Wastes (in memory of Gani Fawehinmi)

Wallowing in the wastelands we make of dreams
Waiting and wailing in this wilderness of waste
Of white elephants and white papers
Waterbirds of tears, wellspring of weeping
Wondering what went wrong with us

When a wimp passes wind
Without a windbrake
We grow fat in their nuclear farts
We grow fat in the windowless cell of choiceless waiting
While they wend on with white lies
Whitewater rushing from their white-washes
Season after season,
Waiting, with wishy-washy wishes of the messiah.

I am not the wet rot
Eating up the wood of your damp dreams
I am not the widower with whining words
Against your wealth of wastages,
I am not the VIP aides eating you up
Like HIV/AIDS
Those wine makers and wine waiters
In this winery of wastes.

Against the junk in your justice, Jurisdiction of jargons, Canker of corrruption
Against the creeping crocodiles in the shallow waters
of our dead democracies
Flies feasting on the open sores of our sorry state,

I am your conscience
Eating you up like the cancer
That ravaged me

10 Poetry Writing Tips For Young and New Poets

Poetry Writing Tips

Poetry writing is a craft – an art or skill acquired with much time and effort. To help you get started, I will discuss very briefly some writing tips that can help you get that poem out of your mind unto the pages of your blank paper. As a practicing poet who enjoys writing poetry, and also having a deep interest in poetry as an academic study, my relative experience garnered over the years as a young writer may help you with any avoidable difficulties you might experience in creating poems

For the young and new poet who wants to develop and improve his craft, you will find these tips very handy. Of course, it is important to note that not all these tips will apply to any single individual. They are only general guidelines or ideas, not a list of must-do rules, Experience has shown me that rules can terribly hinder creativity and kill originality. Just use the ones that work for you, either as a student working on a poetry writing assignment, or a poet who hopes to become published in a book!

Tip 1: A Poem with Only 5 Great Lines should be 5 Lines Long

Every single word you use in your poem should be for a good reason. It must not just be there to satisfy the poetic urge in you, but to contribute indispensably to the overall meaning of the work. To write successful poems, you must be as economical and concise as possible, and a good way of avoiding the unhelpful waste of words in your poem is to….

Tip 2: try using everyday language

When you write, don’t try to sound like a poet by using every big word you can find in the dictionary! In poetry, we use everyday language, but in an extraordinary manner through seeing things in new ways. Remember, simplicity helps you communicate more effectively with your readers, but verbosity and obscurantism simply throw your readers into confusion. I have found, over the years, learnt that a great way you can avoid this amateurish sound-like-a-poet syndrome is that…

Tip 3: whenever you want to write poetry, never allow yourself to be too conscious about it

When you sit down to write, write at a time and place conducive for your creative mind. Write whatever comes to your mind since this is your first draft written at the “moment of creation”. This is why it is important that you free your mind as much as you can rather than trying to be too rational at this point. Of course, because your first draft is never going to be your final work, except you don’t want to be a writer, your imagination is fired up to a very high level. But to come up with the masterpiece you so much desire, this is where you get to the crucial stage of…

Tip 4: re-writing, re-writing and re-writing

You have just got the worst poem you have ever written in your life out on paper! Good, just what you need to write a masterpiece! Do not restrain yourself, else you will hinder your creativity and cut the wings of your imagination. A poem is rarely completed or perfected the first time. Even after publishing, some writers still feel one or two poems could have been better. In your first draft, you most probably have clichés here and there, with lots of pretentious diction. This is a good material that needs re-writing. Re-writing your poem over and over again is what the craft of poetry writing is really made of. So take another look at your poem and start editing. It is advised that once you have completed the initial draft of your poem, leave the piece for a few days or even over a week, after which you then come back to it with a fresh and unattached look. It is a great way of editing in the re-write stage!
If it must take 50 terrible poems before you can put together one great poem, the earlier you get started, the better for you, your work, and your readers. Often times, I have had to write a single poem having over 30 preceding generations spanning weeks or months! But to avoid a time wasting and energy sapping situation where you end up feeding a stillborn child (your poem) in the name of re-writing, you must always be prepared to…

Tip 5: free the work like a bird and let it go!

