Saturday 24 December 2011

Chicken Blood and Christmas Eve

Relief Market is madness on all sides. The traffic thickens once I drive into the untarred road leading into it. I switch off my ignition, but not the radio. I’d have to find comfort in Celine Dion’s jaunty Christmas Eve, I tell myself, because all around me is a frightful enormous blob of beings and vehicles. Who knows how long I’m going to be stuck in here? I’m feeling sweaty already. Kai, I should have parked somewhere and walk down to the market.

Dust swamps the air, rickshaws rattle no end, clogging up narrow roads, cars honk wild and loose, drivers fume and curse, pedestrians elbow each other, roadside traders yell out their wares, some people slurp water from sachet under the simmering ten o’clock sun, others wipe sweat off their long faces with handkerchiefs. I keep sneezing, like I’ve just become asthmatic.

A squat man in tatters hums a song, only a lunatic can make out, while nearby a well-dressed woman screams out for the world to rescue her. She looks so shocked her feet can barely support her; she stumbles and begins to pound the red earth with her fists. I thought she’s been hit by a car, but then I see her pointing to the empty space between a Volvo and a batter Audi.

‘My husband will kill me! Better I kill myself now!’ she bawls like a beaten child, slapping her head. A Bagco bag crammed full with foodstuff lies close to her feet. She’s just returned from her shopping, to find her car missing. A beige Toyota Camry. Damn!

‘My husband will kill me! Better I kill myself now!’ she cries hard.

I try to picture her husband as a gentleman, but her broken voice makes me think of a bearish-looking boxer.

The traffic eases up a bit. I start the engine, and meander along with other cars and humans, then the traffic sets again, and I wish my car were air-conditioned. Celine Dion is still soothing me, though.

A mountain of feathers sprawls on one side of the road. Flies dance merrily around, while water melons rot and bleed a garish red on a bed of mouldering pumpkin leaves. Here, the air stinks, much worse than a carton of rotting fish.

All of a sudden, a keke appears and gets trapped between two cars in front. This is the bane of motorists, I think with a sneer, recalling the number of times the rickshaws have banged into my bumpers and headlights.

A driver in the second car steps out immediately, with his fists balled up for a fight. He is tall and fierce. “Get back!’ he snarls at the rickshaw-driver, who merely stares silently at him. ‘You’re deaf?!’

‘It’s you who are deaf!’ the rickshaw driver suddenly snarls back.

The driver towers over him and thumps his chest. “Do you know who I am?”

“Are you Obasanjo?” the rickshaw driver snorts.

“When I smash your face you’ll know if I am Obasanjo.”

The other driver finally alights from his rickshaw and gulps some breaths. “A nujuola m onwu na-agugim! I’m ready to die now,” he declares. “If you don’t want us both to see the New Year, then raise your hand against me.”

An imp in me makes me grin. A few passersby gather, and I foresee a fight, faces swollen and splattered with blood. The two bellicose drivers continue to exchange words, insults, but none is keen enough to strike the other.

The passersby intervene and urge each to go his way. I glance away, and start to pray the traffic let up quickly so I can finish the errand for my wife and dash back to the office, to close up finally for the week. I sigh, scratch my brow. This is madness, market is.

Meanwhile, Celine Dion has just finished singing. Now, Boney M is on, reassuring me about joy and laughter…

But all I can think of at the moment is: Chicken blood, the millions of chicken that have to die so we can revel during this season.

Merry Christmas to you all, anyhow! And see you in 2012!

photos are not actual representation, but sourced from the Internet. Credit therefore goes to the copyright owners

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Upcoming Residencies

One cannot make plain enough the beauty of residencies, especially if you are the type that needs to escape(however brief) the hassle, and at times turbulence, of an open-plan office life, like mine.

So if you are interested in adding some fizz to your "tricky" writing as well as your thrice-frazzled life, then here's a list of upcoming residencies, thanks to the munificence of Res Artis:


Saturday 5 November 2011

For Sylvaline

It's been a long time i wrote a poem, and i didn't think i was going to write any soon, until two days ago i was informed about a dear colleague who's just passed away, after a terrible four-month-old struggle with an illness which became fatal, although it'd seemed at first curable, now i don't know if it's right to say this, but i think i was very lucky to have spoken with her on phone barely two or three weeks when i was told she had regained her health and buoyancy, but she had died shortly thereafter, in her early thirties, brilliant, pretty, promising, wickedly witty at times, and quite reserved on the whole.

i hope in reading the poem you would be able to catch a glimpse of who she was, and pray with me that she finds rest wherever she is at the moment.

For Sylvaline
Oct 31, 2011, Owerri

what remains now
death has erased life
is the memory
of your smile

you were not the type
that flashed teeth
like everyone

left many wondering
what mystery your lips held

you smiled but it was
the sun at the rim of dawn
many rarely noticed

it was in your eyes

like everyone
who flashed teeth
you were not the type

what mystery your lips held
left them wondering

they rarely noticed
the sun at the rim of dawn

you smiled but it was
in your eyes mostly

though the memory is what lingers

Monday 31 October 2011

Our People in London

A friend told me this vignette, but it was full of gaps, which I have tried to fill up and relive below: Enjoy...

Though I’ve just rolled out of bed, I’m still full of yawns. It’s nearly 7 o’clock. I step into the bathroom, undress. Omamumi’s dulcet voice carries into the bathroom. I flick a glance at the towel on the railing.
I ignore the ring tone and splash water on my body.

– Na who I go ask…? Omawumi keeps pleading with me.

I try not to sing along.

Then I hear footsteps, Omawumi’s voice draws closer. I wipe suds off my face as my wife appears and hands me the cell phone.

– Private number, reads the tiny screen.

I’m in the bathtub yet my mind jets across time zones, conjuring postcard images of America, London, India, Switzerland, and Italy. I think of a friend I haven’t called a long time now, and guilt squeezes a blade through my heart. I answer the cell phone, knowing it’s an international caller, praying the voice is a stranger’s.

– How na? a male voice booms in my ear, hinting at familiarity.

– I’m fine, I reply.

– So you no dey think of us any more?

– Please, don’t be annoyed. Whom am I speaking with?

– Na so you dey forget your people?

The voice? Oh shit, it’s…no, not Okecima. I stretch my mind's eye yet no name surfaces. I put it down to grogginess, I still feel sleepy from the previous day’s tedium.

– Please, who are you?

He laughs, and I think of a belch.

– My head feels foggy, I explain. Tell me your name. Please?

He laughs again, a throaty, taunting, almost gleeful laugh. I think of Okecima in Indiana, US, and feel like a teenager caught in a clumsy pose. Yet I comb through memory old and layered. I try in vain to pin down the voice. End up not figuring out who the caller is.

– So you don forget me true-true?

My brow furrows. My soapy body feels just a bit sticky. I see myself grasping at air.

– I’ve not forgotten, just that I didn’t sleep well last night. Please just give me a clue.

– Mention any name, he insists with a chuckle.

I feel much taunted. In the last two weeks I’d traversed Uyo, Calabar, Enugu, Port Harcourt, and Owerri by road, and so I’m not in the mood to play games. Besides, it’s damn too early for pranks.

Still, I prod him for an initial.

– Gimme any name of somebody in London.

I manage a sigh, relieved that it’s not Okecima. Okecima could be cutting at times, but he’s my best friend nonetheless. Ifeyinwa, Chido, Nkeiruka. Emenike, Kelechi, names tumble over each other.

I make to blurt out a name when I hear a familiar sound, the din of traffic. My mind flashes on a busy techno street.

– You no fit remember your people in London. Na wa for you!

I feel more embarrassed than ever, knowing that I’ve never been in such a bog before. Then I hear the honk of a car again.

Realisation suddenly smacks me in the head. I’m twice as sure now that I’ve fallen into a web but then I’m positive that I’ll entangle the spider, rather than getting trapped myself.

– Just give me somebody’s name you sabi in London.

I hold back the urge to laugh loose. The images of gold-paved streets in US and Europe disappear. Fixing my mind on the caller, I don the mask of a double player.

The spider senses my hesitation, perhaps. He starts to spew out honeyed chunks of information: Did my friend call you yesterday? I gave him a special package for you. From London. He hasn’t called you yet? His English switches forms; this is the same caller who, a short while earlier, was speaking in Pidgin, but now he speaks Queens.

