly before reading at a festival or something. Sometimes you begin to see things that might best have been removed or something that might have been added for effect. It gets to the case of seeing your grown child not being the perfect baby you had once viewed. The hope is that with the next book, you will take extra precaution and have your heart more expressed.
Usually, the ideal thing that most writers come to discover is that a work is best left to fallow for three months or maybe a year… just enough time for you to have become a stranger so that you will edit your work through fresh eyes since looking at the same thing over slowly makes it seem perfect. But time is not on the side of anyone and how long can one really take? The changes and all might never be enough and we usually have to just halt. Much like what poet and scholar, Hyginus Ekwuazi says echoing older writers of yore, no true work of art has ever been truly completed. You simply have to get the maturity to let it go, and pray that point was a time worth your imperfection.
So much to writing, so much to reading. Oh well. In the end, who knows what I might want to edit from this piece… I will be mature and let it fly. Wherever your writing and reading takes you this weekend, and in the coming week, make it worth the time. Cheers!
Speaking has never been able to carry the weight of my emotions or thoughts or feelings or desires or dreams…
Somehow, I have been able to convince myself that ink on paper is an effective outlet; so I write
But when I read what I write, it just stares back at me, an incriminating evidence of yet another inadequacy.
I keep writing though, with the hope that someday, I won’t still feel hollow after writing; someday, I can fully express myself through writing and be satisfied that what I write expresses exactly what I feel.
You raise your thoughts to the highest heavens, even though you are at your lowest. You drink of the wonders of so much written, yet find no merit to quench the thirst that is drinking you up. You hear more words, and see much more evils …
What should be, what should be?
The puzzles turn on and on in your head till your every thought becomes a mass of unanswered questions, much like wires turned loose.
You have stopped watching TV, you have stopped reading the news, you have struggled to leave the world. But somehow, the troubles still get to you. The news you refuse to find, the realities of the time.
You pick your pen to put into action once more that blood that bled so much to create weapons that left everyone marveled. You want to bleed out all the evils that have now become a monster in you.
It flows and you smile, but not for long as you find more of those villains coming to get your people. You discover that your leaders are complicit…
Then you go to Opi, kiss the junction and remember that one who wore the eagled insignia. You pick his mantle and make the sign of the cross.
Suddenly you realize you no longer believe that the pen is mightier than the sword.
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.
Straining at the Seams: Poems for Nigeria at 100 Edited by Kabura Zakama
Kairos Productions is pleased to invite submissions from poets for publication in an anthology titled Straining at the Seams: Poems for Nigeria at 100. The anthology, intended to discuss the life and times of Nigeria since the merger of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, will be published in the third quarter of 2013. This will contribute to the celebration of the centenary existence of Nigeria.
There is no restriction as to form or length of the poems to submit but each poem should address the challenges, achievements and hopes of the 100-year-old Nigeria. Authors can submit a maximum of 3 poems for consideration. You may submit unpublished or published poems. In the case of published poems, you will be required to certify that you own the copyright. Authors retain the copyrights to all their works.
Only electronic submissions will be accepted. Please send an email to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and Straining at the Seams as the subject line. Please send all submissions as an attachment in one MS Word document. Your submission should also include the following:
ii. Email address
iii. Mailing address
iv. Mobile phone number
v. A short bio of not more than 80 words
Submissions that do not follow the guidelines will be rejected.
Submissions are open until 31 March 2013 and final decisions made by 30 April 2013.
No submission fees are required and no royalties will be paid to authors. Every author whose poems are published in the anthology will receive 2 complimentary copies of the book and can purchase additional copies at 30% discount.
