“…note with dismay that a high proportion of the entries contain a worrisome abuse of poetic license with a plethora of infelicities. These infelicities include false imagery, absurd and vulgar coinages, outlandish phraseology and awkward versification masquerading as poetry.”- Prof. Ayo Banjo, Spokesman, Judges of the Nigeria Prize for Literature, 2005.
Indeed, contemporary Nigerian poetry is generally worrisome- at least to those who appreciate good poetry. We may have been writing lots of poetry, with new volumes getting into the literary market by the day, from new and younger authors alike, and yet be doing more harm than good to the development of contemporary Nigerian poetry. Most times, the younger contemporary poet seems to loose her artistic vision, tossed here and there in the wind of nothingness! Our literary critics keep pointing accusing fingers on the young writers, who are “too much in a hurry to get published”, while the more established poets are not in a hurry to live the headlines and the spotlight for the fledging. And why should they? Is the poetic sky not big enough for everyone? Perhaps, the young and fledging poet has not taken a strong position in contemporary Nigerian poetry. Or how else could one explain Gabriel Okara’s joint winning of the Nigeria Prize (for poetry) in the year 2005! Forget about “new Nigeria writing” by a poet of the 60s, it is not what the Ofeimuns, Osundares and Aiyejinas of this part of the world would have prayed for! Even today’s Okekwes, Uzoatos, Ezeanahs, Kankaras, Shehus, Nnamdis and not forgetting Ezenwa Ohaeto (a joint winner), of blessed memory, would have fasted for this. Neither would I!
So, where lies the strong position for the younger and fledging Nigerian poet? Firstly, we must start writing poetry, not verse. Many a volume out there is characterized by verse ‘struggling’ to be poetry. This may not be unconnected with the poor understanding and appreciation of the techniques of poetry writing, especially by the younger poets. Poetic license, which should be a tool for the creative use of words and space, has become a disastrous thing in the hands of our poets! The use of imagery, sound and space in poetry is either clich?d, cacophonous and simply unimaginative, respectively that is. Inversions are often overused to the degree of nausea, one begins to feel one was reading a 10th century poet! Perhaps, we may need to learn from the successful poets of the modernist, post-modernist and contemporary poets. NLNG’s Eleven Best Nigerian Poets for 2005 is also highly recommended, especially for the younger poets. They include, Gabriel Okara’s The Deamer, His Vision, Ezenwa Ohaeto’s The Chants of a Minstrel, Promise Okekwe’s Naked Among the Hills, Maxim Uzoato’s God of Poetry, Chiedu Ezeanah’s Twilight Trilogy, Emman Usman Shehu’s Open Sesame. Others are Amu Nnamdi’s Pilgrims Passage, Victoria Kankara’s Hymns and Hymens, Ismael Omamegbe’s The Colours of Season and Cyclone by Ubu Udeozo. We can become better poets by reading good poetry.
Secondly, before setting out to put a volume together, we should know the poetry tradition in which we have chosen to write. Reading through the various volumes by the same author in contemporary Nigerian poetry, mostly among the younger generation, is quite revealing! She uses different traditions for as many volumes she publishes, sometimes even within the same book! Though, it is quite tempting to want to name the various authors and titles that fall under this adventurous tradition, it will be of better benefit to us if we could show, very quickly, how this characteristic has become a purple-patch in the failings of our current poetry. Poetic traditions may refer to the poet’s style of writing as related to the various movements in poetry. For instance, William Wordsworth’s Romantic age characterized by lyricism in the creative and imaginative use of the free verse, against the traditional patterns of the Edwardian and Elizabethan periods. Or more relatively, late Christopher Okigbo’s gradual metamorphosis form the influences of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot’s tradition of poetry writing to the niche of his own voice as evidenced in his ‘Path of Thunder’. Other established poets, such as Wole Soyinka and Gabriel Okara, with their “self-conscious search for techniques from native traditions as a means of extending and authenticating their sensibility,” (Senanu & Vincent, Selection of African Poetry), have also carved their niche in their generation’s poetic tradition. Reading through contemporary collections usually take one far back to the poetic traditions of the pioneer Dennis Osadebay, bring you down to the transitional Gabriel Okara, jack you up to the modernist Soyinka, and like a thunderbolt without lightning, you are thrown back to the contemporary Osundare, and the younger Lasisis. Perhaps, it may be high time we had another phase for the present peculiar poetic tradition- Anything Can Happen Phase, or more modestly, the Hybrid Phase. Could this be the reason why our literary critics don’t fond the current Nigerian poetry very comfortable or inviting, including the readers? What tradition of poetry are you carving your niche from? I think I just might know where I belong. Where do you belong?
