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Of words, wars and men with clean-shaven heads…what has poetry got to do with it?

Of wars and words

You learn, sitting in a room full of poets, that a poem too is Kolanut. And, you learn, irrespective of what it does to your protestant mind, that poetry is the highest form of literary expression. You have always believed all the forms to be equal, but, you do not question this new thing you learn because:

1. It came right out of JP Clark’s mouth.

2. He would know about a thing like that.

3.On a scale of self-fixation, this is such a benign self-centered truth to carry around.

It has been said from time to time that writers (for the purpose of this piece, read as poets) habour the urge to be God. You have never really trusted this assessment of who writers are. But, here in this room, on the third floor of the JP Clark center at the University of Lagos, you come close to understanding that this need to remake life, to collect and concretise the transient and human with words is a way to create a world; a possible world. “Casualties”, JP Clark’s war poem and Achebe’s “Mango Seedling” become, not just beautiful poems that capture the complex realities of war, but also revolutionary acts of (re)creation.

But, the case against Christopher Okigbo.

The question of Okigbo is one that every writer eventually arrives at. This question: Is art enough? Is my art enough? resides at the points of tension between the writer as artist and the writer as citizen. Chuma Nwokolo, the gray-haired, larger-than-life moderator for Conversations with JP Clark attacks the question head on: So Prof, do you think Okigbo is guilty as charged? This assumed guilt being Okigbo’s decision to transition from poet to soldier in service of his nation (Biafra) during the Nigerian Civil War.

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JP Clark declares firmly that wars — of the physical combat variety — should be fought solely by soldiers. For him, Okigbo served society more productively as a poet. In his death, society lost not a soldier, but a poet.

A poet’s head: Almost-encounters with poet-priests

There is a visible network of tattoos on Lebogang Mashile’s back. Together, they are like a mini city with a butterfly garden at the entrance, a fantasy poem really.  I cannot stop looking at it.

I first see Natalia Molebatsi outside, standing in front of the JP Clark center reading a poem into a video recorder.  Later she reads “Casualties” to break kolanuts for JP Clark and then she reads a poem of hers. Her words ‘After the war, what do we do with the guns and machetes’ ascend and hang over the room.

I watch Ehis Momodu perform his poem, “There are no children in this place”. Days later, I think this: If Yinka Elujoba’s piece on Mapping Violence is a call, this poem is the response.

There are two men with shaved heads. One is exactly as I imagined him to be, the other is a surprise. I have fallen in love with the words of one and the voice of the other. I observe them closely, plotting strategies of chance encounters. These chance encounters never quite present themselves, or I chicken out each time they do.

I am invited by Chijoke Amu-Nnadi (invoker of spirits, cartographer of love and innocence, poet) to have lunch with JP Clark at the Boat Club in Marina. I completely miss this invitation, finding it hours later on Facebook. I still don’t know what exactly I will tell my unborn children when they ask what I was doing when I missed what might very well be my only shot at fame. This picture:

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Soft and Hard poems

This much is true for the continent: for the generation of women writing poetry now, in discovering poetry, they found it to be the art of men. The most circulated poetry bible on the continent is arguably the anthology “Poems of Black Africa” edited and introduced by Wole Soyinka. It is a book of men. Personally, I first encountered what I considered to be ‘real’ poems in this book.

The voices of women poets were for a long time spoken into an unacknowledged vacuum, and when some of these voices began to be affirmed, a line appeared. On one side of this line, the word soft, on the other side, the word hard, and on the line itself, gender. Disrupting this line on the third day of the festival is the job of a panel moderated by Wana Udobang, peopled by Lebo Mashile, TJ Dema, Jumoke Verissimo and Natalia Molebatsi. The voices in this panel present distinct and necessary perspectives to the conversation: Shifting Tides: Women In Society And Poetry.

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Lebo Mashile begins the disruption. She points out what is problematic about an institution that constantly makes you aware that the credibility of your work lies in achieving some kind of neutrality of voice. This invalidation of experience, she says, is like living through a world without memories. Botswanan poet TJ Dema offers that she did not start out considering this dominance of men as a barrier. It was simply an absence, one she was going to fill, until her body became an interface between her work and her audience.

