Category Archives: General

SLQ Daily 05 September 2020

Clive Donovan has four poems due in the October – December 2020 issue of Sentinel Literary Quarterly. In SLQ Daily 02 September 2020 one of those poems ‘Soul Vampire’ was our Read of the Day. He returns today with ‘Study of the Object’ – the second of those four poems. The Blast from the Past is ‘My e-Conversation with Alison Chisholm by Nnorom Azuonye, an interview first published in August 2003.


CLIVE DONOVAN
Study of the Object
[After Zbigniew Herbert]

The object that doesn’t exist is most beautiful.
It has no limits or volume or lines,
it does not decay like cheese or wine,
for time has no dominion here,
unlike furniture, whose damage is ordained
in a disappointing world of splits, cracks and entropy.

Silently, with impossible curse, its aura shrieks,
unperceived, odourless and stiller than a mouse,
willing itself far from predatory gazes,
its contiguous space has no chance to contrast
and emphasize the constraint of its beingness,
so not in the thrall of the daemon of existence,
now this naked gap commands even more interest
as we come to realize what is missing, astray,
which means, ergo, its anti-matter counterpart
is null also and that creates or uncreates
two major holes in the universe – or two minute ones,
it is of no matter – but, in the psyche of mankind,
a void is a nagging ache, one must enlist
in the contrapuntal spheres of love and hate,
subscribe to the scheme or attract attention,
not always benevolent or welcome.

And the takers, who cannot bear to miss out,
must possess at least an ounce of its essence;
even as dealers offer promissory notes
to the connoisseurs of ownership,
agencies of governments strive vainly to bomb
the unthinkable into the matrix.

At best it will be assigned a place, absente reo,
on an altar, plinth, or display case,
with a script surmising properties,
a plastic model of putative halo, perhaps.
That’s it. That’s the end story. That’s how it is. Or isn’t.

I am floating on a raft, struggling with belongings,
after a villainous war of philosophy
and it is circling me, this thing I almost made,
sliming up my punt pole, pretending to be water,
fresh, unsalted, the drink of my dreams.

Or I am a salmon, where plunges a dread waterfall
and this thing, nothing to speak of, is an invisible
spring: Unlocked, unhinged, inside the vortex, I rise,
engineered and shimmering with all the best colours.


Clive Donovan

Clive Donovan devotes himself full-time to poetry and has published in a wide variety of magazines including The Journal, Agenda, Acumen, Poetry Salzburg Review, Prole, Sentinel Literary Quarterly and Stand. He lives in the creative atmosphere of Totnes in Devon, U.K. often walking along the River Dart for inspiration. He is hoping to entice a publisher to print a first collection.


NNOROM AZUONYE
My e-Conversation with Alison Chisholm

Nnorom Azuonye (NA): Do you recall your earliest contact with poetry? Did you have an immediate love for the art or did this love have to grow?

Alison Chisholm (AC): I can remember enjoying nursery rhymes as a very small child, and loving the completeness of a poem. When I was about five years old, my uncle gave me a copy of ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, and this book inspired me with the magic of a poem’s ability to open up a new world for the reader in just a few words. (My uncle died in his twenties shortly after giving me the book – a very special legacy.) When I was eleven I started studying elocution, and learned to love speaking poetry as much as I loved reading it to myself.

NA: In your poem “Fait Accompli” you mention Wordsworth as one of your influences. Are there other poets that influenced and or continue to influence your poetry today?

AC: I suppose I’m influenced by everyone I read. So many poets leave me gasping with admiration. I love Keats, Browning, Frost, Shakespeare, Byron, Donne… also Sylvia Plath, Kit Wright, Carol Ann Duffy, Tony Harrison, Brian Patten, Dannie Abse, U. A. Fanthorpe … but any poet can influence me with a stunning phrase or perfect image. My response ‘I wish I’d written that’ is all too common!

NA: If you were introduced to somebody as a poet and the person asked a rather ambiguous ‘What kind of poet are you?’ what would you say?

AC: A jobbing poet – something of a hack. Yes, of course, I love to write the words that flow from my heart directly into the pen, but I’ll produce whatever people want to a deadline – poems on particular themes or for particular occasions, rhymed poems, free verse poems, poems for children, articles about poems … anything.

