Monday, June 22, 2015

A Song for the Puppet

See how they cry out for me
Hear how they call my name
The look on their faces
Fear of heartbreak

My people are hurting
Their souls bleed
From longing and fear
Oh so desperate

Save us will you
Help us, you should
I shudder at the mantle
Office, staff, seal

The weight, the burden
Lead us, great one
Their voices raised
In adulation, nay, worship

Out of the murk and mire
Buried in corruption, steeped in poverty
Their eyes fill with hope
Mine, trepidation

100 days in office
Campaign promises lie still
Unfulfilled, empty, bare
Still I strive, pressing

My friends, officers,
Let’s move this nation forward
Not yet, the coffers need to be emptied
Personal gratification above all

This is not what we said
I look inwards
Nothing. Vapid. Puppet.
A leader must be something

A Voice for the people
Who called you to be that?
We installed you
Get busy. Dig. Empty the accounts.

The streets are empty but not quite
I don’t see them.
They cry for me, but not as before
Now they wail.

Sorrow, deep and piercing
My people have lost all faith
I hurt too. I am weak
We are all powerless

Saturday, June 13, 2015

For Nigel Jenkins: Who Made Poetry Enjoyable

Anybody who knows me, knows that I have no love for poetry. I have this totally *nyeh* attitude to that genre of Creative Writing. Now, imagine getting to Swansea and being told that Poetry is a compulsory module.

Yepa! Mogbe t'emi ba mi! 

I worried about failure so much that it didn't allow me to even think I could do it. 

But, Nigel...Nigel made it so amazing. As I type this I remember the awesomeness of Nigel Jenkins. He was the director of the Creative Writing MA at Swansea. Nigel is a notable Welsh poet who was funny, talented and extremely warm. 

I mean, I finished my poetry module starting to think "Nah, poetry isn't half bad". And then not long after we submitted our portfolios for the semester, Nigel passed away.

I was gutted. This man was very kind to me. Who was going to hold my hands through the academic rigours ahead? This was a good man. A really good man.

I will never forget Nigel. I'm sad that he didn't grade my portfolio. But I'm so so so so happy I had the privilege of learning from this great man.

I wrote a tribute to him, which was originally published in The Swansea Waterfront. There are no words what will ever be enough to laud this man. 

He is truly missed.


One of the most prominent things in the heart of a person who has travelled thousands of miles away from home is the fear of being terribly alone.  You’re plagued with the fear of the unknown, and the eager anticipation to give yourself a certain sense of validation that you have made the right decision.
As days unfold into weeks, you struggle to make this new place home. You make friends, but you do it with caution. It’s not familiar but you’re willing to make the effort. You attend classes, while making an effort to cope with the sudden surge of work along with the gaping loneliness that hits you every time you go back to your room.

This feeling of trepidation is something that every international student faces. It is that scary sense of detachment that one is without the comfortable anchor of the safety of home. I was fully steeped in this bubble of insecurity when I moved to Swansea in September.
At the first ‘meet and greet’ organized by the Creative Writing teaching team, there was a man, in his mid-60s going round the room, trying to ensure everybody was comfortable. It also helped that he constantly topped up our wine glasses and encouraged us to be as relaxed as possible. This man, whom I will later know to be Nigel Jenkins, was particularly concerned about the fact that I had come all the way from Nigeria. Was this my first time in the UK? Did I have family in Swansea? Oh No! I didn’t? How dreadful! Where was I staying? Did I like my accommodation?  Would I let him know if I needed anything? Absolutely anything. Feel free to drop by my office to let me know if there’s anything you might need.

Nigel Jenkins, passed away on the 28th of January 2014. As I write this piece, I am unsure of the best way to put down the words which will truly represent the greatness of this man. A Welsh poet and great contributor to Welsh literature, Nigel was more than just a member of the Creative Writing team at the Swansea University. He was integral to the establishment of the course at Swansea University.
As a result of that, poetry is one of the compulsory modules for the MA program. You can only imagine my trepidation as one coming to this course with absolutely no clue on how to approach poetry. In my opinion, poetry was one of those things brilliant creative people write… to show off. I said as much to poetry. I was terrified at the idea of having to write a poem. What did I know about writing words in a certain colourful way? What did I know about rhyme, metre or even Haiku!?
Three months after the course started, Nigel managed to assuage my fears. I can still hear his voice saying ‘find the words within you and write it down’. When I didn’t know if my Haiku was worth the paper on which I wrote, he said ‘Haikus are about capturing that moment’.

