There is no essence for a literary invention unaffiliated to emboldening social values, sharpening our sense of humaneness and enhancing good living. Noting the foregoing, Festival Poetry Calabar can be classified as a literary invention which has immeasurably fulfilled the intention of its initiators and organizers – Poets in Nigeria (PIN) and Festival Poetry Foundation respectively. The annual event which kicked off last year has undoubtedly grown in leaps and bounds: in awareness and participation, in organization and influence. Unsurprisingly, the announcement of the date and venue for the festival were met with immediate and rousing interest amongst literary enthusiasts. Many of them had missed participating in the maiden edition and were stunned by pictures – portraying the eventfulness of the festival – shared afterwards. Themed ‘Poetry and Cross River’s Clean and Green Initiative’, it became obvious that the 2nd edition of the Festival Poetry was centered on social issues, a slight shift from the inaugural edition which had its stake on cultural values.
Within the space of three months: October and December, astounding literary festivals had taken place in cities such as Lagos, Abeokuta and Ibadan, attesting to the literary fecundity of the outgoing year. Taking a unique stance, the Festival Poetry Calabar held between 26th and 28th December, 2016 in a city hitherto devoid of external literary-inclined missions. As early as 23rd of December, participants for the festival mostly from Lagos started arriving, familiarizing themselves with the environment soon to be permeated by poetic vibes. Meanwhile, the designated venue for most of the activities, James Henshaw Foundation Centre was being prepped for the forthcoming programmes by the Local Organizing Committee. It would later come alive to symbolize what its late proprietor, a foremost playwright, James Ene Henshaw stood for: arts and aesthetics.
The first day of the festival, 26th December was rewarding to the
labourious and technical efforts of the organizers. It was responsive to its manual. James Ene Henshaw Jnr, the secretary of the Foundation had hosted members of the board of the Festival Poetry Foundation for lunch and purpose of acquaintanceship. At exactly 5pm, the festival drew its first breath with a jazzy effect. Jolly J, a songstress backed up by a band, possessed the stage, pocketing eyes and owning ears as her voice skied the hall. 15 minutes later, Blessing Sam, the compere came on stage, accompanied by Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom.
She introduced herself as well as her partner in a lively manner asserting her proficiency. Shortly after, James Ene Henshaw Jnr. delivered the welcome remark which was brief but welcoming. His contribution to the realization of the festival was later acknowledged by Eriata Oribhabor, the chairman of the Festival Poetry Foundation, in his open remark, “We celebrate members of the Henshaw here represented by James Ene Henshaw Jnr. for continually supporting the art and offering this space for our use.” Speaking further, he expressed his delight in being a pioneer participant of the festival and a member of the Festival Poetry Foundation ‘dedicated to contributing its quota to reshaping society’.
Rising in tempo, a cultural song blared from speakers with two dancers in Efik attires, expanding and contracting their rigidly flexible bodies to the delight of the attendees. The same tune ushered in another poet whose presentation was themed around cultural heritage. The segment of the event tagged ‘Calabar Welcomes You’ had been exclusively reserved for performers residing in Calabar and environing towns with the intention of promoting talents in the host-city and creating a perfect blend between incoming and home-based artists. Expectedly, it worked out fine as performance poets such as Veralyn Chinenye, Chris Fridae, Ogar Akuni Monday, Mazpa Ekejiuba Ejikem and many others greatly impressed the audience.
The poetic deliveries were taken a notch higher with the introduction
of Amarachi Attamah, a renowned Igbo performance poet from Enugu. Her mastery of language of presentation awed the audience who made several interrupting but appreciative remarks. Infusing emotions into her rendition, the audience at a point had their eyes tears-bound. Kalejaye Folajimi, another poet hugely influenced by his culture, displayed magnificence whilst chanting his ‘ewi’ (poems). Afterwards, more poetry readings took place with some interested attendees taking up poems to be read from the basket of words while others read works written by them. Musical interludes by Jolly J and Victor Adewale bridged the gap between intellectualism with entertainment.
