Saturday, July 29, 2006

Interview with Unoma Azuah

By Nnorom Azuonye

Unoma Nguemo Azuah is one of the female voices in what is now generally known worldwide as Nigeria’s Third Generation Writers. Author of “Night Songs” (2001), Azuah holds an MFA in Poetry and Fiction from the Virginia Commonwealth University. Formerly editor of The Muse – journal of the English Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, she received the Hellman/Hammett Human Rights grant for her writings on women’s issues (1998), and the Leonard Trawick Creative Writing Award (2000). She currently teaches Composition and Creative Writing at Lane College, Jackson, Tennessee, USA. In this interview I attempt to gain more insight into the work of the crop of Nigerian writers of her generation, and also learn a little about her own work.

Nnorom Azuonye (NA): What are the thematic burdens and innovations in African or global writing that can be attributed to the ‘3rd generation’ Nigerian writers?

Unoma Azuah (UA): The 3rd generation of Nigerian Writers have had to deal with disillusionment in every aspect of the Nigerian state, especially political. This group transitioned, either as babies or teenagers, from the oil boom of the 70's and 80's to the oil doom of the 90's and 00's. They witnessed the dawn of University closures due to one economic/political upheaval or the other. They witnessed unemployment and have testimonies about the economic and leadership failures of both the military and civilian governments of the country. I also think that these developments as causal effects ushered in the explosion of religious fanatics, churches, crimes, the resort to religious and spiritual quests to cushion the effects - be it in the frenzied cries of pastors, in the novena nights of Catholic masses or even in the ritual killings for money and power. As dark as these may be, they provided rich themes and resources for stories and poems.

Beyond these issues, this generation of writers, the females particularly, have had to question some of the myths and lies our mothers swallowed whole from a rather oppressive patriarchal society. For example, the belief that women had no need to build careers beyond "beds" and "kitchens." This generation of writers have also been able to explore some tabooed topics like sex, and homosexuality.

As for innovations, the Nigerian economic crunch set in motion a mass emigration of Nigerians. When they can not migrate, they are forced to a near existentialist way of examining problems. A good number of their works have given a fair amount of attention to the generation. In fact, it's as if this group of writers have suddenly crashed through the gates of relevance after being ignored for a long while. It's affirming to see these writers grab national and international laurels for their brilliance.

NA: In other words there is no tangible inventiveness in their writing. As you know, excellent examples of existentialist writing can already be found in the works of Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche and Ortega among others. By the way what is innovative about migration to a foreign country?

UA: Migration does not warrant innovativeness per se, but it provides a platform for a more competitive, more diverse and more challenging opportunities to work with the best from all over the world. I would not say that there is no tangible inventiveness in their writing - in fact, there are. Chimamanda Adichie's strength with crafting very graphic details is like no other. Chika Unigwe's wit in creating very moving comic relief in her stories is captivating, and she does it effortlessly. Promise Okekwe's brave and daring efforts at delving into taboo topics like homosexuality is novel. Victor Ehikhamenor's ability to paint a mood and keep a reader reading is also an innovation, mostly because these writers write with a freshness that is unique and rare. These qualities are quite original for me.

NA: In dealing with their disillusionment, have the 3rd generation Nigerian writers merely chronicled and criticised the society's woes, or have they proffered any solutions to heal the society?

UA: In chronicling the pitfalls of our political problems for example, the third generation of Nigerian writers attempt to nudge society to the right direction. I don't think it's a writer's role to prescribe, especially in an imposing manner. I think a writer's role should be more about presenting incidents in such a way that an audience can deduce or take away something from the narrative, and hopefully make a change for the better. In other words, writers/artists are like mirrors; they reflect images, and if you imagine yourself in front of a mirror - the mirror lets you see the awkward hair that needs to be pulled off or the hidden rumple in a blouse. When a writer like Promise Okekwe, in one of her stories for instance, writes about how a promising young man dies in the blaze of the very fuel he hawks in the streets of Lagos - one would hope that such a loss would make people have a rethink. Or that people in charge would try to wipe away poverty and create employment opportunities by focusing less on petroleum and more on areas like agriculture and education.

In addition, when writers like Sola Osofisan and Ike Oguine explore the dilemma of the Nigerian immigrant - the lies attached to the life of living abroad, lies fed by the expectations of people at home, one would hope that these impressions would be corrected, but no.

What makes it worse is that writers are not respected in Nigeria. If they are revered, it is my opinion that corruption would lessen. The leadership would take them more seriously, and somebody like Ken Saro Wiwa would not have been wasted. Therefore, in a community where books, reading and writers are not top priorities for the government, such a society leans on thin hope for the future. Especially in the Nigerian situation, because of hardship and paucity, reading and writing, and buying books have become a luxury; people are too busy trying to survive.

