24 April 2008

blogging the ala: writers' roundtable on contemporary african poetry

2:05 pm -- Well, not surprising as these things go, late starting and some confusion with the room (as the schedule stands we are sharing with another panel). Ah, but it's the ALA... And slowly the poets trickle in Tanure Ojaide, Chimalum Nwankwo, Abenia Busia, Naana Banyiwa Horne...

2:12 pm -- Niyi Osudare shows up. A long time since I've seen him and I'm thrilled to see he's hee and will be participating: he always puts on a tremendous performance.

2:18 pm -- Introductions and Ojaide reflecting on the strength of poetry; he contends, and I don't think incorrectly (look at the ALA schedule), that poets aren't taken as seriously as they once were (especially as compared to the way fiction is received).

2:22 pm -- Busia sees the 60s (evoked by Ojaide implicitly as a golden age) as something different, not the least because the poets embraced "the revolution" and also looks at the rise of performance poetry in the US. As far as the reception of poetry in Africa she's drawing out what she sees as a necessary distinction between poetry written in English and the performance of poetry in ones mother tongue. Ah, the "language question" again...

2:30 pm -- A wonderful reading, a marvelous voice and cadence, but I lost the thread of the line in Busia's reading.

2:35 pm -- For Horne, poetry is, at one in the same time, an essentially personal endeavor albeit one that is left to "the community" to judge how well it works and reflects her identities: "I am an academic and I am a Ghanaian."

2:40 pm -- Horne played around with dirges but "songs of abuse are more in tune with my personality."

2:43 pm -- At independence everyone wanted to read everything, or so Chimalum Nwankwo contends to explain the current state (or rather, interestingly to me, to explain another time -- definition by contrast); as well as the need for a special interest and education to engage and enjoy poetry.

2:50 pm -- There is just so clearly poetry that's meant to be read and poetry that is meant to be read aloud. But what the hell makes for either?

2:51 pm -- Ojaide again, and here it's the role that theory in the 80s and 90s played in shaping the field, and the notion that fiction is more "receptive" (or is it "productive") to theory.

2:55 pm -- I have never been gripped by Ojaide's poetry (not that I've read as thoroughly as I would wish), but I've never been swept away; which has always been disappointing (or is it confusing?) because I have always enjoyed his readings.

3:00 pm -- Poetry remains the most widely practiced genres, at least in Nigeria according to Osundare; part one of the contradiction in the enterprise. There is something romantic about the writing of poetry. In Africa people want to be poets. So why are the published books not sold?

3:03 pm -- "There are songs everywhere." And the traditional world does not need to worry about books of poetry not selling. There is something about the written form that puts off the public. And further, Osundare asserts, "If poetry is not selling, we should look at the way we practice our trade."

3:10 pm -- The arrogance of poets and the weakness of foundations. It all feeds into the current state of poetry. The dislocation of removal from ones community and, frankly, the need for fearlessness in approaching poetry, however it comes to you. And on and on as Osundare spins himself out and through the stuff of poetry, and into a selection from The Word Is An Egg.

3:16 pm -- Gabeba Baderoon from South Africa. Not on the program and unknown to me (though that's no shock, unfortunately). Ah, but I found this.

3:22 pm -- The only people who have ever asked Kofi Anyidoho to explain any of the lines in his poems (and he's put his Ewe poetry on cd) are his colleagues with PhDs. Which is a wicked little line itself...

3:28 pm -- Anyidoho muses that we must find other ways of putting our poetry across. And I offer this in all earnestness: what about a line or two, or a stanza -- a snippet of a performance -- as a ringtone? Can you imagine that thing going off at a busstop, in Anyidoho's deep, echoing tones?

3:38 pm -- And so it ends and moves into the audience discussion...

No comments: