The Younger Generation Of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry – Which Way? by Senator Ihenyen, 2005

An illuminating insight…

“…note with dismay that a high proportion of the entries contain a worrisome abuse of poetic license with a plethora of infelicities. These infelicities include false imagery, absurd and vulgar coinages, outlandish phraseology and awkward versification masquerading as poetry.”Prof. Ayo Banjo, Spokesman, Judges of the Nigeria Prize for Literature, 2005.

Indeed, contemporary Nigerian poetry is generally worrisome – at least to those who appreciate good poetry. We may have been writing lots of poetry, with new volumes getting into the literary market by the day, from new and younger authors alike, and yet be doing more harm than good to the development of contemporary Nigerian poetry. Most times, the younger contemporary poet seems to loose her artistic vision, tossed here and there in the wind of nothingness! Our literary critics keep pointing accusing fingers on the young writers, who are “too much in a hurry to get published”, while the more established poets are not in a hurry to live the headlines and the spotlight for the fledging. And why should they? Is the poetic sky not big enough for everyone?

Perhaps, the young and fledging poet has not taken a strong position in contemporary Nigerian poetry. Or how else could one explain Gabriel Okara’s joint-winning of the Nigeria Prize (for poetry) in the year 2005! Forget about “new Nigeria writing” by a poet of the 60s, it is not what the Ofeimuns, Osundares and Aiyejinas of this part of the world would have prayed for! Even today’s Okekwes, Uzoatos, Ezeanahs, Kankaras, Shehus, Nnamdis and not forgetting Ezenwa Ohaeto (a joint winner), of blessed memory, would have fasted for this. Neither would I!

So, where lies the strong position for the younger and fledging Nigerian poet? Firstly, we must start writing poetry, not verse. Many a volume out there is characterized by verse ‘struggling’ to be poetry. This may not be unconnected with the poor understanding and appreciation of the techniques of poetry writing, especially by the younger poets. Poetic license, which should be a tool for the creative use of words and space, has become a disastrous thing in the hands of our poets! The use of imagery, sound and space in poetry is either clichéd, cacophonous and simply unimaginative, respectively that is. Inversions are often overused to the degree of nausea, one begins to feel one was reading a 10th century poet! Perhaps, we may need to learn from the successful poets of the modernist, post-modernist and contemporary poets. NLNG’s Eleven Best Nigerian Poets for 2005 is also highly recommended, especially for the younger poets. They include, Gabriel Okara’s The Deamer, His Vision, Ezenwa Ohaeto’s The Chants of a Minstrel, Promise Okekwe’s Naked Among the Hills, Maxim Uzoato’s God of Poetry, Chiedu Ezeanah’s Twilight Trilogy, Emman Usman Shehu’s Open Sesame. Others are Amu Nnamdi’s Pilgrims Passage, Victoria Kankara’s Hymns and Hymens, Ismael Omamegbe’s The Colours of Season and Cyclone by Ubu Udeozo. We can become better poets by reading good poetry.

Secondly, before setting out to put a volume together, we should know the poetry tradition in which we have chosen to write. Reading through the various volumes by the same author in contemporary Nigerian poetry, mostly among the younger generation, is quite revealing! She uses different traditions for as many volumes she publishes, sometimes even within the same book! Though, it is quite tempting to want to name the various authors and titles that fall under this adventurous tradition, it will be of better benefit to us if we could show, very quickly, how this characteristic has become a purple-patch in the failings of our current poetry. Poetic traditions may refer to the poet’s style of writing as related to the various movements in poetry. For instance, William Wordsworth’s Romantic age characterized by lyricism in the creative and imaginative use of the free verse, against the traditional patterns of the Edwardian and Elizabethan periods. Or more relatively, late Christopher Okigbo’s gradual metamorphosis form the influences of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot’s tradition of poetry writing to the niche of his own voice as evidenced in his ‘Path of Thunder’. Other established poets, such as Wole Soyinka and Gabriel Okara, with their “self-conscious search for techniques from native traditions as a means of extending and authenticating their sensibility,” (Senanu & Vincent, Selection of African Poetry), have also carved their niche in their generation’s poetic tradition.

Reading through contemporary collections these days usually take one far back to the poetic traditions of the pioneer Dennis Osadebay, bring you down to the transitional Gabriel Okara, jack you up to the modernist Soyinka, and like a thunderbolt without lightning, you are thrown back to the contemporary Osundare, and the younger Lasisis. Perhaps, it may be high time we had another phase for the present peculiar poetic tradition- Anything Can Happen Phase, or more modestly, the Hybrid Phase. Could this be the reason why our literary critics don’t fond the current Nigerian poetry very comfortable or inviting, including the readers? What tradition of poetry are you carving your niche from? I think I just might know where I belong. Where do you belong?