If it is worth anything, it will certainly fly back to you; but if it doesn’t return, just say ‘good riddance to bad rubbish!’ and start writing again. I cannot keep a count of a number of my first drafts that have completely found their way into the rubbish bin because I could not squeeze any creative juice out of it in the re-writing stage. So don’t be afraid to write a terrible poem – I am sure your greatest mentors, probably Leopold Senghor, Gabriel Okara, Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark, Kofi Anyidoho, Niyi Osundare, mention them – have all written bad poems before painstakingly coming up with their great poetry! Letting bad poems go and starting an entirely new poem should not be too painful a thing to bear if you…

Tip 6: enjoy the writing experience!

Often, I have come across some writers who feel writing is a job that must be done within a specific time! Try seeing writing as a gift, hobby or passion, not as an exhaustive project with deadlines. Don’t get me wrong. As a writer, I take my writing very seriously and dedicate lots of time and energy to make it work, but not without setting a limit for myself so that I don’t hinder the smooth flow of creativity in me. If you get bored with your work while writing, it is most certain that your readers will be too bored with the piece you have created in boredom!
To help you enjoy the writing experience, I will give you an idea of what may be hindering the enjoyment and pleasure that poetry writing should provide: I have noticed that most poets who try to express themselves in a “language of the common man” so as to make their poetry accessible to a wider audience do not largely enjoy writing, compared to the writer who write first and foremost for his/her own creative expression. This is because while the former group would have to focus much more attention on the message in his work, the latter mainly focuses on the language. And in-between these two groups are those poets who are able to use imaginative languages that also communicate the intended meaning or message to the reader. Christopher Okigbo did not become one of the finest poets in Africa – nor did Wole Soyinka win the Nobel Laureate in 1986 – for writing in the “language of the common man”. Many writers who do rarely get the attention of critics whose job it is to essentially place writers’ language within established literary traditions and perhaps explore the themes – still in the context of the language used – rather than helping to pass messages to the people. Those who do so rarely get any attention, and if you ever get any attention, it is very likely to be the kind you won’t enjoy.
If you feel that your message is more important than the language, try using non-fictional means to get it across – articles for instance. After all, it is generally accepted that poetry does not sell! So if you must enjoy writing, use comparisons, inferences, and suggestions, such as similes, metaphors, personifications, symbolisms, allusions, alliterations, onomatopoeia, assonance (I am enjoying this already!) etc. It is when you enjoy the writing experience that you can simply…

Tip 7: write as often as you can

That is what I keep doing as a writer – always scribbling down something on sheets of paper, on my palms or in my phone’s notebook. This is why you should have a notebook at all times to enable you put your ideas down immediately they come to you often when you are not even thinking about it! Ideas go just as fast as they often come, like the beaming wings of fireflies in the dark. But rather than waiting for the next big idea in your closet and end up complaining about “writer’s block”,…

Tip 8: get yourself out in the street!

If you are stuck for ideas, carry a notebook anywhere you go and writer down your observations. Just keep your eyes and ears open so that you are always alert to any sense stimulators around you. Also, work out the time of the day when you are at your most creative moment. For many writers, it is the first thing in a fresh morning, or late at night when everything has gone to sleep with their daily demands. For me, I find that I am neither here nor there – night and day have become merged as far as writing is concerned. But count me out when it is too hot in the day, and too late in the night, except I am just typing my work, which also provide me the opportunity to take a mechanical look at what that Senator has written! But after getting ideas from the street, don’t commit creative suicide by sounding like one who just took a time-travel to the 16th century. So what you must do is…

Tip 9: forget about Shakespeare, carve your own voice!

