Saturday, 22 August 2015

Pilgrimage to Idoto

The maiden edition of a poetry festival to celebrate the late Christopher Okigbo may have come across as ambitious to many, but the two day event was a success by many standards. I arrived the hotel in Awka at about 4.45pm on Saturday, August 15, glad to see that many young writers and students had also converged from far and near to celebrate the iconic Okigbo.

We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 6.30pm for dinner with the governor of Anambra state – a very appealing date, you may guess. Unable to snooze for one hour as I had planned, I found myself swept into the embrace of the other five guest poets—all male I may add, and then a rather engaging conversation with Uche Umez and Chuma Nwokolo about today’s literature; craft, discipline, the seeming paucity of poetry (really?), and the rush to lose our cultures on the shores of popular culture.
Echoes of this conversation were heard during dinner with the governor who spoke about the sad reality we face in a country where many parents who can afford to school their children outside the nation’s shores, are proud to declare that their children speak only English – a trend which I daresay happens even with parents who live and raise their children in Nigeria. After the governor’s visit, there was a bonfire in the Okigbo compound.

Drums, flutes, dancing and poetry spoke coherent tunes all through the night. I was unsure of just what to perform, until we were asked to do an individual salute to Okigbo – before his gravestone.  The inscription read REQUISCAT IN PACE, but being a believer in continuous movement after life in the flesh, I stood there and wished the poet a joyful onward journey. In those solemn moments I decided on the folksong that would usher in my performance. A refrain in Okigbo’s poem, Distances played again and again in my mind: ‘...I was the sole witness to my homecoming...’
The rains threatened the poetry and the bonfire, but the words, music and dancing surged on, pulsating in defiance to the elements. I was in good company, from Umez’s thought provoking poetry, Tade Ipadeola’s striking take of Okigbo’s poetry to Nduka Otiono and Chuma Nwokolo’s equally enchanting baritones, and not forgetting Chijioke Amu-nnadi’s flowing verses— so I sang lustily, in the assurance that each poets voice rang out in the clarity and uniqueness that made our collective ensemble a beauty to listen to. And then there was Palmwine! The last I tasted such sweetness was decades ago in Uyo, when my grandfather’s palms were still productive and the tapster would drop a gourd or two in our country home before proceeding to the market – but I digress.

Day two was the day each pilgrim retraced the steps of the persona that Okigbo presented in his collection Labyrinth. From Awka, we drove through Amawbia, Enugu-ukwu, Nri, Abagana, and other towns till we reached the edge of Idemili. On this stretch of the journey to the Okigbo residence, I sat with James and Odili, who regaled me ancient tales of each land— how the original settlers in Amawbia were out-of-towners, and how Nri is known as the cradle of civilization, not just for the Igbo man, but the world as a whole, and how Abagana was known for their war god, and how this was the one place where Nigerian soldiers had a tough time defeating Biafran soldiers during the civil war. It was on this bus that I learnt that Ojoto was made up of several clans and how Idoto was actually Ide-oto—supposedly meaning goddess of Oto. 

The journey to Idoto involved brief stops at Ukpaka-oto, and Ide-oto; the male and female embodiment of the town’s diety. Leading the sojourn was a minstrel known as Okigbo Ibem. Ibem’s voice rang out distinct and sonorous in praise and invocation, and then we were joined by a priestess and then another priestess of Idoto. Standing next to the first priestess in red George wrapper and beads, I couldn’t help but notice her calabash, laden with items of worship—nzu (native chalk), egg and camwood, and some loose change. We watched her pay homage at both spots.
Later I would wonder if it was sexist or patriarchal; the fact that the male deity was housed in concrete and metal, while the female shrine was an unpretentious clearing in the bush. Or maybe it was simply that Ide-oto needed no fixed abode for she was boundless just like a river and a harbinger of unbound blessing, creativity and fruitfulness, like Ndem in Ibibio/Efik mythology, while the male counterpart was used for sorcery and other sinister pursuits.