For Jumoke Verrisimo, disrupting this interface is identifying what your ‘personal’ is and claiming the space to write and publish this. Lebo points out the difficulty of measuring impact in spaces where women poets often feel isolated and unaffirmed. She lessens this deficit by speaking her affirmations publicly.

Natalia Molebatsi wonders whose job it is to determine what is soft and what is hard, and then she says this: You start out wanting to be a person until you realise what society expects you to be. You are a woman because somebody can break into your body. Because you know that you can say no and somebody can still take.

Poetry: three mismatched shoes at the entrance of a dark alley

I find Charles Simic’s definition of poetry while snooping around the internet because I am not sure how to cram four days worth of words into a single coherent article. I find this definition a fitting metaphor for the poets on the panel, “Poets At Large: The Diaspora Writes Back”.

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The question at stake for this panel is both born out of curiosity and an accusation: Why are you writing back? Or, how did your shoe get to the entrance of the dark alley? Nick Makoha, who is joint winner of the Brunnel Poetry Prize 2015, and whose poems are love letters to Uganda, puts it like this: Poetry is a journey that takes you to a place where you realise and admit to yourself that you have lost the thing you love the most and that thing is your country.

There is a word he uses to explain what he means. ‘Metic.’

It is a Greek word: Metoikos (from ‘meta’ indicating ‘change’ and ‘oikos’ for ‘dwelling.’) This word tries to capture the experience of a poet in diaspora as well as authenticate these experiences not readily recognisable in the collective.

Finally, the poet in public spaces: what is poetry for?

I am sitting with spoken word poet (and to a certain extent, Nigeria’s unofficial poet Laureate this year) Titilope Sonuga.  She is eating, and I am full of questions. I am not there to interview her, it’s just a table of three girls chatting. Between food and phone calls, we manage to have a full conversation about everything almost. We talk Instagram, Twitter, acting, engineering, Lagos traffic, and then, finally, poetry.

Does poetry make a difference? I ask, abrupt, interjecting a conversation she is having with someone else. She graciously offers an answer. Art is the best medium we have for collecting and archiving our history as a people. I think, what are the chances that a Nigerian would look for answers in art, how relatable is art to the man on the street? And then I say it out loud, fully aware that I am asking a version of the problematic question: Do Nigerians read, care about art?

“Would you look for answers in art?” She turns my question back at me. Seated there, in Freedom Park, Lagos, surrounded by history, it is easy to see how the place of art as custodian of the soul of society is non-negotiable.

The next day, I listen to the final panel discuss poetry in pop culture. We have come a long way from “Conversations with JP Clark” to “Prophets and Profits: Poetry in Pop Culture”. The distance between these two conversations feels like the straight line between how we began and how we got here. The panel has a record label exec, a retired spoken word poet and everything in between. Their job is to dislodge poetry from its pedestal and make it dance shoki.

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This is the sum total of what they say:

There is a continuum. On one end of this continuum, there is the tortured writer/poet clutching a thing called ‘the authentic voice’. Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum is the writer who has mastered the art of flitting in and out of the compartments of poet, citizen and hustler. And on the other end is a seemingly dubious thing called Brand Poetry. In this continuum, there is no good or bad, only a knowledge that “All money,” to quote Inua Ellams badly, “is dirty money”. The poet must figure out what the stain is and how long he/she wants to carry the stain for.”

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Unpacking the privatisation of power in Nigeria

Any kind of righteous socialist-seeming theorising is dead on arrival in Nigeria. What we talk about when we discuss our economic future are specific things. We are concerned with the need to catch up with the industrialisation of developed economies. Or at the very least overtake South Africa noticeably and give shoulder-measuring countries like Ghana and Kenya wide enough berths.

Because of this, when the shortcomings of capitalism manifest in the creation of private-owned monopolies in the supply of services that are monopoly-prone, they have very little currency in Nigerian public discourse.

Expectedly, there are people who still try to sneak them into the occasional opinion piece, Twitter commentary and Facebook post. Nigerians listen to these people and, in some cases, understand how they can possibly still feel the way they do in a Nigeria that is under-industrialised, infrastructure-lacking and with a protracted history of terrible power generation and supply.

