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#Afterhours Blog 9 | 02-Apr-15


Today I began working on the eight 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 in Nigeria to when I turned 18 in London.

Yesterday General Buhari was elected president of Nigeria. In 1984 when I born, he was also the head of state though he assumed power by military coup and essentially enforced a dictatorial style of governance. Folks were imprisoned for speaking against the government, others forced to do push ups as punishment if found to be unruly in queues for instance. He swears he is a changed man. Given that I think sometimes I change between poems and that he has been alive, leading and thinking longer than I have grasped the concept of life itself, I (and evidently many Nigerians feel the same way) think this is true.

The same sense of chaos and impending change will grow to grip the country as our politicians campaign and the countdown to the general election sets in. I feel as if I held my breath for Nigeria and after a brief exhale, I am about to do the same for the United Kingdom. This is sometimes how it feels like when searching for poems for #Afterhours. As soon as a poem is written, I begin searching, wondering whose voice to trust, which to elect to govern my emotions and thoughts, if its structures, systems and spirits match mine, and if I trust it, it will serve me well.

For 1991, I wanted to work with a female poet and began by flicking through the Poetry Book Society's pamphlet recommendations for 1991 and, after discounting those from other countries, I was left with books by Sarah Maguire, Jackie Kay and Helen Dunmore. I found Helen's poems to be the most entertaining, her imagery, line breaks and ideas constantly surprising, inventive and gasp-out-loud-good. I had to hush myself a few times as I read for fear of scaring the other readers. The most moving and emotionally charged poems were found in Jackie's Adoption Papers, which told the story of discovering her birth both, employing hers and her mother's voices. I loved the poems, but could not think of a way of rewriting any, as setting them in my own family in Nigeria would stray too far from the original as the same dynamic does not exists in my family. So saving the best till last, Sarah Maguire's Spilt Milk was perfect. Kayo Chingonyi, poet and friend of mine, randomly passing through the Poetry Library, peeked over my shoulders and smiled warmly: "Mmm, that's a good book". 

In 1991, we left the northern city of Jos and moved to Lagos. This is what I'd like the poem to be about and perfectly, Sarah has a poem called 'Moving Home', another called 'Cherry Tree' (which I could use to write about the mango tree we found growing in the backyard of the new house) and a long poem called 'Still At Sea' which also rather perfectly, follows one from the poem for 1990. In that poem, I wrote about first flying over the Mediterranean Sea and dreaming about it. Sarah's poems begins:

Each night you returned
to the Mediterranean...

So, to return to electoral language, Sarah has my vote. Next week, I'll begin writing.

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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