But the priestess’ worship and the deity did not fascinate me as much as listening to a recording of Christopher Okigbo’s voice; as played by his daughter Obiageli. The voice crackled to life—a glimpse of almost half a century ago captured and replayed through an intense refinement of technology. Would Okigbo have imagined that his voice, reading ‘Lament of the drums’ could command that much attention decades after, seeping out through the speakers of a laptop — a device that did not exist in his day? The voice of Okigbo paved the way for readings of his poems by the guest poets. It may not have been the sweetest of appetizers, but it gave no doubt as to the proud origins, and the resoluteness of its owner.

The pilgrimage was interspersed with long treks through bush paths. Ibem, the minstrel called out a soulful invocation, and intermittently the priestess would respond. As we passed by an oilbean, and many farmlands of cassava, each pilgrim followed the minstrel’s voice and we trudged on in single file; missing our way once, and retracing our steps through the labyrinthine network of footpaths. Rest came when we were but a few meters from river Idoto. Rest came in the form of green canopies of bamboo trees, providing shade from the sun and encasing us in a scenic beauty that took one’s breath away.

Here, we enjoyed performances from all the guest poets, and a few other poets present on the pilgrimage. Traditional drums and an oja player completed the entertainment. The oja flutist was especially felt when Amu-nnadi read his poem ‘Shrine’, to round off performances and usher us to the last point of call.
Having experienced the long walk through the labyrinth, each pilgrim stood cleansed, eager worshipper at the shrine of poetry, ready to stand before the watery presence of Mother Idoto. The roads to her banks were flooded, yet the last pilgrims standing found their way to her, and soaked in her energizing coolness.

We would joke later that day, that having visited Okigbo’s graveside and undertaken the pilgrimage to Idoto, a special unction had now befallen each pilgrim—we were never to remain the same again.
As I end this piece however, the last lines in ‘Elegy for Alto’, from Okigbo’s LABYRINTH loom ominous before me:
‘An old star departs, leaves us here on the shore
Gazing heavenward for a new star approaching;
The new star appears, foreshadows its going

Before its going and coming that goes on forever...’


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Dear writer's block

Dear writer’s block,
It’s not you, it’s me. 
I know we had some really swell times together in the last few months, but hey, I have to confess; I haven’t been that much of a faithful lover.

I loved the lazy months when I could wake with you at 7am, and feast on the grandest of gourmets to my hearts delight. Then, entwined with you on the couch, I would stretch these long limbs gingerly on the expanse of your stocky chest and let you tickle me to endless distraction.
They were sweet; those days, yes. But through it all, there were those moments when you turned the corridor and I felt the tug on my imagination’s strings, albeit for the shortest of minutes. The times when I dared to dream that this studio apartment was an orchard, of exotic flowers and sweet fruits. And that we could stroll in this garden, hand in hand, lips entwined. Your tongue; a promise of cider. Your embrace; the faintest touch of cedar wood.

Okay, you got me. It wasn’t you I dreamed of, it was my muse.
I snuck my head out from under that blanket of languid rest, dared to look out the window and hear the faintest chirp of summer birds. And oh, what a sound!

I guess what I’m saying is this; winter is over, the migrant bird has returned home to roost. And I, proud lover, singer of exotic songs and lustful chirrups; I have swooned in the heady attraction of an imagination set free to take on form. My fingers itch to spin tales and verses in celebration of my lover for all time. My muse for all times beckons and I cannot find the nerve to pause, or to say no.
Don’t miss me; because I’m glad to lose you.


Iquo D. 

Photo credit: Google

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


The Poetry Court is glad to announce to you that from May 2015 we will be having POETS OF THE MONTH.

These are the details of how we will be arriving at our "poets of every month"
1: We have four weeks in a month, so we will start with a shortlist of ten (10) poets for every month.
2: ThePoetryCourt will search online for quality poems within two weeks of every month then we will announce our shortlisted poets at the end of the second week of every month. The shortlisted poems will also be announced, every second week of the month, for all to read.
3: Poets and lovers of the art will then cast votes, by sending the names of three poets, in the order at which they want the poets to come on as our POETS OF THE MONTH.

To Vote For Your Nominated Poets, Send:Names of the poets, titles of their poems, and a brief reason of why you want them to be our Poets Of The Month.3: Votes will run, all through the end of the second week through to the third week of the month.

