Wednesday, July 16, 2008

JosANA gives me a Headache!

JosANA gives me a Headache!

At the end of each meeting of Jos ANA, I have a headache. Every single time. Being an true blue African, I sought scientific inquiry into this curious state of affairs. My herbalist friend, after the obligatory sacrifices, told me that the headache was caused by “osmosis” – he explained that in high pressure situations, especially where mental energy is being focused, like at JosANA meetings, the brain cells are bombarded with electrons of intellection and a side effect of the ensuing friction is the pulsations of the temple called headache. So you see, I am a happy man. My ailment is scientifically recognized. And, yes, following the last ANA meeting on Saturday 12th July, I had a headache.

I arrived late but did not miss much as the usual “hello, hello” salutes were still going on at 1:09 pm. Bose Tsevende was already there together with Alpha and Michael Emeka, David Onotu. Kanchana Ugbabe was also there, having been absent from JosANA for quite a while. In no time the verandah was full with old and new members, especially our members who fall in-between – those who show up once in a while. We had four new members.

The meeting proper began on a poetic note with our member, Emma Kenine, reading her piece, “In Blue She Comes”. The meeting could not have started on a better note because the poem was just perfect – Emma’s poem had that control of sound, imagery and soul that elite poem have which sets them above reproach. The word “blue” was the anvil on which the poem riposted, much like Federico Garcia Lorca’s “a la cinquo de la tarde” from his most famous poem. David Onotu pointed out that Emma Kenine’s poem also shared similarity of style with a Langston Hughes poem that played on connotations of “red”.

Following Emma’s reading, Abubakar Adam took to the center stage with a reading of “Because You Are a Poet” - a verse offering to Aunty B Tsevende who’s 2007 Poems is titled “You Are a Poet”. In that poem, Abubakar successfully married with simile the motions of dance {Mrs. Tsevende lectures dance} to the “dance” motions of lines of verse. The underlying idea was that Aunty B was a poet while he, Abubakar, was not. However, the Jos City barrister, Redzie Jugo, added a last line to Abubakar’s reading by saying “My guy, you are being too modest!” and urged Abubakar to modify the last line accordingly. Another lawyer, Mahan, said that eulogies are associative and Abubakar ought not to dissociate his innate poetic in his panegyric on Aunty B, thus agreeing with Redzie’s submission. I guess Abubakar ought to have said in stock legalese – “As my Lord pleases!”

Next to read and still in the thrall of poesy was David Onotu and his “Hills of Green”, a highly involved and perceptive poem about the Jos plateau. In his trademark style of man-in-the-arena oratury, David succeeded in weaving a complex tapestry of the Plateau, mother of us all – its ambience, its people, the tensions, the places, the drama of everyday life, our hopes and dreams and the particulars of our collective hubris. There was silence, simply, and then there was applause. No further affirmation can greet an upcoming poetaster than the un-begrudged applause of his no mean contemporaries. Steve Rwang Pam was highly touched by this poem and Redzie said there ought to be collaboration with Aunty B to stage it in the Theatre. Richard Ali said indeed it demanded a screenplay. Our member, Patience Egwurube, who is a writer of screenplays nodded her head in concurrence. Bose Tsevende asked Steve Rwang Pam to look into the possibility to having the poem as a jingle of Radio and the Country music crooner said he’d be delighted to do that. Steve also said that David’s poem was the sort of art that was the material for further works of art.

In what is becoming Michael Emeka’s forte, prose, he read an excerpt from his upcoming novel titled “The Tide”. Michael’s ear for prose is perhaps as perceptive as David Onotu’s ear for poetry – such was his presence of mind as he told a tale of a young man walking heedlessly into the whirlpool of petroleum smuggling as opposed to going to Aba to apprentice himself as an auto spare parts dealer. He was able to capture with his prose the drama of the rivalries between parents and in highly effective interior monologues, he captured the mind of his central character. An A1 awareness of description kept the entire excerpt together, stringing his audience along. Prof. Kanchana Ugbabe commented on the psyche of the piece and on Michael’s use of language. She also wondered how the novel would end? Redzie Jugo noted it was a fantastic excerpt only that the beginning seemed too long and detailed. Richard Ali agreed with Redzie and suggested that the opening paragraphs, which describe a journey to a petroleum dump, should be cut by about a third. Steve Rwang Pam said it was a “well spiced” reading and Mahan said that everyone could identify with the story, commending the contemporaneity of Michael’s subject. The truth is, it would be impossible for me to convey in reported prose the reactions to “The Tide.”

Steve Rwang Pam read his second poem this year, an interesting one called “Looking Back”. It was verse steeped in nostalgia for simpler, less complicated times and it set off some debate in the house.

When warmth was for the skin
And allergies were not known
Where goldfinches twit and nightingales sustain
The resonance of divine symphony

Steve said the allusion in the poem was Biblical, that he imagined Adam reciting the poem. Among other things, Richard Ali said if that was so then perhaps the title should be “Adam Looking Back?” but this suggestion was shot down variously and died midair. JosANA is perhaps one of the few places in the country where artists find material for their work even in religion. Indeed, only at the last meeting, Mrs. Tsevende had read a poem full of religious allusions.
Next, Alpha Emeka read his entry for the 2008 Commonwealth Short Story Competition, a 501 word entry titled “A Season of Blessing.” It was one of those existentialist stories – a man leaves the stifling fumes and strictures of the city for the remembered tranquility and ozonic air of the countryside only to find that the monsterface of urbanity had replicated itself there just as well. Among the comments was that though there was a word limit for the CSSC, Alpha could have added the nuance of moral/personal degradation side by side with environmental degradation. But even without that, no one doubts that the next Commonwealth Short Story Prize will be won by a member of JosANA. { If Molara Wood doesn’t, of course!}

Richard Ali, who chaired the meeting, shared out info-fliers about the upcoming Cavalcade literary journal being published by the Abuja Writers Forum – the most serious writer’s body in the Nigerian capital.

