11th August, 2011
It was at the Guest Writers’ session at the Writers’ League of Benue State University, Makurdi. Time was 4:30pm, introductions had been done and Chuma Nwokolo was already reciting away poems from his Memories of Stone. Being a student writer association, he took advantage of the blackboard as he recited and explained ‘I am,’ a poem that starts with one’s ambition that ends with a discovery that after all is said and done, one might not be anything at all. Thunderous applause greeted the end as he took another which excited his audience. In reciting, Chuma made sure he read each stanza twice, for emphasis and gave a little explanation: ‘The reason why I read my poems twice is for understanding. When you’re reading it on paper, you can understand but when I am reciting, it becomes difficult.’ He continued his recitation, using a deep resounding voice and a commanding presence, he grabbed the attention of everyone present, silence all through as he recited and demonstrated his poems – no one wanted to lose or interfere with any bit of the flow. He read a poem inspired by his Sudan trip ‘No, not ‘Sudan, Sudan,’ you people know that one too much.’ General knowing laughter at this. One more and he was through with that. He sat to a mightier ovation than the thunder claps at his individual poetic performances. It was the time for Geoff Ryman, sci-fi award winning writer to take the floor.
Geoff started with a simple question: ‘How many of you have heard of Polpot?’ No hands at all. He gave a little history of Polpot whom he said killed one million people within three years and nine months, of a population of five million in Cambodia. What?!! Wow!! Went the sounds of surprise in the room. The man was against literacy and the literacy rate in the country is poor, because of that man. ‘We are looking at one of the great tragedies of human history,’ Geoff continued.
He proceeded to reading parts of ‘Polpot’s daughter’ (a fictional tale) from his system. His style of presentation had voice variation to match the different characters in the story, and use of sounds like hitting the table and making other such noises. The last part was to spice up the imagination of his hearers. It all worked well as the audience listened attentively, laughing at the deep humour in the work and the variation that the strange white author introduced. Then, there was the odd moment when Geoff had to skip a bit to get to another point of interest to read to the audience. It was a real awkward moment and Chuma tried breaking the silence that ensured with a word or two. Some members of the audience got real bored here and someone was heard to say ‘Oh, this is most boring!’ Then, the readings continued with a funny extract that left the previous complainer laughing loud along with everyone else. The presentation was back on track with a touching conclusion, and Geoff was through. There was another round of ovation that was not so much especially since the reading of the story had pulled most of them to their end being somewhat long.
Questions and answer session came and the student audience had the chance to ask questions ranging from how to handle overflow of ideas when crafting prose; how to look poetry and its craft; to the traditional ‘Should poetry be obscure or simple?’ were handled expertly by Chuma and Geoff. In answering the last of the list, there was a consensus that Chuma’s poems were difficult. He defended his poems saying they were not and challenged the students to read a book a week for the next one year and try reading the book again. He went on to advise that the students use words that conversational. He is totally against obscure poetry: ‘I believe if your poetry is not communicating, it is not worth it...’ So, each word and line should be able to communicate and speak. To a question on literary criticism, Geoff said that the works of critics are commendable as they took an extra look at a particular work and showed more meaning to it. This usually gave readers an increased insight. ‘The more meaning a story has, the better. So, what do critics do, they improve the work.’
The League President, Kuraun Silas called on the Art Faculty members to talk. Dr. Moses Tsenôngu of the English department, told the students to finish issues of grammaticality and master the English language before they think of finishing a work of writing. He told them that they had to take their craft seriously as it would come to bare later. ‘I started writing poems but they ended up writing me.’ Ben Due-Yav, of the Theatre Arts department told the writers not to take inspiration for granted and to keep it by writing it. ‘Whatever work you have is not yours, you owe it to society. Others are depending on you to write... Literature is the wheel that makes the world go round.’
Kuraun Silas called for a few more readings. Two poems were read but by this time, there was impatience in the air as most members of the audience were too tired to listen. All the remaining readers would take their turn at the next reading. It was photo session next and some bonding and talking with the guest authors, Chuma and Geoff.
In all, it was a really good and interesting evening for everyone. As all: the guest writers, board members, invited guests and members of the League with an appreciable attendance of over fifty, smiled their way home, it was obvious none of them was going to forget the experience in a while.
Chuma Nwokolo and Geoff Ryman are on a two week Creative course at the Benue State University, Makurdi (ended Friday 12th August, 2011). The Writers’ League is a student creative writing and reading society in the university.