NA: The general view has always been that 3rd generation Nigerian writers focus more on poetry than on other literary genres. Paradoxically, as suggested by Pius Adesanmi1, poetry by writers of this generation has largely been ignored outside Nigeria. He blames limited or non-existent availability of Nigerian books for this. Why else do you reckon the poetry of this generation has not travelled very far?

UA: Things are changing though, thanks to the World Wide Web and some international scholars. Somebody like Ishmael Reed is assisting with, not just the spreading of their poetry, but their writing generally, I think. A few years ago he published an anthology of poems entitled "25 New Nigerian Poets," which was edited by Toyin Adewale-Gabriel. The book got a fair review in the US. And some of these writers have also published their poems in international anthologies. However, poor circulation and limited availability of these books, as Pius said, are the main reasons why the poems of this generation have not travelled too far. In due time, most of these poems will go far and wide, I believe.

NA: You don't reckon then that perhaps the international poetry reading publics have found some of the Nigerian portraits of disillusion irrelevant? More so, as some Nigerian critics have often suggested that in many poems by the generation in question, political or social activism was sublimated over form or craft.

UA: I don't think so. There is a possibility that they can't identify with the quagmire of political subjects. Or, even that they don't understand most of the Nigerian expressions. But I don't agree that it's an issue of relevance. For instance, in Anderson Tepper's review of "25 New Nigerian Poets,” in the Voice Literary Supplement, he acknowledges the overriding political despair in the collection. What he, on the other hand, finds puzzling are some of the terms. He attests to this when he writes that "Even with a glossary at the back to help with traditional Igbo and Yoruba terms, some of these poems can leave you scratching your head over their meaning...." Now, he could be referring to some of the weaknesses in the individual poems; maybe disjointed use of metaphors, etc. But beyond this, I have the impression that some international readers of Nigerian poetry expect to be fed in plain English laced with Western terms. All some of these readers need to do is research. As a student at Nsukka I know that British Literature was practically crammed down my throat. I had to do the extra work of finding out what certain British terms meant. Many a time as a growing child in Nigeria, I dreamt of White Christmas even before I saw snow.

Anyhow, dominant political issues or social activism does not take away from our craft and the general aesthetics of our poetry. I don't think so. South Africa, for example, saw the cropping up of many works addressing the brutality of the apartheid system. It was a dominant theme in most of their writing. I don't think they alienated foreign readers in the process. The point remains that South Africa had and still have a better means of circulating their books internationally mostly because their government ranks literature high in their list of priorities, I think.

NA: It is fair enough to suggest that non-Nigerian readers of Nigerian literature should research into the things that confound them. But what is the state of the Nigerian information resource and retrieval system that should make such research possible? Are Nigerian scholars studying their own writers enough and providing study guides?

UA: Again this issue is very much connected to the state of the Nigerian economy, or lack of the Nigerian governments’ commitment to education. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, most Universities in Nigeria are in a terrible shape now. There are no substantial amounts of money provided for research, for example. God! the professors themselves are underpaid. During my recent visit to my alma mater—the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, I was moved to tears. UNN is a shadow of itself. The buildings are dilapidated; the vibrancy that existed in the 80’s is gone. This prevailing gloom does affect scholarship. On a further instance, a journal like OKIKE was for a long time out of circulation, if it is still not out of circulation, because of lack of funds. OKIKE is an exemplary journal, mainly as an outlet for our scholars studying our Literature, but when resourceful projects like this lack funding, how else can vivacious scholarship about Nigerian Literature be sustained? On the other hand, scholars like Pius Adesanmi, Remi Raji, Ezenwa Ohaeto, Akachi Ezeigbo, Mary Kolawale, Obioma Nnaemaka and others have been quite aggressive and prolific with providing materials that are accessible to the international readers of Nigerian literature. Definitely, more needs to be done. Nevertheless, keen researchers can find a good amount of materials on Nigerian Literature, chiefly with the explosion of information on the internet, I think.

NA: You have published both fiction and poetry. Which of these genres are you more comfortable with and why?