I’m no snake eye but I can smell snake oil.

– Dr Sesan! I play along.

– See your life! he exclaims. I can picture him heaving a sigh of relief and thinking he’s still very much in control. So you knew who it was all along, he enthuses. And you kept eating away my airtime.

– Dr Sesan, how you dey? Longest time! I’ve decided to misuse more of his airtime.

– You got the special package from London?

– Oh, no. What package?

– Don’t worry. Okay, get a pen and paper. Take down my number and call me so I can give you my friend’s name and you can contact him for the special package from me.

– Just a second. Honey! Please get me a pen and paper. Fast!

– Take down my number. There’s some urgency in his voice now.

I smile, a fox shadowing a hen.

– Please, just wait.

– I’m calling from a public phone, my airtime is almost finished.

I snicker quietly to myself, You never see anything yet, mugu!

– 00904461…

– Hold on a sec, please.


– You said, 0090…?

– 009044619902, he nearly screams and scolds me.

I don’t mind, for I’ve never felt so gleeful of late!

– Did you get it? Repeat the number; let me be sure you got it right.

– 009…I falter, then cut off the line.

Omawumi’s voice rings out again, asking questions I have no answers to.

– Private number, reads my screen again.

– It’s network, he apologises surprisingly. Repeat my number.

– It’s been like that since the last few days, I reassure him.

– It’s okay, it’s okay; just repeat my number. He’s fast losing his cool.

– I’m sorry, doc. Network’s been terrible in Nigeria.

– I know, I know. Just repeat the…number!

– 009…And I crack up, no longer able to control my glee.

– Thunder fire you, yeye man! he explodes. His ire briefly stuns me only but briefly. Come dey waste my credit for nothing, as if na your papa buy me phone!

His frustration gets me chuckling hard. My wife appears with an air of curiosity.

– Anything? she asks.

– Mugu think say I be mugu, I reply loud enough, for the benefit of the caller.

Before the line goes off completely I hear a venomous hiss in the background and between laughs I tell my wife about ‘our people’ in London; a con man being conned by a cunning man.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

A Buzz in the Ear

You lose your space almost always as a tourist. Sometimes, it’s your cool. Tourism remains the craze in many countries. It comes with a drawback, though. A nuisance, of sorts; a confrontation not every tourist can quite manage. Take India, for instance. She is a florid bazaar of a country, a slideshow stacked with a magnificent mix of tradition and modernity.

Known for her matchless embroidery of sights, sounds, and smells, India can tax your patience. And sociability. Like a fussy host – particularly when you are damned tired. Or you wish to be by yourself.

A walk in some touristy hotspots can turn intrusive, vexing for the angrej– foreigners. You magnet attention everywhere you step into. Dollars flash off your eyes. The crease on your forehead seemingly broadcasts your needs.

In no time, both young and old besiege you from all directions, fussing about, apparently feeling you, like a striptease; at the same time, leaving you amazed at the acquisitiveness of man.

Almost everybody becomes a wallah peddling stuff, offering services, chucking all kind of frivolous information in your face as though you were a trash can – all of this underlined by over-cordiality.

- You want rickshaw? Change money? Some chai? Lassi?
- Emporium is over there, handmade craft the other way. Which you want?
- I take you to good chicken biryani joint, yes?
- Or, you want something to smoke?!

That was the question someone shoved in our face, a few days ago, when Xavier and I went to get some best-selling Indian-authored books at New Book Depot in Connaught Place. I had told him about Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. He was eager to learn about Nigeria, so I said, ‘Xavier, you must read this book to know the sad misadventures that’s my country.’

Just as we paid for the books, sauntered out in the haze spreading over the undulating skyline, a cleft-chinned man materialized at our side.

Xavier had lived in India some years before. So he knew the roadside gimmicks, and kept his face as flat as chappati. Brimming with élan, I tried to carry on nicely. But soon grew peeved by the man’s bullish tenacity.

I remembered briefly how our wonderful trip in Rajasthan had almost turned nightmarish. I remembered Agra. Jaipur. Mathura. I was accosted by nearly every able-bodied man, asking if I wanted ceramic, curio, cigarette. Gemstones – 92.5% silver. Sari for the missus; dhoti for the memsahib; Kashmir sweater. Original handmade pottery. One certain young man sweetly plied me no end, ‘I give you good price. Remove 100 rupees. OK, take it for 50 rupees. 20 rupees? 10 rupees?’ Not to mention another fellow who tried to corner me at the Taj Mahal to have my photographs taken for 200 rupees.

In all those places my brownness screamed aloud my foreignness, not only was I being bombarded with merchandise, but also quizzed by a hundred and one people.

- Where are you from? Planet Saturn.
- What country are you from? Atlantis.

I started feeding their curiosity albeit generously, until it struck me that I would wind up in a clammy maze of Q & A, not in any way rewarding like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? It actually dawned on me that foreignness can be sniffed out like jasmine scent. I became subjected to bouts of doubts. Is all of it real? Or is it just me? Or perhaps, it is my rupees they desired?

Whereupon, I realized I would probably grow daunted, chagrined, anytime I stop at the usual-bustling Delhi bus stop, because someone might query me, telepathically even.

So I turned to the peddler dogging me and Xavier in Connaught Place, and pulled a scowl, forgetting all about tact. In that millisecond before the scowl, I surfaced the reason why Pelios, another much older artist, was grumpy when a shy Tamil youth caught up with us on a busy street, longing to know what country we came from. My friend quickly spurned the young lad, bashing his ego. I had felt terrible at the time. Now I understood.

Because being an outsider, a tourist, can get somewhat tedious, frustrating, even maddening, like the buzz of a mosquito in the ear. Notwithstanding, it does get better – for when you lie in bed later at night and relive the day’s motley scenes, amid a backdrop of balmy music, you see that tourism, no matter how much it corrodes culture, is simply targeted at making the visitor feel welcome.

For me all the pestering rarely demystifies the lure of distant sunsets. I would come back to India, again. And again, because so much beauty blossoms in this vast sequined land of temples, tombs, flowers and spices. Because Ma India exacts no promises, never expects much from you.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Emotions Stirred After A Day At An American University

Of late, I've been given to reminiscences, maybe because i am growing old, or getting more fantastical, or just being appreciative of opportunities; so i feel like sharing this recollection...

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Cold morning, the air feels like damp wool in my nostrils. I am afraid I’ve caught the flu, although my nose is not running and I haven’t begun coughing. I squeezed the sides of my ribs, feeling for a kind of lump or pain. Hypochondriac. I feel nothing, normal.

My mind whips up a scene from Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, the Iowans say it may get bitingly cold in the coming weeks, but I may not be around to see my first snow; much as I would have liked to see snowflakes drifting down from the sky, like the breath of God; I can’t, because this is as much chill I can put up with.

I think of camels and turbaned men, and then picture myself sitting on the sofa with my gracious wife; my lovely daughter lying serenely across my lap. I’m beginning to think, just for a change perhaps, we may spend Christmas at the picturesque Obudu Cattle Ranch, among the undulating plains and solid mountains and swirling mist, when the savory aroma of coffee wafting over the sidewalks shifts my mind back to reality.

It is Thursday, August 28, 2008, I steep into the library. No, I step into the University of Iowa Library, fondly called the U of I Libraries, and two feelings drench me almost at the same time. The first feeling is warm; it makes my jaw drop in amazement. The next feeling blows coldly over me: it churns my stomach in sadness.

For a moment, while my fellow writers walk gaily through the glass-door entrance, I stay behind, surveying the towering height and expansive girth of the granite-and-steel fortress sitting imperiously on 137,500 square feet of earth.

I’ve heard the clichéd joke about everything being big in the United States: roads, cars, appliances, clothing, burgers and even candles (made in America) are bigger than what you would ordinarily find in other countries. Take my beloved Nigeria for instance; I have come to notice that a candle keeps getting thinner every day you went out to buy one, as the power situation worsens continuously. In the good old days, if ever we experienced one, candles were fat like the end of a baseball bat. As a child I liked the feel it had in my hand. You could light a candle and it took days before it melted away. Of course, blackout was a rarity then.

Everything looks big in America, I have been forewarned.

