Tuesday, September 26, 2006

An Experiment: Denoument

Not cheering news. I failed to continue The Experiment (see earlier post) -- as promised -- this morning. Woke up late, and hopped on a bike. Let's see what happens tomorrow.

Guest Poet

Was almost going to forget this. Something serious for a change. This blogger (that's humblespeak for ME!) was featured as Guest Poet in the Sunday Mirror (Sunday, September 24, 2006). Two poems, and his most handsome-looking photo, made it into the Arts pages. Tade Ipadeola, lawyer and poet, was featured a few weeks ago, with his poem, Facing Kilimanjaro, which placed second in the 1999 Muson Poetry Prize (Helon Habila -- Caine Prize Laureate 2001 -- won the prize in 2000).

Toyota Plutona, BMW Galaxia, Volvo 951 Gaspra, etc etc

On my way to work this morning (yeah, you're right - atop a "machine") I spied a banner that announced the Lagos Auto Fair, sometime mid-October or thereabouts. And one of the few remaining unburnt bulbs "up there" ON-ned itself, much to my surprise. (Needless to say, it soon OFFed itself, a glorious transition to eternal darkness - which reminds me, I've got to change to flourescent mental tubes; they last longer, resulting in a geometric imrovement in quality and quantity of gumption)... I digress again. Sorry. Yeah, I said a bulb ON-ned itself upstairs and shat an Idea on the floor of my mind (sorry for the mixed metaphor)... more on the Idea later.

Back to the Lagos Auto Fair. I hope at least one of the days falls on a weekend, so I can attend and check out a car or two. My days of okada are finally numbered. I can see the handwriting on the wall. You have been weighed on the scales (a speedometer) and found wanting... your okadas will be taken from beneath you and given to strangers, and you will be sentenced to the back-seat/owner's corner of a (brand-new?) car. Sob. Sob. Please, don't take my okadas away, please. sniff. sniff.


I mentioned a "shat" idea. (Means I have a bulb or two left still shining. Remind me to remember to conserve them by reducing the use of my brain). The idea is plain and straightforward: A short, passionately-worded letter - email is never official enough - to a bundle of "upwardly-mobile" designer-suited, blackberry-clutching old men scattered in corporate penthouses across the globe:

Dear Manager/CEO/MD/Chairman/To Whom it may Concern,
Toyota Inc
Japan, (Or is it Korea? Damn!)
cc. BMW; Kia; DaimlerChrysler; Volvo; Honda


I write to present you with a brilliant, win-win business deal that will soar your revenues and profits and keep those hefty compensation packages away from the shearing scissors of evil corporate regulators and hungry-looking shareholders. I will not waste time before launching into the deal. I would like to offer you prime, exclusive - and FREE - advertising space on my internet billboard (some people call them blogs, but that's a reductionist-terminology approach).

Market research has discovered that my Internet Billboard (IB) is heavily viewed and visited and linked to by thousands of alien groups and communities (see footnote), who, as market research has discovered, have displaced Homo Sapiens on this planet as the market segment with the highest amount of "luxury-good" disposable income.

There are divergent views as to why this is so (and market research is ongoing to know why), but I humbly think that it is simply due to the fact that there are no supermarkets outside the planet earth, meaning that aliens and UFOs are stuck with plenty of money and nowhere to shop - except the planet earth.

You might also want to know that the exchange rate of Alien Money to the dollar has changed very significantly - in favour of Alien Money - in the last few years, due in no small measure to the volatile conditions plaguing Planet Earth - terrorism, global warming, Africa, and the The U.S Army. In the light of this, I foresee a quadrupling (at the very least) of your sales revenues, as aliens abandon their ugly, standingspace-only space-ships and UFOs for beautifully-designed, leather-seated BMWs, Volvos, Toyotas etc.