NA: You have been known to be a great reader/performer of your poems. How do these performances form a part of your creative process? Specifically, do you return to tweak poems after your have given public readings of them? If you do, what informs the bits of changes you make – is it the reaction of your audience, or smoothness of the lines on your tongue?

AC: Thank you for such a lovely compliment. I love reading my poems, and try to do so with vocal expression and variety, but without a melodramatic, over-the-top performance. Yes, I do make occasional ‘tweaks’ after a reading. If a line or stanza does not flow easily I may well change it, and I also respond to audience reaction.

NA: Do you have a favourite reading/performance venue? Is there something about the physical space of that venue that adds more depth and or resonance to your poems?

AC: I don’t mind where I read – size of room, size of audience, etc. The physical space is not really important to me, although a cold venue is uncomfortable and a noisy one or the presence of uncontrolled hecklers is distracting. The warmth and responsiveness of the audience are essential, and fortunately most audiences are extremely generous.

NA: What is your favourite poetry magazine? What is special about it?

AC: This is a very difficult question to answer. I subscribe to about a dozen and enjoy them all, although time does not permit me to read every issue of every magazine from cover to cover. I particularly enjoy the poems selected for ‘Envoi’ and ‘Acumen,’ so perhaps I am on the same wavelength as their editors, Roger Elkin and Patricia Oxley respectively.

NA: You have published 7 collections of poems, with an 8th collection in the works. How do you find the inspiration to continue writing?

AC: With great difficulty. I have a poor imagination, and rely a lot on exercises to stimulate the creative flow. I feel there’s no problem about using an exercise as the genesis of a poem as long as the poem finds wings and manages to fly. I suppose that observation, reading as much poetry as I can, and keeping a writer’s notebook provide me with the majority of ideas. But for every poem I submit anywhere, there are probably twenty ‘flops’ in the waste paper basket.

NA: You are involved in several poetry tutoring programmes in the United Kingdom. When did you realise that you wanted to teach poetry writing? Do you really believe that somebody can be taught to be come a poet?

AC: I have always been drawn to the vocation of teaching, wanting to share skills with enthusiastic people. I have taught elocution all my working life, and started to teach creative writing in 1983. Two years later, when my local Arts Centre mounted a series of arts-based courses and was looking around for tutors, I applied to teach poetry, and worked for them for eleven years. I am learning the craft of writing poetry by trial and error – and it’s an on-going process. My first book on this subject was published in 1992, and I wrote it to try to distil all the advice and hints I wish I’d known when I started to write. As a result of this, I was invited to write a correspondence course for poets. I firmly believe that writing poetry can be taught, as long as there is the slightest spark of ability in the student, and patience and perseverence to fan it into a flame. If I didn’t believe that, I could not do my job with integrity.

NA: In “The Craft behind The Art” (www.poetrysociety.org.uk) Vera Di Campli San Vito writes on The Craft of Writing Poetry, “Alison Chisholm says she wrote the book she wished she’d had when she was starting out. In the past, books which analysed poetry were mostly English literature text books which would show how to deconstruct a poem, rather than show how to construct one.” Tell me about this book, what are the key tips you present in it that every poet might find invaluable?

AC: The book takes its reader through the whole process of writing a poem. It starts by looking at the people who are writing and why they do it … then explains about getting ideas and developing them through the technical and artistic processes required to bring them to life in poetry. There is advice about what to do with the poems after you’ve written them, too.

NA: You have previously run a poetry course at Swanwick: The Writer’s Summer School. Is this an on-going course? What does it seek to accomplish for the poet? Is it open to all and how successful has this programme been in helping aspiring poets get closer to their dreams?

AC: A number of writers’ schools and conferences offer courses on poetry, as well as other aspects of creative writing. These give an opportunity for
studying the craft of poetry with an experienced tutor, or gaining ideas and refining your writing in workshop groups. Any networking with other poets and studying with tutors can be beneficial to the writer.

NA: You are a regular poetry competition adjudicator, and I have enjoyed some fantastic poems that have won including A.C. Clarke’s “Remaindered Poets” (Envoi 117). You have also (with Iain Pattison) written “Writing Competitions – The Way To Win.” This almost sounds as if it is not enough to write excellent poetry. Besides, there are a lot of people who hold the view that pay-to-enter competitions are in a way some kind of vanity and a way of funding the commercial press. How would you respond to these, especially to the suggestion that poets who do not crave validation of their work will never send them to one of these?