Of these issues, power is the most pressing, and since 1999 Nigerian presidents have come and gone with promises and/or succinct plans to increase our energy capacity, complete with their feel good megawatt numbers and timelines pulled out of thin air. The Obasanjo government promised its magical megawatts. Yar’adua’s short-lived government had its number. The Jonathan government had its number and shifting timelines and now the Buhari government has its Now-You-See-Me number(s). All of them as fantastic as they are unrealistic.

Data is tedious, but it is necessary to re-state that in 2005 the Obasanjo government enacted the Electricity Power Sector Reform Act (ESPR Act) that would set in motion the unbundling of PHCN into 18 successor companies made up of 6 generation companies, 11 distribution companies and a National transmission unit to cover the 36 states. This reform act came after it floated the National Integrated Power Projects: 11 new gas dependent power plants and 4 FGN plants to increase power generation and manage gas losses.

In 2007, a Canadian consulting company CPCS Transcom Limited was hired by Nigeria’s Bureau of Public Enterprise BPE to advise Nigeria based on the provisions of the ESPR Act on how to go about the privatisation business. The administration seemed however to either not like the advice or have its own preoccupations. Nothing tangible came out of this relationship.

In 2010, the government of the day promising to ‘do something about the power situation’ went ahead to re-contact CPCS for some more advice. This time, it appeared serious and ready to act.

It helped that the then Minister of Power, Bartholomew Nnaji, was a science rock star of sorts. An unassuming professor of Automation and Robotics (University of Massachusetts). That rare kind of Nigerian internationally credited as an inventor. And, as if to further legitimize the process in a manner completely out of character in Nigerian politics, it helped that he was asked to resign in the middle of the privatisation process after it was suggested that he might have compromised his position by bidding in the privatisation he was midwiving via a company he held a stake in.

This, amidst the corruption allegations that characterised the Jonathan presidency was nothing short of a killer move. The coerced resignation of the power minister was the least the Jonathan government could do to calm the dragons as well as score political points in a sleight of hands. And the dragons were many and varied.

In a parallel universe, the majority of PHCN workers were convinced that their prayers would induce either of these two: an abrupt discontinuation of the privatisation process (They had good reason to believe this was within reach. They had lived through all the other energy shakeups, roadmaps, theoretical reforms and schemes.) Or, the sudden miraculous death of Barth Nnaji. So, it is not surprising that the mysterious resignation of Barth Nnaji came across as a clear sign that their prayers were working. Prayer is Nigeria’s Band-Aid for everything.

I spoke with a number of NEPA (PHCN) workers as the privatisation of power became irrevocably concrete. Most of the people I spoke to were unwilling to discuss or understand the possibility that NEPA, as they knew it, could cease to exist. The staff school in Sapele, my Alma-Mater, and the power station I had known all my life, seemed to me, the two times I visited between 2012-2013, impossible to dismantle and impenetrable by reality. The staff school was getting a rare makeover – new doors, replaced Air Conditioners, new flower hedges. The power station was getting a new ultra-modern (state-of-the-art) Hospital with plans to employ more people.

Did it occur to them at any point that it was time to sit at the table and face negotiation squarely? That the time for a certain kind of prayer was over? Maybe.

No love was lost between Nigerians and anyone with critical views on the privatisation of power, least of all anyone mediating the fate of some obscure PHCN workers, more and more difficult to distinguish from the fate of a corrupt public company. The workers continued to pray and listen to their union representatives, but Nigerians, kept up to date with news of Union demands, what prospective investors and government were saying, had made their choice.

In September 2013, the Jonathan government and BPE completed the transfer of power generation and distribution to private companies and that chapter was closed. PHCN had become 6 GENCOs, 11 DISCOs and the Transmission Company of Nigeria. Almost unanimously, Nigerians believed the process to be transparent. A majority saw this as the start of a happy ending. The clear yardstick for this was Telecommunication.

The gains of privatised telecommunication appear to far outweigh the losses. What is the loss of a number of NITEL jobs compared to the percentage of Nigerians that have access to phones, internet services and service related opportunities?

