Many arguments exist and still persist about why there is not the proliferation of poetry in mainstream entertainment in Nigeria, and while some views hold that Nigerians just do not appreciate the form of art, a handful of Nigeria’s finest exports in Performance Poetry gathered to engage the debate by simply practicing their art under the relaxed atmosphere of Freedom Park, Broad Street― Lagos Island filled with poetry faithfuls for the just concluded Lagos International Poetry Festival (LIPFEST) 2018.
The event – that promised and mostly delivered 35 guests from 12 African Countries, 4 workshops and masterclasses, 10 panel discussions, 5 evenings of readings and performances, 1 concert, 2 parties and the launch of its poets in residence program – lived up to the expectations considering the engagement it received. The guest poets took their time to teach, treatise and perform the finest of their published works cutting across themes like Identity, Being, Social Intolerance, Hate Speech, Racism, War and Love.
The conversations from the Finding Home session was quite the resonance to every masterclass there had been since the October 31st commencement of the 2018 edition, in that performances from poets like Nigerian-born UK Poet, Yomi Sode; Senegalese Jabir Malick; Obii Ifejika; Chika Jones and Efe Paul-Azino (who doubled as the evening’s moderator) gave light to the many talks.
Every reading was either squeezing the listener’s nerves, a spitting distance close to breaking down their curiosity or a whisker away from drowning them in tears. However way anyone had it, no one could deny poetry was delivered by some of Africa’s finest wordsmiths.
After one of his readings, Yomi Sode explained how difficult it had been for him to grow as a Nigerian (and an African) in a white community; and even though he has willed to not let go of his originality in the face of the shame-veiling trend Efe had described as ‘Afropolitanism’ the fight had not been without resorting to mediums that helped reinforce his Africanness. Mediums like poetry. And if Yomi had had the need to understand his background even more, he has enjoyed the needed connection during his many returns to Nigeria. In his words:
“If I am searching, I need to actually go. That for me is never a problem; but I have friends who won’t return to the continent for what they are searching for because the coining of the terminology (Afropolitan) is enough for them to be at synergy.”
As though one was not done emphasizing how poetry has helped him strengthen his loyalty to his fatherland, Chika Jones described his intention to stay in Nigeria and practice his art in a season where everyone relished moving abroad for ‘greener pastures’ as one that is not informed by “a misguided sense of patriotism.” He further enthused that the one who wasn’t productive with their skill in Nigeria will still end up confused in a Western terrain where the people ‘doing well’ are people with “something to offer Society.”
Having read her Home― a version of Bassey Ikpi’s Homeward from Def Poetry Jam, and just before she came searching for the tears in everyone with another soul-pricking poem, Obii Ifejika described the success of the Western community as a consequence of the sense of responsibility its people have to their nationality. She further stressed that nothing would change for a country like Nigeria, who is only months away from choosing its president for the next four years, if her sons and daughters continue to take flight from their obligations. She described poetry as one of the few proactive mediums that still stands a chance at reawakening that consciousness in as many that would care to listen.
With Efe Paul-Azino still moderating the conversation, Jabir Malick talked about what it is like being Senegalese everywhere he goes; and for the for the guitar-carrying poet, memories of even the least details like his mother’s dresses and the smell of the harmattan dust in the air will never go vague.
“You’ll be amazed that people are actually ready to accept who you are and what you represent if you can be at least proud of yourself and confident about what you stand for.”
The session couldn’t have closed on a better note than the way Yomi had described the possible cause to complaints about the acceptance of poetry in mainstream entertainment:
“It is not easy, but the question is how invested are you…?”