The ambience at Ikeja was surreal and the audience was elitist, but not deliberate: they included friends of the author of ‘The Anteaters’, Kufre Ekanem, the guest writer for the June edition of WIN (Writers Interactive Network) monthly reading. He couldn’t but make the rendering infectious to all present.
Hosting Ekanem wouldn’t have been possible if Mr. Segun Ozique, the spirit of the writers’ group, didn’t chance upon Anteater. Impressed by the deft handling of the poems in the volume, he decided to, first, write a review of it online. “This is a way of supporting one of ours, trying promote the book,” he told the gathering.
Introducing the mission of WIN to the audience, Ozique said WIN (Writers in Nigeria) encouraged writers and book readers to read to an audience, “If you are a reader, not necessarily a writer, we encourage you to read to us.” He hoped that WIN would spread its tentacles beyond the country.
In his review read aloud to the bibliophiles, Ozique remarked that the poet, in the Anteaters, explored oppression, human frailties, strength of character, among others. “The work represents to us information we live in everyday, representing an opinionated viewpoint how Ekanem reacts to the goings on around him,” he said.
Before reading some of his poems to the audience, the poet stressed the need to create a vibrant creative industry that can support different talents in the country. He recognised outstanding talents in Nigerian, like Professors Wole Soyinka and Niyi Osundare (who encouraged him to put his thoughts into writing), and Chimamada Adichie, who had made it to the world stage, but not every writer possessed the same talent, hence, needed to be encouraged to flourish.
The Corporate Affairs Manager of the Nigerian Brewery was grateful to his wife, Ezinne, for supporting his poetic excursion, though he admitted that, after reading his romantic poem “Anthonia”, she initially misconstrued the persona in the poem, thinking it was one adorable girlfriend of his.
The first three poems Ekanem read were “Migrants”, “Anthonia” and “Communicants of Saint Bottle”, as the audience responded with intermittent laughter and exclamations, depending on the mood of the poem.
The preceding interactive session enabled the audience to probe into Ekanem’s creative consciousness. The publication of The Anteaters, said the poet, was fulfilling, for he had hitherto told his wife that “If I die unpublished, God won’t forgive me”. He added that his greatest joy was writing, though it took him time to put his first poetry volume together. “I like to write because people need to read,” he said.
Ekanem explained that his “Migrant” poem, written in 2008, was still relevant till this day. He blamed the harsh economic reality in the country for being responsible for people fleeing Nigeria in droves. “There is reason for people
to save up money to travel abroad. It is hopelessness that makes people travel abroad,” he noted.
Explanting the significance of ant as a motif in the poetry volume, he declared, “Ant is my favourite insect. I can sit down and watch the ant from morning to night.” He was also fascinated by the organisational skills of ants. “I intend to build a museum of ants,” he echoed.
He reiterated that writers should be more enterprising in Nigeria, “Writing remains one thing people do only for the passion of it. Writers should explore the business side of writing.”
He didn’t believe that the era of social media would mark the end of reading literary works. “In every generation, there is different medium used for communication. Artists evolve. If you get people to write, the medium to get to the audience won’t be a problem,” he said.
Azu Arinze, soft sell magazine publisher and an author, in his contribution, said awareness had to be created to enhance the business side of writing. Ekanem’s parting shot on how the Nigerian writer finds time to write in the midst of chaos served as food for thought, “If you are a dog, you have
to bark. If you are a cat, you have to meow. So, if you are a writer, you must write. I first write for myself. I encourage every budding writer to explore writing and keep writing.”