Friday Poetry: JOURNALLING: A RECOUNT OF MY EXPERIENCE AT THE 2023 LAGOS INTERNATIONAL POETRY FESTIVAL
The next time someone beside me prays that may Lagos never happen to us, I think I will be the one to give the loudest amen. I had left home by exactly 8:00 a.m. on a Thursday, clipping the wings of my anxiety that as much as I wanted to meet Jericho Brown, it would do me no good to set out on the journey earlier. Who could have known that Lagos would happen to me? I watched as the clock kept ticking, reminding me of how every second meant that I was missing something important being said by Jericho Brown, but it also didn’t fail to remind me about how helpless I was about it. How helpless I was inside the car, stuck in the middle of a heavy gridlock around Oshodi, that had turned a two-hour journey into five. Interestingly, I got to Alliance Francaise – the venue – at the exact time Jericho ended his masterclass. And it was only I who knew the rage that brewed itself within me. However, I didn’t dwell so much on the pain. I dropped my bag on the chair and waited for Bassey Ikpi’s masterclass on Creative Non-fiction to start. Although I am not a CNF writer, I found Bassey’s masterclass so informative and interesting altogether. Her statement that ‘the work of a CNF writer is not to fictionalize the truth, but to make the truth look like a fiction’ totally blew me out. It was probably during this masterclass that my crush on Bassey started.
On the first day of the festival, a major highlight for me was the Opening Cocktail and Performances. This was probably because I got to hold a proper convo with Jericho, reminded him of an encounter we once had on Twitter, and then he followed me back. Another part of me thinks it isn’t. Nevertheless, I had left the lodge with Seyi Ojenike and another colleague to the opening performance to feel the kind of thrill only poetry and cocktails can give. Yes, the performances started, and there was a lineup of poets riddling through our bodies with their punchlines. I may have gotten tipsy at a point, and it was so hard to decide whether it was the cocktail or Ruth Mahogany’s poetry on love. Whichever it was, Chika Jones’ poetry was fire enough to burn the tipsiness away and increase the heat in the room.
For the next day, there was no next-day experience for me. I had rushed back to school for a test I could not afford to miss. And even in the middle of the test, I wonder now if there was a point in time when I didn’t feel pained about all the learning and fun I was missing. However, I patiently waited for the next day to come, and yes it did!
Most of the programs on Saturday were held virtually. And, sadly, I couldn’t attend any of them because of the painful stings that ran across my back. I couldn’t wait for Chinonso Nzeh’s panel session too even when I had personally told him I was going to be there. Thank God for ZODML, I had to rush back to my lodge to take a nap and quietly pray that I don’t miss more sessions. And fair enough, I didn’t. I returned to the venue to meet Bassey in a conversation with Wana Udobang on Unlayering the Self. Bassey talked beautifully on the topic as always, and I had in-between also smuggled a question in about my fear for the future. What if the present I am living will not give me the future I want? What if the future I want isn’t the best for me? And was her response not the most beautiful thing? She called me my dear and responded, “do what makes sense for you. You will do things you will regret, but you will at least be comfortable with the regret because the steps you took made enough sense for you.”
The last day of the festival was the most interesting to me. Apart from the fact that it was my first physical interaction in a Yoga session, I also got to listen to beautiful poets recite their poems. More than anything, the Yoga session taught me concentration – at least to a considerable amount. The instructor had said two things that had stuck themselves in that deep corner of my heart: closing the eyes helps you tune inwards, and that the body likes to be fluid like water. It was in this spirit of yoga and poetry that Wana Udobang, Omolara Oriye, and Temmie Ovwasa lured us into the exposition of the politics of rest.
Seyi and I who were both finalists for the 2023 ZODML Poetry Challenge were the first to grace the big stage of the Lagos International Poetry Festival with our performances. Hardly had we left the stage than the slam started. It was a word war between fourteen poets who had come on the stage armed with punch lines. It was a tough process, but Marvel won both the audience and the judges’ hearts, leaving the stage with the sum of a million Naira. Poets like Iheoma Uzomba, Grey Martyr, Keesh Rowland, and Jacob Sukpa personally made it to my own heart. Listening to other poets does a lot of things to me. And I think I will attend slams more often now, hehe.
In all, LIPFEST 2023 showered me with the opportunity to finally connect with those poetry friends who have always shared virtual relationships with me until now; to finally network with those people whose works I revere and place in dear positions of my heart, and to finally get different perspectives and insights towards those things I have been ignorant of. Thanks to the entire team of ZODML for making this year’s festival an interesting one, and a reality.
Saheed Sunday, NGP V, is a Nigerian poet, a Star Prize awardee, a Best of the Net nominee, and a HCAF member. He is the author of a poetry collection: Rewrite The Stars. He won the ZODML Poetry Prize; he was shortlisted for the Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award, Wingless Dreamer Poetry Prize and The Breakbread Literacy Project.