What this also means is that there is a high possibility that these aliens will commission your companies to design and mass produce space-ships for them. (Toyota Plutona, BMW Galaxia, Volvo 951 Gaspra, etc etc). I will stop here, I believe in Keeping-It-Simple-and-Stupid, knowing how many novel-sized reports and memos you guys have to endure daily. I am offering the advertising space FREE, all I ask is that you donate (only) ONE copy of your latest car(s) to (my) CHARITY, The BOA Foundation for Research into Cheap and Clean Sources of Fuelling for Cars in the 21st Century (BOARiFUEL), to facilitate the continuance of our noble research activities.

Yours Considerately And At Your Mercy BOA
You may wish to call me toll-free on 080-BOARiFUEL for further discussions.

Monday, September 25, 2006

An Experiment

In the last three weeks I have transported myself to work atop an okada (variously known as "machine", achaba, boda-boda, "bike" - depending on what part of the world you are in). It takes me less than fifteen minutes to get to work, which means I can afford to watch the clock sneak up on eight before I dash out. But last week - Tuesday or so - I had an accident. I lost some skin on my palm, ankle, and knees, lost a hanky to bloodstains, and lost a cherished pair of trousers to the impact of the friction that accompanied my sliding on tar. I had to go back home to change my trousers, and I have endured the pains of my injuries for a week now. Sadly, not many people paid me any attention when the accident happened. I concluded that this "nonchallance" was attributable to the following:

1) A more serious accident had occured just before mine, on the other side of the road at Adeolu Odeku junction, Victoria Island -- which produced at least one badly dented automobile.

2) The accident involving me happened "in the twinkle of an eye"; or better still, "like a thief in the night". It happened too fast for even me to realise; one moment I was balanced atop a bike, the next moment I was sliding on the tarred road, and the next I was up again, checking my "expensive" wrist watch for damage, and then, yeah, of course, counting my teeth, my heartbeat(s), my bones.

3) This is Lagos.

I'm thankful to God that I didn't sustain any major injuries - okada accidents kill and maim countless lives all across Nigeria everyday - the riders are often reckless, ignorant of basic traffic rules, and many times dead-drunk! No helmets, no common-sense.

Back to the meat of my story. This morning I decided to stop taking okada to work, and endure the less convenient bus transportation. I left home at 7a.m, and got to the office at 8:15. You can calculate the difference between okada and bus: ONE whole hour. I was quite pissed off as I got into the office this morning. The Ikoyi/Victoria Island traffic jams are hellish, too many cars and so little road - and so little driving ethics/sense too...

...meanwhile, on a bike, there you are slicing through the narrow alleys between the posh-and-not-so-posh aut'mobiles sardined as far as the eyes can see...Tomorrow, I intend continuing my bus experiment, I'll leave at 6:30, hopefully I'll evade the jam before it spreads itself on the bread... but to be honest, nothing beats the good ol' bike... Nothing!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A bookie weekend; and plenty-plenty name-dropping

The Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF) has cahme-and-gwan. You can find gist on the following blogs: Laspapi’s, Araceli’s and Cora's (Committee for Relevant Art – organizers of the Festival).

I bought (only) 3 books – all on Sunday, the closing day of the Festival, modest by all standards (see Laspapi and Aipoh):

1) The Elements of Style (by William Strunk Jr. and E.B White)
2) A New Guide to Better Writing (by Rudolf Flesch and A.H Lass)
3) The Kennedy Wit (ed by Bill Adler) – a collection of humorous sayings by JFK, “.... from his campaign speeches, “off-the-cuff” remarks, press conferences and prepared addresses…from his first days as a public speaker to his words as Senator and President.”

Do these books say something about me? Did I hear you say something? You didn’t. Good. I can answer that myself.

(1) and (2) say that I want to write better. Who doesn’t?
(3) says I want to be the President of the United States when I grow up (who doesn’t?), and I (now) know perfectly well how I shall go about it.

