Monday, August 25, 2008

Combustive Synergy at JosANA

Combustive Synergy at JosANA

It would seem that the workings of JosANA, Nigeria’s finest literary hotpsot, are quite similar to those of an internal combustion engine – possessing the ability burn the fuel of histories-in-the-making efficiently, running on the steam of dependably intelligent criticism and of course, producing lines of prose and poetry - that most regenerative of exhausts. It is a synergy of many parts.

The meeting {Saturday 23rd Aug.} began late, at about 1:30 pm, on account of the seasonal rains which saw most of our members arriving in windbreakers and cardigans. The usual salutes were exchanged and we settled to the business of the day. Our long absent member, Patricia Ikejiofor, broke the grounds with her reading of a poem "Sweet Bitter Pill", a poem written in quatrains on the theme of death. By far the finest quatrain read –

As the clock ticks tick-tock rhythmically
You masterminded your art, masked in cruelly
Pitter patter ticking of the ticker
The unwelcome guest even in the house of the vicar

Richard Ali set the critique in motion by admiring the use of irregularly placed rhymes which gave a fine musicality to the lines – then he went on to point out instances where a different order of words and the deletion of an entire stanza would, in his opinion, yield an even finer poem. Silas Nnamonu, retired educationist, however pointed out that at one point the poem joined the specific to the general and while this was not wrong, stanza 3 presents death as an interactive, on-going action – it was his opinion that this finicky movements did not work too well. He also noted, very importantly, concerning the poets use of the word "vicissitude" in relation to death that "death is an end-all, not a vicissitude." Sir Nnamonu also questioned the ending of the poem which was superfluously declaratory. Our Chairperson, Bose Tsevende, however came to the defense of Patricia’s ending, saying each poet has the right to a sort of complimentary close. Sir Nnamonu however repartee’d that it wasn’t a question of whether the poet was right or wrong to use a declaratory close – the question was, does it work? Allen Omale, our ex-Chairman, who was at the meeting in company of his wife Rahmah and child Iman, complimented Sir Nnamonu’s contributions to JosANA especially concerning the artistic amenability of language viz sense. Allen affirmed that while poetic freedom existed to be claimed, traditions are also there to be followed. He then added his criticism of the poem – in his opinion, there were too many "un-poetic words" bogging down the poem and he suggested improvement which Mrs. Patricia graciously accepted to consider.

Next came David Onotu, who read another poem, "Mr President Sire" – it was a poem typical of his style, long and interesting to the ears. Yet, unlike his previous work, the poem became the centre of a critical whirlpool. First, Allen Omale said that some long poems are enjoyable, like the Canterbury Tales and Osundare’s Waiting Laughters, while others are not and that what distincts poetry from prose is the use of metaphor and simile to pass across the message. These poetic underpinnings were however absent in David Onotu’s poem. Richard Ali threw in his own salvo, saying the poem possessed an "ambiguous coherence" – that in the long winding trial of it, the reader/audience, is forced to re-discover themes to encompass the entire work which would otherwise be mutually exclusive recitals. Mr. Ali did not believe that such audience-relative "meaning" portended good writing. Alpah Emeka, Jos City novelist, came to the criticism of the work by saying he found the words as being sound social commentary with a fine flow, and that there were different approaches to poetry. Richard Ali returned, saying "an outraged social conscience is not what makes poetry out of prose!". If poetry is the medium of writing a didactic, let it be poetry, not prose, however densely sensitive, masking as poetry. Sir Nnamonu for his part wondered about the title and varying comments were made on the floor concerning the import of the title. Sir Nnamonu asked whether it was meant to be satirical and someone said whether satirical or not, the idea of the title did not run through the poem. On David’s saying the title was sort of satirical, Allen Omale took him up – when you satirize, you praise and in your praising, you really mock, he said. Yet, there was not a jot of praise amongst the litany that comprised "Mr. President Sire." Steve Rwang Pam, for his part, had the conviction that if the poem were cut by half of its length and tightened, there would be more "poetic juice" in it. And thus, with egos and tempers ruffled, ended the critique of JosANA’s most controversial poem yet.

Next, Bose Tsevende, seizing her Chair prerogative, read an absolutely stunning poem titled "The Voice of the Night" –

I heard the voice of the night
It is not silent anymore
The night talked to me
About imminent breaks,
Nations breaking into war
Homes breaking into fragments
Hearts breaking, cannot be mended.