On firmer ground now, having left poetry behind, Abubakar read a short story titled “Night Call”. “Night Call” is the story of a young man who falls into the trap of a femme fatale courtesy an inauspicious telephone conversation. At the end of the story, the man is set to hang for a murder he did not commit – of the siren’s husband. I am a lover of the bette noir movies and this story would have had Roman Polanski screaming for his scriptwriter and cameraman! Along the line, in prison, a guard befriends the hapless young man and they form a plan to entrap Farida la femme via a taped confession. BUT, the tape runs out just before her confession! To understand the story, let me recommend my second favorites bette noire – pick out “The Man Who Wasn’t There” when next you are at the Video Club. Following Abubakar’s reading, Richard, who had been silent all the while, bemoaned the fact that writers up north and in JosANA were content to come read their poems bi-weekly and get applause – but a literary reputation is gotten by being in the larger public arena. He said the way to force your work into that arena is to get them published in journals and anthologies, like Cavalcade, African Writing and Sentinel Poetry. Helon Habila had given Jos writers the same advice during his 2007 book tour. And really, I bet you my last Bic biro, some of the stuff routinely read and praised during our meetings, the stuff I write about in my digest – were you to actually read them or hear them being read, it would blow your mind away. Jos City is at the heart of the Nigerian cultural renaissance and JosANA is the natural leader of that reappraisal.

Kanchana Ugbabe, professor of Creative Writing, lent a word in agreement with Richard’s exhortation. She came in with recent printouts from the New Yorker – Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Headstrong Historian” and something from Uwem Akpan, the Jesuit priest who is currently the homeboy of Nigerian letters. Her point was that young writers ought to send their work out, to local newspapers and journals as well as to International ones because there really are only two answers to any question. A literary reputation rests on the acclaim that heralds a writer who has made himself synonymous with more “yes” answers than “no.”

Bose Tsevende was in her natural element rendering two poems with intros in Yoruba language. The Jos literary movement is a sort of levitation – comprising the most talented writers who, standing on the shoulders of giants, have a vantage and voice that is distinctly theirs. Bose Tsevende’s poems have even become finer following her 2007 poems and her next collection sure would be a hot pick.

PHIL: {Struggles for a while and then gives up} No use!
RATTY: Say, what do we have for breakfast?
PHIL: Breakfast? Breakfast in the evening?
RATTY: Well, I thought it was morning . . . the moon.
PHIL: There is no moon Ratty! How can there be a moon in the morning?
RATTY: Its not morning Phil. Look! We are still here . . .it’s evening.
PHIL: Have we ever moved? We were here in the morning. . .
RATTY: And afternoon . . .and in the evening.
PHIL: We were here yesterday.
RATTY: We were here all the yesterdays.

YES! The first play read this year at JosANA was Paul Ugbede’s “Two Characters Undefined”. In this powerfully existentialist {the spirit of Sartre was strong} drama that is at once reminiscent of Harold Pinter’s “The Birthday Party”, Paul, Jos City’s most talented young playwright, skillfully took on the entire superstructure of civilization through the perceptions of Phil and Ratty – maybe they are madmen, maybe they are aspects of the same mind? David Onotu, who voiced Ratty, compared it to Samuel Becketts classic “Waiting for Godot.” Paul Ugbede’s talents have also been recognized abroad. He was at the University of Lancaster courtesy the British Council a while back and recently, he got a 2000 pound scholarship to study at the Bath Spa University. {He joins Uche Peter Umez who won one of the scholarships for short story.} The play was very well received by the floor and Mahan said it reminded him of a Hausa joke about two drunks disputing on whether it was a sun or moon in the sky one night – they resolved to ask a third man {who is even more drunken} who assured them that he was merely a visitor to the neighborhood and so could not say whether it was sun or moon!
One thing is for sure, Paul Ugbede is IN the arena!

We returned to poetry with the reading of new member, Derek Idjai’s “Tribute to Fela”. Next came Richard Ali and he read two poems – “Ovonramven” and “When I Die.” The prize winning Esther Chinke, who came in with her sister, Ruth also read. Esther’s poem was titled “Blood on our Street” and it was a haunting verse collage of the 2001 internecine conflict on the plateau. Her line “Laughter fled with the rains” is perhaps the most haunting opening line ever read at JosANA.

The meeting came to an end with Redzie Jugo’s reading of his poem “Useless Use.” An extremely controversial, and thus successful, poem involving the skilful conjuring of sense and wordplay, Barrister Jugo’s poem kept JosANA members disputing long after the meeting ended.
And yes, I did get a headache after the meeting! But thanks to science, I know it is well with my mind.

Richard Ugbede Ali is Secretary General of JosANA and inquiries may be sent to