AC: The best advantage you can give yourself when entering a competition is to ensure that the work you submit is excellent, exciting and original. I do not know of any pay-to-enter competitions that yield vast profits. Given the expenses of running a competition, breaking even is the goal of most competition organisers, who are doing it to help and encourage poets rather than for commercial gain. Entering a competition will not massage a writer’s vanity – it is far more likely to give him/her an inferiority complex, as winning is extremely difficult. But there is a fascination in pitting your skills against those of your peers which many poets find irresistible. The book and the competitions themselves exist so you can give yourself the best chance to do this.

NA: Last year, you adjudicated the malapropism poetry competition in Honour of Richard Sheridan on the 250th anniversary of his birth. I read in Writing Magazine, the winning poem “Misguided Tour” by Phil Powley, and the runner up “To the Manager of Gruesome Grange Hotel” by Liz Summerson, and had amazing fun with them. What is the future of Malapropism Poetry?

AC: I’m glad you enjoyed these pieces.

To be honest, I don’t think that Malapropism poetry has ever been considered as a recognised form. Of course, many poets have included puns and misusages in their work, particularly for comic effect, and I know there is a lot of mileage in doing so. But this is just a device, rather than a set style. We thought it would be fun to play with malapropisms in the competition as a pleasant way of honouring Sheridan’s anniversary.

NA: In your estimation, who is the finest poet writing in English today? Kindly say why this writer gets the full marks from you?

AC: I couldn’t answer this – there are too many contenders, and it would be impossible to make a fair choice.

NA: Do you agree that we are now experiencing one of the most vibrant periods in the history of poetry? What would you say is the reason for the increased interest in poetry in our time and how can we make the art even more popular? Is this popularity even necessary and healthy for the art?

AC: I think we’re experiencing a wonderful period in poetry … but this probably has something to do with the fact that publishing is relatively inexpensive and easy these days, and that poetry on radio and TV makes it hugely accessible. I am in favour of anything that helps to promote poetry, and a love of reading and writing it. Encouraging children to enjoy poetry, and allowing poems to insinuate themselves into our lives via radio, newspapers etc. are likely to increase the level of public interest in the art. I believe that poetry is a way of making sense of the universe, and any increase in its popularity means that more people are drawing joy and understanding from it.

NA: Thank you, Alison for making the time to talk to me. I look forward to your new collection and more educating articles in Writing Magazine which I read regularly.

AC: Thank you for allowing me to take part in this interview. Best wishes.

My e-Conversation with Alison Chisholm by Nnorom Azuonye
was first published in Sentinel Poetry (online) in August 2003.


SLQ Daily 03 September 2020

Read of the Day

ANDY EYCOTT
The old man in my bed

Taken by surprise
as I lay in bed, dozing,
I touch an old man’s head,
fingers falling through reeds
into a pond. I wipe away the sleep.

His cheek soft, wrinkles to my touch
a fruit past its prime,
slow deflating balloon.

How did this old man come to be
in my bed?
His failing crop
alien to my touch;
decimated rain forest.

I remember now
seeing the old man
in the living room mirror
caught him in a sideways glance.

He didn’t register as anyone I knew,
yet here he was
in my bed.
My fingers run lightly

over his parched brow tense,
line after line his forehead reveals
his furrowed history.

I rub gentle circles around his temples.
I feel relief,

he coughs, I choke,

he yawns, my ears pop,

he hooks his spectacles into place,
my world comes into focus,

then I realise,
my God!


‘The old man in my bed’ by Andy Eycott received a special mention in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (July 2020) judged by Terry Jones.


Sentinel Literary Quarterly, July – September 2020 – Buy or Subscribe now.

Blast from the Past

STEPHEN VINCENT
Walking (1)

I was a large thing walking,
I was a small thing walking,
I was walking a small thing
walking a large thing walking:

I was a large thing walking,
my son was a small thing running,
my daughter a series of hearts:

There was a green eyed woman,
I could hear her in the dark forest-
no moon thick trees-
down there
across the creek
flailing or holding back
waiting to perch
on the neck
to invite the man.