UA: I am comfortable with both, but I am more excited about poetry than fiction. This is because I love the urgency in poetry, the poignant use of words, the economy of words, the apt images and metaphors that say it all. What one can say in a stanza of a poem could take more than fifty pages to be re-enacted in fiction. I don't think I have the patience for longer narratives, even though it became one of the challenges I decided to take up in graduate school. My first attempt at a very long narrative is with my novel, "Sky-high Flames," which would be released before the end of this year. The experience of writing it has left me with a mixed feeling. It is an adventure worth taking though. Working on the book forced me to imbibe the kind of discipline and patience I didn't apply myself to in the past. The experience made me feel as if I have stumbled upon a formula. I realised that some of my short stories can be turned into novels if I expand the conflicts, scenes and characters. So, who knows, maybe I would come up with more novels in time to come. It was also wonderful to discover how far I could stretch my imagination over a vast span of landscape. In all though, and with the cliché some men may use, poetry is my mistress, and fiction is my wife.

NA: Good to learn about "Sky-high Flames"2 Hopefully it will enjoy the same international interest as Abani's "Graceland", Adichie's "Purple Hibiscus" and Atta's "Everything Good Will Come." Back to poetry, Unoma. You've already mentioned some of the general issues that concern writers of your generation. On what peculiar themes do you anchor your own poetry?

UA: I explore a variety of themes. I am not fixed on any specific theme per se. However, I am moved often to identify with the underprivileged and the oppressed. Perhaps I do habitually focus on sexuality and sexual minorities, the mentally challenged, the rejects of society, etc. because the pain and burden these group of people stomach, I share and identify with as a human. Another topic I enjoy writing about is religion. For example the Catholic in me still feeds the poet in me. One of the things I examine sometimes is the extremity that can come out of our religious experiences as people still torn between our alien religion and our traditional beliefs. So, sometimes, I look at the futility of unbelief and faith. Sometimes, I also study the benefits of faith, etc. African traditional religion is another aspect I search. For instance, I consciously try to create a space for the goddesses of my traditional religious inheritance. The conflicts that exist between the two are often the one thing I attempt to resolve.

I can get quite pre-occupied with political and economic issues that threaten the Nigerian citizenry. On a brighter side though, I work often too on the theme of love, liberation and empowerment.

There are of course other things that can be considered mundane; the comic in an unexpected fall, dressing modes, a banter with friends, a bundle of flapping papers, etc. Further, a market scene can be an inspiration for a humorous poem. A night club scene too, can offer reasons for a poem. So materials come from diverse situations and places.

NA: By the way, why is it that like you, many Nigerian poets living outside the country still locate the bulk of their work in Nigeria, many times writing out of memory? What is the harm in examining life in their current environments?

UA: A good number of Nigerian poets living abroad were born in Nigeria and mostly left Nigeria as adults. It is difficult to pull away from where one is rooted and begin to hub on a new environment immediately. The shock of the huge change, and some of the drastic transformations hit you like a bolt, and it's as if you can't help but hold on to the only thing you've known, therefore you go into your inner recesses for security. That core is basically all that you came with as an African or a Nigerian. In fact, we then have a tendency to become pro-home. The cultural shock may seem subtle at first but it does go deeper than it seems. So, even though we live and work here, our worldview is still very much anchored at home. I know that even after six years of living in America I was not able to write a poem set in America. The one poem I eventually wrote that is set in Cleveland, Ohio was based on the trauma of experiencing winter straight from Nigeria. At 80 degrees in a warm American summer I was shivering. The poem was not written as soon as winter hit, it came a few years after that experience. It does take us a while to process the overwhelming wave that comes with a new environment and to feel comfortable enough to feature such in our poems. That is, if we process it at all. However, with time, probably after a long while some poets do begin to acknowledge their new environment.

NA: Understandably the bleakness in the writings of your generation represents your contemporary reality back in Nigeria and of course immigrant experiences in foreign lands. Do you sometimes exhume the magic and innocence of your childhood in your own poetry as a way of shining a light of hope on the everyday trials of adult life?

UA: Yes, of course! The skies are not always blacked out. Like seasons, the sun does stretch its strands of rays to us. In my collection of poems, Night Songs, for instance, I do celebrate blissful memories of childhood, especially in poems like "Umunede", "Rain Rampage", and "Nsukka", to an extent. Further, I do eulogize dance in "Drum Dance". I celebrate love in "Flames", "The Storm You Are", and the fun of night life in Nigeria, in "Live Band in Port Harcourt." Poets like Nike Adesuyi, Angela Agali-Nwosu, Uche Nduka, Chiedu Ezeanah, Lola Shoneyin and others, also celebrate varied themes that are not always overcast. For example, Ezeanah in his "July Rain", and "Split Song”, extols love. Uche Nduka in his latest collection, "If Only the Night", commemorates life in exile as well as love.

NA: One last thing. Tell me a little about your writing habits, sources of inspiration and style influences. I’d like to know as well about your personal all time favourite book of poetry.