Aunty B’s poem was read to rave criticism. It was a sensitive analysis of the night, a paean to the unseen and eternally knowing, to the hidden, the vile, the enchantedly profane. Allen Omale – I enjoyed it. Silas Nnamonu – I feared it, I feared the message. Allen also said – Aunty B keeps "bringing in the poetic into her poems" and that the subtle way in which she weaves that poetic into her craft is what sets her out as a poet to be reckoned with. He then compared Mrs Tsevende’s poem to David Onotu’s reading, further buttressing his earlier opinions. Sir Nnamonu wondered about the underlying pessimism he sensed in the poem, a sense of something about to collapse, an appeal – it would seem that the poet has appropriated the definite voice of Sibyl. Sir Nnamonu wondered what might be done to avert the doom foretold? Alpha Emeka complimented Aunty B on her exposition of appropriate and unusual themes. Abubakar Adam, who won the 2007 BBC African Performance Playwrighting Competition, said that apart from the beauty of her language, it was also accessible to everyone. We all look forward to Mrs. Tsevende’s upcoming second collection of poems from which "The Voice of the Night" is taken.
In a meeting already rich in the unusual, a poem entitled "The Chiefdom is Suffering from a Shortage of Guinea Corn" was read by Timi Kpakiama, one of our newer members from the Niger Delta. In a correct showing of the avant-gardism that JosANA has been noted for, the poem is based on translation of traditional Ijaw folklore. It naturally brought the house to the boilers. Allen Omale, while restating his unfamiliarity with Ijaw poetry, however wondered about the length of the title, he’d never seen anything quite like it before. Eric Biame wondered if it came from the translation process? Another debate, as to whether the poem was "original" or not, began. David Onotu was Timi’s supporter viz the unusual length of the title. The poem itself was however an interesting one, with the use of oblique personifications referring perhaps to the Delta vis-à-vis Nigeria.

Aborigines dwelling by Lokoja and the Chad
Were nature’s barometers taming and tending
The garden of God; they were Adams ‘heritors
Before we came, bearing dispersion with us
Richard Ali read a badly received poem, "The Kwararafa Sun." Meant to be an epic of Nigerian identity, Mr. Ali just did not pull it off. Allen said it was meant to be an epic but it had been disappointingly overwhelmed by prose and he suggested a re-write. Bose Tsevende however compared the poem to the work of Okello Oculli. David Onotu said it was unusual for Ali to write long poems and maybe being out of his elemental precise poetry, he had blundered? Alpha Emeka said he was sure the poem read was a "first draft". Graciously bowing to the critical fire of the house, Richard Ali pleaded the wayward talent with which he wrestles and promised to rework the poem so that it would read more like what was envisaged in his mind.

Following this, Alpha Emeka and Abubakar Adam took turns to read excerpts from their published and upcoming novels – "Carnival" and "Sons of Silence" respectively. Abubakar’s first novel, "The Quest for Nina" is due out in the United States in a couple of months with a Nigerian edition expected by April 2009. Abubakar’s excerpt started with "Mother started to die when father and his friend started to whisper in the corners . . . . " and in the two thousand words that followed that phrase, Mr. Adam was able to paint a surreal graph of family dysfunction, captured in insightful, evocatively eloquent prose. Compared to his debut, which this writer has read, Abubakar’s best work is still yet to come and it would not be in his acclaimed dramaturgy, but in the realm of prose. Bose Tsevende remarked that it was a sweet story and she loved his technique of giving, in short sentences, deep insights into characters – something reminiscent of Dickens.

The meeting came to an end with the reading of three poems by our Vice President, Matthew Mzega, one of them titled, in a meeting already rich with highly descriptive titles – "The Smallest Pepper"! It was well received. Matthew, an economist by training, is fast carving a niche for himself, his poetry maturing in strides – as is his sponge-like acceptance of criticism that has no doubt fueled his genius. .Finally, Jos City crooner and JosANA PRO, Steve Rwang-Pam brought the house down with powerful renditions of country music – something beautiful and old that had the words "flowers of gold don’t grow in gardens of stone" in it as well as a fantastic Billy Ray Cyrus piece called "My Achey Breakey Heart."
Talk of synergy and combustion!

Richard Ali is Secretary General of JosANA. Inquiries may be made via or 08062392145

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