You could hear the music start
And know the man, small the stone rolling gathers,
The light industrial sound mounts
A clarinet without sides,
Or an inside
Delivered out.

To hear the music circle
Without finance or vision,
The division, my daughter screams,
My son chortles: What arm
Around the throat or waist? What victim?
The joy delivered backwards. What’s a
Young man to do?

What she dances,
Her hands plying her crotch,
“I’m squeezing my vagina. It’s good
Massage. What do you think of
the Pointer Sisters?” Four years
Old. “Look Dad,” a few minutes later
In the bathroom, “I’m pissing
standing up. None got on the floor.”

Walking & walking & walking.
You are not with me anymore. Happy.
Sad. You name it. I don’t care.
Walking. Walking. What’s a life?
Though I hear you walking.


Stephen Vincent served as Director of Bedford Arts — an art books house (1986–1991) and as Publisher, Momo’s press (1974–1985). A former Poetry Review Editor, San Francisco review of Books (1976–1982), Director of Poetry in the schools, California (1970–1972) and Lecturer in Creative Writing, San Francisco Art Institute and San Francisco State University (1968–1970), Vincent has also worked as Lecturer in English and Creative Writing, the United States Peace Corps, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. 


SLQ Daily 02 September 2020

Read of the Day

CLIVE DONOVAN
Soul Vampire

His manner was of gentlemanly perfection.
He bought her rose buds, glass slippers, a rainbow scarf
and delicious treats to eat, telling her
she was too thin [which was a bit of an untruth]

And the taxi rides and dinner dates,
the flatteries and delicate remarks
regarding her clothes and figure and cheekbones
and hair. And he smelled so nice.

He built her up, he led her to a promenade,
where stars shone and the sea glistened silver.
There, under a lamp post filtering golden light,
he offered her a ring and marriage.

She was at the peak of her happiness,
mesmerized by diamonds, dying of delight:
in that moment he devoured her meagre soul,
leaving not a mark.

Clive Donovan



Blast from the Past

ESIABA IROBI
The Kingdom of the Mad
(for B.J. alias Biodun Jeyifo)

I

B. J., as you know, poetry,
for all exiles,
begins in Flight.

The British Airways plane hovered over Lagos,
like a wounded albatross, then, headed North, towards
Ibadan, emitting its jets of smoke over smaller cities:

Ife, Ondo, Abeokuta, Ekiti, and the green forests,
the markets, rivers, lakes, valleys, plains, mountains
and the smouldering savannahs of the hunch-backed
landscape we once called our country;

over the Kingdom of the Mad, and its greedy,
corrupt populace grinning gangrenously, below,
like wounds on a punctured, suppurating heart;
over Nigeria, a fiction on the edge of extinction.

It jetted round the neck of Olumo Rocks
like a curse, straightened its neck, blessed the skull
of the earth with its urine-streaked droppings,

then, banked westwards, its iron wings
scissoring the wind and the clouds and the light with fury
like a hurricane nicknamed the tail of the devil.

Airborne, now, I look down. How secure
and powerful it makes one feel to look down,
from these heights, and see one’s own country
and people as damned, see them as toothed vulvas
waiting to bite off and chew into pieces whatever
you put like a bone between their gaping, yapping,
flapping, oversized, omnivorous lips: food, foolishness,
manifestoes, your penis, even urine from an aeroplane,
raining down their open-ended throats like a sad,
lugubrious poetry; the poetry of power.
And suddenly, it dawns on me that this must be
what it feels like, I mean the ecstasy of power.
This is what seduces us all.
This feeling that one can soar above it all,

and feed on it, alone, like a gifted vulture,
like our late president who, it has now been confirmed,
died from an overdose of viagra pills.

Had esoteric tastes in women. Every hue and colour. Every shade
and shape. Every style. Every position. Including `The wheelbarrow’
which dumped him into his shallow worm-cushioned grave.

And so, B.J., from the comfort of this seat,

empowered by the cheap red wine, the distance,
the height, the British Council fellowship,
and, the dazzling, blinding light,

the country spreads out below like the carcass
of a gigantic cow rotting in the sun, its future, a capsized canoe
on the ox-bow loops of the river Niger crawling below.

I survey all, like Ozymandias, and smile.