UA: I have very irregular writing habits. I used to be one of those who would wait for inspiration to come, until I realised that the truism, "Writing is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration," also applies to me and everyone else. That realisation didn't really make me develop a disciplined writing habit, but it did/does make me sit and write as often as I can, especially at night. Writing residencies have as well helped me come up with more works that I may not have been able to create if I didn't get them. They provide such isolation that one is forced to do something. Conversely, one of the poems I wrote during the last residency I had dealt with the discomfort of seclusion. This stanza from the light-hearted poem, "Eureka Spring" I think, demonstrates the kind of gripe I sometimes have during a writing seclusion:

The ghosts of writers dead and gone kept me all awake
The silence, so dense like a wall, makes me want to scream
But I have a crow perched on my back chirping all away.
A crow kept me company today at the Harmon Park

Even though the serene environment comes in quite handy for inspiration and perspiration, I was grateful for the company of a crow.

As for influences, I don't quite remember who and at what point some writers I read and studied made huge impact on me, but writers like U'Tamsi, David Diop, Awoonor, Ifi Amadiume, Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Masizi Kunene, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Jane Coetez, Yousef Koumouyaka, Hafiz and Li Yung Lee, etc. are some that I remember. For their use of folklore, political defiance, the surreal, stacks of metaphors/images and for the intense burst of life in their works.

Hummm, my personal all time book of poetry…. That is a hard one because I can't readily pick one as my all time best. I know that a number of Sylvia Plath's like "Ariel," and "Crossing the Water," are some of the books that are like fixtures on my shelf. In addition is Audre Lorde's "Collected Poems." Very recently too, I have been enjoying Rita Dove's "Beulah" and Kevin Young's "Black Maria," particularly because of the way they make the familiar so fresh and mystical.

1. “Nigeria’s Third generation poetry, canonization, and the north American academy: Random Reflections” Adesanmi, Pius (Sentinel Poetry Quarterly, January 2005, #3).
2. Sky-High Flames – the novel by Unoma Azuah has now been released by Publish America

“Interview with Unoma Azuah” by Nnorom Azuonye was first published in Sentinel Poetry Quarterly April 2005 #4. Copyright: Nnorom Azuonye and Unoma Azuah 2005. All Rights Reserved.




- Blue Hyacinths - Selected Poems from the Diversity House (Excel for Charity) Poetry Competition 2009 (Eastern Light, UK, 2010) ISBN 978-1-4452-5829-4

- The Bridge Selection: Poems For The Road (Eastern Light, UK, 2005) ISBN 1905126468

- Letter To God & Other Poems (Nsibidi Africana Publishers, USA, 2003) ISBN 0972224173



- "Isuikwuato" Songs for Wonodi (Malthouse Press, Lagos, 2007) Dike Okoro ed. ISBN 978-978-023-223-8 p.66

- "Six Poems" Other Voices International Project Vol.15, 2005

- “Les Lueurs Et Les Sons” Poesie du Monde (December 2005) Maria Merrett and Nicolas Folio eds.

- “Wake” For The Love Of God (Beaumont Publishing, Singapore, 2004) Desmond Kon et al eds. 9810508034 p.157

- “Beyond Dark Times” Voices Against Racism: 100 Poems Against Racism (VORA, UK, 1998) Thomas O’Flaherty ed 0953242900



"Esiaba Irobi, the intellectual terrorist" Next on Sunday, May 10, 2010

"What is Illuminating about Adichie's 'The Danger of a Single Story'?" Maple Tree Literary Supplement Issue #5, December 2009

"Waiting for Osundu's Acapulco" The Guardian (Nigeria) 9 August, 2009

"E.C. Osondu's 'Waiting'" Sentinel Literary Quarterly Vo.2 No.4 July 2009

- “Democracy and The Lottery of Haunted Hours” Mindfire Renew Spring 2006

- “A Dance For Her Tiger: Memories of Idu Iyi Rite” 2006

- “Working Writers” (2006. repub.)

- “An Afternoon With Nicholas Boileau-Despreaux” Sentinel Poetry Quarterly December 2005 #6 ISSN 1744-2982 P.6-12

- “The Closest Thing To Priesthood” Sentinel Poetry Online #24, November 2004

- “White Hairs and False Teeth” Sentinel Poetry Online #24, November 2004

- “Working Writers” Sentinel Poetry Online #22, September 2004

- “The E-zine And The Future Of Poetry Publishing” Sentinel Poetry Online May 2003

- “The Art Of Poetry In Translation” Sentinel Poetry Online #7, June 2003

- “War Is Not The Answer: Revisiting The Music Of Marvin Gaye In A Time Of War” Sentinel Poetry Online #5, April 2003

