The day has arrived. The five shortlistees are attending the award dinner in Oxford as I write this. The winner will be announced in a couple of hours.
Aside from wishing them all the very best – tonight and in the future – I also want to thank them. Thank them for five superb stories, for making me laugh and cry, and for making me write.
They carry a burden now, each of them. The renown that being on the shortlist has brought is a vote of confidence which they must live up to. I have no doubt that they will. Whether they like it or not they are now figureheads of African literature, its future lies in part on their shoulders. They have been wined and dined; their words have been listened to by those in power and those like me, at home on the sofa. They speak for more than just themselves.
From where I sit – the sofa, as I said, beneath a rainbow right now, in an Arctic landscape about as far removed as it is possible to be from Nigeria or Sierra Leone – it looks as if the nomination is at least as important as the prize. But what do I know? Yes, the prize will be an accolade. But personally, I would divide the money between them, even if the title can only go to one. Then again, I am a dreamer.
Before we find out the winner, I wanted to say a little about the poems I wrote in response to the stories. When I joined the blog carnival I didn’t intend to respond through poetry, but it seemed the only way I could do justice to the first story I read (Tope Folarin’s ‘Miracle’). Multimodal justice, perhaps, but still justice. And of course, the other stories were equally inspiring.
My responses, my poetic explorations, began with the unrhymed blank verse of my poem ‘Miracle’. The analyst in me wants to suggest that this reflects in proseful poetry the poetic prose of the text. With my response to Pede Hollist’s ‘Foreign Aid’, a story with a distinct rhythm and a protagonist who reminded me of a wannabe gangster, the poem took a definite rhythmic turn. It drives forward at first, halts with ‘But wait’, before concluding with a direct address to the protagonist, his tail between his legs.
‘Whispering Trees’ the poem also plays with rhythm, this time adding a refrain. In this story by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim I was struck by the three-fold rhythm of the action, which is why there are three stanzas and three refrains in the poem. While the poetic ‘I’ speaks to the protagonist in the stanzas, the refrain is a multitude of voices, tempting him away from his life, from his fate. These voices are inaudible to the poetic ‘I’, but in the story are almost deafening for the protagonist. Here, the reader hears both sides.
My untitled graphic poem in response to Elnathan John’s ‘Bayan Layi’ is another multimodal step. The image of the ‘good Muslim’, so prominent in the story, is overshadowed by the bloodied scythe, another of the story’s powerful symbols. It is also the symbol of death. The short lines rhyme, and while they all keep a steady rhythm, the number of syllables is important: three for the scythe; two for the lower part of the body, paralleled with the three for the part of the mat under the lower body; four for the upper part of the body (I admit it: should be ‘Then just don’t mix’ – will re-do one day) and for that end of the prayer mat. As the number of syllables increases, so too does the import of the words.
The final poem, ‘Mother and Daughter’, takes one of the central relationships in Chinelo Okparanta’s story ‘America’ and works it into a dual-voiced sonnet. The trickiest of all to write, the long lines (six feet) aim to be graceful, part of the ballet between the two speakers set out on the page. My aim was that the poem could be read as two separate poems (one per speaker), or as one poem (in sonnet form), and still make sense. Quite a challenge! The ultimate goal was to trace the complex mother-daughter relationship (entanglement?), and the difficulty of breaking free from it, all of which I found compelling in the story.
So there we are. I had great fun with these, with reading the rest of the responses in the carnival, and most of all with the stories. I raise a glass to you all, no matter who will win tonight.
My your stars shine bright and your words ring true.