Yet the sight of this 153-year-old magnificent architectural pearl does not reduce the goose bumps crawling over my arms and neck. I shake my head. I hurry after the group as the two bibliographers welcome the international writers and then lead us round the cool ambience of abundant books and resources.

We come to a section that serves as a hold for Government Documents and Special Collections.

I pause.

Something else has caught my eye.

I turn, retrace my steps a pace or two.

I look at the books. Then I reach out a hand and lift a hardback volume leaning ponderously on a shelf, and it is not the leafy scent of paper I smell. No, it is the resolve dripping from the pores of great men and women hunched over the table; ancestors who slain ignorance on the altar of pages that I smell. It is the odor of the ageless spirits that built a flourishing civilization that tickles my nostrils.

As I flip through the delicate pages, I sense a presence not unlike the supernatural. Centuries-old. I think I hear something whispering off the pages.

A voice?

I try to catch the ancient whisper pulsing through the vein of words, by peering hard at the mellow page, but it eludes me as Tarek, the multitalented Sudanese-born-in Egypt-Austrian writer, calls out my name and disrupts my trance.

Again, I dash after the group as they climb the stairs to the fourth floor which preserves a rich diversity of literature.

The informal tour exposes me to the magnitude of activities the Library manages. Its services comprise course reserves, interlibrary loan and document delivery, reference and library instruction, technology and multimedia circulation, distance education, cultural center liaisons, and scholarly communications.

It is revealing to note that libraries have transcended their traditional roles: they are now multifaceted and innovative. I am speechless a moment as the realization sinks in. Modern libraries are no longer limited to serving reading and reference/research purposes. Interestingly, they did not abandon their traditional services in this rapid e-Age; they only modified technologically. Thus, the typical American university library is fully electronic-based. E-journals, e-books. E-library?

This is not the case in Nigeria. We have a heartbreaking story; our libraries are in stark disrepair. Like abandoned shrines. Like razed homestead.

Downstairs, on the last floor, we look into the neat, largely-computerized sections. I see gigantic white tubes hanging from the ceilings, and one of the bibliographers tells me the tubes suck air out of the building, so the books do not get damp, because of the summer floods that swept through some significant areas of Iowa City; the tubes act as humidifiers or whatever.

Really, I did not catch his explanation because he spoke in rapid drawl, almost like he rapped, but I nod, not wishing to appear muddled.

We are told the section is the Digital Library. Contains more than 100,000 digital objects — photographs, maps, sound recordings and documents — from libraries and archives of the University of Iowa and its partnering institutions. It also includes faculty research collections and bibliographic tools (holdings information for some library materials that are not otherwise accessible through the online catalog). Digital collections are coordinated by Digital Library Services, which manages the preservation, delivery, and structure of UI Libraries' digital content.

Library digitalization, I mouth out. Metadata. Digitizing research and instructional materials. I close my eyes but I cannot convert images, text, audio and video into digital content. What I see are the cracks, cobwebs, molds and dust-balls on the ceilings of a poor library in my rich state. One late afternoon, I had gone there to hide among books, but the week before, a building had collapsed in Lagos, crushing twenty people or more, and I’d slunk away, for fear that a similar thing may happen and I would groan beneath a pile of rubble. Dead among books.

The group moves on, led by the female bibliographer. I can’t recall her name, but it sounds like a word out of Shelley’s Arethusa. The male bibliographer, a hulking figure in saffron shirt and cream chinos, has been called off. The tiled floor glistens in front of me that I long to bend down and run my fingers over a square of marble stone.

She points out how to use the InfoHawk Catalog and Database features on a computer, and I grin. I wonder at once what Professor Steve Okecha, the erudite scholar and poet, would say just browsing the shelves. He schooled in prestigious universities, so this may come as no surprise.

Then I remember his recently published book. Provoking as well as insightful. The title: The Nigerian University: An Ivory Tower With Neither Ivory nor Tower. The author happens to be my friend. Reading the book made my heart twists itself.

It is distressing to note that poor countries like Niger, Burkina Faso, Lesotho, Liberia and The Gambia spend much more on education than Nigeria. Most of the African countries are striving hard to allocate the 26 percent of their annual budget on education, as recommended by UNESCO.

Giants are not swayed by semantic; Nigeria is a head-strong giant.

She will not spend more than seven per cent on education, it seems. Professor Okecha makes every true son of the land to express chagrin at the insensitivity of the federal government and its refusal to heed to home-grown advice of increasing the annual budgetary allocation, if our education system is to be revamped.

But we are a nation obsessed with erecting a massive defense industry, amassing munitions, missiles, rockets, bombs and fighter-planes, when we are not even at war. Some would argue that the militants in the Niger Delta are spoiling for war, let’s exterminate the locusts.

I remember the racket that ensued when a Nigerian envoy was caught with 2.27 million dollars in cash at the international airport in New Delhi, by Indian authorities. I remember the past president spending millions of dollars to acquire more military hardware. I remember dear Britain offering to upgrade our defense structure (how magnanimous. I would rather have wished they had offered to upgrade my alma mater and a couple of others), and I remember this and more, disheartened that nobody could think of building an enduring defense against corruption.

Friday 19 August 2011

Poems of Alexander Jorgensen 2

I did promise I was going to post some visual poems of Alexander Jorgensen, and may I offer you this sumptuous fare...

And here's another fare:

you can read his other poems here:
wonderful, you'd agree, right? so methinks you should try some visual word-making, or poetry-making, and see what magic you can wrought.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Home is Where the Heart Beats in Fear

I recently met a friend and he left me stumped. Here’s a detail of our encounter.

Sometime around 2005, this friend (let’s call him Kene) was transferred to work in Lagos, so he came to me, tense and sweaty in his cool office wear, for some ‘crash course’ on how to survive Lagos, as he put it.

Having spent his early days in Imo State, Kene thought Owerri was the safest city ever, even with its languorous look. This friend had barely stayed a week in Lagos. However, he felt harassed by the traffic, waste, and rowdiness.

Besides, Kene had been fed occasionally with the usual grisly fare by relatives and friends that Lagos was a dangerous place anyone should live in. A sprawling city crammed with crooks and charlatans, hustlers and hecklers, pickpockets and plunderers, and the like.

Because I had lived in Lagos, Kene wanted a bit of advice about the new city he would later call home. I was happy for him. He was going to work in a city swarming with gold despite the dross. Lagos, I told him, was just like any other crowded city caught up in the challenges that come with being chock-full.

That’s beside the point, Kene said. How do you survive Lagos? You don’t live in Lagos, you learn to survive it. I was stunned awhile as I mulled over his expression. Then I laughed, of course.

My friend wasn’t laughing, though. Kene was so unusually straight-faced I realized that he was stuck in a tight spot. If he actually had a way of refusing the transfer, he promptly would have. But he had none. So off to Lagos he went via ABC Transport.

Two years later, we ran into each other in Lagos. Kene looked jaunty and easy; no longer jumpy and stressed. I asked him how he was surviving Lagos. He flashed me a smile; he said he was having a ball. I felt so happy for him. Although I felt much happier when he told me that he had already set up a business in Lagos, I was shocked also. Because I thought he would invest at home, in Imo State.

Kene could never put in his hard-earned money there. In fact, he didn’t know when he would ever set foot in Owerri. He was sure that he wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon, though. All this he told me with an unsmiling face. Kene must have fallen in love with Eko, I suppose; of course, these things do happen.

Then he gave me a shocker. He and his fiancée had even decided to do their traditional marriage in Surulere where her parents lived. Not in her hometown in Obioma-Ngwa, Abia State. Before I could ask Kene why such drastic decisions, he said he didn’t think he could survive the south east.

I still didn’t understand Kene until he said that the spate of kidnapping in the south east was not only a deterrent to any aspiring young businessman, but was akin to someone courting death head-on.
When we parted ways shortly afterwards, my mind couldn’t shake itself off that eye-opening revelation. This was the same friend who once boasted that his own state’s capital was the safest city. In less than five years his state had lost its glory, slid into the grip of an evil so rife that the mere sound of a sputtering exhaust sends you jumping.

I could still make out the despair in my friend’s voice as it dawned on me that the south east has become rather synonymous with kidnapping, just as the Niger Delta was once associated with youth restiveness and militancy. This is the cancer now eating away much of the south-eastern zone.