- “Pen, Sword and The Society” Sentinel Poetry Online #3, February 2003


- "A Father's Story" Ink Sweat & Tears - December 2009

- "Outcasts" and "Postcards from London" African Writing Dec/Jan 2008

- "Say it Loud, Mr Brown" a Kwansaba for James Brown. Sketchbook December 2006

- "A Borrowed Accent" in Poet’s Letter Magazine – August 2006

- 6 Poems – Poet’s Letter Magazine (Online) – March 2006

- 3 Kwansabas: "More Cowards Please" (for Muhammad Ali), "Postcard From St Tropez" and "Sleep Tight"(for Rosa Parks) in DrumVoices Revue Spring-Summer-Fall 2006 Volume 14, Numbers 1 & 2 ISBN 1-880748-62-2 (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and EBR Writers Club) pp 40-41

- “Four Poems” World Haiku Review Vol.5 No 1. (2005)

- “Isuikwuato II” Eclectica Magazine Vol. 9 No. 3. July/August 2005 “Drink With My Friend” Sentinel Poetry (Online) #26, (January 2005) ISSN 1749-425X

- “Lights & Sounds” World Haiku Review Vol 4. No. 1 (2004)

- “Dead Sun” Orbis #130 Autumn 2004 p.19

- “Changing Times” Poetry Monthly #97 p.7

- “Four Poems: Heavy Tongues, Near Miss, Immortality, Amaryllis” Olongo Vol 1. No. 3, 2003 p.5.

- “Two Poems: A Song For The Archer and Vanessa” – Keystone #2, Spring 2003 p.13-15

- “Saturday Afternoon” – Wandering Dog

- “Six Poems” –, (April 2002)

- “Isuikwuato” – Agenda. Vol.28 No.2 p.14, Summer 1990

- “Interview With Unoma Azuah” Sentinel Poetry Quarterly April 2005, #4. ISSN 1744-2982 p. 24-35

- “Kola Boof: The Woman, The Poet and The Myth” The Guardian, Nigeria

- “Kola Boof had een relatie met Osama Bin laden” Flair, Weekblad 12/1178, 11 Maart 2003. p74-76

- My E-Conversation with Sundra

- My E-Conversation with Amatortisero Ede

- My E-Conversation with Emman Usman Shehu

- Adam Dickinson and Poetry

- My E-Conversation with Stephen Vincent Part II

- My E-Conversation With Stephen Vincent Part I

- My E-Conversation with Toyin Adewale-Gabriel

- My E-Conversation With Alison Chisholm

- My E-Conversation with Roman Graf

- My E-Conversation With Chika Unigwe

- My E-Conversation with Esiaba Irobi

- My E-Conversation with Kola Boof

- My E-Conversation with Obi Nwakanma

- My E-Conversation with Nathan Lewis

Short Stories- “The Homecoming” – The MAG (Summer 2004)

- “Silhouette Of A Gunman” Parts 1-3, Sunday Chronicle Magazine 1991 p.tbr*

- “Chioma” Weekly Star (1988) p.tbr*

*p.tbr Page deatils to be retrieved.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Bridge Selection

The Bridge Selection: Poems for the road
by Nnorom Azuonye
Eastern Light EPM (2005)

"In The Bridge Selection, Azuonye demonstrates that as a human being and as a poet he is not an emotional coward as he deals with issues of Liberty, Biafra, Love, Nigeria, Death, Exile, Faith and Hope...In most of this work, I feel a melancholy tinged with defiance. Proud of his heritage, yet not uncritical of it, the poet writes passionate dirges, elegies, love verses and lyricised protests against war and violence"
- Uche Nduka (author of Heart's Field)

The Bridge Selection is a ripplng darkling delightful read from a big warm heart to a cold unfeeling world. I've enjoyed doing time in it.
- Austyn Njoku (author of Scents of Dawn)

Nnorom Azuonye looks at the human condition through the prism of Africa, thus using at the same time the eyes of an insider and an outsider...Definitely a disturbing, unforgettable, thought-provoking read.
- New Hope International review by John Francis Haines
(author of Other Places, Other Times)

Nnorom Azuonye’s second poetry collection, A Bridge Selection, is characterized by a passionate intensity which imbues his lines with lyrical tenderness and defiant hope...The poems in A Bridge Selection plumb the depths of varied human emotions traversing different emotional trajectories and planes...Whether writing about war; the American carnage in Iraq, the collateral damage from the war...or about abortion...despair never manages to eclipse hope...
- Toni Kan (author of When A Dream Lingers Too Long)
Read the full review

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Okigbo Conference: Call For Papers



Postcolonial African Literature and the Ideals of the Open Society/Teaching and Learning from Christopher Okigbo’s Poetry


It is with great pleasure that we write to invite you to participate in the first international conference on the life and poetry of of Africa’s leading 20th century poet, Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo. Co-hosted by Boston University, Harvard University, University of Massachusetts Boston and Wellesley College, the conference is scheduled for September 20-23, in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, USA, as part of the worldwide celebration of the poet’s legacy on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of his birth and 40th anniversary of his death.