We will be announcing our poets of the month to the world, by publishing their poems and short bio on our blog.

The time is here again, let's rock poetry together forever.'May the best poets be shortlisted and may the best poets be our POETS OF THE MONTH'

We are also compiling a list of African poets (Spoken Word Poets, Written Poets, and Promoters of Poetry) to celebrate National Poetry Month, this April 2015. Tagged THE POETRY COURT POETS ENCYCLOPEDIA.In there you will find POETS that ROCK.

Our POETS ENCYCLOPEDIA will be published on our blog before the end of April 2015.POETS ROCK

You can also now send in your short stories, and essays to our gmail account.Don't forget to send your picture and a short bio, max 100 words.

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Monday, 13 April 2015

When It Sinks In...

The Reverend father sprinkled water on the coffin and the words ‘I bless the body of Ifeoma Ada Mark Anthony with the Holy Water which recalls her baptism…’ resounded in the church hall.

I imagine that my newly widowed friend cannot begrudge medical personnel and clergy for referring to his adorable wife as ‘the body’. I imagine that the past twelve days have been grueling for him. I can imagine many things but I certainly cannot imagine what he must be going through, nay, what he will go through after the requiem and interment are over.
I sat through the Liturgy, struggled to enjoy the melody of the sung psalms and absorb the messages from all three readings. I marveled at the choice of the story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus for the gospel reading. This story’s high-point(for me) has always been the calling of Lazarus back to life, but in the reading we end at Jesus asking Martha if she believed that anyone who had faith in Him, though he dies shall yet live. An unfair passage to read; this is what I will think later on.

At the Prayer of the Faithful, we are to respond ‘Open the gate, the gate of heaven, open the gate for Ifeoma…’ And I send prayers that she may awaken light, unburdened by earthly worries. A prayer which indeed is a prayer for myself as well, when the time comes.
Determined not to shed a tear, I walk out of St Agnes with heavy eyes, as the choir sang ‘God be with you, till we meet again

She was beautiful. She was a model when we were in school and beyond rocking clothes that flattered her table-flat tummy, she was a kindhearted person. Everyone agreed to this one fact, and to the fact that she had a smile for everyone and a sharp but playful retort for close friends.
Walking to the graveside, we joked about this.

Sunny P said he would miss the way she teased him with ‘Oni gbese!’ whenever they saw or spoke on the phone. He said his singular regret since they both became designers was that he had put off one of her requests for too long. He had promised to teach her how to sew trousers and had been postponing till the inevitable happened.
‘Shey na tomorrow I wan come teach am the trouser?’ he said, half lamenting, half clowning.
‘So, like say you don teach am to sew trouser, she for dey sew trouser for dat side abi?’ I asked him in turn and hit him playfully on his mildly protruding occiput. We laughed, and Richystar joined us. We probably cut a strange picture in a cemetery but in that instant, I knew the reflex was a welcome diversion from the matter at hand.

I planned to be stoic, to not shed tears for a friend I had only spoken to once in the last year. When the undertakers approached the coffin after the prayers, the sniffs and wails went up in the air like sand dunes in a desert, but I kept my eyes on the coffin. I made out her siblings crying and my heart went out to them. When Tunde collected the shovel, I sensed his strength and my resolve melt into the shovel as he dropped the sand, and in that melting, the tears flowed freely on his cheeks; mine too.  It was only just beginning to sink in.
He was led away from the graveside, and I stood impotent as my tear ducts burst a dam. Sunny P’s hand rubbing my back did nothing for the dam, and minutes later as my eyes trailed Tunde’s heart wrenching lament for his lovely wife, I saw Sunny P struggling with his own tears.

Ifeoma Ada Mark Anthony
My friend is too young to be widowed less than three years after their wedding. But can one really question death? I listened to him blame himself for allowing her go on that trip, and I stretched my hand to hold his- me outside the window, him inside an SUV where he was flanked by men, both of them our former course mates. I told him he wasn’t to blame. But these words and the others said in consolation will only make sense later. Only after the grief has taken its sometimes tormenting course will the pain lessen.