When you sit down to write a poem, don’t bother your head about trying to sound like Shakespeare or any of the 16th century English poets for rhymes, rhythm and all that! This often chokes your creativity, especially if you are a beginner. What is much more important is to say what you want to say, and the free verse form is a nice way to start. Personally, I am not the poetry-must-rhyme-to-be-good-poetry type. Of the over 200 poems I have written over the years, I don’t think I have written up to five poems that rhyme!
Curiously though, when I started writing in my teenage years, I find that I enjoyed working with rhymes and sometimes even rhythm – and this is also true with many beginners – perhaps sound in poetry has a greater influence on us at a younger age, while content is more of the focus as we grow older. Partly, I think this was what Reeves was talking about when she said that poetry was popular with children because at that stage it was all sweet-sounding nursery rhymes, but as they grow older they begin to ask questions which border on the logic of content, which has now make poetry largely unpopular. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean that only amateurs write poetry that rhymes, but trying to lay emphasis on how influential the sound of poetry can musically appeal to many. So if you must rhyme, do it nicely and effortlessly, even if lots of time and energy went into it. And whether you rhyme or not, if you ever start yawning tiredly without making any headway, just…

Tip 10: forget about it!

Sometimes, you try so hard to get to work but nothing comes out of it! For forget about writing for a while, and get on to something else. You can always get back to writing again when you are not so hardened up. For me, when a particular work begins to make me feel tired, I have since begun to accept it calmly because to me it is an automatic beep that tells me it is time to revisit another stubborn work that I had left earlier (maybe days ago) to finally reveal itself to me, or at least, get closer to the revelation. But for the student, please do not get your mind off the poem – to help you, you can have a deadline at the termination of which you must have come up with the poem you have been asked to write, most probably as an assignment from the classroom.


This article is an excerpt from a recently completed book, Complete Poetry: for Students and Writers written by the poet and author, Senator Ihenyen.

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

However,

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.

Interview with Senator Ihenyen, Nigerian Poet and Writer by Sumaila Umaisha, Literary Editor, New Nigerian Newspapers

senator ihenyen

Tell us about yourself.

I am Senator Iyere Ihenyen, born in Lagos in the 80s. By origin, I hail from Esan-West LGA, Ekpoma, Edo State. I attended Lagos City College, Yaba, where I learnt the values of how to “to live, to learn and to create”. I am a graduate of Law from the University of Benin, Benin City, Edo State, and went on to the Nigerian Law School, Kano. By God’s grace, in a matter of months, you could correctly call me Barr. Senator Ihenyen after my call to Bar before the end of the year. A young Nigerian writer, I am the author of “Colourless Rainbow”, a collection of poems published in 2011 by Coast2Coast. The book got an honourable mention in the ANA NDDC/Gabriel Okara Prize for Poetry in the same year. I like to think of myself as an aspiring Lawyer and writer.

Are you really a Senator, or how did you come about the name? (Laughs)

I knew you were going to come to that sooner or later! I understand that my first name suggests a Federal lawmaker with a constituency. Well, the Constitution requires, among other things, that one must have attained the age of thirty-five years to qualify for election as a member of the Senate. I am not 35 years old yet! So, I’m not really a Senator of the Republic. I am the Senator without a constituency except my convictions. I am called Senator simply because I was born on the day of a Senatorial election in the country (please don’t ask me when). Senator is my real name.

When and how did you start writing?

As common with creativity, it’s something that has always been there waiting to be discovered, sharpened and projected. At a very tender age, it had always been drawing and painting for me at a very young age, say 10, but I started writing in my teenage years. Some of the poems in my new collection are a decade old, while some others are very fresh. The process of drafting and redrafting, editing and re- editing is usually continual until the manuscript gets to the prints. This is what the writing process has been for me. To a large extent, my early exposure to the literary works of Leopold Senghor, Wole Soyinka, Gabriel Okara, J. P. Clark, Niyi Osundare and many others stimulated my interest in writing. The more I read their works, the more I scribbled pieces of my own poetry. The Internet has also been a great resource to me in terms of a medium of expression. I started professional writing in 2006, but I have been learning the ropes and growing in the literary community close to a decade now. And I have found that the more you write, the more you can write; and the more you read, the more you are read. It’s a literary rule every writer needs to obey. As Foot, my late editor would say: “Make sure you keep writing!”