As a specialist on Okigbo’s poetry, it is our hope that you will be able to present a paper at the conference. Each paper is expected to explore any aspect of the conference theme (above) with reference to Okigbo’s poetry sequences—Four Canzones, Heavensgate, Siren Limits, Fragments out of the Deluge, Laments of the Silent Sisters, Lament of the Drums, Distances, Lament of the Masks, Dance of the Painted Maidens or Path of Thunder. Contributors may focus on the poet’s representation of the ideals of the open society in one or more specific sequences. Alternative topics for inquiry include the global contexts and influences on Okigbo's work, intimacy and freedoms of _expression, interracial and intercultural exchange, syncretistic ritual, the enigma of cultural origins, etc. as represented in his poetry and life as a whole.

As far as possible, contributions should include a brief summary of the state of Okigbo criticism and a critical examination of the challenges of teaching and learning from the poetry, as they pertain to the topic examined. Titles and 250-word abstracts of proposed papers should be sent not later than January 31, 2007, to Professor Chukwuma Azuonye, Chair, 2007 Okigbo Conference, Africana Studies Department, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 100 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA, 02186-4310, or by e-mail to

The conference (whose varied sessions will hold on the campuses of the hosting colleges) promises to bring together an extraordinary diversity of scholars, writers, artists and public intellectuals united by their common interest in the socially transformational power of Okigbo’s poetic vision. Featured keynote speakers include Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Molara Ogundipe, Ali Mazrui, and Ben Obumselu, and leading Okigbo scholars from across the world, notably Romanus Egudu, Robert Fraser, Uzoma Esonwanne, Gerald Moore, Paul Theroux, Ulli Beier, Dubem Okafor, Dan Izevbaye, Isidore Okpewho, David Richards, and Michael Echeruo.

Preceding the conference will be an exhibition of drawings and paintings inspired by Okigbo’s poetry (beginning from August 18) and a workshop for high school teachers featuring Okigbo’s poetry alongside Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. The art exhibition, scheduled for Boston University, will feature such leading artists as Uche Okeke and Obiora Udechukwu alongside Okigbo’s daughter, Obiageli Okigbo. The teachers’ workshop targeted at promoting diversity and multiculturalism in high school literature and social studies curricula will draw together over 100 teachers who are expected to introduce Okigbo and other African writers into their classrooms.

One of the major highlights of the conference is the first ever joint appearance on a public forum of the two women closest to Okigbo’s heart—his wife, Safinat (Judith Sefi Attah) and daughter, Ibrahimat (Obiageli Okigbo). Other highlights include: poetry reading by vintage coterie of contemporary African poets (including Gabriel Okara, J. P. Clark, Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Funso Aiyejena, Ifi Amadiume), dramatized reading of Okigbo’s Dance of the Painted Maidens, two films inspired by Okigbo’s poetry (Branwen Okpako’s The Pilot and the Messenger or Who Killed Christopher Okigbo, and Toyin Adepoju’s Meditations on Labyrinths, and round-tables reenacting all the major connections in the poet’s life (Ibadan, Fiditi, Lagos, Nsukka, Makerere). There will be forums for launching new books by and about Okigbo as well as for the Christopher Okigbo Foundation and the Christopher Okigbo Society.

The conference will conclude with a gala nite featuring the highlife music of the late fifties and early sixties.

For further details, please visit the conference website:

Chukwuma Azuonye, PhD
Convener, 2007 Christopher Okigbo Conference,

Professor of African Literature
University of Massachusetts at Boston
100 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125-3393
617-287-6795 (Telephone)
617-287-6797 (Telefax)

NOTE: Potential participants should please note that it has been established beyond all reasonable doubt and with reference to surviving close relatives of the poet (his brothers, sisters, wife, and daughter) and his close personal friends (Chinua Achebe, Vincent Ike, and Ben Obumselu, among others), that Okigbo’s middle name is Ifekandu NOT Ifeanyichukwu. His brother, the later Dr Pius Okigbo, to whom he dedicated his first book, Heavensgate (1962) and with who he was very close, writes in his 1994 toast (reprinted in Critical Essays on Christopher Okigbo, ed. Uzoma Esonwanne, 2004), “His parents named him Ifekandu, ‘greater than life”; they baptized him Christopher, the name he wore to his grave.” In addition to Christopher, Okigbo was given another English name, Nixton (see Ben Obumselu, Christopher Okigbo: A Poet’s Identity,” in The Responsible Critic, ed. Isidore Diala, 2006). Thus, his full name is Christopher Nixton Ifekandu Okigbo.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Bridge Selection - The Toni Kan Review

YEAR: 2005

Nnorom Azuonye’s second poetry collection, A Bridge Selection, is characterized by a passionate intensity which imbues his lines with lyrical tenderness and defiant hope.