Adewale Maja Pearce, former editor, African Writers' Series and founder of The New Gong Publishing

I had my fair share of fun at LABAF. It was a gathering of some of Nigeria’s most brilliant and hardworking writers, both new and established. I walked up to Araceli and introduced myself (as BOA); met Laspapi; met Adewale Maja-Pearce, founder of The New Gong Publishing , and former editor of the African Writers’ Series; Kaine Agary, author of the novel Yellow-Yellow(due out in December 2006); Gerd Meuer; Jude Dibia, author of the novel Walking with Shadows, and Ogaga Ifowodo, poet, activist and lawyer (author of three award winning poetry collections) who is home on holiday from his PhD programme at Cornell University in the United States.

R-L: AJ Dagga Tollar (poet), Gerd Meuer, Jahman Anikulapo (Editor, Guardian on Sunday), and Toyin Akinosho (Geologist, Arts Activist and Founder of CORA)

All the above I was meeting for the first time ever. Those I’m about to mention I have met in the past and know quite well: Toni Kan, poet, novelist, short story writer and banker, Niran Okewole (poet, dramatist and psychiatrist), Odia Ofeimun (poet and polemicist), Onyeka George Nwelue (who has been touring India, Bangladesh and France in the last few months, and whose debut novel is due out next year).

Tripod: (L-R): Jumoke Verissimo (poet), Araceli Aipoh (novelist) and Wole Oguntokun (lawyer and dramatist)

PostScript:It was a huge surprise to me to discover a new side to the Prince of Camelot. I mean, we all know Kennedy for that serious minded advice, which is perhaps one of the most quoted statements ever in the history of mankind: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country." That statement is always treated with utmost soberness, eagerly seized upon and regurgitated at every available opportunity by politicians, elders, "statesmen" and motivational speakers -- even when they have no intentions whatsoever of turning the question inward.

George Nwelue, Tolu Ogunlesi and Gerd Meuer

Friday, September 15, 2006

The versions here are Not Final: Three Drafts

#The first draft is always shit - Ernest Hemingway
#Writing is rewriting - Anon
#A doctor buries his mistakes, and lawyer imprisons his, but an editor [read blogger] puts his on the front page [read internet]. - my version of a quote by that very prolific and brilliant writer, Anon.


Forty, for a woman, they say, is Hiroshima,
Fifty, perhaps, would be Nagasaki,
And History the helpless audience destined
To witness the bio-illogical warfare.

It is like watching a dance,
Planted on the feet at dawn
As it shrivels at noon
Into a self-conscious shuffle.

It is like watching a perplexed man step gingerly
Around the sealed tomb of his living wife.
Seeking the music he used to take for granted.

Forty, for a woman, they say, is Hiroshima,
Fifty, perhaps, would be Nagasaki.
Sex at seventeen is Sodom, and an orgasm at seventy
Is a visa to the Republic of Gomorrah

But for you, her husband, sex at seventeen
Is sunrise;
And an orgasm at seventy is prophylaxis

For prostate cancer. Eventually,
Everything before forty turns out for you
To be The Lost, Irrelevant City of Atlantis,
Herald of a new civilisation.


Forty, for a woman, is Hiroshima,
Fifty, perhaps, would be Ground Zero,

And History is the outraged audience destined
To witness the bio-illogical warfare,

The timed dance, which soon shrivels
Into a self-conscious shuffle.


Forty, for a woman, is Hiroshima,
Fifty, perhaps, would be Ground Zero.

Sex at seventeen is Sodom, and an orgasm at seventy
Is a visa to the Republic of Gomorrah

Forty, for a woman, they insist,
Is Hiroshima. But for you, her husband,

Sex at seventeen is sunrise;
And an orgasm at seventy is prophylaxis

For prostate cancer. Eventually,
Everything before forty turns out for you

To be The Lost, Irrelevant City of Atlantis,
Herald of a new civilisation.