What inspired you into writing?

That question is not as simple as it appears. I wish I could simply say that I was inspired into writing by a mentor. Perhaps, that I shared the same room with Wole Soyinka or Niyi Osundare in Ibadan (laughs). It is different for me. I have discovered over the years that I have a highly creative mind. Sometimes, the nature and number of ideas that run through my mind on a daily basis is something a curious Psychiatrist may find interesting. Ideas are what my mind is made of, and any mode that provides me a vibrant medium of expression of these inner ideas equally fascinates me. I am fascinated with the expression of original and fresh thoughts, beauty and emotions. Poetry happens to be one of those creative modes of expression. Also, my childhood innocence of wanting to change the world is one great inspiration that I am still inclined to as a young Nigerian writer today. With creative writing, I don’t expect my works to re-enchant the world but that with what I portray in my works, that man could re-enchant himself. I am inspired by the reality of the ugliness of humanity and the near idealism of the beauty of humanity, and all I do is attempt to create a point of contact between these two worlds through writing. I also find the use of words in imaginative ways very delightful. As a poet, I find a lot of inspiration in what I see, hear, touch, smell and feel. This may explain why imagery essentially drives my work.

Your poetry, Colourless Rainbow, could be described as a very imaginative work of art. What inspired you into writing the collection?

Without mincing words, Colourless Rainbow was inspired by my disenchantment with the ugly state of the country, which has continued till date. The collection is an imaginative expression of my thoughts and emotions flowing from experiences fresh from the pages of a troubled nation, against the dreams of childhood. In seven sections, I attempted to symbolise the statelessness of the nation from the military era down to our current democratic dispensation with the image of a colourless rainbow using the paintbrush of childhood. But as Dagga Tolar, the Activist and past Chairman of the Lagos Branch of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), had told me during one of the ANA Lagos meetings at the National Theatre, Colourless Rainbow is not children literature as “childhood” would suggest from the cover-page! Colourless Rainbow is an outburst of anger and frustration with generations of failed leadership. Many of my followers like to describe it as protest poetry.

Why the title, Colourless Rainbow?

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The predominant subject-matter of the poems in the collection, Colourless Rainbow is Nigeria as a failing state. And you will agree with me that since 1960, Nigeria has been a fascinating paradox. We have so much potential for greatness, but that is where it ends. Beautiful country, but ugly countrymen. Rich human and natural resources, but a chronically poor leadership. Good people, but bad system. Nigeria is simply a juxtaposition of everything positive and negative.

So, why the title Colourless Rainbow?

In my tender age, I had this fascination with the appearance of rainbow in the sky. I would run to the backyard just to gaze at it until it fades out. It symbolised everything beautiful to me. Every hope and every dream seemed wrapped up in it. After a dose of one failed leadership after the other, and the resultant deadly effects, I soon realised that the socio-economic and political realities staring at me were not quite the colours of the rainbows of childhood. In reality, these were disenchanting experiences without the colours of hope and dreams. It was the opposite. It was colourless. This was how I ended up with the title, Colourless Rainbow. Colourless Rainbow represents lost innocence, battered dreams and disenchantment, but with the message of a better tomorrow. I must leave the critics to dissect the work, if there are still critics of new Nigerian poetry today.

Some of the poems sound really angry. You think that is an effective way of changing the political mess the country is in?