Moreover, particularly for the younger generation that has been generally described as the “children of globalisation”, we should begin to explore the opportunities that abound on the World Wide Web. We cannot and must not be seen to be layback, when we have the literary world in our fingers! We should create websites or web pages for writing, and submit poems for possible publications in magazines, journals, reviews and anthologies. We can also have our poetry reviewed on various poetry reviews on-line, join poetry writing groups and participate in poetry contests. But BEWARE! As much as the Internet holds possibilities, we must be careful not to fall victims of the numerous poetry scams on-line! Many a writer, new and old, have fallen and are still falling into these scams. Unknowingly, they flaunt awards by such big scams as the International Library of Poetry, also known as the International Society of Poets (ISP) or simply, U.S.A; and Noble Publishers, U.K. Some Nigerian authors have even gone ahead to ‘strengthen’ their biographies with such things as ‘Nominee, Poet of the Year, by the ISP, U.S.A’; or ‘Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award, ISP’. Many more will even tell you they have got their poetry recorded to songs in ‘The Sounds of Poetry’ by the same organisation. Sadly still, they do not know these are crests of opportunist amateur poets who are yet to be exposed in the literary world. Although, many of the author’s names are still quite fresh in memory, again, this will do no one any good.

What is important is that we keep our eyes open whenever we want to submit any of our works for publishing opportunities. And those of us who, relatively, have better experience in such things as this, should not fail to alert the other, suggesting other possible ways of going about it. Okike, Glendora Review, Flamingo, Atlanta Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry London, Poetic Voices, Poetry Magazine, London Magazine,Blue Moon, Sable, Wasafiri, Coffee Press House, Gargoyle and Abraxas (contact for more contacts) are few of the many magazines we can get our poetry on. Poetry competitions such as Poetry Business Competition, Peterloo Poets Open Poetry Competition, Arvon Foundation International Poetry Competition, Cardiff International Poetry Competition, National Poetry Competition and Voices Network International Poetry Competition are just few of the many competitions for poets on the web. One can easily find their websites and submission guidelines through search engines on the net. Start clicking those keyboards now!

However, the younger generation of poets should also participate in local poetry prizes. They include the annual ANA/NDDC Gabriel Okara Prize fro Poetry, Cadbury Poetry Prize, Muson Poetry Prize and the rotating NLNG/Nigeria Prize for Literature. It is always advisable to have some degree of local recognition, as this will put us in a better position for greater international recognitions. This is also true with publishing, at least, one’s first volume of poems. We must always try as much as we can to have manuscripts or books to be submitted for these competitions well packaged. We have been whipped twice by the NLNG for our badly edited and packaged books! We can argue till the second coming of Christ the content is what matters, we must not also fail to realise that a terribly packaged book can kill the interest of the reader. I had bought Austyn Njoku’s Scent of Dawn at the just-concluded Nigeria International Book Fair, just for its cover design and texture, leading me to the recurring dawns in his poetry! Eracili’s No Sense of Limit also gave no ‘sense of limit’ to my urge to grab it on the ANA book stand, not because I had read reviews on it, but its quality design was simply inviting- although, my pocket had its ‘sense of limit’! Outside the fair, Lasisi’s ‘Flight of My Night‘ is also simply surreal! Yours? Sorry, I think that will do. I am not going to be that ‘grab-your-copy-now-marketer you find in Nollywood!

It is sincerely hoped that somehow, someway, someday, the issues highlighted here and the very humble suggestions to the younger generation of Nigerian poets on the shadowy state of our current poetry, will be seen as a useful light.



7 thoughts on “The Younger Generation Of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry – Which Way? by Senator Ihenyen, 2005

  1. Good day Senator, I am also a writer needing a push and I feel like you are more experienced so take a look at this my work….would really love some feedback.

