- How spoken word is rescuing poetry
By Anote Ajeluorou
AMONG the four genres of literature, poetry has increasingly taken a backseat in Nigeria’s literary consciousness. For spoken word artist and Director of Lagos International Poetry Festival 2015 making its debut, Mr. Paul Efe Azino, this is an unfortunate situation. He is on a mission to rescue poetry from the fringes it has been consigned and put it on the front row of discourse. The festival, scheduled to rock Lagos from October 28 through November 1, has ‘Borderless Words’ as theme.
For although social media is awash with poetry, the quality is suspect, as there is little critique of it before it gets uploaded and inflicted on the public. Azino’s poetry feast is here to provide some direction for upcoming poets through master classes, schools’ visitations, workshops and seminars, adding, “There’s relatively bad poetry on social media, but poetry feast will attempt to give such poets a handle”.
Azino stated at a press conference last week that Lagos International Poetry Festival would be the first true poetry of its kind in West Africa on account of its comprehensive programming. Poets will come from all over the world to participate, he noted. The festival is dedicated to Prof. JP Clark, who will feature in a conversation with prose humourist Mr. Chuma Nwokolo at University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos. Opening cocktail for the festival will be at Freedom Park, with MUSON Centre, African Artists Foundation, Bogobiri and UNILAG as other venues.
Azino stated that these were great times for the arts and that poetry needed to tap into it, as it was growing by the day. He said, “We want to see how we can create space for young people who are showing a renewed interest and monetise poetry and the arts? Despite border restrictions, how do we impact our global environment we’re having guests from all over the world. We want to have poets from across generations.”
Some of those billed to perform include Lola Shoneyin, Chuma Nkwolo, Jumoke Verissimo and Dami Ajayi, 2015 winner of Brunel University Prize for African Poetry, Nick Makoha, Inua Ellams, two of South Africa’s most prolific voices, Lebo Mashile and Natalia Molebatsi.
Canada-based Nigerian poet, Ms Titilope Sonuga, the first young poet to perform at a Presidential inauguration, said the festival presented her a fantastic platform to explode, adding, “It will give young poets an opportunity to interact with Clark and other older poets and learn from them”.
She gave a peep into what she will do at the festival when she performed ‘I come from a place’ that is dedicated to Lagos, her place of birth.
At the second edition of the festival next year, Azino intends to launch the JP Clark Poetry Prize for Undergraduate Students to encourage poetry at that level.
A spoken word poet, Azino said a balance would be created during the festival so his preferred sub-genre does not overshadow hardcore poetry. Accordingly, he said, “We want to carry both sides of ‘on stage’ or performance poetry and ‘on page’ or poetry on paper along at the same time. When people say poetry is dying, they mean poetry is migrating from paper to the stage, which is performance poetry.
“In fact, ‘spoken word poetry’ is coming to the rescue of ‘poetry on page’. Spoken word adds some level of colour, flavour. Poetry of the future exists somewhere between the page and stage”.
He, however, added that poetry on page is the foundation and even spoken word poets needed to learn its rudiments. On the charge of spoken word poetry sometimes veering towards being prosaic, Azino said that was somewhat true, as the poetry was fleeting and so needs to be understood quickly by audience unlike the poetry on page that gives opportunity of being reread.
Festival sponsor Nigeria Breweries Plc had its Public Relations Manager Mr. Thomson Onwoka and Corporate and Media Brand Manager, Mr. Edem Vindah. Vindah expressed his company’s gladness to be partnering another genre of the arts, adding, “We are good supporters of entertainment in Nigeria. It’s not unusual for us to be partnering with Lagos International Poetry Festival. We hope it will encourage and inspire young poets and that it will inspire other corporate organisations to support the arts”.