The audience survived the excitement characterizing the first session of the event and were in the right frame of mind to watch Arch Angel’s spoken word video tagged ‘Black’. The solemnity which engulfed the hall at that moment was not unrelated to the jaggedness of truth being emitted from Arch’angel’s video. Two other spoken word videos by Ifeanyi Bernard Prestige and Kalejaye Folajimi were projected. Having had a fill and feel of the arts, a palm wine break was announced. The audience trooped out to a garden-like opening with chairs and tables arranged for the purpose of refreshment and relaxation. Savoring the freshness of the maiden evening, it was quite difficult to get the attendees to settle back in the hall. When they eventually resumed from the break, it was poetry uninterrupted until Damilola Makinde, a vocalist from the University of Ibadan came up to titillate the audience. It was the first night, the first step and the first touch which moulded the map of success for the festival.
The 2nd day of the festival, 27th December rode in on the back of a favorable 1st day. It started with the tour of PIN Gallery of Poetry – a garden adjoining the venue adorned with visually appealing poems and an archive of past poetic endeavors in Calabar. We, afterwards, resumed for the Open Mic, showcasing performances by Jolly J, Ifeanyi Bernard Prestige, Victor Adewale and a few others. Meanwhile, a birthday celebrant, Ken Egbas, a former Commissioner in the state was called on stage to be sung for by Jolly J and also give a goodwill message. He expressed his appreciation for the event, categorically stating that the Festival Poetry Calabar had come in at the right time to fill a cerebral void hitherto missing in the Calabar International Carnival. He pledged the sum of ₦500,000 to be used in organizing a poetry competition within the festival for a period of 5 years. This was the 2nd of the pledges made in relation to sponsoring a poetry contest tied to the Poetry Festival as a psychiatrist on day 1 promised to sponsor a poetry contest based on the creation of awareness for mental illness with the sum of ₦50,000.
The President, Association of Nigerian Authors, Denja Abdullahi was supposed to deliver the Keynote Address: ‘Poetry and the Environment’, but the rescheduling of his flight due to bad weather barred him from physically playing his role. His speech was however presented on his behalf. Establishing the relationship between poetry and the environment, he said, “If we could hazard a study into what led to the writing and declamation of the first poem in human history, it will be discovered to be the environment. Nature in its splendor and horror must have moved that first poet to chant, imbibe and later recollect his or ‘emotions in tranquility’ to use the Wordsworthian definition of poetry. If we are to take a tour de force of poetry chanting or writing in the world, from the pre-writing era to today of writing with digital instruments we will discover that the environment has always been central to the poetic enterprise”.
Later on, the audience was asked to get ready for the On-the-Spot Poetry Competition to be judged by Bassey Asuquo. The participants were charged to write a poem themed around the physical, social and political features of Calabar within 20 minutes. The end of the contest was met with the ushering of the audience to the JHC Centre for a play entitled ‘The Reeducation of Gina Obi’ written by James Ene Henshaw Jnr. The play which attempts to correct misconceptions pervading educational and social issues was satirical in every sense, engendering unpunctuated giggles within a well maximized 60 minutes. The aftermath of the play witnessed series of poetry performances by Arch Angel, Amarachi Attamah, Kalejaye Folajimi, Foursyte Bogani, Eneminyene Eromosele, D-Ray and a host of others. Black People Entertainment, a thespian group from Akure, Ondo State thrilled the audience with their theatrical excesses.
Winding down, top 5 participants of the On-the-Spot Poetry Contest were announced: Emem Alexandra Akpan-Nya (who came second last year), came first, Mojoe, Amarachi Attamah, Jesam Eko and Chris Fridae occupied the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th positions respectively. Following the release of the result were poetry readings which sneaked into the next day. It was another day scented with success.
The 3rd day of the Festival, 28th December espoused poetry to social
causes. Poetry had a ride on the Calabar Carnival Train. Wise Up Cross River Initiative had teamed up with Poets in Nigeria (PIN) and would be embodying their objectives on the status of poets known for right living. After walking the streets of Calabar for hours, the poets, who had revealed their social qualities and duly played their ambassadorial roles, called it a day.
The 2016 edition of the Festival Poetry Calabar will echo through the ages for placing the feet of poetry on the pedestal of novelty and sociability.
Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom
Member, Board of Trustees,
Festival Poetry Foundation