Two years plus into privatised power, the view from outside is still largely optimistic. Power generation peaked at 5074.7 megawatts in Feb 2016 and for a brief time, just after the Buhari government came into power in 2015, it looked like we had morphed into a new Nigeria with short-lived widespread reports of constant electricity.

On the inside, it is difficult to match that general optimism with what is evident. The new companies burnt out from the bidding process requested a bailout from government almost immediately after takeoff. They claimed that they could not meet up with their debt obligations to banks. Government’s acquiescence to provide bailouts to the tune of 213 billion Naira was seen by industry experts as sending a positive signal to investors that Nigeria is ready to support energy investors. That power is too big to fail.

This money, in addition to the tonne spent on the NIPPs set up with vulgar sums of money, in addition to all the other intractable investments, has not made any clear difference in the megawatt numbers. The new companies are yet to add anything calculable to the national grid and vandalism is still the preferred fall guy for power supply shortages.

Babatunde Raji Fashola, head of the newly merged tri-ministry which power falls under, other than provide empirical reasons why electricity tariffs have been increased by 45 percent, is yet to define what the ministry intends to discontinue or consolidate on.

The causalities so far are:

  1. The dismissible numbers who have lost their jobs to necessary privatisation.
  2. Businesses that barely survive the energy deficit.
  3. Hard earned moneys that will be spent on electricity tariffs, without actual supply while we wait for the new companies to work out their issues.
  4. And perhaps the coal deposits in Enugu and any other alternative energy source that may never be seriously looked into.

The gains? Nigerians appear to have for the most part renewed their optimism in the promise that our energy-reliant economic future is possible and only a matter of time.

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Movie Review: ‘The Arbitration’ Takes on a Labour of Love; a Fuccboi Gets It

In The Arbitration, a Sexual Assault trial is exactly equal to the task of disintegrating a bulb of onion. But with fancy welding goggles. You may take this as literally as you want.

The movie is one long, arduous task. The entire plot unravels in one room, the setting of an arbitration panel, where the aggrieved parties of a classic he said/she said office rape case have met to decide if the case is light enough to be settled in that room or messy enough to proceed to a court.

But, you would be wrong to assume that this legal story is typical or contrived. The spectre of Kerry Washington’s Confirmation looms over it, but The Arbitration is a movie with a very Nigerian sensibility. It knows what it is and it takes its job quite serious.

It is perhaps important to issue a disclaimer at this point.

As a Nigerian whose critical thinking has been incrementally deadened by years of cheap thrill Nollywood movies, I may have become easy to please visually. But, that is not on me. It’s on ‘the system.’ Still, it is fair to say the movie is easy on the eyes and easy to root for, even if its characters are not always easy to love.

Except, of course, Sola Fasudo. His familiar affect is a pleasure to see again after what felt like an unexplained absence from the soft circle of new box office hits.  As usual, he is broody and removed, but still very able to affect and take over a scene just by being there.

And then there is Ireti Doyle. Ireti Doyle and Meryl Streep are, if this is possible to say and if you are willing to subscribe, each other’s on-screen spirit animals. Their gestures are sometimes so alike, it’s uncanny.

Where Sola Fasudo (Bucknor) is the arbitrator, Ireti Doyle (Funlayo Johnson) is a formidable lawyer of repute and high taste. You could even close your eyes and imagine that this is her character from the movie Fifty, living an alternate life. Type-casting is inevitable when you are this good at it, I suppose.

The Arbitration
The Arbitration

Outside of these two heavyweights, the movie showcases a coterie of the new and beautiful breed. The characters at the centre of the play are Olugbenga Sanni (OC Ukeje) and Dara Olunjobi (Adesua Etomi) whose office love affair has spiralled out of its precarious axis. The rape case is the fruit of their affair. And a young lawyer, Omawumi Horsefall (Somkele Iyamah), is eager to prove herself on this case, which is loosely dependent on the accounts of two witnesses played by Beverly Naya and Gregory Ojefua.