Till then, I do pray that Ifeoma is in a good place, willing Tunde the strength to live on as we pray and wish her the strength to also move on. Celine Dion was right; Goodbye is the saddest word… 

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Of passings...

Two passings in two weeks; it doesn't get any easier to accept. 

All the faith and the understanding that life on earth is but a stopover, doesn't quite prepare one for these things. It doesn't stop me from imagining; sometimes feeling the pain of my friends at their spouse’s exit. It is no easier with the fifty-something year old father of four than it is with the thirty-something year old mother of none.

The fact that I have held a dead body in close proximity before doesn’t make me more immune to the goose-flesh inducing news that days after an auto crash, then surgery to correct severe head injuries and a ruptured liver, my beautiful friend is no more to be referred to as Ifeoma, but simply; the body.

Thoughts of passing from this realm to the next…

May you awaken light; unburdened by earthly cares, and eager to fly. May your spirit know joy as you glide home on angels wings! 

Photo credits: Google

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

What’s the big deal about Satans & Shaitans?

Book in Review:         SATANS & SHAITANS
Author                        Obinna Udenwe
Publisher                    AMAB BOOKS 2016 (First published: JACARANDA BOOKS, 2014.)
No of Pages               292

If a fellowship of masters of intrigue in Nigerian literature exists, Obinna Udenwe should definitely be a senior fellow. His dexterity at infusing crime fiction with this tale of terrorism is truly ingenious.

The book SATANS AND SHAITANS, is a page turner that kept me on the edge of my seat (or table; as the case was at some points), and had me holding my breath in anticipation till the last page.

The story has an intense plot, with shriek-inducing twists that shocked me no end; I felt myself guessing the next move unsuccessfully, and being pleasantly surprised— chapter after chapter.
S & S AMAB Cover

Power, a pernicious occult movement, and the quest to overthrow the government of the day form a dangerous triad in this novel. This tripod is the basis upon which killings and attacks are carried out; all under the guise of forming an Islamic state in a country as multi cultural and multi religious as Nigeria. In this instance, the author may have hit too close to home, and may run the risk of inciting further mistrust from his people, but then, do we not all learn that art mirrors life?

The Sacred Order has members from all over the world and in Nigeria, their top officials include the world renowned Evangelist Chris Chuba, the extremely wealthy industrialist Chief Amaechi and a couple of people in government. The order does not smile at members who disagree with status quo, so killings are rife. Deadly as they are though, they are unable to envisage that the jihadist movement which they set in motion will turn around with an agenda of its own. This author is very adept at showing that human nature is the most slippery substance. Not to be trusted and definitely not to be underestimated.

Beneath all the dark machinations of terrorism is a painfully beautiful love story, between the young children of two senior members of The Sacred order. Children who have each endured sheltered lives till their eyes meet and love pushes them to break down the barricades meant to ensure physical and social order, but which have nothing on their hearts. But, in the words of the poet Toni Kan, ‘What is temptation, if you do not fall?’

Their love is so beautiful— as the young couple falls, you fall along with them and hope their love never ends. But this is a rather hazy dream because the book starts with a painful discovery that the girl is missing. Your nerves are not calmed either when you read that her head is wanted by the order as requirement for her father’s continued rise. But the order does not have her, so you keep wondering; who does? And so the suspense continues, you keep hoping Adeline will appear and continue her love with Donaldo, and then you find out she was killed – and in unbelievable circumstances too.

Obinna Udenwe sure knows how to twist a tale!
This is one fast paced story and even though this novel is quite ambitious, the writer’s ability to pace the story well and create unforeseeable plot twists adds immensely to the suspense and joy of reading.

Early in the book, I recognized one thing; this author has a thing for hair.  If this craze did not come to the fore with mostly male characters, this reviewer would have declared it a ‘fetish’. Well, maybe it is a fetish afterall.

Of Chief Amaechi, we read in page 165 ‘… his full hair was well combed’. In page 51, we read ‘A big man with fine combed, bushy hair and a clean shaven face was standing beside the sheik’. The instances go on with other characters in the book.

