What better time to celebrate the finalists of the inaugural Pan African Writers Association (PAWA) African Poetry Prize than on the World Poetry Day?
That was exactly what the Abuja Writers Forum (AWF) did on Monday, 21 March 2022.
AWF hosted Echezonachukwu Nduka, Servio Gbadamosi and Olumide Olaniyan on World Poetry Day 2022.
Tanure Ojaide could not join us due to a clash of schedules. These were the poets who were shortlisted for the PAWA African Poetry Prize, along with the eventual winner, Obari Gomba.
The poets thrilled us with some of the poems in their winning collections and confirmed why they are among the best in Africa.
Their craft was evident and their engagement with society vibrant! You need copies of the books to understand why we are excited with their works.
When asked whether the poets thought their poetry was relevant to the Nigerian society, they unanimously answered in the affirmative.
They said the poet is part of the society and is an observer, commentator and chronicler, writing about what happens in the society.
They all agreed that poets have shaped the country and referred us to the Wole Soyinkas and the Christopher Okigbos who handed the baton to the Osofisons and the Iyayis who are energising young people to push for human rights and justice.
Poets, according to these PAWA African Prize for Poetry finalists, interrogate the past and envision the future, to allow us to dream.
How did we get here and how do we move on? Poets can answer these and many questions that are relevant to the society.
But the poet is just a single voice. How can poets work together to bring this relevance to the Nigerian society? The finalists advised poets to come together in collectives and amplify their voice!
They point to innovations in technology that enable collaboration across different media and spaces.
Someone asked the poets: since they write in English, a colonial language with its baggages, are they still relevant? The poets were uncomfortable but they suggested that poetry written in English can be translated into indigenous languages, highlighting the supporting work and importance of translators, with Kola Tuboson doing a good work here.
They also mentioned bilingual writing, such as the great Ngugi Wa Thiongo does.
However, they drew our attention to the power relations issue in languages. Why do we focus on the big three, WaZoBia, for instance, in Nigeria?
The poets reminded us of the punishments some of us suffered in secondary school for speaking what our teachers considered as vernacular! Thus, we need to decolonise our communication and grow our languages.
We ask of what use if we write in our indigenous languages when there are no readers? So they concluded that for now, we must write in English for a wider reach.
It was a good ending to the World Poetry Day on 21 March 2022, that cozy evening with the three PAWA poetry prize finalists and a handful of poetry lovers!
Kudos to Abuja Writers Forum!
- Kabura Zakama is a Veterinarian and award-winning poet whose latest collection of poetry is CHANT OF THE ANGRY
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