This attests to a saying that a rash on the skin, if unchecked at times, could manifest into something else; something as malevolent as it is cancerous. Indeed, the south east has festered with the stench of kidnappers for too long, and the pus has been smeared all over our faces.

There’s some respite now, anyway, for only once in a while are we assaulted by this menace.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Poems of Alexander Jorgensen

I feel rhapsodic in sharing some of Alexander Jorgensen’s poems on my blog, well, it seems I have become stricken with the poetic bug again, especially coming on the heels of the last post featuring Eight Young Nigerian Poets Whose Poems Delight.

Now, who is Alexander Jorgensen, you may ask. He is personable and charming, a creative artist whose visual poetry and writings most recently appear or are forthcoming in Cricket Online Review, VLAK, Drunken Boat, Moria, GRASP, Shampoo's 10th anniversary issue, The Return of Kral Majales: Prague's International Literary Renaissance 1990-2010 and The Last Vispo Anthology.

His "Letters to a Younger Poet," correspondences with the late Robert Creeley, appears in Jacket #31. He was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2008! His visual poems were exhibited at the 2011 Text Festival in Bury, UK. And talking about the visual poems, I would be featuring those in my next blog, so do drop by, as usual.

Enough said, here are some crisp and lucid poems to cancel out the drudgery of weekdays and, more importantly, kick-start your weekend.

Dissonance of Compassion
byway of David Lynch

I'd be
sent to throw marbles
from the window
of my bedroom;

it’ll be
(very) quiet

sent to throw marbles
when, clearly,
there, we, weren't,
hadn’t, any—

...and we
can wear
our raincoats.

Sent to throw marbles
till'd become
too tired to retrieve a
single one.

Might last
only an hour,
but let's hope!

first appeared in Vibrant Grey, Issue 2, 2008.

for David-Baptiste Chirot

Know that Kiwi
who says he's a pilot
's a twitching eye?
It kinda stutters
way our auto-
mobile's brakes do?
And his index--
Forefinger's always
a bit shaky, tad
behind the thumb.
Awful at getting lost.

Old Country Western Singer
Ivan Albright (1897-1983) was an American magic realist painter.

"Will be coke whores, once the bowl
of cheese runs out. Along the cusp
where Albright brought flesh new realism.

"Past the coiling sphincter (where the soul
's expunged), we'll sleep no longer able to brutally struggle,
slumping to the floor at the Russell Hotel bar.

"And carrying five: fist full of someone else's emotions,
we'll smoke Silk Cuts, filling tumblers with wedges of day; our
box guitars twanging amid black flies an'...dung beetles.

"Be a chaste swill from, said--you and me, Bob."

These two poems first appeared in "Five," "Southern Collisions," BlackBox, here

now, don't forget to look in at Alexander's visual poems in the next blog-post, coming up sooner than you anticipate...

Friday 8 July 2011

Eight Young Nigerian Poets Whose Poems Delight

There are certain everyday things that make you despair of Nigeria (like the incorrigible craze for acquisitiveness by the ruling political oligarchs), but then there are also certain things that make your heart race around your chest with joy. Yes, my heart often dances a makossa every time I read about literary activities in Nigeria; it shows that at least there is some green growth regardless of all the muck and rot of politics eroding the land.

I have been watching some contemporary younger Nigerian poets closely and reading their poems with a combined sense of wonder and delight. Now, well, these are not the very familiar big names you often run into in print and online. These poets are many and all home-based generally. A few have stood out from this throng, though. Quite distinctively.

And I strongly think these poets are destined to inspire and astound, that is, if they remain committed to this arduous craft they have embraced. To me, they are the Eight Young Nigerian Poets Whose Poems delight.


Dami Ajayi is a final year medical student. His first collection of poems, Clinical Blues, is scheduled to be published in 2012. His poems have appeared in Saraba Magazine, Sentinel Nigeria, IFEMED journal, Mapletree Literary Supplement and elsewhere.


All fools make pictures
But pictures are no memories,
They remain darkroom scams;
My mind surpasses every camera.

I’ve tried to touch good times twice
But they elude me, like swinging
Pendulums, cherry mangoes, physics.

So what are my options: Fantasies?
Grandiose ideations? playback video reality?
Or plain youthful CPR?

My thoughts wash in old houses
Fresh with coats of dust.
Torn settees and a creaking dining table
Offering gecko shit as breakfast.

Quick glances challenge cerebral bytes.
Where is the Grandfather clock
With a stainless scrotum, the clattering
Icicles of our curtains, the smell of boiling beans
On sawdust stove, the broken manual rewinder,
The June 12 season?

Emmanuel Samson (E. S. Abdalmasih) is an unpublished poet, who started trying out his hand at writing poetry in late 2007 but became frustrated and quit early 2009, then resumed mid 2010 (while he was recuperating -- for 14 months -- from a compound fracture he had sustained on his left leg's tibia, after he came out of a ghastly automobile accident on March 21, 2010) and since then became serious with it.

That Part of You

That part of you,
That lives inside me,
I know the texture of it—
It sings for me—
It smells of jasmine;
My soul hankers for it.

I know the shape of it—
The “O” of lips teeming with kiss,
A full moon, whose light
Dissolves the walls of darkness
That separates you from me,
Guiding me you-ward.

Itunu Akande, a graduate student from electronics and electrical engineering, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, has some of his works published in Saraba magazine, Ife Festival of Poetry and Avant-garde Poetry anthologies. He is currently working on a one-act play and a collection of poetry.

Bridge Blues 7 (An Eastern Rising)

Now the day is oval
And where there are minions' flames
Shadows hiss by aging bricks.
I hear Godward cries
Lost to staggering starlight
Through a sheet of incensed clouds
Some other gods in an armored square
Shivering behind cold bars.
The night draws nigh and grey
Blackening handful notes of maiden joys
All things and their seasons shrivel into dust
But in death a palsied hope.
In surrender, no conquest lies
Only light that strays and fades and never returns.
All glories be vain
Awake, awake still
Shadows of the evening mists
If to emptiness of peace
And vanities of conceived beauties.
Awake, awake still
These burning lamps are nothing like the sun.
Bless the sun
Let its tinsel wings come bear you home
Renewing times by a cleansing tide
Stilled across the dusty night.

Richard Ali is a lawyer and editor of the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine. He is presently working on his debut novel, City of Memories and a debut collection of poems. His work has been published in the African Writing Journal {vol. 4 & 8} and in the Prosopisia Journal.

Remedios: A Marquezade

There you are at the corner of my eyes
In the swirl of a crowd, haunting the briefness
Of my glance – you the memory of Samarian thirsts
Siren shape, your hair garlanded with poppies

Stretch of lines seeking a spell to capture in time
A private nostalgia; the sun of me who espies
A dream lily, white amidst the colorful; the sun of me
Who knows you’ll be gone by dawn’s keeping

Remedios! We have danced on the sides of rolling dice
And though my ray liberates a second of symmetry
The larger tune riffles us to earth’s ends – I go also
But it isn’t my departure I mourn.

Emmanuel Iduma holds a degree in Law and is the Managing Editor and Co-Publisher of Saraba, where his poems have appeared, as well as in ITCH and New Black Magazine. He has recently completed a novel, Farad, and would begin work on another in August.

The Lives of a Signpost

I was there when affinity caught up with magic
and the single coffee grew into our hearts;
Justice is the cruelest word
framing life into disjointed parameters
for men like us, and our love
that cannot be defined.

Let us stay, you and I
in the place where alcohol is the music
of teetotalers and juvenilia the cure
for aging, this life that is upon us.

There would be time for affliction,
the satirical fogs of memory, artlessness,
void, limbo.

And there would be time for open cities,
Colian tales of movement;
upon us are the changes of perception,
in the room where the critics come and go
talking of rewritten Ulysses and brainy books
and Africa and complaints.

And indeed there would be time
for affection, short nights,
women speaking of whiz-kids
bad teas, empty milk tins, culinary skills
and fraternity.

In the room where the critics come and go
speaking of Ulysses.

Do we dare disturb the watery presence
of Idoto, bad poets, copycats?
Yes, of course
(They will say: “see how far they’re going,
their convoluted selves and picture books”)

Do we dare disturb the watery universe with our presence?
Yes of course.

