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For womanhood, eight poets, five countries in poetic dialogue with Wole Soyinka

By By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
19 March 2023   |   3:42 am
Tuesday, March 21 is World Poetry Day. The Day “celebrates one of humanity’s most treasured forms of cultural and linguistic expression and identity,” according to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the day was hatched and adopted by UNESCO in 1999, on the occasion of its 30th General Conference held in Paris to “give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional and international poetry movements

• ProvidusBank World Poetry Day Café holds March 21

Tuesday, March 21 is World Poetry Day. The Day “celebrates one of humanity’s most treasured forms of cultural and linguistic expression and identity,” according to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the day was hatched and adopted by UNESCO in 1999, on the occasion of its 30th General Conference held in Paris to “give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional and international poetry movements.”

Poets, both past and present, are honored, and oral traditions of reciting poetry are revived. Reading, writing, and teaching poetry are encouraged, and converged with other mediums of expression such as music, dance, painting, and more.

The organisation hoped to inspire the celebration of poetry all over the world, preserve endangered languages, and stimulate poetic expression through this day.

Poetry uses rhythms and imagery to elicit emotion and the imagination of the reader. Poetry can rhyme, using what are called meters of long and short syllables. Some poetry, written in what’s called ‘free verse,’ doesn’t employ rhyme or meters.

Poems are broken into stanzas, which are like paragraphs, and can be up to 12 lines long. It is believed that the first known poem appeared 4,000 years ago in Babylon. Today, countless types of poems are available to enjoy, including haikus, limericks, sonnets and ballads.

Poetry is a beautiful form of expression. No other type of literature creates such a plethora of feelings and emotions as the abstraction of poetry. The earliest poetry is believed to have surfaced with the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ some time during 2000 B.C., but it is likely that poetry existed even before the spread of literacy.

Different types of poetry have trended during different eras, and undergone transformations. From sonnets to rap lyrics, the core purpose of poetry remains the same — to explore the human condition and invoke emotion through words. Poetry resonates with the existential dilemmas of mankind, exhuming ideas from deep within.

As has become a tradition since 2019, the Providus Bank will be staging its third ProvidusBank Poetry Café on Tuesday, March 21 at the Grand Ballroom Eko Hotel & Suites Victoria Island, Lagos.

Titled, World Poetry Day with Wole Soyinka, the event is designed as an evening of engagement in poetry rendition and performances between the grand poet and Nobel laureate, Soyinka, who is the inspiration behind the project, and a coterie of established, mid-career and young poets, including students of varied persuasions and styles.

Why Restating Humanity With The Woman, an edition wholly dedicated to celebrating womanhood?

In recent times, there has been a gale of political and cultural assaults on the person of the woman around the globe. Though appearing as isolated cases in different countries, or parts of the world, it is beginning to look like the rise of an orchestrated misogyny against the female gender.

In Iran, the feudal regime imposed stringent rules on women dress, insisting they must compulsorily wear the hijab, and cover their heads with a scarf. The situation was triggered by the arrest of Amini, a 22-year-old ethnic Kurd, for an alleged breach of strict dress rules for women. Amini later died on September 16, 2022, in custody.

The funeral procession in Amini’s hometown of Saqez in Kurdistan province turned into one of the first protest actions, followed by more than four months of unrest. Hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel, have been killed during protests. Thousands of Iranians, including public figures, journalists and lawyers have been arrested.

In Afghanistan, the extremist regime of the Talibans has banned the admission into, and attendance of women in its universities. The action has also led to widespread violent protests, which expectedly have resulted in repressions and arrests of countless protesters and activists. The consequence of this assault on womanhood can only be imagined for the future of the female persona in the Afghan society.

Specifically for Nigerian society, females suffer multidimensional oppression in political, cultural and economic spheres.
Aside from the lopsided economic opportunities which aspects of national economic policies instigated at workplaces and in some public engagements, women in Nigeria continue to suffer serial repression in the national scheme.

This event will have on call eight poets from five countries – Nigeria, UAE, South Africa, Canada and Ghana.

Five of the poets are Nigerians, while three are other nationals. The Nigerians are Wana Udobang; Amrah Aliyu; Achalugo Ilozumba; Kemi Bakare and Jumoke Verissimo (based in Canada). The non-Nigerians are Nathalie Handal (French-American based in Abu Dhabi, UAE), Vuyokazi Ngemntu (Cape Town, South Africa), and Emma Ofosua (Accra, Ghana).

A statement from the producers, Culture Advocate Caucus, CAC, said, “the overall idea of the theme is to explore poetry works that pay close critical attention to the various modes of reduction and exclusion that the female gender faces in many parts of the world, notably Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and other countries in Asia and, some other parts of the world.”

The patron saint of the project, Soyinka, in his introduction to the edition, reiterates the strength of poetry to triumph over odds placed on its path by state authorities and people of extremist persuasions.

The poet-dramatist and essayist, stated: “Poetry has survived millennia of corruption, hate and destruction. It will outlive all enemies of the freedom of thought and imagination. Even in the darkness and despair of torture chambers and dens of the hangmen, the ember lives, straining to burst into purifying flames in the least expected places.”

Providus Bank, which has remained consistent to the idea of promoting the World Poetry Day project since 2019, says its engagement with the Nigerian literary community is “designed to be a cross-generational endeavour, one where established, mid-level and budding writers could share one big stage.