Conversants: Ada Agada and Su’eddie Vershima Agema
Ada AGADA: I promised this piece on Su’eddie’s prodding. Let me start by saying I believe in the universality of art, in the structured unity of the human mind regardless of race and cultural plurality. I will define universality simply as the transformation of the particular by lofty thinking and lofty sentiments into a transcedent mode everywhere recognizable as a creation and achievement of the human spirit. While the particular remains time-bound the universal escapes time. It becomes timeless. This means that the universal is present in every author. The problem then is whether this presence has become a transcendence. Shying away from social themes which my friend thinks is peculiarly characteristic of Western literature (and I disagree even with the average in consideration) does not guarantee universality, as surely as writing about so-called universal themes like love, hatred, death, and marriage fails to satisfy the universalist conditions in the absence of loftiness of thoughts and feelings. It is the human intellect, uniform in its structure, that organizes these lofty thoughts and feelings. The universality success rests substantially on the quality and advancement of a writer’s brain. This is not to say the writer should write a textbook that will send you to sleep from page one. Here the intellect serves the interest of art, not of thought. Why is L.S. Senghor greater as a poet than Christopher Okigbo, a great poet in his own right? It is because Senghor is more universal, more elevated in his thinking, more expansive. So the question is not whether one writer is universal and the other is not but why one writer is said to be universal even though all writers reflect universal concerns in their writings. I have answered this question. Now I will proceed to illustrate my point with concrete references to two magnificent writers in the second part of my submission – the English Thomas Hardy and the Nigerian Chinua Achebe. Keep a date with me.
Su’eddie Vershima Agema: When I mentioned that we would be having this conversation long, I knew it would be so. Hmm.
Since this is a conversation aimed directly, I take it head on.
I start by correcting that faulty line of Senghor being greater than Okigbo… M zambe [please] my brother, check that properly. Okigbo is seen as one of the best poets of African extraction &no one contests… Check. Literary tradition, the critics, connoisseurs &even readers have long done the coronation… Check.
Now to the talk on this all…
I believe that writing should not always be consigned to the way you put it my brother. The art should have more than the philosophy… it should have ‘art’. What then is art? It has been described by many people to mean different things but I hold it to be an expression of an innermost feelings. It captures our entirety through a rendition of all there is within us. Now, any work that carries this &does so fully wins us. It needs a little sprinkling of finesse to give it that extra crunch plus…
Some editing &proper carriage put in a way that is easily carried gives it that grace that is the universal. So in this way, it transcends just philosophy stated &other such things told to be a story of one &all that can be accepted everywhere, adopted &claimed for each one’s own. This forms the heart of my argument which I continue on the thread of the second part to your talk.
Ada Agada: @S’. I only read that Okigbo is the most exciting poet from English-speaking Africa. He is the most musical of the black poets but is surpassed by Senghor in magnificence and originality. Kofi Awoonor also noted this point of Okigbo’s heavy borrowing especially from Eliot. Those who rate Okigbo higher have not read much of Senghor who wrote in French. I have read the best poems of both. @S’. I don’t mean philosophy per se but thoughts, elevated thoughts.
Su’eddie Vershima Agema: I still think you should do your views on Okigbo are not so concrete. I have read much on him to know that above his ‘borrowing’ and the ‘musicality’, there’s a depth to him that is beyond words to express at this second. Talking of originality, what do you say of his own moulding of tradition into the fabrics of his poetry? Of course, I know Leopold Senghor and have read on him, his works extensively. What you have raised is a big argument but oh well, several scholars have gone on and on in several arguments on the greatness of who is greater – their loves or someone else.
NOTE now that I am not just saying that ‘I read’ that Okigbo is something. I have read enough of both him and others to know that he is worth the honour of his crown as one of the very best that black Africa has produced…
When it comes to our concepts of universality again, I think of it in this way: you being a philosopher look more towards it in terms of elevated thoughts. I being just a lay man look at it from the view of expression – an expression that can be felt and owned by people everywhere. Our very stands are created based on our personas, learnings, and thinking. Would we ever agree? I wonder. We would argue based on our various thoughts and leanings… We have read much to support our stance and would easily argue to that effect. Would we reach a compromise? Can we agree to disagree?
Ada Agada: @S’. I think we have already reached a compromise although our core beliefs stand. The agreement is that there can be no universal without the particular. We only disagree about the dimensions of universality. In fact I suspect you are a particularist, one who believes the universality thing is superflous.
The discussion continues here…
Ada Agada is the author of the novel, The Anxious Life (Aboki Publishers, 2011). He is also a poet. He holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of Nsukka, Nigeria.
NOTE: This conversation was extempore and is largely based on direct talks between the two conversants.