Moreover, particularly for the younger generation that has been generally described as the “children of globalisation”, we should begin to explore the opportunities that abound on the World Wide Web. We cannot and must not be seen to be layback, when we have the literary world in our fingers! We should create websites or web pages for writing, and submit poems for possible publications in magazines, journals, reviews and anthologies. We can also have our poetry reviewed on various poetry reviews on-line, join poetry writing groups and participate in poetry contests. But BEWARE! As much as the Internet holds possibilities, we must be careful not to fall victims of the numerous poetry scams on-line! Many a writer, new and old, have fallen and are still falling into these scams. Unknowingly, they flaunt awards by such big scams as the International Library of Poetry, also known as the International Society of Poets (ISP) or simply Poetry.com, U.S.A; and Noble Publishers, U.K. Some Nigerian authors have even gone ahead to ‘strengthen’ their biographies with such things as ‘Nominee, Poet of the Year, by the ISP, U.S.A’; or ‘Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award, ISP’. Many more will even tell you they have got their poetry recorded to songs in ‘The Sounds of Poetry’ by the same organisation. Sadly still, they do not know these are crests of opportunist amateur poets who are yet to be exposed in the literary world. Although, many of the author’s names are still quite fresh in memory, again, this will do no one any good. What is important is that we keep our eyes open whenever we want to submit any of our works for publishing opportunities. And those of us who, relatively, have better experience in such things as this, should not fail to alert the other, suggesting other possible ways of going about it. Okike, Glendora Review, Flamingo, Atlanta Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry London, Poetic Voices, Poetry Magazine, London Magazine,Blue Moon, Sable, Wasafiri, Coffee Press House, Gargoyle and Abraxas (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more contacts) are few of the many magazines we can get our poetry on. Poetry competitions such as Poetry Business Competition, Peterloo Poets Open Poetry Competition, Arvon Foundation International Poetry Competition, Cardiff International Poetry Competition, National Poetry Competition and Voices Network International Poetry Competition are just few of the many competitions for poets on the web. One can easily find their websites and submission guidelines through search engines on the net. Start clicking those keyboards now!
However, the younger generation of poets should also participate in local poetry prizes. They include the annual ANA/NDDC Gabriel Okara Prize fro Poetry, Cadbury Poetry Prize, Muson Poetry Prize and the rotating NLNG/Nigeria Prize for Literature. It is always advisable to have some degree of local recognition, as this will put us in a better position for greater international recognitions. This is also true with publishing, at least, one’s first volume of poems. We must always try as much as we can to have manuscripts or books to be submitted for these competitions well packaged. We have been whipped twice by the NLNG for our badly edited and packaged books! We can argue till the second coming of Christ the content is what matters, we must not also fail to realise that a terribly packaged book can kill the interest of the reader. I had bought Austyn Njoku’s Scent of Dawn at the just concluded Nigeria International Book Fair, just for its cover design and texture, leading me to the recurring dawns in his poetry! Eracili’s No Sense of Limit also gave no ‘sense of limit’ to my urge to grab it on the ANA book stand, not because I had read reviews on it, but its quality design was simply inviting- although, my pocket had its ‘sense of limit’! Outside the fair, Lasisi’s ‘Flight of My Night’ is also simply surreal! Yours? Sorry, I think that will do. I am not going to be that ‘grab-your-copy-now-marketer you find in Nollywood!
It is sincerely hoped that somehow, someway, someday, the issues highlighted here and the very humble suggestions to the younger generation of Nigerian poets on the shadowy state of our current poetry, will be seen as a useful light.