“We could not think of any other iconic and preeminently qualified persona than the legend, Prof Wole Soyinka, to be the grand patron and in some sense, the ‘patron saint’ for the project, and for the many young people who have graced the stage since the inception of the World Poetry Day series in 2019.

“It is important to underscore the fact that Prof Soyinka has been fully involved in the different themes and the artistic direction of the various events yearly. We are honoured, grateful and appreciative of his leadership and for being personally invested in this project.”

The bank restated the objectives of World Poetry Day as outlined by UNESCO, as “the occasion to honour poets, revive oral traditions of poetry recitals, promote the reading, writing and teaching of poetry, foster the convergence between poetry and other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and raise the visibility of poetry in the media.”

Nathalie Handal
: French-American poet and writer, she was born in the Caribbean to a Palestinian family from Bethlehem. She has authored books of poetry, plays, essays, and has edited two anthologies and has been involved as a writer, director, or producer in several theatrical or film productions. Her work has been translated into over 15 languages, and has appeared in anthologies, newspapers and magazines. Her poetry draws on her experiences of dislocation, home, travel, and exile.

Vuyokazi Ngemntu: Writer-performer resident in Cape Town, South Africa, Vuyokazi uses poetry, song, physical theatre, storytelling and ritual to navigate ancestral trauma, confront inequality and inspire healing. She was selected to fill the ‘International Poet’ slot at the Austin International Poetry Festival in April 2016.

Emma Ofosua: Freestyle performance poet from Ghana, who has been performing her work for over a decade to audiences cross-continent, her work explores themes of Ghanaian lifestyle, women empowerment, mental health, identity and faith. She is the director of the All African Women Poetry Festival, the chairperson of the Poetry Association of Ghana and a board member of the Speakers, singers and artists association (SASA).

Jumoke Verissimo: Poet, novelist, and children’s book writer, Jumoke is the author of two poetry collections, I am Memory (Dada Books, 2008), and The Birth of Illusion (Fullpoint, 2015), which was on the longlist for the NLNG Prize for Literature, and a novel, A Small Silence (Cassava Republic Press, 2019), shortlisted for the 2020 Ondaatje Prize and the Edinburgh Festival First Book Award. After completing her PhD at the University of Alberta, she joined Toronto Metropolitan University as an Assistant Professor in the department of English. Some of her poems have been translated into Norwegian, Italian, French, and Macedonian, among other languages. She was a Chinua Achebe Center Fellow, Kwani, Kenya, in partnership with Bard College, USA, in 2012.


Wana Udobang
: Writer, poet, performer, curator and storyteller, Wana has released three spoken word albums titled Dirty Laundry, In Memory of Forgetting and Transcendence. Her work as a performer has taken her across Africa, Europe and the US, along with working on commissions for Edinburgh International Festival, Bristol Festival and Deutsches Museum in Germany.

In 2021 she was awarded the International Writing programme residency at the University of IOWA and the inaugural Ama Ata Aidoo Fellowship at Northwestern University in 2022. She has a background in journalism working with the Guardian, Aljazeera, CNN, and Observer as well as producing and presenting documentaries for BBC Radio4 and BBC World Service. She runs The Comfort Food poetry workshop, which uses memories around food as a conduit to create new poems.

Achalugo Chioma Ezekobe: Lawyer, writer, and broadcaster, Achalugo explore storytelling via several mediums of expression — photography, film/TV, and stage. She is a culture enthusiast and infuses elements of this in her work, exploring old and evolving African beliefs and traditions. Her works have been shortlisted and awarded prizes, including Mr. Brother, 2nd runner up for the ANA prize for Drama, and Boys on Jumping Trousers, Second runner-up for Quramo Prize for Fiction.

Winepress Publishing released her debut novel – Mmirinzo: the Ones Who are Rain, in 2020. She is the first female winner of the Beeta Prize for Playwriting, after winning the third edition of the prize in 2020 for her play Daughters of the East, published in 2021 by Paperworth books.

Kemi Islamiyat Bakare: Winner of several performances and spoken word poetry contests, Kemi Bakare aka Kemistree, is known for her lyrical lines and powerful imageries, which she delivers in her unique energetic performances on every stage she appears on, including at several editions of the Lagos Book & Art Festival, LABAF; Lagos International Poetry Festival, LIPF, Lagos Black Heritage Festival and at the Wole Soyinka @80 poetry tour of several cities in Nigeria.

Her awards have included overall winner of Wordslam (2011; Goethe Institut), Eko Poetry Slam, 2014, and Abuja Literary Slam 2015. She was a finalist at WarOfWordsSeason 1; among others.
Amrah Aliyu: A women and child rights advocate passionate about leveraging media to create a safe haven for the most vulnerable members of her community, Amrah spent four years in community service as a volunteer at her school’s radio station Search FM. She started volunteering in June 3rd 2016 as a volunteer Broadcaster, Voice over artist and reporter.

Her major program, “Ba Kyaun Fuska Kadai Gareki Ba” (Not Just A Pretty Face)” was conceived to educate the rural woman about her rights to life, rights to vote and be voted for, to education, to opportunities, to her body and much more. Her works have been featured in cpj.org, Neptune prime network, Daily Boom, Dphnews, BBC media action and other platforms.