The movie may be concerned with how to resolve a sexual assault case, but it also takes on a labour of love: finding a consumable language for Nigeria’s technology infrastructure. Even if it enjoys official jargon and legalese a little too much. The overall effect of these preoccupations is both good and bad. Good because the movie takes its audience seriously. Bad because too many terms fly over our heads and take up too much space so that it is not always possible to enjoy the movie and meaningfully engage with it. But then, some might argue that this is a good way to err.

There is also the small problem of the Nollywood kiss. Or, pertinently, the buildup to a Nollywood kiss. I take the liberty of doing the abominable here. The old and very imbalanced Hollywood vs Nollywood comparison.

Nollywood is not Hollywood. The Cinema of France does not try to be and is not expected to be anything but itself. Winning France’s National Film Award, The Cesar, is in fact a big exclusive deal if American media is to be believed. But, where one can argue that romance depends on geography, the same argument cannot be made for a kiss. A kiss is a kiss is a kiss. And Nollywood as a whole has not learnt how to suspend disbelief with the buildup to the kiss or the kiss itself. The Arbitration makes good effort but does not fall too far from the tree in this regard.

The movie does well to disrupt two Nollywood myths though.

The argument that Nigerians are melodramatic and love their movies Melodramatic, falls flat in this movie. The unravelling of the plot is like slow burning.

Also, The Arbitration is a feast of dialogues, necessary pop (Nigerian) culture references and small talk. If you want a randomly sampled spoiler, try this: “I’m going to take your husband and fuck him six ways from Sunday.”

On a serious note, this movie shows just how important and definitive language is when rape is discussed. How we, as a people, talk about rape/sexual assault, not just within legal spaces, but in everyday conversations, is integral to bridging the empathy gaps between the vulnerable and the person whose job it is to make laws and mete out justice. But, even if the language of framing is important, it is necessary to point out that it is by no means the game changer.

Even if this movie is more wishful thinking than it is rooted in any Nigerian reality, there is some satisfaction in seeing the women run the show. Also, as far as things go, Nina Simone is a god of sorts.

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Lidudumalingani on Hats, Jazz and What it Means to Write About Place

I spend a good portion of the first few minutes learning to pronounce his name: Lidudumalingani. To get the final four syllables right is a trick of accents. No English name was discarded in favour of an authentic self. No, he has never considered not claiming his name. And no, it is not a political choice. It is his name. He fiddles with a can of Gulder as he offers a very abridged version of his genealogy in which I learn that his name is quite common in his village.

One bio I find reads: Liduduma’lingani is from the Transkei, in the Zikhovane Village, where he herded cattle, moulded goats from clay, and later grew fond of words and images. ‘Grew fond of words and images’ is of course shorthand for the essays and fiction he writes including the Caine Prize winning short story Memories we lost, the pictures he takes and shares on his Instagram page and the script for a feature film he has been working on for two years. He is a guest at the 2016 Ake Arts and Books Festival.

This interview takes place in a car park at night, away from the loud music coming from one end of the cultural centre in Kuto and the hum of Ake festival goers. For the interview, Lidudumalingani is without a hat. I notice because on all the other days he has worn hats, bucket hats. This evening his hair is out. When I ask because I cannot resist a promising detour, what his thing is with bucket hats, he says, “Oh no, I love all hats. If you sell me a hat, chances are I will buy it.” And then, to prove this, he reaches into his bag and shows me the latest addition to his collection. A gift: the Fila.

The interview proves to be full of these promising detours, punctuated by some attempts at serious questions. I start by bringing up his 2014 essay on Fela Kuti. This is Abeokuta after all, where to dig just beneath more than a decade’s worth of democratic rule in Nigeria is to be confronted by the old tensions between power, the voices that speak against power and the people caught in the crosshairs who still remember. This is Fela’s Abeokuta, he was born here. But first, I want to know what kind of music Lidudumalingani listens to besides Fela. And here, I have expectations.

For some reason, in the ways that music has travelled, particularly in the last ten years, through the pop culture machine that is satellite TV, I am certain that one of these names Cassper Nyovest, Liquideep, Lira, Hip Hop Pantsula will be mentioned. But, Jazz, he says, and then he reels off a list of names, Kyle Shepperd, Nduduzo Makhathini, Thandi Ntuli, none of which I am familiar with. We talk about what music means to the person vs the community and how well music travels outside of a subculture. When I ask him if this sort of movement has had a big effect on Jazz in South Africa, he notes that there is always that tension between the broadening of appeal and the retention of authentic forms.