Azuonye, whose works have appeared in journals as varied and eclectic as Orbis, World Haiku Review, Eclectica Magazine and Agenda is better known as founder of the Sentinel Poetry Movement and Editor, Sentinel Poetry Quarterly.

A Bridge Selection is a hybrid work, bridging the gap, as its name implies between Nnorom’s debut collection of poems, Letter to God & Other Poems and his forthcoming sophomore effort, A Juror Of My Time due out in Spring, 2007.

The poems in A Bridge Selection plumb the depths of varied human emotions traversing different emotional trajectories and planes as they take us from a man watching a bird feeding on rail tracks to a man reminiscing over his distant homestead. There are also reflections of the poet’s personal history which becomes intertwined with the larger history of his benighted nation. Then there are the love poems, of the man contemplating his sleeping lover on the 10.25 train to East Croydon and another wondering what happened to the sweet love they once shared.

These poems are unabashed testaments of a poet who is not afraid to unburden himself through the ink flowing out of his pen. These are poems that spring forth from a fountain that spurts from the heart. Alone in exile, the poet persona thrives on large helpings of regret and nostalgia. The regret stems from the psychic and emotional distance from his home, the distance that engenders his cry at the tail end of the poem “Liberty “ where we read:

“My spirit cries, “O that I also could have
Such freedom without first having to die.” (p.2)

In the second poem of the collection, “In the Kitchen” the poet presents a domestic snapshot of a man and woman from two cultural backgrounds that are feuding over words that do not travel well across cultures.

The poems in this section are poems of loss, nostalgia and regret; the loss of innocence, nostalgia for old simpler times. The poet’s forced absence from his homestead is akin to bondage and thus the constant references to bondage and freedom. But there is defiant hope shining through always like the sun breaking through stubborn clouds.

“My village calls out my name through the hills
And I must go to embrace her warmth and peace…
Prepare the drums.” (p.5)

The second section of the collection is replete with poems that contemplate the end; the passing from this realm into another. In “Strings of Wilderness”, the archaic inversions at the beginning of the poem jar, while “When Bells Toll at Methodist Church” recalls John Donne’s eternal poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” but instead of gloom, the bells stirs in the poet a “dance of jubilation.”

The two other poems of the section “On the Wings of Songs” and “Wake” have a funereal air about them. Steeped in the traditional Igbo tradition of the poet, the highly evocative poems capture best the mood of the section especially with the Igbo epigram at the beginning of “Wake”

“Do I know where it shall be?
Do I know where it shall be?
God, don’t let vultures
See my corpse” (p.12)

The love poems which pepper the Third Section are well realized, evoking memories of youthful shenanigans and passionate dalliances. The poet who is made giddy by the memories of good times past cries: “Memories! They shall make a songwriter of me.”

And even though he knows that memories are best left in the past where they belong, this poet who is high on nostalgia confesses that:

“I know that it is a sin to remember
But I cannot forget.” (p.15)

The poems that make up the Fourth Section, “A Fugitive Life” are the most intense and emotional. These are the lamentations of a fugitive forced to flee his homeland by circumstances he has no control over. These are poems that speak powerfully of pain, of a “land that drinks the sweat of her sons” where “The air is filled with stories of beaten warriors.”

“Dead Sun” is a comment on the rising sun insignia of the defunct Biafran Republic while the entire poem is a moving history of his country which the poet calls “the land of light plunged into darkness.” In this poem, the strands of the personal are interwoven into the larger public tapestry. The poet’s personal history like that of his nation is one of pain, an unending saga of blood shed and internecine wars, what the poet calls “cocktails of misery for me in limbo.”

Whether writing about war; the American carnage in Iraq, the collateral damage from the war as in Ali, the limbless lad or about abortion in “Thorn” where the poet wishes that he had not “nodded to a white coat/to pull that thorn from my future’s flesh,” despair never manages to eclipse hope, because there is optimism, that flickering light illuminating the dark tunnel, which is why the poet refuses to heed the call of the poet Victor Ehikhamenor who admonished: “Do not write about flowers when the roads are bad.”