That is a very interesting question, sir! The mood and tone of a speaker or voice in a poem largely determines the atmosphere of a work of poetry. Being the author who is god to these speakers and voices in my work, I expressed my anger with the state of the nation-state through them. Yes, I am an angry Nigerian youth. Very angry! I am extremely angry over the wasted generations after wasted generations. My generation has been the worst hit, and sometimes you feel you just can’t take the heat any longer. Colourless Rainbow bottles-up all that anger for wasted lives, wasted years and wasted opportunities. Like you rightly put it, it is indeed a political mess. Now, to the question whether I think venting my anger through my poems is an effective way of changing the political mess the country is in, the answer is in the negative. I am not that naïve to think that the anger of a seemingly frustrated poet can change anything in this country. With the poor reading culture in the society, who cares about poems such as mine. Not even the works of most established poets and writers have significantly changed anything today, if at all. Even journalists struggle with this challenge. Christopher Okigbo and Saro-Wiwa wrote angry works during their time, but nothing seems to have changed. Ojukwu died at a time when Boko Haram was and still is threatening the unity of this country, and Henry Okah would tell you that the Niger Delta under the Jonathan administration is a time bomb waiting to explode if nothing concrete is done sooner or later. The tone in my poems is angry because I am angry, and the Nigerian people are angry. There is no time to beautify ugliness. We cannot at this time afford to miss the message. The message must be communicated in a clear and unembellished manner. Anger when expressed has a way of getting attention. Some of my readers tell me that there so much blood in my work. I simply tell them it is not my story. It is the blood from wasted lives in our nation that has soaked the pages of Colourless Rainbow, not a product of the figment of the imagination of a blood-thirsty poet. Dennis Brutus may have had all the time in the world to write sonnets and subtle satires against racism in South Africa. Leopold Senghor may have had all the time in the world to worship Africa with his Negritude poetry. But at a time like this when Nigeria is nearing the point of a completely failed state, Senator Ihenyen does not have that luxury. Colourless Rainbow is an urgent response in a state of emergency. In my last public presentation at the Abuja Writers Forum in Abuja, the audience greatly appreciated this point. Can protest writing really change the Nigerian society, considering the fact that writers like Soyinka and Iyayi seem to have tried it in vain? Protest literature has existed throughout literary history. Some of the greatest writers in history have employed their talents toward sensitising and awakening people to injustices locally and globally. There are writers who have won the Nobel Laureate based on their contributions to literature and national development. Others have also won same including national awards because they chose to stand against bad governance. From that angle, protest writing could be very rewarding. However, whether such protest literature actually influence decision makers is absolutely a different ball game. It was Chinua Achebe himself who once said that he is a ‘protest writer’ and any good story should have a message. Has his most celebrated work, ‘Things Fall Apart’ changed the Nigerian society beyond being a great novel? Again, considered by many to be the greatest living Somali poet, has the protest works by Hadrawi (Mohamed Warsame) changed the Somali society? From my experience therefore, the answer to the question whether protest writing really changes societies is neither yes nor no. It is somewhere in-between. Personally, I really don’t mind joining the Soyinkas and the Iyayis in the roll call of Nigerian writers who seemingly engage in protest writing ‘in vain.’

In the poem, ‘After the Lightning’, you wrote: ‘after life/comes the drums of death…/tears on earth.’ What is your concept or philosophy of life and death?

When I wrote that poem a long time ago, I had a short dirge in mind. I attempted to capture that idea with the imagery of lightning, thunder and rain to portray the central theme of the transience of life and inevitability of death. Life is really the meaning we give to it and nothing more.

Recently, your book got an Honourable Mention in the ANA NDDC/Gabriel Okara Prize for Poetry 2011. How do you feel about this?

The honorable mention has provided me the privilege of being recognised at the national level for my first book. Though I must say that every writer goes into a competition to get the prize but everyone cannot be a winner. And as it is with literary prizes anywhere in the world, it is not a right. The Judges always have the final say, and I doubt if a High Court judge of a state would be willing to grant an order mandating the Judges to award an aggrieved author the prize! Literature is not Law. It is quite encouraging therefore to have had such honour given to me, and I believe it can only get better in the future.

How would you describe your experience as a young writer?