You know, we should listen to Giant Steps;
There are words we cannot speak,
and perfection that we ought to take away;
We have once been to the witch of Endor,
You remember?

This is time to murder and create
this bitch of a life, this botched creativity
and Eliot, and a million castaways
whose interest time shall reverse;
Nonetheless, time for me and time for you
we go to the evening of our lives
there is a window-pane waiting.

Do we dare?
Yes, of course.

We are 25 and younger;
This time the road turns and we are signposts.

In the room where the critics come and go
speaking of Ulysses

Gimba Kakanda is the author of the poetry collection, Safari Pants and is currently polishing his debut novel, Night Book. His poems have appeared in various print and electronic media, including the Indian journal, Prosopisia: An International Journal of Poetry and Creativity (Vol. III No. 1, 2010).

Dream Chase

So many cowries
Thrown onto wandering tides
To slower the sinking grins of contentment…

So many sojourns
Hurriedly drained in darkness
To machete the ropes of ancestry…

So many neighbours’ poultry
Stolen to dress the gods
That our dreams flow no coarse course…

So many cows
Lamed in our selfish morrow-darting
To halt the mooing of our barrenness…

So many seeds sown
In pyramid-heaps of a virgin life
To satiate our emptied silos…

…vamoose in a flicker of sun-lid
At the yawning wake of germination

We cry blood
For the ripe wind in tomorrow
Tomorrow that never comes
When our cries ambush the draped moat
Our beaten contingency gets bandaged by salads

There’s tomorrow

And when the tomorrow never comes
They toast
In a parliamentary breath

There’s another tomorrow after tomorrow

So much so many times
Our dreams slump
In the arm-pit of mirage

Yemi Soneye was a winner in the 2010 StoryTime One Sentence Short Story Competition and is working on his first poetry book, Guarded Drifts. His works have appeared in Sentinel Nigeria, The New Black Magazine, Istanbul Literary Review, Saraba Magazine, Palapala Magazine, etc.

The Old Beverage Truck

Though her engine and body
had been worn by the long walks
between here and the big town,
the old Beverage Truck still comes

Crying and heaving louder than
any music of maternity down
the hill, with the crated tidings
to our shop that serves the world

In searching for where to pause
for a nap, she gusts out black bits
that leave straight for our insides;
enwrapping our aches and blowing
out in refreshing coughs and sneezes

Violence of the ignition and jerks
of our arms wake her gently and she leaves
but before she mixes with the distance, our
purse would have started jingling as shop
increases with contented throats!

Senator Iyere Ihenyen is the author of Colourless Rainbow. He participated in the British Council Crossing Borders Workshop in 2006 and was featured by Literatur ad Art, Barcelona, as a voice to watch. He is currently working on his second volume of poetry centred on HIV/AIDS.

A Poem Written by God

I long to write a poem on the walls of your heart, that whenever your heart beats,
you will feel the throbs of my love,
steaming beyond the flames of February fourteen.

But whenever my eyes fall on yours,
Your eyes gleaming on my mobile wallpaper,
Heightened hills of ignited imaginations break into dust, waterfalls of brimming emotions lean to a slithering drop,

Because what I see before me
Is a work of poetry,
of art, of nature, of perfection, of immortality -
my muse is too bemused to mould your being
with the clay of human hands, the mortality of human desires, of human

The word of God has become flesh in you,
Would you dwell inside my heart so true,
For I now long to write on your lips with a kiss,
You're a poem written by God in bliss.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Roses and Bullets in the Time of Bomb Blasts

Professor Ernest Emenyonu, a specialist in African Literature, University of Michigan-Flint, and the editor of African Literature Today (ALT), hosted some young and established writers at his country home in Mbieri, Imo State, sometime in 2005. Over scrumptious meals and ice-cold drinks, he decried the dearth of literature on the Nigerian civil war. If I can still clearly recall, he threw a challenge to us and made us understand that a country that tries to suppress and erase its past, regardless of how bloody it was, might just as well be paving way for another round of bloodshed in future.

I flirted with the idea of penning a short story set against the backdrop of Biafra then, maybe it was the effects of satiety or inebriation. I can’t quite tell. But, well, thanks to the phenomenal success of the influential Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (excerpt here), my spirits flagged shortly afterwards and the rest of my scribble or story flew straight to the bin. Or history.

This brings me to another influential civil war novel. The multi-award winning writer, Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo will be revisiting the horrid memories of the Nigerian civil war in her starkly impressive novel, Roses and Bullets. You can read an excerpt here.or buy the Kindle version at.

Akachi will be the Guest Writer at the Abuja Writers Forum (AWF), at the Pen and Pages Bookstore, White House Plaza, Plot 79, Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja. It is an initiative of Dr Emman Shehu and it has featured an exciting array of emerging and established writers, me included. The event is slated for June 25, 2011 by 16:00 – 18.30. You can read more about Akachi and the Jalaa Writers’ Collective here.

Meanwhile, as you get ready to attend Akachi’s reading, say a prayer for the victims, both dead and living, trapped in a country in the time of bomb blasts and unbridled bloodletting.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

The Boy Who Likes Throwing Stones at Animals

Here is a story that was inspired by my little nephew, and i scared him that if he kept stoning animals he would end up disappearing someday.

STOP STONING lizards,’ Chima’s Mum tells him every time she sees him running after birds and reptiles with pebbles in his hand. ‘It’s a mean thing to do.’

Chima is six years old. He hardly listens. But it is not that he dislikes animals. He only thinks it is fun to scare them away with stone; after all, they never complain.

This evening Chima hides behind an ugba tree watching Sparrow hopping along the footpath behind his Mum’s kitchen. He grins as he tiptoes out from behind the tree and throws a stone at Sparrow. He chuckles as the poor bird flaps her wings in pain.

But when Sparrow lies still on the ground with her beak open, Chima’s heart begins to pound and he runs away.

‘Where have you been?’ his Mum asks him when he enters the kitchen.

Chima doesn’t look into her face – because, he thinks, she will notice he’s done something bad.

‘I hope you have not been throwing stones again,’ she says.

Chima almost tells her that he might have killed a bird, but says nothing.

‘You’ll get into trouble someday,’ she warns him.

Chima trots into his room, glad that she hasn’t told him off. Outside his window the sun has begun to drop.

‘I shall rest awhile,’ he yawns, and jumps into his bed.

Chima falls asleep, only to wake up in a forest. He recognises the firs, oaks, pines, beeches, and eucalyptuses from his colourful picture book. Their branches form a protective umbrella over his head.

He hears a creepy sound. He jumps as he sees Lynx, Wolf, Deer, Hedgehog, Marten, and Beaver watching him coldly.

‘Boo, that’s him!’ Rat squeaks.

‘Truly, truly,’ Lizard whistles.

‘Tsk,’ hisses Snake, ‘the boy who likes throwing stones at us.’

A long-horned mountain Goat skips forward. Frightened, Chima misses a foot and hits his bottom on the ground. ‘Ouch,’ he cries.

‘Get it, boy,’ Goat bleats, eyeing him. ‘That’s how it feels like to be picked on.’

‘Leave the naughty-naughty to me,’ screeches Eagle.

A big brown Bear lets out a loud unfriendly sound, and all the animals make way for him. Chima’s mouth falls open as he sees just how tiny he is before this giant. His legs shake, for there’s no getting away from this strange woodland. He is trapped. In a strange land.

‘Welcome to Timanfaya National Park!’ Bear growls, pushing out his chest. Like a gorilla.

Chima wants to scream. But, thinking Bear will bite his lips off, he presses his hands to his mouth. He remembers reading about Timanfaya National Park, and fear grips his heart.

‘Teensy boy, you know why you are here, ooi?’ snarls Bear, pulling him to his feet.

Chima shakes his head nervously.

Bear laughs. ‘You are on trial!’

Trial? Chima looks at him, confused. He hasn’t done any wrong, has he? Then why do they want to try him? What for? He has watched a lot of movies with courtroom scenes, so he knows what being on trial means. That is, someone has accused him.

Which of the animals has pointed the finger at him? Chima wonders. If he is found to be at fault, then he would have to bear some kind of punishment. Either he pays a fine (where will he get the money?) or spends some long days and lonely nights in a filthy place known as a prison. How can a six-year-old live in such a horrible place – without Mum and Dad?