Forty, for a woman, they say, is Hiroshima,
Fifty, I’d add, would be Nagasaki’s hot breath,

And History is the outraged audience destined
To witness the bio-illogical warfare.

Her dance is timed, soon it shrivels
Into a self-conscious shuffle

And a perplexed man steps gingerly
Around the sealed tomb of his living wife.

He seeks the music he used to take for granted,
Watching as silly small girls gather

And make themselves up,
Their mirror his beloved’s polished epitaph.

Forty, for a woman, they say, is Hiroshima,
Fifty, I’d add would be Nagasaki’s foot mat

Sex at seventeen is Sodom, and an orgasm at seventy
Is a visa to the Republic of Gomorrah

Forty, for a woman, they keep saying,
Is Hiroshima. But for you, her husband,

Sex at seventeen is sunrise;
And an orgasm at seventy is prophylaxis

For prostate cancer. Eventually,
Everything before forty turns out for you

To be The Lost, Irrelevant City of Atlantis,
Herald of a new civilisation.

Inspiration for "Hiroshima"
"For a woman, said Jacqueline Susann (not one of [Jane Austen's] more distinguished literary descendants), "forty is Hiroshima". Miss Austen would have agreed, but, on the evidence of Persuasion, would have located the catastrophe at 27."
- Excerpt from John Sutherland's Guardian (UK) article "Look and Learn"

A Business Executive's Guide to Elementary Physics

Imagine this scenario:

Dateline: The Present
Location: Lagos Business District - Victoria Island

You are late. You are a young, (upwardly mobile) business executive (all suited-andtied-up) You are on your way to work. You are on an okada (commercial motorcycle). You are wet. Because it is raining. Actually you are holding an umbrella above your head, but - you know how these things happen - it is doing very little protective work. The rain seems to be falling not only vertically, but also horizontally, whipping your face and cuddling into your shoes and all that.

Let's for now ignore the cars and SUVs that are spraying water at you like the bullets of many gunmen. You are late. You are wet, but you don't care. All you want to do is get to the office ASAP. Let's not forget about the ineffective umbrella you are holding. It is the "crux of this story". It is splayed above you, in all of its blue-and-red dripping glory. You are holding on to it with both hands, as though your life depended on it, for it tugs at you with an inhuman, almost evil determination. Something to do with physics, y'know, velocity, force, momentum, inertia, blah blah blah. For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. For every drenched idiot idiotic enough to subject an umbrella to a vicious grip upon a speeding bike in blinding rain, there is a reactive, skyward tug by the spirits domiciled beneath the umbrella tent.

Which is what this story is all about. Those spirits, that is.

Ideally, theoretically, in Physics, action and reaction should balance each other out, cancel each other, nullify each other, leaving an equilibrium in their wake. But that is in theory. This is the real world. You suddenly realise that your visual-range has been altered. Before, you could only see the back view of the okada rider, but now, strangely, what you see is an aerial view of him, the crown of his head (as opposed to the rear). And you can see plenty of stuff you were never able to see before. You can see the sliding-glass hatches on the roofs of most cars. Strange. A whole new world, a view of Lagos traffic that you can swear you have never seen before. To be candid, it's quite beautiful, but...

Watch out for Part II

Wanted: Alive or Alive: A Unique Generation of Nigerian Poets

Sorry to bother you guys (how presumptious of me to assume that there any "you guys" out there reading this bleddy blog?) with all this email talk, but truth is, I saw another great-news email on Thursday:

"Dear ----

...Two of your poems, as below, have been selected to be featured in On Broken Wings ..."

NB. On Broken Wings is an Anthology of New Nigerian Poetry forthcoming from Ampress UK, Hayes, London, edited by Nigerian poet and novelist, Unoma Azuah. The Anthology's Editorial Objective(s) (as outlined in the submission guidelines) reads:

In an effort to present a fresh body of Nigerian poetry and inspire a new aesthetic approach, On Broken Wings is in search for pure and simple language in poems. Poems submitted are expected to step away from the over cluttering of symbols and imagistic concurrence that muddle meaning in poems. The anthology hopes to gather poets into hammering out a new inventive, stylistic expression that will truly define a unique generation of Nigerian poets.