Next, I want to know what things he was concerned with when he wrote that essay. He does a mock-groan here and says “I was so young when I wrote that piece.” Age is something that will come up a number of times in the course of the interview, but mostly as humour. And perhaps (I wonder much later?) as a boundary enforcing ‘armour’ against the coziness of an unlit car park where he is sitting alone with two women in a car. He is relaxed though. As if this, to be interviewed in a car park at 7:30 pm, is the sole reason he has come all the way from South Africa.

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Stephanieobi.com

In the essay, he says of Fela! the musical written by Bill T Jones and Jim Lewis:

It Is Burdened With The Problem Of Depiction. The Burden Being That A Depiction Can Never Be Adequate, Especially When It Tries To Depict Something Perfectly. It Is Better When It Falls Short. When Depiction Does Not Fall Short, When Something Is Over Depicted, It Becomes Obvious That It Is Being Staged.

This reduction of Fela from complex phenomenon to sensational curiousity, and/or selective over depiction, is what is at stake in his essay. We talk about what it means that these stories of Fela have been told by the external gaze and what it means to show the screening of a documentary on Fela at the Castle of Good Hope. At some point, all this Fela talk resolves itself to this: the fraughtness between history and time, and this devolution that progress demands or expects as its price. The things that say in overt and subtle ways: ‘to go forward, we must drop some of our weights. Fela must beget Wizkid and Jazz must clean up and go to a posh club in the city.’

We finally get around to his Caine Prize winning story and its exploration of mental health, but he has some reservations. He tells me he has been in situations where he has been made into a mental health expert of sorts in possession of answers, something he is not altogether comfortable with. The point of the story was to suggest that a singular prescriptive formula is not possible if we must talk about mental health.

Memories we lost presents itself exactly as this: anti-prescription. It is a story about two sisters who are deeply connected to each other, simply that. It takes its time to celebrate ordinary communal moments, away from the weight of its subject and when it does talk about mental illness, it is ‘this thing’, that gets in the way of what would otherwise be an unbroken stretch of idle. In the story too, a Sangoma holds the answer to curing this thing as much as a sister convinced that her love and the connection they share is enough to make her sister ‘comeback’ every time the schizophrenia attacks begin. This is both the glory and burden of Memories we lost. The story, in the ways that it is told as existing at some point between heart and gravitas, invites the reader to trust the author with their own concerns and personal stories. Lidudumalingani says that people have walked up to him to ask him entirely clinical questions about mental health. He is concerned by this.

In the past, he has said consistently, that as a writer he feels a responsibility to tell his stories the way he wants to. But I ask him now, again, was there a moment when he worried about the question of pandering, when he flirted with the idea of writing Memories we lost in a way that might facilitate a different reception? He wastes no time in answering, “I write about things that I deeply care about…and I think my focus when I write is how best to share what I want to say, but I suppose in fiction you are disguising that as a story. I was never really concerned with how people were going to read the story because, I think that the only way writers write is write the stuff that they like to read. I mean you don’t make a conscious decision to write a certain way, but when you look at what you write and what you read, you realise that they are almost sort of similar.”

He adds that he wrote Memories we lost the way he writes everything else, more concerned with the poetry of a sentence, than its structure.

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Credit: Lidudumalingani

We go back to talking about place, about the way that longing for place is hard to miss in the story. Beyond the poetry he finds in describing a place, what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, place means a number of knotted things to Lidudumalingani. For me, he says,  the kind of writing that I really like, the kind that I want to do, is one that is both concerned with the character in the narrative and where (location) the character is, because I think that’s importantWriting about a place gives you the politics of the place. He is concerned with how much of place is this tangible reality that holds the things we love. How much of place is lost to dislocation. What it means when boundaries are redrawn for the people who have to belong to this arbitrarily reconfigured, new and inchoate thing. How much is given up in that kind of disorientation that makes one say you know what, fuck that, I don’t want to be like this anymore, I’m just going to go out and drink on a Monday night… This would be a good time to ask what writers have influenced him but I only realise this after the fact. Thankfully, he has mentioned at some point in the course of the interview that the writing that interests him is the kind of writing that holds onto secrets.

