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Big60 crossing borders exchange excites Lagos poets


Big60The second edition of the BIG60 Crossing Borders event held between August 8 and August 14, 2016. It was a follow up to the debut BIG60 event, which held in Lagos in December 2015. It is the initiative of Whitespace Creative Agency.

The 2016 event aims to stimulate cultural exchange, intercultural dialogue and understanding, as well as, encourage the supply of high artistic input from both Nigeria and the U.K. to facilitate cultural, social and economic gains. The exchange was billed to take place via Skype. And it was in partnership with the British Council’s U.K.-NG festival and The African Centre.

Billed to perform in Lagos were the poets Efe Paul Azino, Titilope Sonuga, Jumoke Verissimo, Iquo DianaAbasi, Dr. Dami Ajayi and Chika Jones. On the London end were Ruth Sotoye, Theresa Lola, Joshua Idehen among others.Over wine, biscuits and the overall calming ambience of Whitespace, South West, Ikoyi, Lagos, poets recited, spoke, performed and discussed matters ranging from literature, output pressures and writing process, to the politics of awards and literary prizes. Azino started the evening with readings from his collection, For broken Men who Cross Often. After which, each of the other guest poets read or performed their works, as they waited for smooth connection to London via Skype to be established. The wait would take a little while longer. Meanwhile, performances and discussions continued.

On the question of feeling pressured to produce more work, Diana Abasi, responded by saying pressure was undeniable, especially from critics and even fellow writers. But as someone who is self-critical of her own work, she said she was in no hurry to publish another collection just because it was expected of her.

On whether the novel is destiny for every poet, Dami Ajayi opined that one novel could be said to outweigh seven poetry collections, thus the pull towards prose for many a poet. But he said his next book would be another poetry collection, irrespective of the general expectation.

A lot of the poets seemed to agree that poetry is being redefined in the 21st century, with less attention being paid to conventions and rules. Jumoke Verissimo – who read a poem in memory of her late friend and poet, Ify Agwu, added that the way language is used is changing, as exemplified in the accessibility of modern-day poetry, and the rise of spoken word poetry.

This singular point of agreement gave rise to one issue, which became quite contentious, when popular movie critic Oris asked, “With so much permissiveness, what then is a bad poem?”

For Titilope Sonuga, a poem is good or bad depending on her ability to connect with the work. That a poem is bad for her doesn’t mean it would be bad for another person. For Ajayi, one simply knows when one encounters a bad poem. The readers, it was agreed, has the last say as to which poem is good or bad.

Performance and dance artist, Qudus Onikeku, on the other hand, preferred to describe a good poem functioning like the heartbeat. For him rhythm is everything. This wasn’t surprising, coming from a dancer.

But Wana Udobang gave what could be called the most definitive description. For her, a poem is good if it has the basic elements of poetry. Fair enough, one would say. Still, the majority of the audience could not agree that there is rationale for the terms good and/or bad poetry.

The struggle to find a stable Skype connection with the exchange partners in London (who were also having poetry readings and performances) proved futile as the evening wore on. But this did not deter the Lagos readings and exchange.

Sonuga read from her upcoming collection, which centres on the pain and trauma of captivity, and a possible return. Case in point being the over 200 girls abducted in North-East Nigeria. Ajayi also read new poetry from his work-in-progress, and Chika Jones read a quintessential piece about Lagos, which was equal slices of nostalgic and romantic, as it aptly described the everyday life of a Lagosian.

After the discussions and guest readings, the audience was treated to performances by Wana Udobang, Olayinka ‘Poethick Samurai’ Aremu, Habeeb ‘Da Beloved’ Ajijola, Adigun Clinton Olusola, Solomon ‘St Rhymes’ Adesanya, Ademuyiwa James, Clemency Green, Charlee Prinze and all the way from Benin city, Ehiz Momodu.

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