One day, this country will explode,
with a terrifying force,
the force with which the engines,
like the imagination, rage
against the fuselage’s and the wings’
craving for the earth and gravity.
It will explode! In the hands and faces
of its makers. It will explode! Like a crude Biafran bomb!

II

And now, as the plane begins its cruise, in high altitude,
across the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, towards the tropic
of cancer, towards England, on a clear September day
I take a final glance at what was once my country,
and sigh, as all exiles always do, and begin to sing, inwardly,
without words, in all the colours of sorrow, about the destiny
of my country and of all exiles like me, who leave never to return:

I spit upon the laws that thieves have made
to give the crooked the strength to rob the straight.
I spit upon a country so full of wealth
yet millions wallow in squalor and in want.
I spit upon the flag that flaps like a rag
On an iron pole planted on the vision of pregnant generals.
I spit upon rabid religions that defend a hell on earth
and preach a heaven beyond this mire
I spit upon the education that turns into stenographers
a generation that could have been philosophers
visionaries and revolutionaries. Upon this whole damned
nation of mine do I spit. And while I spit, I weep.

III

Join me, B. J. in this epic of a cynic,
our nation’s nunc dimitis, my ballad
for her rigor mortis, which I sing
on my way into exile, and while I sing I weep.

Join me, with your baritone, brandy-mellowed voice,
even from across the Atlantic, from the other shore littered
with exiles, like beautiful seashells on a tourist beach.

Join me. I didn’t know you too had fled.
Some omniscient African-American egghead at Harvard told me.
B.J. I can hear you from here. My sorrow is oceanic.

Join me from Cornell! Nothing will stand between
You and me and the pain of history this song contains:
The cruelties of history. The fangs of our history,

As sharp as the jaws of the desert
and vast as the Sahara. As deep as the Atlantic
which, now, cannot stand between us

and our demon song! So, B.J., join me
in this Booger Dance before the cortege arrives
and we become another shard amidst a pile

of shattered shards in an exploding continent.

And do you notice, B.J., how, as one escapes
further away from the boundaries of our nation,
the surreal reel of the iniquities of our history
begin to unfold faster and faster in the memory
like slides from Shoah? B.J. do you realize as you read,
that I am what I have always been: a student of holocausts,
a scholar of genocides, a professor of pogroms;
a research assistant of exterminations,
ethnic cleansing and all other exciting atrocities
of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries?

IV

Ah, my compatriot, B.J., do you remember the beauties
of nineteen sixty-six exhibited as the masterpieces of our history
in the galleries of the North? Do you or do you not?

The human heads baked in an oven before they were fed to dogs.
The female breasts sliced off with axes and scimitars.
The vaginas and male genitals scalped with rusty scissors;

The spoils of an incestuous war. Skulls trepanned
with swinging axes. Necks chopped off on auction blocks.
Eyes roasted like groundnuts before they were fed to vultures

and other fowls of the air. The human brains
used to repaint the dirty asphalt of the one road
we have travelled since nineteen sixty-six.

Corpses tipped into mass graves, some left to the caress
of hyenas, the delight of vultures and the phalanges of the wind.
The valley growing with bones and rotting flesh.

The bodies of little children floating down the river,
clutching, like tiny green-white-green flags, the fragments
of our future. Do you recall the memory of the Igbo woman

who brought home, like a trophy, in a suitcase,
across River Benue, across the river Niger, by donkey
and by bicycle, by head and by train,

the quartered pieces of her husband’s body.
It is happening again, B.J., it is happening again.

At the turn of a new and doubtful century,
it is happening again and of course, you sef can see
how we have been standing here for half a century,

knee-deep in ashes, like embalmed sentinels,
waiting for the sign of a new life, any green thing
that can sprout from this valley blooming with bones,

blooming, like Malagatanas paintings, with its harvest of skulls.

V

Yes, B.J., the iniquities of our history will shame Mosseley,
shame Mussolini, shame Hitler, shame Enoch Powell, shame the Roman Arena, shame Carthage, shame Rwanda, shame even History herself.

I spit upon the laws that thieves have made
to give the crooked the strength to rob the straight.
I spit upon a country so full of wealth
yet millions wallow in squalor and in want.
I spit upon the flag that flaps like a rag
above an excrement of pregnant generals
and the new monkeys with the conductor’s stick.
Upon this whole damned nation of mine
do I spit. And while I spit, I weep.