    Roadside Adventures

    As memories begin to drift and fade
    And emotions on sinking ships start
    to sail
    As best friends become distant
    And the worst of enemies become
    I am flipping through my dirty diary
    Discovering the evolution of my
    bloodline through many stages
    I fight very hard, day and night
    Writing my name in stone to be
    remembered when am out of sight
    With passion and all of my might
    To overcome the tortuous everlasting
    good fight
    Look over everything you own and
    thou may see things bright
    The Lord’s son burning to escape
    darkness to light
    I am praying to die a better death
    Reminiscences of pain and joy all over
    the earth
    So here I am driving for the best life
    On a highway to meet dreams and
    So I pray not to wreck my brand new
    Let the story continue to be told
    With every warm breath of how we
    became more cold
    I am in town for only my birthday
    Eyes wide open to the heavens,
    waiting, calling for a mayday
    And dry rivers weep for our sake
    But let me tell you, am from a very far
    away place
    Finding things we never really lost
    Am coming home, wait for me on the
    Because in this bodies, we’ll live
    And in this bodies we’ll definitely all
    So everyday, we lay drifting away
    After all the feelings of love and
    As I look at the floor it needs
    And if you look into my eyes, you’ll see
    me weeping
    As the world continues to turn, turn
    by turn
    This too will pass as everything moves
    Now our hearts stumble on things we
    don’t know
    Where you invest your love
    Throat deep and uncontrollable like a
    Is where you spend your life
    Helplessly married to struggle and
    fornication with time.

    © Funkekeme

    • Hi Ademola, I’m also a young writer! I also need a push! Haha. But I will try to answer your question. I greatly believe in new voices, especially in Nigerian poetry. I’m genuinely concerned about the quality off the poetry of the younger generation of Nigerian poets to which I also belong. I believe this passion informed my personal decision to provide useful feedback to young poets towards improving their works. I have had the privilege of working closely with a few of these fascinating poets, and still do. Currently, I’m one of the Editors of a proposed anthology that will feature 50 Young Nigerian poets. It will be released this year. I have been very much involved in getting the right publishing option for the project. I also run Poetry Mill, a virtual professional editing and feedback services which was free for a couple of months. To control the crowd and ensure that quality was never compromised, it is now known as Green Griots, a paid service. We provided professional editing for the 50 Poets Anthology.

  2. this is a masterpiece and i love it, love the encouragement and also of the ideas for young poets in Nigeria but i want say this and i hope is going to be look into, Nigerians or rather the publishing houses in Nigeria dont really encourage young writers but the established ones. The young writer should least be encourged for once and not rebuke and critic all the time.

    • Thanks for your comment, John. Great to know you find the piece encouraging. On the issue you raised, the problem is not peculiar to Nigeria. Publishers want to be sure that they don’t run down their publishing houses with the books they publish. More established authors relatively have better prospects in terms of sales because they have existing markets. New voices don’t usually have such following. I have always suggested an innovative solution to this problem. With the technology at our reach now, this is no more a serious barrier, as far as authors, editors and professional book services providers are ready to work together. I hope you will keep visiting my blog!

  3. Hello Obinna Eruchie, Thanks for visiting my weblog! Although I’m the vers libre kind of poet, but I greatly enjoyed your poem, especially the beauty of sound and imageries! You’re good! Could you send me a private email ( let me know if you’re interested in possibly publishing some of your poems in a small literary ezine I intend to run from my blog very soon.

  4. I have one, perhaps you may find it interesting, it is presented below:

    A Luminous Butterfly

    Wonder winged luminous in my eyes.
    Elegance sheer I perceive and prize
    On a flower who plays the sun of skies.
    What psyche fair in colours does rise
    In flight of swerve and curve amid ease?
    It my eyes trail wherever to please
    Me to relish harmony it frees
    Through me as my heart awes in its choice.
    My heart sings of its hush to rejoice
    On its coaxing wings of love as its voice
    Drenched in rhythm to flutter with grace,
    Sends its charm my ardour does embrace.
    Seeming emitted from its wings’ base,
    Are bubbles leaping for bliss my eyes face.

    Bliss viewed from its pride glowing in flight.
    What muse fuelled it to fill the air with light?
    Air groomed as spanking breeze to incite
    Scenery refreshed with humour bright
    Like the ocean of tune in my thought,
    Alp’s summit in my spirit it wrought,
    Joy in its ripened bloom I have sought.
    Gladness indispensable is found,
    As the place whole revolving around
    Me glistens with colours bright abound.
    How the colours blaze as bright as gold,
    My survey of such is turning bold.
    Of my being it inclines to mold,
    Description is arduous to be told.

    Influences me its aplomb calm,
    To rise from seat to be nigh its charm.
    Magnetised I extend my right arm
    To induce it to float in my palm.
    Tenderness on my palm it does stream,
    Of experience this touch is a dream.
    Filled is my soul with the summer’s gleam,
    Such delectation my heart will own.
    Splendid grandeur in its beam is shown.
    Spring of roses in my heart is grown.
    Lavishing me with boon stark like the sun
    In its giving of joy firm to run.
    What enthusiasm star-like in one,
    Who has fetched at its very best, fun.

Thanks for visiting my blog! You can be sure I'll get back to you in no time. You're always welcome around here! Senator Ihenyen Author

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