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#Afterhours Blog 12 | 04-Jun-15

03/06/15

Today I began working on the 12th 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 poem had definitely been the most difficult to write. I use the start and end words of each line from 'The King and Queen of Dumfriesshire' by W.N. Herbert, as the start and end words of each line for my poem, 'The King and Queen of Odogbolu'. The poem is successful (in my humble opinion) but I am never, NEVER doing that again...I think. (I enjoyed it immensely, the challenge of it.)

I have been on the road for the last two weeks and I am set to be on the road for the next two, travelling to Paris and Madrid consecutively. Today, I set myself the task of looking for two poems: one for 1995 and 1996, and I find them almost immediately. It usually takes two days to find one, to find these two in less than an hour is a record! I find them tucked in a Poetry Review magazine (Spring 1995) and The Best of Poetry London, (Poetry and Prose, 1988 - 2013). The poems are 'Life Sentence' by Elizabeth Bartlett and 'The Ecstasy of St Saviours Avenue' by Neil Rollinson. I want to write about the death of the Nigerian writer and environmentalist activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995, and about leaving Nigeria in 1996. Both are rather heavy topics and the poems by these two fine poets are perfect, they have such space for interpretation. 'Life Sentence' is about a woman poised to be executed (as Ken was) and 'The Ecstasy of St Saviours Avenue', though it is about coitus on a Valentine's night, I am confident I can make about discovering a new city, about childhood innocence AND let a bit of the coitus back in...but first Ken.

Ken is a legendary figure in Nigeria and across the world. Many believe his death was orchestrated by the oil company Shell and the corrupt Nigerian government led by president Sani Abacha. He is a martyr to many and inspiration to those fighting environmental causes. He is all this to me and more, for he is also the father of my friends. His twin daughters, Noo and Zina are great, great people and in 2012, 16 years after I left, to ready myself to visit Nigeria, I read Noo's magnificent travel-book Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria. Decades after her family fled, the book details her return visit and the pages where she describes reclaiming her father's bones in order to give him a proper burial is, to say the least, heartbreaking and painful to read. 

Years before I met his daughters, Nii Parkes of Flipped Eye published Dance The Guns to Silence, an anthology of poems about Ken Saro-Wiwa and others who were executed with him. It is among the Poetry Library's collection (of course) and it has contributions from incredible writers such as: Chris Abani, Amiri Baraka, Kamau Braithwaite, Jayne Cortez, Fred D'Aguair, Kwame Dawes, Martin Espada, Linton Kwesi Johnson and this is just the first half of the book! I went to the launch in London ten years ago and I will return to it again. I will think of his daughters, my friends, think of who I was ten years ago and who I was twenty years ago, before I 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 toinfo@poetrylibrary.org.uk or tweet us@wetblackbough @InuaEllams


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