My comments:
It's exciting to be a part of a potentially groundbreaking literary venture. How I'd love to be a part of that "unique generation of Nigerian poets", who will dare to plant - and WATER -their (mustard-seed) voices on the fields of poetic acclaim (where Christopher Okigbo, Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Odia Ofeimun and many others dwell as Iroko trees) and patiently await the verdict of Time and History (which is the only verdict that seems to truly matter anyway.) PS. Let the great-news emails continue to roll in! Yo-ho-ho-and-a-keg-of-palm-wine!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Pâté, Pork and Termite-sandwiches: An Introduction to Negritude

An e-mail from a friend yesterday. He asked if I was gonna be at the Lagos Book and Art Festival (hereinafter referred to as LBAF).
"Hell, yes!" I replied.
"Great. See u saturday. ---- ----- is dying to meet u."

I seat-belt myself tightly and descend into the dark, grinding, screeching depths of my memory bank, wherein I retrieve a line I read very very recently. It's from an article on Naguib Mahfouz by Hisham Matar in the Guardian (UK):

"Margaret Atwood once said that "wanting to meet a writer because you like their books is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâté".

Which, in my opinion, is the one of the truest things anyone ever said.

PS. When I first read that article, my brain (not me) instantly "translated" it into from "winter-format" into "harmattan-format". This is simply a process by which Africans (and everyone who has never felt winter's bite) africanize Western images and concepts, to aid understanding. It is the process by which winter warms up significantly - and swallows some dust - to become Harmattan. (Another day I shall tell you my ordeals in the days when I devoured Enid Blyton, and struggled with painting un-fogged mental pictures of "ginger-beer" and "Bentleys" and "goblins" and golliwogs"). Medoubts that the word "pâté" would resonate in the culinary schemes of many Nigerians.

Dictionary.com says :
"13 results for: pate" -- but common sense led me to the one that seemed most appropriate to my query:

"French Cookery. a paste or spread made of puréed or finely chopped liver, meat, fish, game, etc., served as an hors d'oeuvre."

French cookery. Dammit! This is what I africanised it to:

"Wanting to meet a writer because you like their books is like wanting to meet a pig because you like pork".

But, come to think of it, "pork" does not seem "African" enough. For one, it still qualifies as "pate" (from the definition above). I therefore need some more Negritude. Hoola poola mabashay mabashy, moola poola pabashay pabashy... open sesame, O thou sluggish brain! Yes! Thank you, O ancestors, for not disappointing me.

The end result is a sufficiently "african" version of Margaret Atwood's "pâtéy" stuff:

"Wanting to meet a writer because you like their books is like wanting to meet a termite because you like termite-sandwiches".

(Don't gape so! - Africans eat termites, you ignoramus!")

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Two Emails; and the "Value" of Literary Fiction

This afternoon I got two cool emails. One from an editor in the UK accepting a short story of mine for publication - and asking me to send more stories for consideration (he said he liked my writing style); and the other from someone who read another story of mine published in the Sunday Literary pages of the This Day Newspaper earlier this month; and wants me to be part of a magazine project they're working on. Interestingly, it was that email that let me know that the story had been published. I missed that edition of the paper.

If only more Nigerian papers would publish literary short stories. They don't seem to give a damn about good literary fiction, preferring instead those cliched "true-life" stories of romance-turned-sour, and my-mother-is-the-witch-that-destroyed-my-destiny- stuff which of course generates loads of equally cliched/worn-out reader responses and keeps the papers selling (No one can blame them then!)

