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#Afterhours Blog 6 | 09-Jan-15


Today I'm working on the fourth poem of the #Afterhours project in which I rewrite my childhood through British poetry, by writing poems after/in response to poems published between 1984 and 2002, from when I was born to when I turned 18.

For 1987, I took a different approach. Last week I began searching for a poem by pouring through The Poetry Book Society's recommendation for that year. I speed-read through as many as I could, making snap decision. These were the notes I made as I read.

John Ash, Disbelief, published by Carcanet:
Long lines, flowing thought, not necessarily narrative, the tone is more 'about' the world than it is 'of' the world. Difficult to find a poem that can frame a story, a tone conducive to narration, that I can make about my parents. A tad too conversational.

Charles Tomlinson, The Return, Oxford Poets:
Most of the poems in the collection are set in Liguara, not in this country. The consciousness of the poet then is elsewhere. I'm trying to take British consciousness and make it Nigerian. To travel it back through time. This would mean taking Liguara back to Nigeria as well - which is beyond the confines of this project. Perhaps I am clutching at straws here or it is just my instincts telling me to put the book down. Also, the titles and locations do not feel easily translatable...

Ken Smith, Wormwood, Bloodaxe:
The poems are set in a prison, taken from his experiences there which I cannot translate or relate to as I have never set foot in a prison and neither have my parents. The poems are fascinating though and such great writing.

Martin Stokes, The First Death of Venice, Bloodaxe:
The poems are about death, destruction and war...none of which I can situate in 1987 Nigeria, in the story of my family. I am grabbed by the poem 'Elegy for my sister' - I have a twin sister and have often wondered what might have been had my twin been male, or if she had died at birth. Dark thought. Besides, it is too long a poem (40 lines or shorter). Brevity is prime for #Afterhours.

Paul Muldoon, Meeting the British, Faber and Faber:
As titles go, given the nature of the project, this is perfect. I find two possible poems: The Coney and Sushi.

Phillip Gross, Cat's Whisker, Faber and Faber:
I enjoy reading, find two poems that fit perfectly with themes established by the poems already written: English as a Foreign Language and Two Waters.

Peter Redgrove, In The Halls of the Saurians, Secker & Warburg:
My favourite poem is A Few Carats of Pain but possible poems for #Afterhours: A Dewy Garment and Concerning Dreams.

Seamus Heaney, The Haw Lantern, Faber and Faber:
Of all the collections, I enjoy this the most and find three possible poems: From the Land of the Unspoken, Clearances and The Shooting Script. The first poem is so perfect and easily translatable, I can't think of what I'd need to change to make it more 'Nigerian'. I spent three years in Ireland and this poem is further proof of the similarities between the Irish and Nigerian spirit. I still write (in application forms, when I?m asked about my nationality) that a quarter of my soul is Irish. This poem suggests I have underestimated myself, I ought to write half.

I whittle the poems down to: 
The Coney, Two Waters, From the Land of the Unspoken and The Shooting Script.

In The Coney a man writes to his father. I was four at the time, so I cannot write this poem and given its drama, my father's voice cannot write it to me. Two Waters is just too close to the poem written for 1986. I need something else to happen. In The Land of the Unspoken, the 'I' can't be mine or my father's which leaves The Shooting Script.  So, this will be the poem! Next week, I'll start writing it.

Read more about the #Afterhours project here

#Afterhours needs your help in suggesting poems for Inua to rewrite, published between 1984 and 2002. You can suggest entire collections for Inua to browse or specific poems from these years. Why not set Inua the challenge of rewriting your favourite poem from this period?  Take a look through your books and magzines at home, search online or access the library's holdings for each year through searching online here

Send your suggestions for Inua or tweet us@wetblackbough @InuaEllams

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