Look at them, B.J.: The whirling dervishes of our history, politicians
of the third and final republic, with their spin doctors
and dream makers, sorcerers and shrinks all spinning round
and round like the possessed prophets of Baal,
stabbing themselves, cutting up their bodies, out of whose holes
nothing flows, neither blood nor water, nor any juices
of the spirit, since these animals are meat, mere meat,
fit only to be barbecued or roasted or baked or even cremated.
I mean the leaders. Since they are by their nature, toxins,
inedible, and for the sake of their immediate humanity,
should be handcuffed, shaved, upstairs and downstairs,
put in a leaking boat and pushed into the Atlantic Ocean,
where they will find, among the monsters of the deep,

the bones and relics of their ilk,

snorkeling among the ocean floor, among
the polyps and corals , the skeletons of a drowning history!
Here they come again. Here they come! Look at them. B.J.,
International Thief Thiefs. See their eyes? And their stinking arses,
their balding patches and trembling eyelids, (See, they are making
juju with their eyes now) puckered faces and leprous hands cradling
their crystal balls, their luminescent balls. Hear their grand epics,
their chants and great incantations. The prisons have been emptied,
the parliaments are full. The donkeys are neighing, the horses braying,
the bulldogs roaring, the hyenas throwing up. Meanwhile the hen
returns to roost without her brood of chicks because a python lies
at the threshold, his stomach bulging with eggs and the bones
of the only cockerel left. The compound walls are falling.
Creepers crawl over our homestead.

But I continue to sing,
B.J., because, as you know so well, it is only the homing pigeon
who has left the loft and journeyed forth, and returned, bloodied
and brained in the skull, pebbled in wing and beak,
who recites anew the myth of the land.

VI
Join me Odia Ofeimun, you who were once a poet,
a fine poet, whose favourite poet is himself.
You promised us, at the Anthill, to write us an epic titled:
Go Tell the Generals. Where is that great epic?

Who are the publishers? Why do I not have it in my hands?
Reciting it like a mantra with a rage and an energy
close to violence could have saved me this labour,
this despair, since I know the power of your gifted hand.

Odia, where is that great epic? Or have you published
and launched it between the thighs of a thousand white women
across whose smiling thighs, thumping groins and
applauding pelvises we all seem only able to writhe these days?

Join me Benjamin Okri, you who refused to send me a little money
out of the Booker prize to pay my rent in Liverpool.
Ah, the brotherhood of man. My bank manager was looking
for me all over Liverpool with a shotgun and two men
wielding lead pipes at the time I sent that SOS.
So join me in this incantation that wards off evil spirits at home
or in exile: In London or at Cambridge. The flames of the torches
we once carried in our hands are now succulent scallops
in which the wind dips his magic tongue again and again
and smiles and smacks his lips so redolent with sweet pussyjuice.

Join me Femi Osofisan, from your office in Ibadan.
As I told you at Leeds, the Monsters of the Deep
are still feeding on my soul like the teeth of a thousand
piranhas. Femi, I hope when I die, someone will stand
at my graveside and recite with a tremulous voice,
this epitaph:

We have gathered here today, in Aba
to mourn a stubborn poet called Esiaba,
who deeply believed that there comes a time
in every poet’s career when he or she must
have the guts to call a cunt a cunt
even if it is his own fucked-up cuntry.

I spit upon a country so full of wealth. Yet millions wallow
in squalor and in want. I spit upon the flag that flaps like a rag
above the kingdoms of the mad. And while I spit, Femi, I weep.

Kole , I hear you are now in South Africa.
Doing great adverts for mobile phones from the USA.
How will Karl Marx feel in his grave now that you appear
On billboards for conglomerates, how will Trotsky feel?
Lenin, Stalin, and Chairman Mao, how will they feel?
Have we betrayed them, compesino and comrade, have we ?
“But what else could we do? Afterall the Berlin wall had fallen
and we had been hoovered out of our country like crayfish
in a trawler’s net sweeping the ocean floor. Uprooted
like tender cotyledons by a whirlwind, the tenants of the desert.”
Kole, I too have joined the rat race , running my own race
through the academic track. Reading and writing and teaching
by day, playing the lottery at night in crowded malls. Dreaming
like Sampson and Salubi, about becoming a millionaire!!! Waiting
for my first million. To build a library in Aba. The second ? To marry
seven wives. Father seventy children. Form a new Marxist party!
Overthrow the government. Bring you all home. Make you ministers!
Ministers of culture! Ministers of the Future!!! Future Prime Ministers!

