By Makinde Damilola
The Festival Poetry Calabar 2016 soared on the ride of publicity, and, consequently, attracted participants from different parts of the country. Creativity came in contact with ability and, hence, 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, 2016, was greeted by members of PIN already in Calabar: Veralyn Chinenye, Chris Sam and PIN President, Eriata Oribhabor. The PIN team included 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 poets’ visit the Municipal Garden dubbed the Christmas Village, where the new arrivals savoured their first Calabar delicacy, and recounted their journey 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).
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’.
Christmas Day came with 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 everybody 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.
26th of December kicked off the Calabar Poetry Festival 2016. 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 programme proper which was set blazing by the anchors, Blessing Sam and Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom. A welcome remark was presented by James Ene Henshaw (Jnr), trailed by the opening address by 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 Attamah was the next in line to dish entertainment to the audience with her indigenous poetry performance.
Ken Egbas, a former Commissioner in Cross River State, promised to host a poetry contest open to children from 10-15 years 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 N50,000 for the organisation of a poetry contest (during the next edition of the Festival Poetry Calabar) themed around mental illness.
Ekaete George, Secretary, Festival Poetry Foundation, 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 performance by the young man himself.
The programme was brought to a beautiful conclusion by a musical performance by Makinde Damilola Peter, a writer and musical artiste. The day’s programme recorded over 170 attendants.
Events for the next day saw the previous day’s comperes, Blessing Sam and Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom, handling proceedings. The six top best poems for the Calabar Poetry contest were announced with Mazpa Ekejiuba Ejikem bagging two spots with his two entries “Tomorrow” and “What I have seen”, alongside Jonathan Otamere Endurance with his poem “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. Shortly after, the long anticipated play to be staged by James Ene Henshaw Foundation, The Reeducation of Gina Obi, was 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 and 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 programme was announced after proper examination by the judge, Bassey Asukwo.
The winners were Emem Alexandra Akpan-Nya, who emerged as the 1st position; Mojoe (2nd), Amarachi C Attamah (3rd), Jesam Eko (4th), while Chris Fridae salvaged 5th position. The keynote address entitled “Poetry and the Environment” by President, Association of Nigerian Authors, Denja Abdullahi was presented 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 splendour 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 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, but with an uncompetitive motive to sensitise 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, Asukwo Etuk, while Veralyn Chinenye was placed at the forefront of the train, enthroned as PIN’s Queen and worthy cynosure of admiration between 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.
PIN has acknowledged 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, as well as the members of PIN Board of Directors.
Makinde Damilola Peter is an essayist, poet and musical artiste.