The Festival Poetry Calabar 2016 soared on the ride of publicity, resultantly triggered anticipation and consequently attracted participants from diverse parts of the country. Creativity came in contact with ability and subsequently made utmost use of provided platform to display dexterity in arts and expression. Eyes of tourism met with scenic activities while the nectar of the event was juicy and enough to wet the creative yearnings of attendees.
The arrival of Poets in Nigeria (PIN) Team from Lagos on the 23rd of December was greeted by members of PIN members in Calabar in persons of Veralyn Chinenye, Chris Sam and PIN President, Eriata Oribhabor. The PIN Team included personalities like Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom – author of Punctured Silence, Funke Awodiya – author of The Farmer’s Daughter, Queen Parkers – an airline worker and poetry lover, Victor Adewale – a writer and singer, Folajimi Kalejaye – a spoken word poet, Solutionist Clementina – another spoken word poet and Makinde Damilola Peter – a writer and musician.
The evening of that day saw the whole team visit the Municipal Garden dubbed the Christmas Village where the new arrivals savored their first Calabar delicacy and recounted their journey’s experiences with smiles and laughter. Shortly after the meal, the WISE UP Cross River Campaign stand located in the Municipal Garden received the team with open arms, thus revealing the partnership between the Sexual abstinence/Safe sex clamoring initiative and Poets in Nigeria (PIN).
Furthermore, the sojourn at the Municipal Garden led to an ephemeral visit to the designated venue for the Calabar Poetry Festival 2016 – James Henshaw Foundation (JHF), located beside Transcorp Hotels, Calabar. The compound’s buildings radiated ambience crusted with touch of dexterity, while the trees and flowers adorned by the grasses aptly made up the garden, further adding to its aestheticism, expressively explaining the reason for its choice for the event. The secretary of the Foundation, James Ene Henshaw (Jnr), was met and introduced by Eriata Oribhabor, while he in turn ushered the team into the hall proposed for the program.
The night further sailed the team from the James Ene Henshaw Foundation to the Marina Resorts where the birthday of an integral member of PIN – Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom, was celebrated with tasty pieces of cake and Chapman to feast on. And like a cycle, the evening’s tour ended at the Municipal Garden which had taken a different form on the team’s return. The earlier scanty garden was filled to its capacity with people eating and drinking. It also featured entertaining stands of different brands such as MTN, WISEUP, Star Lager beer etc, at different points. It was ‘awesomeness in its nudity’.
The midnight quietly received the presence of a vivacious poetess – Bliss Oyindamola Akinyemi at the hotel, to the delight of the Team when morning arrived. The Culinary director in person of Queen Parkers with the help of the ladies in the house treated the Team to a sumptuous meal of Yam with egg sauce, while the day went on beautifully as the team further synergized as a family, obviously supported by the hotel’s structure and atmosphere which oozed a homely feeling. The evening fractioned the team as some went on to explore the lushness of Calabar while another faction took to setting up the venue for the poetry festival. The night however united the team and welcomed the presence of another PIN member and vibrant spoken word poet in person of Ehijie Gabriel otherwise known as Arch Angel and his colleague, Ray.
Christmas day reeled out more adventures for the expanded team after a delicious Christmas meal, courtesy of Queen Parkers and her culinary team. The first point of excursion was the Marina Resorts where the whole team was booked for a boat ride which sailed them to the Twins Island. The Boat rider doubled as a tour guide at the Island, explicatively shedding light on the origin of the Island which originated the names Duke and Henshaw families. The exposition also revisited history of Mary Slessor who stopped the killing of twins in the state and how she absconded with the King’s twins which she saved and nurtured on that Island, naming them after the two missionaries that came with her – Duke and Henshaw, giving the origin of the names now considered native. And due to the quarrel between both families, none of them can lay claim of the Island thus hampering development for touristic benefits.
The island was to be built by Ex-Governor Donald Duke to serve as a medium between the Old Calabar and the New Calabar. A swampy pond where a Crocodile aged 180 years thrived but recently died was shown to the team to their disappointment but were immediately revitalized and compensated with the information of an existing young crocodile said to have been caught on a hunting expedition by one of the Island inhabitants who was also introduced. Thereafter, the young crocodile was exhibited for team members to hold its tail for photographs. More Photographs were taken of the historical but abandoned touristic haven before departure back to the Resort.
The team proceeded to an Xmas Musical Concert at the Marina Resort, organized by Jolly J where a member of the team in person of Victor Adewale, spontaneously mounted the stage and dazzled the audience with his beautiful lyrics and melodious voice. That night was further lit by the arrival of Spoken word artiste – Benard Ifeanyi Prestige and another poet, Chibuihe Obi from Lagos and Owerri respectively.
26th of December kicked off the Calabar Poetry Festival 2016. Ebullient poetess Amarachi C. Attamah garnished the team with her presence from Enugu hours before the commencement of the day’s event which was scheduled to begin by 5:00pm. Shortly before the program started, the James Henshaw foundation hosted the team to lunch where formal introductions preceded the feast and socializing. James Ene Henshaw (Jnr). – a renowned playwright and play director, enunciated on the objectives of the foundation and led a number of the team members to meet his wife in the inner parts of the home. Photographs at the PIN Gallery of Poetry served a pathway to the program proper which was set blazing by the anchors in persons of Blessing Sam and Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom.