Chima opens his mouth to explain that he’s done no wrong. Bear cuts him short, saying, ‘It is not right to treat any animal unkindly, do you know?’

Chima nods his head.

Bear goes on, ‘It’s an offence to hurt an animal, ooi?’

Chima nods again.

‘Thereby, we have found you guilty, as charged,’ says Bear. ‘You shall be sent to Andalucia. There, you will live on a mountaintop for months, until you learn not to throw stones at the smallest animal again.’

‘NOOOOO!’ Chima howls, imagining all the dangers he is likely to face on the mountain. ‘Please, don’t take me away from my parents.’

Bear calls Boar and Bat. They tie his hands with a thick rope, even as Chima begs them to let him go. Badger makes to drag him away, but Chima kneels down.

‘I’m sorry,’ he says, tears rolling down his cheeks, ‘so sorry if I’d killed any animal.’

Bear sucks in air. ‘Sparrow!’ he calls out.

Chima widens his tearful eyes in surprise as the same tiny bird he had thrown a stone at hops out from the crowd.

‘Hi,’ twitters Sparrow.

‘Hello,’ Chima whispers, feeling quite relieved that the bird didn’t die, after all.

‘Oh, you both have met,’ Bear says with a grin. ‘Now you promise not to harm our kind anymore, ooi?’ he asks Chima, who replies at once, ‘I promise to treat every animal with kindness, Mr. Bear.’

The other animals break into a giggle. Mink sets Chima free. Tortoise crawls over, mumbling about the need to set up national parks in every country. Bear says something about endangered animals; those who had died off completely. He mentions Dodo, Dinosaur, and Mammoth.

‘African Wolf, Blue Antelope, Great Elephant Bird,’ Weasel chips in.

Chima becomes sad. If only I can bring back those animals, he wishes, squeezing his eyes shut. At once he finds himself back in his bed.

The sun has since set. Chima hears his Dad laughing in the sitting room. He leaps out of bed and runs out of his room to meet him.

‘Anything?’ asks his Dad.

‘Dad,’ Chima breathes out, sticking out his little chest. ‘I’m going to build national parks like they have in Spain when I grow up,’ he says.

His parents raise their eyebrows in surprise. ‘Why?’ they ask.

‘Because,’ Chima replies, ‘if I keep throwing stones at animals, they will get hurt. And I don’t want any animal to disappear ever again.’

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Kiru Taye on Why She Writes Romance Fiction

Any time you pause at the roadside book seller in Marina, Lagos or on Douglas Road, Owerri, you are sure to find lying next to Better Lovers, How to Satisfy Your Woman, and 90% Pleasure Tips, this kind of sap: a colourful book cover with an all-round muscled man whose torso makes you think of crags and a smoky-eyed girl so barely dressed you can completely undress her with a puff of breath. It’s all so kitschy, right?

Thank God, Nigerians now have the opportunity of reading good quality romance novels authored, especially by Nigerians.

Myne Whitman kick-started this revival; now, Kiru Taye is just about set to launch off from her pad with a scintillating debut romance novel! It is a wonderful thing that is happening to Nigerian literature as Kiru Taye tells us how she ended up writing romance novels. KT, as she is fondly called, sees herself as an aspiring author of passionate romance novels set in Africa.

“I am an avid reader first and foremost," she says. "As a young girl growing up in Nigeria I read just about every novel I could lay my hands on. If you ask my brother he’ll tell you I always had my face stuck in a book as a teenager. As an adult my reading list is certainly more discerning but I still read a lot. Growing up, the books provided a form of escape from the drama that was my parents’ marriage break up (as the first child I bore the brunt of that war) and transported me to various exotic locations across the world. However, the stories that struck a chord with me the most where the romantic ones because no matter the adversities the hero and heroine had to endure, they always pulled through in the end.

“So when finally I decided to fulfil my childhood dream and write fiction novels, it stood that I would fall back to the kind of stories that I loved as a child and still love as an adult. I write mainly to entertain people. If one of my stories provides an escape for a person having a tough day or respite for anyone ploughing through the drudgery of daily life then I’ll be a happy person."

The image on the right represents KT. It is called Free Spirit and is courtesy of Richard Young at

You can read some of Kiru Taye’s work at She currently lives in the United Kingdom with her very own alpha hero husband and two children. Her first full length novel will be published later this year.

Saturday 14 May 2011

Always a Blessing, Chris Mlalazi on Writing Residencies

Recently, I had the good fortune to speak with Chris Mlalazi, a prolific playwright and writer whose short stories I find very entertaining and captivating. Some of his stories (you can Google them) which I have had the opportunity of reading are seemingly dark yet spiced with humour, of a wry kind though.

I first heard of Chris Mlalazi through Niq Mhlongo, a South African novelist and my flatmate at the International Writing Program (IWP), USA, 2008. Ever since then I have been inspired by this amiable Zimbabwean writer, whose notable novel and short story collections include Many Rivers and Dancing with Life: tales from the Township, which earned him an honourable mention in the last NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa.

Last year Chris was the 2010 Feuchtwanger Fellow at the Villa Aurora artists’ residency in Los Angeles, but at present, he is Guest Writer at the Nordic-Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden. I asked him what he thought about writing residencies since he has participated in a few. Here is Chris’s reply reprinted below, in his own words:

“It is very important now and then in the writing career of a writer to get a writing residency where one can go and hone a writing project. Most of us, if not all, come from backgrounds or homes where sometimes it is challenging to concentrate on our art because of family commitments, which are also important on their own as they are the soul of our lives.

“So if a residency opportunity comes along, especially when we have a writing concept that has reached a critical stage, it is always a blessing to go there to engage in close combat with the stressful atmosphere of your story universe in total isolation without that infringing on family life. You know how testy we can become sometimes when we think we have a story about to be born. I have been lucky to get two such residencies in succession in 2010 and 2011, the first one at Villa Aurora in Los Angeles last year, and the current one at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, as their 2011 Guest writer, where I am happily writing this note from.

“In Los Angeles I worked on a novel manuscript I had started in Kenya at the 2007 Kwani LitFest, and I managed to complete it, I think I completed it, and I am now trying to find a publisher for it. I also started another manuscript during the last three months of my stay at the beautiful Villa Aurora in Los Angeles. The story was just begging to be written, and in those last three months I managed to write 38 000 words of it. I laid the story to rest awhile between December 2010 and April 2011 as I was waiting to get to Sweden and start cracking on it again. I am happy I laid the story to rest too, for as I am working on it now, it feels too fresh and exciting. I do not know when I will finish this one, but what I know is that I am working on it is so hard. I will be in Sweden for three months till the end of June, when I return back to Zimbabwe.

“How does it feel like to be in a residency? Well, for starters, having your writing time funded so that you don’t have to worry about any financial matters as you indulge in the creative act is uplifting to the soul, and there is no excuse whatsoever for you to say at the end of the stay that I did not write anything.

“Of course it is not all work and play; there is time to watch the beautiful girls riding their bicycles in the streets of Uppsala. Actually I have fallen in love with Upssala, the people here have such beautiful minds and I wish I could take them all with me to Zimbabwe when I return.”

Time to watch...

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Writing is a bit harder now, recalls Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.

ABUBAKAR is one writer whose short stories I so much enjoy. His writing is so evocative and lyrical most of the time. You can find some of his short stories on African Writing,, and Sentinel Literary Quarterly.

Abubakar, who holds a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Jos, Nigeria, has written for Vanguard newspaper, one of Nigeria’s foremost newspapers, and, at present, he is the Arts and Culture Editor, Sunday Trust, a popular newspaper in Nigeria.

At a recent chat with him in his office, he recollects a time when writing for him was fun, simply fun and nothing less – unlike now…

‘I figured out a long time,’ he reminisces, ‘I go that I might end up, in my old age, alone, writing by the wavering light of a dying candle, scribbling out the lines of my magnum opus – which in fact might never be read by anyone but my brothers, who will find my body next to the uncompleted manuscript.

Well, that was when I was much younger. Now, things are different. ICT has made writing much easier, I guess. But it is my bonding with such images, and loving them, that has made the challenges of being a writer much easier.