I believe I will not be doing justice to that question if I fail to approach it from the angle of publishing as one of the greatest challenges to a young and new writer. Anywhere in the world, publishing one’s book, particularly a collection of poetry, is indeed a great hurdle! But in this peculiar part of the world, it is more than a hurdle! Talent is not enough. You must be professional in handling your own work. You must keep writing, but never stop pushing your work. Source information about the literary market. Research on your niche. Get a good editor and pay for the service. Publish in literary magazines and e-zines. Participate in creative workshops and literary gatherings. Again, keep writing while courting patience. I have found that in this industry, one needs hardwork, patience and goodluck. Self-publishing is not the best for a new writer. I was privileged to come in contact with my late editor, Okey “Foot” Okpa, who genuinely took interest in my work, and offered to publish “Colourless Rainbow” in 2008 before his sad death in the last month of the same year. I have the management of Coast2Coast, especially Odili Ujubuonu to thank for fulfilling Foot’s promise, as I have no doubt in my mind that he would be proud where he is.

Having released your debut work, Colourless Rainbow, should we be expecting your second book any soon?

For over five years now, I have been doing extensive research on HIV/AIDS especially in the way it affects how we live today. The product of this is what would be my second collection of poems. But I must warn that with my knack for drafting and redrafting, it is always nearing completion stage (laughs)! Recently, I worked with a student of Screen & Stages, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, to produce a special poem for use in an HIV/AIDS documentary film. And as an avid blogger, the Internet has been my best resource in terms of the latest information on the pandemic. Every December 1, there is usually a global traffic on my blog (http://www.senatorihenyen.wordpress.com) interested in poetry on HIV/AIDS. The working title of the collection is ‘Stranger in the Mirror’.

What is your advice to other young writers?

Like many other young Nigerian writers who are still toddlers, I could do with some advice myself (laughs)! However, I have found that there are many talented writers out there. I implore them to keep writing. The more they write, the more they can write. Secondly, to write well, they must fan that creative flame by continually reading other writers. Thirdly, they must be professional by identifying vibrant and useful platforms where they can showcase their works and get constructive feedback. Moreover, they will need to publish some of their individual works in anthologies and e- zines, before working on getting good publishers for their manuscripts. More importantly, from my own experience, I strongly advise that a serious writer needs the services of a good editor. A very good one! They must not be in a hurry to publish. Self-publishing is not a virtue, as far as a new writer is concerned. The more established writers can afford it because, apart from the funds, they have a ready market. This is not the same for a new writer. Also, they must make efforts to acquire creative writing skills. Writing is serious business. You must be highly-skilled to produce a literary work, constantly feeding your imagination with raw materials. Lastly, make the Internet your best resource. Get a blog and start building your network.

HIV/AIDS Poems: The Poetry of Senator Ihenyen, Nigerian Poet and Writer

UPDATE NOVEMBER 24, 2013:

Stranger in the Mirror of My Life: Poems for Everyone Affected by HIV/AIDS is now out! To buy the book, simply click the linked title above, or go to the online bookstore directly!

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…with over half of the collection of poems on HIV/AIDS completed, ‘Stranger in the Mirror and Other Poems’ promises to be an engaging piece…


‘Stranger in the Mirror and Other Poems’
, a work in progress by Senator Ihenyen, the author of ‘Colourless Rainbow’ has been described by him as his “most creatively challenging and engaging work yet!” In the next few months as we approach December 1, the World AIDS Day, you will continue to be updated on the progress being made on the work.

According to the Nigerian author, one great challenging and engaging task is attempting to strike an appealing balance between the art in the poetry and the heart of the message!”

While work is in progress, some of the poems in the proposed ‘Stranger in the Mirror and Other Poems’ would be posted on this blog! Meanwhile, published below are few of the completed pieces. Some of them have been published by the author on the Internet. They represent the voices behind the silence, the faces behind the figures, the feelings behind the facts. The hope and despair, love and hate, acceptance and discrimination. These poems are voices against HIV/AIDS, fighting with their lives not to become or remain a stranger in the mirror of their own very lives.

Senator Ihenyen, the author is always happy to hear from you! Your comments and feedback would be gladly received!Keep them coming.

THE POEMS

Stranger in the Mirror
of My Life

Before me is a mirror
a mirror beside my bed
away from the sun
burning brightly outside the window-blinds
in my darksome room.