This leads to a question. What benefits do well-written literary short stories offer us as thinking and feeling human beings, that the poorly-characterised, uninspiring-languaged, predictable stories (whether true-life or imagined) do not or cannot? In other words, is literary fiction simply a pretentious, elitist, unnecesary member of the Fiction Family? I need answers!

That Untranscribed Interview

Belonging somewhere in the mass of possessions that would qualify to be called my "archives" - newspapers, newspaper cuttings, contributor's copies of magazines and anthologies, crumpled sheets holding jottings, excerpts, quotations, etc - is an audio tape of an interview. An interview with the Sudanese writer and Professor of Literature Taban lo Liyong. I met him at a literary festival in Kampala, Uganda in October of 2005, and got him to sit with me for an "exclusive" "no-holds-barred" (what other words do those journalists use?) chat. He said quite a lot, and he was at his combative, controversial best, talking extensively about Africa and its politics and literatures; the war in the Sudan; touching on Soyinka and Achebe and Ngugi with the ease and familiarity of someone who truly belongs in their company. Sadly, the tape remains untranscribed, because the interviewer is too lazy to face the task. It seems actually daunting, the thought of sitting and playing the tape over and over again, rewinding a short length of tape until it has covered a distance equivalent to the circumference of the earth. But it is a task that must be done, and DO IT I shall. I'm sure there are modern transcribing tools that make it as easy as, uhm, uhm, - writing a dissertation with google as Adviser - but for me, TechSavvy-challenged homo sapien that I am (that's not true, just the unnecessary self-deprecation required for personal blog entries), I shall have to do it the long (hand) way. Maybe it is my experience transcribing a previous interview that discourages me - the painful straining to faithfully reproduce speech on the page.

I'll certainly be back here to let you hear my song of conquest.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Katrina Poem

A year ago (late August 2005), Hurricane Katrina exposed the "black" underbelly of America's racial politics. Here is the poem I wrote as a tribute to Niyi Osundare, Nigerian poet and academic, and survivor of the disaster. The poem first appeared in Sable Litmag Issue 7 (2005), and was read by Kadija Sesay at a PEN regional conference in Ghana (2nd - 5th December, 2005).

for Niyi Osundare

TheUnitedStates warns
That melanin predisposes carriers
To bouts of violent looting.

New Orleans is a bowl of water
Tinged with the dark
Of melanin

We sit on the roof.
Downstairs, water makes herself
At home.

We are not in the mood
For visitors.
The visitor is not in the mood

To return home. There is no home.
Home is a bandage of water
Swollen with the pus of flood -

Water terrifying itself.
Survival is an Egg.
Did those bifocals escape

With the bard. The papers didn't.
But the poems they hold
Are waterproof, created to bob

Their way to reckoning.
The Bard owns the last Word.
The last Word is not an Egg.

(c) 2005

Monday, September 04, 2006

Two Reviews

I am quite happy today. I've seen two flattering reviews of my work in the last 24 hours. One is for a short story in the Caine Prize 2006 Workshop Anthology (ten sweet days on the banks of Crater Lake in Kenya, dodging hyenas and leopards) and the other is for a couple of poems in "500 Nigerian Poets" (anthology ed by Jerry Agada). Actually, both reviews are only a few lines each, but still...

It's difficult to believe that the review of the poetry anthology was the FIRST intimation I had of my appearance therein. And this is an anthology that was published last year (2005). I didn't get an acknowledgement of submission (it was a hard-copy sub), no notifications of acceptance, nothing whatsoever. No hint, until yesterday, Sunday, when I stumbled on the review in the literary pages of The Sun, and found a commendation attached to my name. Only the good Lord knows how much of my work is floating out there on printed pages without my knowledge. (Oh vain vain me!)

The Caine Anthology review is online.

Friday, September 01, 2006

In the Beginning

I do not know whether it is a wise decision to do this blog. Not when someone has said, of blogging, that, "NEVER BEFORE IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE BEEN TALKING TO SO FEW. "