Writing? Tough business, really. Think of the countless hours of solitude, the sleepless nights, the cramped muscles, the strained, bloodshot eyes, the fervent drive to put the ideas in your head on paper, the irritation you feel each time someone intrudes on your thought process, the nagging hunger because eating would just waste your time, the frustration of receiving yet another rejection slip. Writing, really, is a tough business.

But why, you may ask, does one go through the pains for yet another rejection slip?

Because I was condemned to be a writer (don’t ask me by whom). It just seemed the only logical thing for me to do – and I enjoy doing it. While my childhood friends would be grappling with trees for the succulent mangoes dangling from the branches, I would be somewhere with a pen and a paper. Of course, my childhood was far from boring. I played a lot of football growing up, crawled around playing with crowns – did a lot of that actually – and other such things.

But it wasn’t all about lying under the tree with a book and running around chasing people’s chickens. Writing was an escape from the difficulties of an impoverished existence. I grew accustomed to the pangs of hunger because there wasn’t enough to eat. Instead, I fed on my imagination.

I stuffed myself full with the most delectable cuisines of ancient Persia, frolicked with veiled Arabian beauties in Andalusia, ran with the wolves in the American wilderness, explored the red mountains of Mars and sought solitude on the shady side of the moon. I had a sort of imagination binge. Feverishly putting these things on paper helped keep me sane and healthy. At a point, writing almost became the sole purpose of my existence.

Was it hard for me as a writer?

It was definitely easier then, when I was writing principally for my own consumption, building up my stack of juvenilia. There was no pressure to please anyone but me. I wrote what came to my mind, how I wanted it written and when. Then my elder brother came and changed all that.'

In 2007, his radio play, A Bull Man's Story, won the BBC African Performance Playwriting Competition and his first novel, The Quest for Nina, was published by Raider Publishing International in 2008 in the United States. He is currently working on his second novel.

'He urged me to enter a playwriting competition and when I declined, he bloated with anger. So I wrote, for some judges sitting in a distant London, for my brother’s ire to deflate. Months later, a letter of encouragement came back. The next year, he asked me to write again, and then the year after and the year after that.

I got tired and stopped sending entries, but I never stopped writing. This time, I wrote things I believed could be published when someone, in the future, stumbles on my cache of unpublished works. And then one year, I ventured an entry once more. And I won – first Prize.

A couple of prizes followed and with them the weight of expectation. It is no longer enough to write but to write well – writing well, of course being relative. Now there are deadlines, word limits and certain standards to be complied with.

So, was it hard for me?

It was more fun then. It’s a bit harder now. But there is nothing else I would rather die doing.’

Hmm. As for me, I think writing is less fun these days, maybe because the more you know about writing the critical you become of your writing. Perhaps.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

What's hard for you as a writer (final part)

"The phone is ringing, the doorbell too, there’s a zillion emails waiting for a response. There’s forty plus writers waiting (rather impatiently) for edits of their work, not to mention the dozen books waiting to be read from authors wanting blurbs or opinions. I have to leave soonish and push my book at various events. There's two blogs waiting for posts, and If I go onto Facebook I’m surely doomed," says Ivor W. Hartmann, a Zimbabwean writer, editor, publisher and visual artist, currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa, when asked what is hard for him as a writer. Ivor is a very painstaking writer who works with the meticulousness of a lapidary.

The author of Mr. Goop (Vivlia, 2010), a sci-fi children's novel, Ivor was nominated for the UMA Award (2009), and awarded The Golden Baobab Prize (2009). He is also the founder and managing editor of StoryTime, which has published a host of Nigerian authors, the blogger included. Ivor explains his "dilemma" further: "I’m hungry and thirsty, and absolutely none of the above is footing my survival bill. So what is hard for me as a writer? Simply finding the time to research and write, that’s it, that’s my biggest problem. Waiting for that special time when the world fades away and my characters and I can get down to having a blast, and seeing what new corners of my mind we can turn over rocks in and see what's there."

Within a short time of bursting onto the Nigerian literary scene, Myne Whitman seems the most visible Nigerian writer in cyberspace, thanks especially to her vivid and highly engaging romance fiction novels. She is a whirlwind of change, of sorts, the founder and managing editor of, a critique website for aspiring Nigerian writers, and social networking for everyone that loves Nigerian literature. When I queried her about what she finds hard as a writer she has this to say, “As a self-published author, I will always be grateful for the vehicle the internet and social networking provides to get my book out there. Setting up an active blog and publishing my book has served a double purpose for me; finding out the target audience for my kind of writing and building a platform too. If not for the social networking channels, A Heart to Mend would never have gone viral the way it did. It was through the support of bloggers that I did my first blog tour for A Heart to Mend with the attendant publicity. By the end of that blog tour, I was getting requests for interviews and features almost daily. I put up chapter one of the book on a free reading website and it became a massive hit. It remained in the top 10 for three consecutive months!”

“The beauty of social media opportunities powered by the internet meant that I could remain in my work room with just my laptop and a connection, and meet up with these dozens of interviews via chat, skype, email, etc. As time went on, I continued networking with other writers and self-published authors and I as I shared what I had learnt, I picked up some good nuggets from them too. I set up a twitter page and opened up my Facebook profile for use with my pen name,” says Myne Whitman, a pen name. Her real name, however, is Nkem Okotcha. “As I became more adept at using the word-of-mouth tools on those two sites, the visibility of A Heart to Mend quadrupled. I learnt how to interconnect these media, how to set up scheduled tweets or how to update Facebook via RSS feeds, etc. However, with more visibility, and the bigger the platform, comes a higher expectation to always be connected with your readers and fans.”

Although well traveled and currently domiciled in Washington with her husband, Myne still visits Nigeria now and then. For me reading A Love Rekindled,her latest novel, reminded me of certain follies I was prey to during the roving undergrad years. She has more to say, however: “So the challenge for me as a writer using social networking is that of distraction, thereby reducing the amount of time I have to write. Personally, Facebook has proved the most addictive. I find that sometimes while updating my pages, I may stray into something else entirely and so on, thereby wasting precious amounts of time that could have been put to better use. There was a day I took a break from writing and as usual, the first point of call was Facebook. The site was down, and I kept refreshing it for almost five minutes before it dawned what I was doing. I laughed at myself, left a message on Twitter about my addiction and went to check some other things. I had to really think that day but it is what it is. At the end of the day, I have to find a way to balance the two by making sure that my internet use is mostly purposeful and in a way that is linked to my writing, and also set out a specific time for my writing itself without any distractions.

That way, I still get a lot of writing done while remaining in the social circles.”

Thursday 31 March 2011

What's hard for you as a writer? Pt 2

Lauri Kubuitsile is one helluva prolific writer, with 13(!) published books to her name, and lots of short stories, which have been published on four continents. And what’s more, she’s has other works brewing steadily yet fervently in her cauldron. Lauri inspires me no end. When I asked her what is hard for her as a writer, she replies, “The hardest part of writing for me is getting my rough draft down in time, before the tension pushing it dissipates."

Lauri lives in Botswana and has won numerous awards for her creative writing. And, should I say: lucky her, because she’s the pluck to pursue a full-time writing career. Her third romance novella, Mr Not-Quite-Right is due for publication in August 2011. “I always need to write very quickly at rough draft stage, sometimes as much as 8000 words per day,” she goes on. “I shouldn't be interrupted or I can lose the story completely. Sometimes I write so fast and type so quickly, at the end of the day my fingertips are painful.”

“I think the issue at the moment is that of identity and target readership,” says Julius Masimba Musodza, a Zimbabwean author living in Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, England. “I feel like that country bumpkin who wandered in to a shopping mall in the city. He saw a fat white middle-aged man enter a cubicle with sliding doors. When the doors opened, to his surprise he saw a young black man step out. Utterly amazed, the country bumpkin entered this cubicle. When the doors opened, he found that the outside scenery had changed but he was still the same.

The Zimbabwean authorities have effectively erased me from the literary landscape back home by declaring that only Zimbabwean passport holders are eligible for the prestigious NAMA Awards, so now I have little option except to step out of that strange cubicle contraption on to a new scene yet still look and feel the same.”