For a moment
before the mirror
I stand to see the face of the victim
whose result returned a death sentence
after a test,
and another test, and yet another
but they kept coming back
one and the same
like the torrent of tears that keep returning to your eyes
when the heart remains wet with worries

Wavering worries of ones life walking away from the door,
as the wall clock thicks unrestrained, untouched, unconcerned,
like the footsteps of the world moving on,
unaffected, unmoved, unstirred.

In the mirror
I found a face
a certain face too afraid to look at me.
The face of a stranger –
a strange face sketched in the shadows of my unlit room
against the fiery fingers of the sun flicking the window-blinds on a fateful morning
to irradiate my day.

I know this face hiding in the mirror isn’t me –
It couldn’t be me!
I look straight into her eyes,
and it was then she looked back at me –
Petrified, she crept back into the closet of her life.

I walk slowly and gently towards her,
and the stranger suddenly steps closer and closer towards me.
And when my feet froze on the floor
Upon the freezing fear that gripped me,
the stranger in the mirror suddenly startles – faint-hearted, intimidated

this stranger is not me
No, not me!
She is just a shadow –
the shadow of someone too locked-up in her closet to open up to me.
She is a stranger too steeped in shame to stand up to herself
and say:

“I’m Hannah,
I’m HIV positive-
but see how beautiful life could be
when I open the window-blinds in my heart
and let the rays of the sun
overshadow the stranger in the mirror of my life.”

(c)SenatorIhenyen2012

We are the Victims

We are the victims

not of an invincible virus

hunting the blood of man

We are the victims

not of a dangerous disease

unleashing death on us

We are the victims

not of HIV/AIDS

wiping mankind from the face of earth

like ripples of death spreading across lives.

We are the victims

Victims of the virulent virus

Victims of the violent virus unleashed from the diseased heart

of this infected world we live in.

Victims of a world

too prejudiced to see

that we are the victims

and they, our virus

A Fallen Victim

I still remember

Still remember very fondly

How at the river flowing with the current of our childhood

The sun greets us with splendid smiles on her waking lips.

But it is all strange now,

Like the earth at dawn with early earthworms at our feet.

It is really so strange now,

Like the rivers inside me flowing backwards

Reading your epitaph on this wet memorial.

And I still fondly remember your deep dimples

That like ripples upon the shimmering smiles of waters

Wake on your lively lips. Just a year ago

I was beside the shadow of what you use to be

When you showed me pictures I’d never seen before.

In those dying eyes of yours

I’d seen piercing pictures of what tomorrow must bring back to us

After today leaves us. Those ribbon of flowers by your graveside

Red with the infected blood that ravaged you

Is your bed your place of rest

For the little child that once smiled the sun with me

At the river of life around hues of hope

Now fed upon by earthworms

(c)senatorihenyen2009

Is It Because…

…you did not kiss my hand

like you use to

when with so much love in my eyes

I held it up to your lips

beaming with the crystals in my heart –

Is it because I now have HIV?

When you poured the red wine into the glasses

you did not hold yours to my waiting lips

like you use to

so that as transparent as the two glasses

we could see the colours in our hearts –

Is it because I now have HIV

or you never really loved me?

(c)senatorihenyen2009

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ANA is Behaving like a Political Party, says Osundare, Nigerian Poet