Nigel’s soothing voice as he narrated his various experiences in life as a journalist, of many-a-pint-inspired articles, and as a poet was a constant reminder that even for me, an amateur writer; so far from home… nothing was impossible. In my last tutorial meeting with him, just before Christmas, he was very concerned about where I was going to spend the holidays. He was very concerned about how I might get lonely out here alone with no family, and said I was welcome to spend Christmas with his family.

Such was the largeness of his heart. There are no words to express the depth of gratitude I have to this great man whose presence was integral to my getting settled into Swansea University.  Every international student needs a Nigel Jenkins in their sojourn far from home.
I am eternally grateful for meeting this talented and hard working man.  I hope that I can be half the writer Nigel was. I hope that I can, someday, be an inspiration to other people the way Nigel was to me.

This piece is dedicated to the loving memory of Nigel Jenkins (1949 – 2014)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Villagers! Gather Round...

I was going to write about how pretentious I looked a few hours ago - me, sitting in a room full of Asians and Hispanics, dunking tortilla chips into little pots of garlic guacamole. I was going to write about the importance of people watching when you're pretending to be aware of an All-American tradition - studying what team the majority of the room is supporting and remembering to shout when everyone else is. It doesn't matter that you don't know who the Seahawks are, or why everybody is shouting 'Touch Down!' It's all part of the tradition, and it was what I was going to write about - traditions.
Then, I remembered I was probably going to get flack for talking about 'something unrelatable'. So, let's talk about something more ethnic, and cultural and innate. Our villages, or home towns as some of you finer folk might like to call them.
Growing up, going to our home town every year was a non-negotiable event. It was the time of the year when family members converged to eat the greenest Ewedu and the brownest Amala ever. It was the time when family members who didn't know who was who, would ask: 'Are you Gbemi or Funke?' When you responded that you are Wonu, they would then say 'Ah! The architect!' Suddenly it was okay to be familiar enough to ask you to go and bring some yam and sardine stew for them from the kitchen.
Anyway, I had grown up believing everybody went to their villages, until I went to University and met people who said they had never been to theirs. One of my closest friends said her family never went to the village because her grandmother lived with one of her uncles in Lagos, and they were basically scared of people in their village so they never went. Because both my parents are from the same place, I have a stronger connection to Ogbomosho, so as the older generation died off, it didn't really reduce the 'family ties'. It also helped that we had a house to go to, which minimised the discomfort of going. However, as I grew older, and the compulsion to go to the village was taken off, there wasn't really a pull to go there. As much as I love going to visit my aunty, eating fresh mangoes, there's very little incentive to get on the bad Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Unless of course, there's a burial to attend.
Burials are another reason why people go to their villages. When my friend's father died, they had this huge situation of where to bury their dad. The man had lived in Lagos all his life, built a house in Lagos and died in Lagos. However, custom demanded that he was buried 'at home'. This was where it became a tricky situation. His children now had to posthumously invest in real estate - in a place they would probably never go again. Customs and traditions are a big deal, but real estate investment... now that is an even bigger deal.
In my parents generation, it was imperative to have 'roots' - a house in the village, something small, something to show that you've not just been on a sojourn in a foreign land for nothing. In fact, for some people, it didn't matter that they lived in a rented flat for 22 years in the place that they earned their living; as long as they had a nice 10-bedroom duplex in the village they visited once a year, they were fulfilled. My siblings and I always made fun of my mum and her obsession with taking all the nice things she had to Ogbomosho. According to her, she was shoring up stuff for when she retired. 20 years later and those nice things have become antiquated in their cartons on the shelf of the store in Ogbomosho. The utopia of retiring to the country home still seems like a distant reality.
Today, I don't know many young people who build houses in their home towns or even visit. I think the expenses of trying to pay expensive school fees, summer in Disney Land and trying to pay mortgage in Solar Garden estate has drastically negated the ideology of putting down roots outside of the metropolis. At best, you'll find Lagos residents buying land on the outskirts of Lagos, like Mowe or Ikorodu. One of my friends in Abuja is looking to buy land in the FCT - nothing about Bayelsa State or future repatriation. Times have really changed.
This year, I really want to explore the dynamics of culture and tradition. Some aspects of culture do not really add value to our lives... or do they?
Have a great week ahead. Stay safe, be productive and remember to add value in your sphere of influence.