The Evolution of the Literary Text, “Complete Poetry for Students and Writers” by Senator Ihenyen, Nigerian Poet and Author

The young Nigerian poet and writer,
Senator Ihenyen
was the principal Founder of the now defunct Apollo Writers Online as far back as 2004. He with his colleague, Opeyemi Ogundele, ran a listserve that served as a creative forum where both young and upcoming Nigerian poets and other international writers sharpened their writing skills through constructive criticisms and feedback.

Together, they explored publishing opportunities on the Internet. Apollo also collaborated with the Lagos branch of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA Lagos) under Folu Agoi’s chairmanship to provide reading materials for members who were to read or perform their unpublished works in ANA meetings. Soft copy submissions made to Apollo Writers Online were processed and made available to everyone in hard copies.

In 2004, Apollo with the aim of bridging the wide gap between Literature as a creative writing exercise among writers and Literature as an academic study among students came up with a Literary and Educational Project. This project involved writing a JAMB syllabus poetry-based literary text for students at the University Matriculations Examinatins (UME) level. With Senator Ihenyen as author, and Opeyemi Ogundele as contributor and Assistant Project Coordinator, the book was completed in August 2005. The duo were interviewed by Juliet Bumah, Art Editor, Daily Times of Nigeria, and Henry Akubuiro of The Sun in the same year

Daily Times Sept 2005


after an unsuccessful solicitation for sponsorship to fund the publishing, and failing to get a publishing contract that would see the book in the market within the two-year period the mainly syllabus-based book would last, the project remained in the pipeline.

Relentless and determined to produce a well researched textbook for the study of poetry, Senator Ihenyen embarked on writing an entirely new book with a wider scope. This time, the young and energetic poet and author of the collection of poems Colourless Rainbow , ensured that the book was not based on any short-lived or time-bound syllabus which would only run for a few number of years. In the words of the author who is also now a Lawyer, “With a continually deepening interest in creative writing and literary research, I remained strongly committed and dedicated to realising the objective of producing a well-researched study text. This time around, I’ve ensured that the manuscript will not end up like “Spirit of Poetry: the Apollo Series.” That manuscript became outdated after the UME English Literature syllabus changed after two years. “Complete Poetry for Students and Writers” could be described as a timeless textbook based on a wider and richer curriculum and scope, with both students of poetry at all levels and creative writers in mind.”

Presently, what is left to be done to get the manuscript finally completed is the glossary of terms and index.

Of course, the hunt for a good academic publisher starts now. According to the poet who got a Honourary Mention in the ANA NDDC/Gabriel Okara Prize for his debut Colourless Rainbow, “Painfully, the last time Academic Press, Lagos indicated interest in publishing the old “Spirit of Poetry” in September 2005, the two-year-UME-syllabus-based text had till 2007 to remain relevant to the target market. Meanwhile, it couldn’t wait till the time the publishing house had required to include it in their publishing budget. This time, with the wider scope of the work, that limitation of time has been greatly taken care of.”

The manuscript of the new book, “Complete Poetry for Students and Writers” is written by Senator Ihenyen. One of the new voices in Nigerian poetry, Senator Ihenyen’s experience as a practicing poet and volunteer tutor in English Literature courses has provided the author with the resourcefulness and ability to embark on writing this textbook. At the University of Benin, Benin City, the former two-time President of Golden Minds Nigeria, a youth empowerment initiative, was widely known for teaching courses such as Introduction to Poetry, Introduction to Drama and Oral Literature as a volunteer tutor for five years. His teaching materials are still being used today by students of Law and English Language at the University.


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.