Join me, Afam Akeh, you who chose the path of a different truth
The road to the cross, on our way to Golgotha.
Join me, as I exorcise, in words and songs,
the terror at the heart of this epic, the eternal fear
gnawing at the sinews of my soul. Join me as I begin
to dirge and redream for the future of our children
who may return to a no man’s land, a home happy with
the laughter of gunfire whose national anthem is a twenty-one
gun salute and spurts of human blood jackson-pollocked
on that rag, that everlasting rag: that green white green rag.

VII

Join me, all you who are the remains of what remains
Of my generation. We are those the future forgot.
Beleaguered and despised, banished and dispossessed.
We who were blinded before we were born. And branded
thereafter. Friends, you who were once alive and happy
and writing, I just want you to know that before we return
from this interminable exile our country may no longer
be on the map of the world. It may have been erased,
its dross, the ashes and the dust a military priest flings
into the graves of pregnant generals who died fucking up their country

So, join me, Ossie Melody, you who thought you had
found the final metaphor for our country, broken pots.
Crouched in that industry you believed would make you
immortal, how could you have known that we would
all become, in the end, the pieces of the pitcher at the riverside,
fragments from that singular fall! Shattered, we cannot go home
with the water neither can we return to the stream with the waterpot!

Laa n’udo; laaa n’udo, nwannem nkem huru n’anya.

B.J. I dreamt, last night, that I was journeying
through North America (I have already urinated
all over Europe) And somewhere near Cornell,
at John F Kennedy airport, some monkey-faced,
caucasian immigration officer said to me, staring
at my green passport, Republic of Maicuntri?
This country no longer exists. Like Biafra, it has
been wiped off the surface of the earth by the Beasts
of Sandhurst and the Demons of Democracy.
What remains are the marks of their paws.
The milestones smell of blood. And the children learn
to count 123 as in Uganda and Rwanda, with their fathers
bones and skulls. Stringing them like numbers on an abacus.

Join me Professor Emmanuel Obiechina, you who
taught me how to tell poetry from prose, the essential
difference between ethical morality and literary morality,
who also showed me how to shape and sharpen a lance
and plant it like a flagpole between the ribs of your nation,
hurl it into its distended belly like an Olympic javelin
and watch from a safe distance, the pus oozing out
like jets of crude oil from its contused abscesses,
The horror O the horror. Join me, my beloved Prof.
The baton you wanted to keep on the floor of scholarship,
I have taken up and I vow the relay will continue forever.

And tell Chinua Achebe, whose own song ends this book,
That I want you, my fathers, to know and remember and recall,
that at this point in my life and career, that I despaired.
That as I write, something more profound than pain, more
primordial than mud, more destructive than rage or angst,
more orgasmic than sex, something beyond words, some deep
seismic force, beyond the subtle serenades of the wounded heart,
and the thousand agonies of exile, propelled this hand
and heart to the dirges and funeral songs emitting like sparks
from a flint, a whetstone worn out by the knife’s persistence
on stone, some primal power beyond my intellectual pretensions,
something some poets claim is the well-spring of verse, masters,
let me call whatever it is that fuels this feeling of anarchy
and bitterness, and despondency about everything we left behind,
everything we lost, the decimal humiliations that sweeten our exile,
the memory of our dear dear ones, all those we left at home,
on this journey of damned and damaged souls,
let me call this elusive thing, this feeling: Love.

‘The Kingdom of the Mad’ by Esiaba Irobi was first published in Sentinel Poetry Online in July 2003. Esiaba Irobi (1960 – 2010) was the author of ‘Nwokedi’, Hangmen Also Die, The Fronded Circle, and The Colour of Rusting Gold. Why I Don’t Like Philip Larkin & Other Poems was the last book he published in his lifetime.


Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (October 2020)
Closing Date: 31-October-2020
Judge: Roger Elkin
For original, previously unpublished poems in English language, on any subject, in any style, up to 50 lines long.
Prize fund: £535.00
Learn more and enter now