The welcome remark was delivered by James Ene Henshaw (Jnr)., swiftly trailed by the opening address by Sir Eriata Oribhabor. Afterwards, a myriad of performances by Calabar based acts thrilled the audience in forms of cultural dances, poetry reading and presentation, playlets and musical interlude by Jolly J crew, after which spoken word videos by Prestige and Arch Angel respectively were put on display and succeeded by physical performances by the spoken word poets themselves.
Amarachi C Attamah was the next in line to dish entertainment to the audience with her indigenous poetry performance. The notable presence of Ken Egbas, a former Commissioner in Cross River State, was acknowledged and when given the podium to speak, promised to host a poetry contest open to children from 10-15yrs with prize money of N500,000 spread over five years. He further expressed how impressed he was concerning the Spoken word renditions he had witnessed earlier in the event. Similarly, a psychiatrist donated the sum of ₦50,000 for the organization of a poetry contest (during the next edition of the Festival Poetry Calabar) themed around mental illness.
This was followed by poetry reading from the basket of words in which Ekaete George, Secretary, Festival Poetry Foundation, notably read the winning poem of On-the-spot Poetry Contest 2015 written by Emebiriodo Ugochukwu Hitch. Another video preaching against child abuse developed by Kalejaye Folajimi – a Nigerian spoken word poet and activist against child abuse, was put up and followed immediately by a physical performance by the young man himself. A short break was observed to the relish of the audience who interacted over cups of palm wine and a visit to the picturesque PIN gallery of poetry.
The programme recommenced minutes later, further giving room to other performance poets, most notable – Eromosele, a bubbly spoken word poet from Uyo. The programme was brought to a beautiful conclusion by a musical performance by Makinde Damilola Peter – a Nigerian writer and Musical artiste.
The day’s program recorded over 170 attendants.
The penultimate day which was scheduled to be an outdoor and all night event kicked off with some minutes past the slated time – 5:00pm. The previous day’s comperes Blessing Sam and Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom grabbed the bull by the horn, introducing the programme which was set rolling by a short musical performance by Jolly J musical crew and also a number of spoken word poetry performances. The 6 top best poems for the Calabar Poetry contest were announced with Mazpa Ekejiuba Ejikem bagging two spots with his two entries titled ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘What I have seen’, alongside Jonathan Otamere Endurance with his poem titled ‘Calabar (A Canaan Land)’, Opia-Enwemuche Maxwell Onyemaechi with the poem titled ‘If Clouds Could Speak’, Acrobatic Germs by Nureni Ibrahim and Akwa Akpa by Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto. They would be awarded a cash prize of N5,000 each, coupled with poetry books.
Shortly after, the long anticipated play to be staged by James Ene Henshaw foundation – titled the Reeducation of Gina Obi, was set on track.
The play ended with a rousing applause as the event continued with other poetry performances and recitations, featuring the ever high-spirited indigenous performance poet, Amarachi C. Attamah, Spoken Word poets like Arch Angel, Prestige and Chris Friday. Kalejaye Folajimi treated the audience with his serenading performance, followed suit by some other poets. The winners of the On-the-spot Poetry Challenge whose call had been put up earlier in the program was announced after proper examination by the judge in person of Bassey Asukwo. The winners were Emem Alexandra Akpan-Nya who emerged as the 1st position, Mojoe as 2nd position, Amarachi C Attamah as 3rd, Jesam Eko as 4th while Chris Fridae salvaged 5th position, with the winning poem being written by last year’s 2nd prize winner.
The keynote address entitled ‘Poetry and the Environment’ by President, Association of Nigerian Authors, Denja Abdullahi was delivered on his behalf as he was unavoidably absent due to the rescheduling of his flight. Establishing the viable relationship existing 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”.
The event was spiced with a humorous playlet by a drama group known as Black People Entertainment. Other spoken word performances were on display by acts like Eromosele, Solutionist Clementina, Bliss Oyindamola Akinyemi and a recitation by Mazpa Ekejiuba Ejikem.
The event was brought to a close with group photographs. A total of 150 attendants was recorded excluding unregistered participants.
The 28th of December which marked the end of the poetry festival and also signified the commencement of annual Calabar International Carnival where PIN team in conjunction with the WISEUP initiative, joined other competitive carnival trains however with an uncompetitive motive to sensitize the public on abstinence and safe sex, buttressed with the distribution of condoms. The theme of the Carnival was maintained as “Climate Change”, to further stamp the culture of preserving the environment and its natural constituents and to also expatiate on the benefits of doing great things for humanity. The carnival was covered live and broadcast on different mediums all over the world.
The team started out in the morning, meeting the brain behind the initiative in person of Asukwo Etuk while Veralyn Chinenye was placed at the forefront of the train, enthroned as PIN’s Queen and worthy cynosure of admiration betwixt the WISEUP King and Queen. The team ended its journey with the train at night. A poetry reading was held after the team was refreshed, presided over by Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom. The following day, a mass of team members departed Calabar to their respective locations.
The efforts of Tijah Bolton-Akpan, Chris Sam, Veralyn Chinenye, Obodokasi Agbor, Mazpa Ejikem, Chris Friday, Monday Ogar among other Calabar based individuals who contributed to the success of the event are highly notable. Sincere appreciation also goes to the members of PIN Board of Directors.
It was a memorable Festival Poetry Calabar. We are already looking forward to 2017 edition.
Makinde Damilola Peter