Julius is author of the Dread Eye Detective Agency novels, a screenwriter and film maker to boot. He goes on, “Telling Zimbabwean stories to non-Zimbabweans is a challenge that circumstances have imposed on me. The first difficulty is that most people out there seem to have fixed views about how Zimbabwean stories ought to be told. A good rant about how evil Mugabe is, that every other Zimbabwean is dying of AIDS, that we like to rape little girls and sell women like cattle etc, that we all struggle with 'tradition' and westernisation, these appear to be widely regarded as the natural story of my country. This attitude is not confined to Zimbabwe, acclaimed authors like Chimamanda Adichie have had to remind their readers that there "is no single African story". Likewise, there is no single Zimbabwean story.

Then there is the footnote. One wants to tell a story, not a dictionary of Zimbabweanisms. But if you are writing for a British audience, you still need to explain why a woman addresses as her husband's sister as "the man of this house".

To get around these, I keep in mind that at the end of the day, the essence of a story can transcend boundaries and geography. In a book about Stephen King, the author starts with a plot summary that sounds like it belongs to the horror master's "The Mist". It does, but it could as easily belong to that English/Norse epic, Beowulf. It is this essence at the heart of a story that makes it as appealing to a Zimbabwean as it would to a Japanese or Ugandan or Chilean!”

Next week will feature Myne Whitman, Ivor Hartmann, and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

What's hard for you as a writer?

Writing is hard, and for some writers it is harder – for me, at least. I sometimes wish it could be easier, the process, but the strain can be quite immense, physical and psychological, emotional and mental as well, and I’m tempted to delete the little I’d scrawled down on the computer screen. But more often than not, I am forced to self-motivate myself, like a Stoic, get through the strain until I’m likely to find some shadow of a shape, a certain trace of meaning, no matter how slight, how inchoate.

To console myself that I'm not alone, I mean, suffering all alone, I have decided to seek solace in the revelations of some fellow writers, whom I shall be chronicling here, as the week rolls. Hope you find some consolation also.

Isabella Morris holds MA in Writing (Wits) and was shortlisted for the Penguin Prize for African Writing 2010. She lives in Johannesburg and writes short stories, novels and biography.

"I find it frustrating that as a South African I am expected to write SA stories," says Isabella, who is an ardent traveller with a special interest in North African literature. "My short story collection set in Egypt, was not picked up by local publishers because they felt its appeal would be limited. An Egyptian publisher agreed to publish it. I write about foreign settings and issues because I don't feel I have the critical distance needed to write SA stories. I find it difficult to break through the expectations local publishers have of Southern African writers, i.e. Write local."

Eghosa Imasuen, a medical doctor who lives in Warri, Delta State of Nigeria, is more popularly known as the author of To Saint Patrick, an alternative history fiction.

"I find writing sex scenes very difficult. Odd, eh, for something so commonplace, so beautiful, so dangerous," Eghosa says, whose second novel tentatively titled, Big Boys, is a coming-of-age story set in the turbulent years of campus fraternity is scheduled for release by Farafina Books in September 2011. "Where does one find the balance between its beauty and its sometimes awkward mechanics? And my original profession of medical doctor means that it is somewhat demystified for me; my sensibilities are somewhat cold, and I have to drag myself back from oddly mechanical tangents when I am writing/editing sex scenes in my prose; I am always aware of the difficulty of catching the beauty of making love in my stories."

Lauri Kubuitsile's and Julius Masimba Musodza’s will be sharing their own disclosures next week, so hope you drop by.

Saturday 5 March 2011

A Rambling Thought on Some Funerals I'd Attended

I sat in the fifth row of the pew of an Anglican church. In front of me was a man who looked squat in a cranky way, with a face I didn’t really like, but he was nicely-dressed in a crispy paper lace. On his oblong head a black cap with sequinned twigs sat awry, as if he’d thought of taking it off during the monotonous service, but decided to let it sit there awhile.

Sincerely speaking, his face reminded me of a rumpled hand-bill – advertising an explosive crusade against witches and wizards – I had ducked into a bin as I made my way to the interment service.

The oblong head had been murmuring in low tones without a break; murmuring because the air was too hot, or probably because his nostrils were finding it hard to breathe through the dank mix of odours drifting around. Although the ceiling fans were whirring so hard to keep us from toasting in the humid February morning, I felt sweaty and kept dabbing my brow with a hanky.

The church was one terrific dam, overflowing with mankind, with rainbows of attires! But I didn’t think I would like to be seen walking this part of the country at sundown for the church not only looked antiquated but also sequestered in a forested, pothole-riddled village that evoked the terrors of Otokoto days. Those were dreadful days young men craved instant wealth and people were highly conscious of their private parts.

People came from everywhere to attend the interment service. Cars and buses crouched on either side of the road; the churchyard was indeed crammed full. Senator Igirigi’s passing was well-publicised. He was a founding member of Africa’s most popular party. He once declared: ‘So much money in this country, so nobody should complain because a legislator is receiving N35 million as quarterly allocations. We’re thinking for the people, the entire nation. We can’t afford to think on lean stomach. Besides, this is Nigeria; we are not starving like Sudan or Somalia!’

The press had lambasted him outright, accusing him of stimulating and celebrating the looting of our treasury, growing a cabalistic millionaires’ club in our national assembly while millions of woebegone Nigerians were already groaning from hunger. Amid the hubbub, he’d suffered a fatal heart attack.

So here we were in a church he affluently refurbished. We came to pay our last respects to a man whose fleet of automobiles comprised: Toyota, Honda, Benz, Jaguar, Chrysler, Lexus, Hummer and Lincoln Navigator. His chains of houses across the country remain unrivalled. And his name still echoes in the vaults of numerous banks.

The rumpled-faced man murmured again. ‘Dis father think we dey for Sunday Mass, abi he think dis na crusade. Abeg, make somebody go remind am say na burial we dey.’

I glanced over my shoulder, almost thinking of telling him to shut up when he showed me a gap-toothed grin.

‘Dis father go dey here dey preach till all the food go cold and nobody go chop am sef!’ he added.

Although his face put me off, I laughed quietly, because someone had once uttered something similar when I attended a burial two months ago in Mbano. In fact, some young men had harassed a girl, who strutted past with a tray of eba and onugbu soup, apparently ignoring their own canopy. Just last week Friday, at another burial, an elderly woman had lumbered out from a canopy. With her wizened face turning strangely raw, she threatened to slap a lady for first serving another canopy before theirs. ‘Don’t you know we are in-laws who came all the way from Afikpo?’ the hag had barked.

Right there, I quickly remembered another burial I had attended with a friend. His friend had died in Boston and was flown back to his hometown in Obowo. Nearly the whole community thronged out to mourn the Harvard-trained medical doctor. He was just twenty-eight. His people had apportioned some plots of land on which he was to build a hospital. And he’d died.

I felt stabbed with grief in the heart, just like every other person who heard about the demise of the young man. I didn’t know the young achiever, but his untimely death reminded me of another’s friend’s cousin, who passed away in Germany after years of training as a nuclear scientist. He too was brilliant, promising, less than thirty years old. In both burials, most people gnashed their teeth, and wailed, as if they would never be consoled. So I thought.

After the committal however, food appeared – although people looked distant as though they had decided to go on fasting to prove how miserable they really were. But there was a sudden scramble shortly after, for it seemed the refreshment might not go round, someone had whispered. The man seated next to me was glaring at the malt drink in his hand. I was shocked to hear him say, ‘Which kain drink be dis? Dem no fit serve Malta Guinness, dis one dey run belly.’

That was not the end, someone else grumbled about the size of the beef. When the food came to my row, I was still feeling downcast and disoriented. I didn’t want to believe that death could snatch a man so young, so full of promises. Ginika, my friend, noticed my hesitation. He elbowed me, pointing to the tray. My hand hovered over it still, before I finally picked up a plate of jollof rice with sizable beef.

‘What is wrong with you?’ Ginika asked, looking puzzled.

‘I don’t see any reason why his parents should even serve us food and drinks. The guy was barely –’ I started to say, but he cut me off.

‘No be you kill am, come on, chop the food.’

I stared, speechless, at Ginika. Then I stared at the people who were busy wolfing down food into their mouths and, conscious of an ashy taste in my own mouth, I dropped my plate on the ground and slowly shook my head.