The assassination of the Minister of Justice left me in doubt though. It came off too easy, with no resistance from armed security personnel who were not said to be part of the plan. It is highly implausible that one man could bore a hole big enough to contain an adult male, into a concrete fence in the quiet of the night without arousing any interest, or that a handsaw would work its way through a metal grille without the sounds waking anyone up. But hey, maybe I’ve seen too many spy movies.

 S and S Jacaranda cover
The book is interspersed with quotes from the Holy Bible and references from the Holy Qur’an. Suffice to say it is difficult to place the author’s religious allegiances- if any- judging from the book.
Have I mentioned that the author is blood happy? So many characters die in the book (and no, I don’t mean victims of bombings or other acts of terrorism). I suppose in certain ways this could be a plus. Not many writers have the surgical capacity to kill off a character when they outlive their usefulness, or to buttress the fact of another character’s psychological state.

Now that the book has finally been published in Nigeria and thus made more accessible to the Nigerian reading public, I hope you all go out there and buy it. It is a must read!

Friday, 23 January 2015

B is for Blom Blom – Identity Crisis in Bokoru’s Memoir


Attempting to write a memoir at the tender age of twenty five is an ambitious endeavour, but Julius Bokoru has told a tale in this book that is quite memorable.
In the early chapters we are introduced to the fishing village of Ikibiri in the Niger Delta, where we are swept into the village life and plush scenery. This writer has an eye for detail, and he employs it keenly.

Bokoru’s narrative gets assertive at some points, ‘… men began to give her way, for the greatest embarrassment a man could have, after a shrunken manhood was to be beaten by a woman.’ 
This was a reference to his maternal grandmother, Kenan.  He came from a line of strong women as his mother was equally reputed to out-fight men and women in her teens. Even his dedication attests to this: Hetty Lewis, though she is no longer around. Mother, Tigress, Angel.

Bokoru- Memoir
This is a story of a tigress who was sorely scratched by love’s claws. It is the early 80s, she is in the beginning of a nursing career and in the heat of a relentless wooing, the beautiful, light skinned Hetty chooses her 'Baltimore' suitor over her town’s man.  Their romance buds and blooms with the fervour of a rose bush, but less than a decade later, the stalks of this nuptial tree begin to wither and decay. 
Bokoru shows us that through the rot and decay, his mother stood tall to give her children a good upbringing.  The author shows an uncanny sensitivity for the trials of a single mother, his avid eye for detail helps us appreciate her not as a wayward woman as many people are wont to conclude, but as a human being whom circumstances got the better of.

The book is written in two voices, that of the narrator and the inimitable voice of one who is no longer there. Of his conception, we read: ‘We were both blue and brokenhearted, and when a woman is brokenhearted, the only man that could have her easiest was an equally  brokenhearted man. Because shared disappointment creates trust, trust creates preference, and preference opens every heart, whole or broken.’

It is incisive to note that Bokoru situates every chapter in the context of world happenings for the given year or period. This is not a bad technique, except that it does not so much establish relevance within the character’s lives as much as it gives the story a plausible timeline.

A recurring thread in the book is the search for identity. Beginning from when they move to Marine Base, the author says: ‘If poverty could assume an ethnic concept or nationality or identity, then those of us in Marine Base, including my family, would be povertarians’

It is here that one gets intrigued and sometimes moved to tears as a young Julius starts school for the first time, and learns the alphabets with Aunty Eunice(their pastor’s wife) who taught the nursery one pupils that A is for Akamu B is for Blom-Blom, C is for Canoe, P is for Papa and so on! 

Ingenious examples, yes. But the real mover is young Julius’ inability to say what PAPA stands for.  His confusion only gets worse when he asks his mother who a daddy is. If daddy is the head of a family, is he like Jesus? Or is daddy a way of addressing any older male? Recognition comes to Julius throughout the book in painful installments, including an episode in school where children are asked to state which of their parents they resemble. Oh, the dilemma of claiming to look like a daddy he has never met as opposed to a mummy whose complexion is as distinct from his as night is from day!