> ANA is behaving like a political party, says
> Osundare
>
>
>
> By Anote Ajeluorou
>
>
>
> The Guardian, March 8, 2010
>
> http://odili.
> net/news/ source/2010/ mar/8/4.html
>
>
>
> After taking a critical look at the current state of
> affairs of the once vibrant Association of Nigerian Authors
> (ANA), its former secretary Prof. Niyi Osundare has come up
> with a damning verdict for the association’ s seeming
> lack of direction and ideas. Prof. Osundare told The
> Guardian recently that ANA was behaving like a political
> party for its seeming lack of focus and unusual reticence in
> national issues.
>
>
>
> He noted that the association had failed totally in
> pursuing the ideals of writers and as conscience of the
> society. ANA, usually noted for its concern for the state of
> the nation, has hardly uttered a word in the recent past to
> make a position statement on issues plaguing the nation.
> Such silence, Osundare said, was not fitting for an
> association usually known for its robustness of ideas.
>
>
>
> Also of concern to the acclaimed poet is the
> association’ s closeness to the powers that-be and the
> monies the association receives from such sources in the
> name of organising convention jamborees. “I don’t
> know when last ANA issued a position paper or a communiquŽ
> on the national situation,” he charged. “And, if
> there’s anytime this kind of stand is necessary, it is
> now! This is extremely important. The political situation in
> our country is dire.
>
>
>
> As I keep on saying, without the political kingdom, there
> will be no place for us to stand and stare. “Our people
> should also know that the reason we are not writing enough,
> the reason we’re not reading enough, then reason we
> don’t have enough books to read is because our politics
> has been badly organised, and our economy is in the
> doldrums.
>
>
>
> “How much of this money is accounted for after each
> annual convention? We used to do this. We had an auditor,
> who would audit and submit reports. ANA is behaving like a
> political party and this is not the original idea of ANA.
> ANA should be a kind of workhouse or factory and repository
> and fountain of ideas. I don’t see many ideas coming out
> apart from the jamboree at the end of every year in Kaduna,
> Owerri, Ibadan, Minna and getting the governors to give the
> keynote address.
>
>
>
> “Whatever is convenient for the governor is convenient
> for us. Even when we lay down a programme and it doesn’t
> suit the governor, we alter it to fit his political agenda.
> This is shameful; this is really not how a writers’
> association should be run.”
>
>
>
> Prof. Osundare repeated the parable, which legendary writer
> Prof. Chinua Achebe gave at the inception of the association
> in the 1980s regarding the role the political class should
> play in the fortunes of the association.
>
>
>
> “I was there since ANA’s inception in the 1980S as
> national secretary, and as Oyo State chapter president.
> I’m not just a writer but I’m a passionate believer
> in ANA just as I’m passionate about ASUU. These are the
> two professional groups in Nigeria that I’m passionate
> about; therefore I should be able to voice my own opinion
> about it.
>
>
>
> “ANA has deviated from many of the ideals that saw it
> into existence in the 1980s. Among its problems is political
> corruption. I’m disturbed at the way governors have
> taken over ANA annual conventions. I remember we discussed
> this kind of thing at length in 1981 and 1983 – what should
> be the relationship of Nigerian writers, through ANA, and
> those in power. Achebe gave the parable of the poet and the
> emperor.
>
>
>
> “He said that the poet should be close enough to the
> emperor to hear his whispers; but he should be far away from
> the emperor so as to escape the claws of power. When ANA
> held its convention at the then University of Ife, we argued
> back and forth whether the governor should be invited. And
> the governor of Oyo State then was Chief Bola Ige, himself
> an excellent writer. But we argued back and forth. In the
> end, we reached a compromise that first as a writer, let him
> come, and he gave the lecture.
>
>
>
> “We used to argue before inviting politicians. We did
> not want politicians to takeover our association. At the end
> of each convention, there were communiquŽs about the state
> of the union, about the state of the country. I used to take
> part in the communiquŽs; in fact there were two
> organisations I was always involved in writing the
> communiquŽs – ASUU and ANA.
>
>
>
> “We would do an analysis of the political and economic
> situation of the country and how it all pertained to
> culture, and criticise and offer suggestions. I don’t
> see such things happening these days. When Chief Olusegun
> Obasanjo was corrupting the political system of this country
> into working for his third term, it took the prodding of
> people from different areas for ANA to offer some kind of
> statement.
>
>
>
> “I did not hear say anything about the rigged
> elections of 2007. I didn’t heard ANA say anything about
> how the election tribunals have been going on. I haven’t
> heard ANA say anything about the situation in Anambra; no!
>
>
>
> (the above is an excerpt)

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 Poetry.com, 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 apollopoetry@yahoo.com 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.

©SenatorIhenyen2005