On my phone, I see that an hour has gone by. I find a good pause to mention this and apologise for stealing him away for this long. With his now familiar up is down left is right humour, he says something sufficiently rebuking and then notes that he genuinely has to make himself available for mingling.

For the last question, asked between shutting car doors and wondering about the possibilities of pulling off a passable selfie in bad lighting, I want to know if, for a multidisciplinary arts person (aka the creative), the subjects that concern him in a particular moment choose the form they want to be expressed in. He says, I am not quite sure if I have figured what the process is. It is unique for every situation, and I suppose there is then a conversation between the subject itself and how it wants to be released to the universe.

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Poetry

Of words, wars and men with clean-shaven heads…what has poetry got to do with it?

Of wars and words

You learn, sitting in a room full of poets, that a poem too is Kolanut. And, you learn, irrespective of what it does to your protestant mind, that poetry is the highest form of literary expression. You have always believed all the forms to be equal, but, you do not question this new thing you learn because:

1. It came right out of JP Clark’s mouth.

2. He would know about a thing like that.

3.On a scale of self-fixation, this is such a benign self-centered truth to carry around.

It has been said from time to time that writers (for the purpose of this piece, read as poets) habour the urge to be God. You have never really trusted this assessment of who writers are. But, here in this room, on the third floor of the JP Clark center at the University of Lagos, you come close to understanding that this need to remake life, to collect and concretise the transient and human with words is a way to create a world; a possible world. “Casualties”, JP Clark’s war poem and Achebe’s “Mango Seedling” become, not just beautiful poems that capture the complex realities of war, but also revolutionary acts of (re)creation. Continue reading

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Shorts

Aunty Magdalene: An Excerpt

Every Monday without fail, Aunty Magdalene goes to the bank on Mc Iver street between the Pontu River and the old golf club Chief used to take her to on weekends. There, she pays all of the money that she makes from her park preaching into an account opened for that purpose. She is faithful with this.

She wakes up early on this day, gathers the weeks’ offering, arranging them according to their denominations. When she is done, she prays on the small and separate piles with hands that she has anointed with olive oil, spread out to embrace the cash. Then she puts the money, bound together neatly with rubber bands, in the innermost zip of her handbag.

The coolness of the bank is such a relief and she takes her time to fill out the slip and count the money again to make sure it is all there.

After Aunty Magda has made her deposit, she takes a bus to the market to do her visitations.

The heavy and damp smell of tight, badly lit shops no longer bother her. She has been doing these market visits for so long now. She no longer minds a lot of things. The grounds of the market become marshy and difficult to negotiate by late August and the smell of meat mixes with the smell of gutters, and rises above the umbrella sheds into the collective air, almost thick enough to touch, but Aunty Magda is unfazed by it all.

She wanders between the stalls, stopping often to greet people. She is well-known in the market.

Most people who own shops here use the park. They consider their success a result of Aunty Magda’s prayers for them and the fruits of the moneys they sow in her envelopes. She smiles and greets the people who know her and for the special, old disciples, she goes into their shops to pray with them.

She has come to regard this fame as the natural consequence of God’s blessing on her ministry.

From time to time, when she considers opening a church proper, she daydreams about her name and face on a signboard or even a billboard. But always, she chides herself. A billboard is not an immediate need. What she longs for more than anything else is a portable megaphone.

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OPEN Call: Do you blog about African Books?

Writivism

We are looking for you.

This is true. If you have a blog, are an ardent reader of African books (let us not have the debate about what an African book is, or is not, please – not today), and have been sharing your reviews of the books you read, we want to have a relationship with you.

Are you wondering, what type of relationship this will be? Do not worry. Let us first confess. We have been surreptitiously contacting some bloggers who write about books already, and we are already partners with them, as we speak.

We believe that book relationships can’t be monogamous, and so we would like to open up to you, too. Join us. Okay. What does this relationship entail? Before you join. We want you to read and review books on our festival featured books list.

You have heard about the forthcoming Writivism Festival, haven’t you?…

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