We also learn of our character’s love for his homeland. The Ijaw and Calabari tussle is mentioned with more than a fleeting glance, and we see that the author evolves into his identity as a native of Ijaw land. We learn of the creation of Bayelsa from the three major towns Brass, Yenagoa and Sagbama, and the impact that this has on his family.
When his family moves to the new Bayelsa, it is unclear however how they transition from ‘povertarians’ to becoming property owners whose tenants come to bid farewell with an offering of a basin of meat. Small thing, certainly; if an editor had taken enough time to work on the book.

The Angel That Was Always There is a beautiful and touching story with so much potential; no doubt the reason why it was selected as one of the ten novels published under the Nigerian Writers Series in 2014. I am saddened that Parresia publishers could do themselves and this young author the injustice of not being thorough. The book is riddled with typos and other errors. I have no doubts that this book may not be the best marketing tool for Paressia. 

The cover is absolutely fantastic though; Victor Ehikhamenor never disappoints in that regard.

In spite of the flaws, I have no regrets about reading it. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

Finding Love Again - A Review

I'm starting the year with some romance. Ominous, you think? Well, hopefully in a good way. Enjoy. And, Happy New Year friends!

Finding love again by Cioma Iwunze-Ibiam
Finding Love Again
113 PAGES.
Published by : ANKARA PRESS, 2013

Finding Love Again is one of the books in Cassava Republic’s Ankara Press Romance Series. 
The opening scene of the book is as captivating as it is heart breaking; a young bride is alone at the altar after her groom elopes with her maid of dishonor. From the opening sequence we are at once gripped with compassion for our heroine; Kambi, as we hope that this storms passes soon for her.
This radio presenter and blogger who moonlights as a performance poet(this part got me interested), is young beautiful and confident, she is every girl’s babe, and the girl any right thinking man would want to take home to meet Mama. And this is exactly what Beba, our hunk of a love interest decides to do when after years apart, the two of them run into each other again, on the picturesque Obudu mountain resort.

One snag though. They are to be a pretend couple, just long enough for his father to give him hints to find his birth mother; this is a promise that can only be kept when our mixed race hunk brings home a fiancé.
We are told that the Author is a hopeless romantic; this is evident in many passages which virtually drip with romance.  ‘…“When he kisses me, my spirit soars, my heart waltzes in my chest and my breathing pauses. I become a goddess.” She stopped, opened her eyes. Was she being too open about her emotions, she wondered. …’
And here’s another: ‘… Beba had never looked into a woman’s eyes like this before. He felt at once that he should preserve the moment; put it on pause with a remote control. His heart pounded against his chest as he reached out and touched her jaw. Kambi’s eyes closed instinctively. He leaned over, brushed his lips against hers. She sighed,…’

Passions jumps at you from the pages; our hero and heroine are on fire for one another. It is so hot that you can almost feel the heat melt the clothes off their backs, but if you had looked forward to some moan provoking, toe cringing, steamy sex, sorry; Kambi is a girl bent on protecting her virtue, and Beba is ready to stop when she says No! Where did they find this type of man, mbok?
In the tradition of your typical romance fiction, our lovebirds get thrown apart when the passion is at its hottest, and we find our heroine struggling to cope with her radio show and her blog. Our hero faces some tough luck in his search for his Caucasian birth mother, and he pines for the love who he never told his true feelings on account of their sham engagement.

This reviewer wished however that some angles were better explored in the book. Such as the search for Beba’s mother, Kambi’s strained relationship with her mother, etc. and I wondered why our hero always danced the moonwalk!

Bibi Bakare of Cassava Republic did say at a book festival in 2013, that this was a new wave of young writers who were telling the stories of men who would not necessarily fit the stereotype. This is very true for the hero in Finding Love Again. None of the chauvinism and offensive machismo for Beba; he is all muscles, charm and respect. And our heroine is quite the independent woman too, who manages to complete her poetry collection and fall in love at the same time.

Despite a few editing errors, It is a captivating read; I kept clicking till I read the last word! I’m sure if/when they decide to go into print, it will be a page turner till the end.
The Publishers claim they bring a different kind of romance, I'd say; buy one or all of the six books in the series and find out.