Music. Visual arts. Theatre. Dance. Art forms or forms of art or whatever you choose to call it. Nigeria and indeed the world has generally over exalted these expressions of art. Surprisingly, the form that transmits light into a dark widow, that shines hope into the recesses of an exhumed mahogany coffin has been left out of the mix. Poetry. This is not altogether startling as it is unjust since “poetry contributes to creative diversity and supports linguistic diversity through poetic expression and offers endangered languages the opportunity to be heard”-UNESCO.
Performance poetry has come a long way since the days when I recited ‘Africa’ by David Diop as a girl of nine. It has advanced in leaps and bounds through the decades that swallowed William Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Diop etc. Performance poetry is now in its dawn in Nigeria and in a voice all its own, it threatens to ask ‘Why?’ And I would tell you why. The 28th day of September dawned bright and glorious, the day of the ‘100Thousand Poets for Change’ hosted in Nigeria in Abuja and in about 120 cities around the world.
Standing there on the stage was Dike Chukumerije who crooned and I wished his inamorata was in attendance to feel the musicality of his voice, a true master of the spoken word. Bash came next in a smoking jacket with ‘Don’t ask me why!’ raising lots of questions and finally we could ask him why. Little children also were not left out as they delivered lines of poetry in clear voices hitting at the core of our values. I climbed the stage in a passionate plea with ‘Leave us in peace’ in memory of plane crash victims and those who were cremated without prior discussion in pipeline explosions years ago. Cynthia came with ‘Oloibiri’ who “has been raped by subsidy thieves and left barren by those she trusted”. Jenny made a passionate appeal with ‘Rape’. Suleiman Dzukogi eulogised a poem in honour of Kofi Awoonor who was recently killed in a bomb explosion. Also on stage were Leon, Bright, Onyeka Peter, Olaide Emmanuel, Liam, Dr Agatha, Gena Reuben and a host of other poets.
There was music, comedy and choreography to lighten the mood since messages of hope, pain, despair, startling reality were belched from deep within the cooking pots of poets. Terfa Nenger came from backstage singing ‘dis na reality’ and in a show of poetic prowess and clarity of thought proceeded to perform a beautiful piece of poetry spiced with music. I just had to see him perform as he has been known to be suave in previous performances. Bright said “corruption is served on luxury plates” in Nigeria. With ‘Ignorant death’ Liam talked about “tasting the cake death has baked for all”. Reading from ‘Bring our casket home-tales that should not be told’ Dr Agatha mentioned “a violent red, eternal hope”. Efe Eseosa hit on the point that “they have been having sex with our nation since our inception, and yet they refuse to come” with regard to our politicians. Again, Chukumerije in his soft voice delivered yet another stimulating and fascinating piece of which there is no doubt as to why he earned that title. I cannot leave out the storyteller who told a story with his own lines taking us on a journey with him and I still have a smile on my face from his stellar performance (I should marry a poet).
In attendance were Lizzyben Iheanacho, Jide Zuberu Atta and Eriata Oribhabor. Oribhabor spent uncountable hours putting together a fine program and he urged us to pay attention to the message although it was presented in lyrical form. He made reference to the father-to-son politics and using “performance poetry to brew tasty wines without guns”. Performance poetry therefore relies more on the rhetoric and philosophic expression in poetics. It is a beautiful expression of thoughts involving lyrics and musicality. It can be said that poetry is and poetry is not the fluctuating price of yellow garri, the tangled bed sheet on our nation’s bed; poetry is and poetry is not the bridal chant sending Suliyat to her husband’s lap, the sound of gum by a geriatric more like gunshots in the noisy silence.
Poetry is the form of art capable of resurrection as it speaks to our innermost desires giving hope when all else (except God) fails which begets the question: why has poetry being shunned as an expression of art? Why is there a disparity in the date chosen to celebrate poetry around the world? UNESCO adopted 21st March as World Poetry day in 1999 but 15th October and even an unnamed day in November has been picked by various people. Poetry is certainly not an out-dated form of art.