He will write about flowers because as he says “a hope bird sings at my shoulders” and also because he makes it clear that:

“If I don’t write about flowers,
You see, demons shall vanquish
My loftiest dreams. They will regress (sic) me
To the age of darkness, and I, optimistic still,
Refuse to be walked backward. (P.39)

This review was first published in ThisDay (Nigeria) on Thursday, July 9th 2006.
Reproduced by permission. Copyright 2006: Toni Kan

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Roger's Poetry On Grass

I don't know what else to say to Roger Federer except congratulations on his 4th win at Wimbledon today. I had a pretty strange feeling watching his game in the first set against Nadal which he closed at 6-0, it was like I could not be wrong to say to anyone who asks me in the future, 'what is poetry?', to go and watch Roger Federer play tennis on grass.

I doubt that Federer could ever have the charm and showmanship of Andre Agassi, or the on/off-court rapour Goran Ivanisevic had with his tennis publics, or the emotionless, almost robotic but hugely hypnotic professionalism and gentlemanliness of Pete Sampras, however, in my opinion, I have never seen a more complete tennis player.

The only question I wish I had a crsytal ball to answer is this: If Pete Sampras and Roger Federer were contemporaries, who would have kicked the other's butt back to his hometown? Roger or Pete?

Express Goodbyes

Seven years ago, after a nightmare weekend
spent recanting vows, undreaming dreams,
two dancers - tired of dancing, wary
of the heat of one another's breath,
we said goodbye at St Pancras.

I'd never felt so relieved, yet so sad
to see a train grumble away into the night
a one-time `everything' in its coach,
her Valentino fading by the minute
like the heat of the sun at dusk.

Today I spot her on a Stratford platform,
fully refurbished, as elegant as ever,
eyes shining like a headhunter's torch,
and tongue slicing at corners of her mouth
like flame from the mouth of a dragon.

I rise with laughter in my heart, drifting
towards the pull of her crystals, wild embers
frisking my body and my spirit for hints
of emotional violence, or resentment.
She reaps only pleasure and a warm hug.

It takes just ten minutes to download updates
that mutual friend gossip had not spilled,
then she walks away with the dreadlocked bloke
she loves now, until another seven years,
perhaps, at another London train station.

- Nnorom Azuonye

Copyright Nnorom Azuonye 2006

Saturday, July 08, 2006


July to December 2006 - ongoing update

July 2006

Event: Sentinel Poetry Live!
Date: July 1, 2006
Venue: Waterloo Gallery, 14 Baylis Road, London SE1 7AA.
Time: 7pm - 9pm

Event: Poet's Letter Poetry Reading
Date: Monday, July 10, 2006
Venue: Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Road, Covent Garden.
Time: 7pm

August 2006

Event: Sentinel Poetry Live!
Date: Saturday, August 5, 2006
Venue: Waterloo Gallery, 14 Baylis Road, London SE1 7AA.
Time: 7pm - 9pm

Event: Poet's Letter 2nd London Poetry Festival!
Date: Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Venue: Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art (RADA)
Time: 6.30pm - 10.30pm

September 2006

Event: Sentinel Poetry Live!/London Launch of "Memories of Stone" - a collection of poems by Chuma Nwokolo
Date: Saturday, September 2, 2006
Venue: Waterloo Gallery, 14 Baylis Road, London SE1 7AA.
Time: 7pm - 9pm

October 2006

Event: Literature In Colour: Black Writers Festival
Date: Thursday, October 26th - Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Venue: Waterloo Gallery, 14 Baylis Road, London SE1 7AA
Time: to be confirmed

Monday, July 03, 2006

sentinel poetry online #44

Issue #44, Sentinel Poetry (Online) - The International Journal of Poetry & Graphics has now gone live at

In this issue:

Features & Reviews

Editorial: Wit and Witticisms

Interview: "Brave New Woman" Victoria Kankara in conversation with Amatoritsero Ede.

Essay: "Night Light" by Ikhide Ikheloa

Poems by:

Victoria Kankara
Janet Somerville
Molara Wood
Tolu Ogunlesi
Angela Nwosu
Janine Wright
Obododimma Oha
Niyi Juliad - winner of the Sentinel Poetry Bar challenge, June 2006.

Artworks by Nicole Beaumont


Poetry Readings & Performances include Sentinel Poetry Live, Poet's Letter Performance Poetry and New Poetry Event at Covent Garden.

pick your entry point:
Sentinel Poetry (Online)
Published on the first day of every month by Sentinel Poetry Movement...since 2002
Editor: Amatoritsero Ede.
Webmaster: Nnorom Azuonye

Copyright: (C)2006 The Authors and Artists.