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)

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