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#Afterhours Blog 11 | 08-May-15


Today I began working on the 11th 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.

The last two weeks have been pretty exciting. I was interviewed on BBC Radio 3's flagship poetry show The Verb by the incomparable Ian McMillan where I talked about the #Afterhours project and where Ian choose the poem 'Map of India' by Moniza Alvi for 1993. I completed my version 'Map of Nigeria' the following week and, this Tuesday gone, was fortunate enough to bump into Moniza at Mona Arshi's book launch. Mona's book Small Hands had received magnificent reviews and she was tutored by Moniza, who was delighted when I told her about the re-writing of her poem. But today, I must begin searching for the poem for 1994 and I find it almost instantly...

To shake things up though, I try yet another approach. Instead of using solely the PBS (Poetry Book Society) recommendations as a source for poems, I reach for the Poetry Review magazines published in 1994 and stumble across 1994's New Generation Poets and chuckle, thinking that some of these poets, incredibly established now, were once 'new'. Selected once every decade, the list of the haloed twenty reads: 

Moniza Alvi 
Simon Armitage 
John Burnside
Robert Crawford 
David Dabydeen 
Michael Donaghy 
Carol Ann Duffy 
Ian Duhig 
Elizabeth Garrett 
Lavinia Greenlaw 
W.N. Herbert 
Michael Hoffman 
Mick Imlah 
Kathleen Jamie 
Sarah Maguire 
Glyn Maxwell 
Jamie McKendrick 
Don Paterson 
Pauline Stainer 
and Susan Wicks. 

No less that sixty percent of the poems already completed for #Afterhours are in response to six of these poets. When 2014's Next Generation Poets list was released, my disappointment at not being selected disappeared within seconds of noticing neither had any of my poetry heroes (some who founded whole genres of our contemporary poetry scene). I railed against the list on that basis for a few days, then simply let it go. But elsewhere, tempers flared. There were four-letter-littered Facebook rants, discussions, debates and counter lists constructed...which just forced me to think critically about those selected. The more I looked, the more I realised how healthy it was, that I personally knew more than half of the poets on the list, that I liked and respected their work, and that if the 1994 lot who are so established now were selected similarly, then one can't fault the process.

The task at hand is still to pick a 1994 poem and combining The Next Generation with the PBS recommendations, I discover that 1994 was an astonishing year for poetry with books by Duncan Bush, George Charlton, Peter Didsbury, W.N. Herbert, Gerard Woodward, Hugo Williams, John Burnside, Tom Paulin and Iain Crichton Smith. I try my method of speed reading and snap decision-making, but so good are the books and the poems that I'm forced to slow down and devour, promising to return in future when I have more time to spare. I whittle the books down to Peter, John, Tom and Duncan, but in the final hours of the day, return to first poem I thought perfect: The King and Queen of Dumfriesshire by W.N. Herbert.

Bill aka W.N. Herbert was my mentor during the year-long Complete Works poetry project (Mona Arshi, above was one of us) and though not a little nepotism is at play here, his poem, inspired by a statue of the same name in Scotland, is a portrait of a couple's domestic disharmony and is perfect for what I hope to write about: domestic disharmony in boarding school in Nigeria. In 1994, my twin sister and I started at Federal Government College Odogbolu, and that first night away from home, in the cavernous dinging hall, a fight started when a senior female student broke a bottle across the face of a senior male student. This is where I will start my poem.

Till next week!

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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