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Thank you

Dr Hardwick

We are thankful for the continued goodwill and support the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition enjoys from poets across the world.

The January 2021 competition closed last night and received a total of 734 poems by 342 poets from 16 countries. All of these entries will be read by the judge. No filtering. We look forward to celebrating the top 12 on the 10th of March.

The April 2021 competition will start accepting entries on the 8th of February. Get writing and polishing those poems already. Together we will build more poetry.

Our appreciation goes to the individuals and organisations that help us with publicity on their websites including:

The National Poetry Library – https://www.nationalpoetrylibrary.org.uk 
The Poetry Kit – http://www.poetrykit.org
Poetry Society of New Zealand – https://poetrysociety.org.nz
National Association of Writers in Education – https://www.nawe.co.uk/
Writers HQ – https://writershq.co.uk
Poetry London – https://poetrylondon.co.uk
Writers Reign – http://writersreign.co.uk
Poetry PF – http://www.poetrypf.co.uk
Almond Press – https://dystopianstories.com
Christopher Fielden – https://www.christopherfielden.com
A Dreaming Skin – https://angelatcarr.wordpress.com
The Poetry Shed – https://abegailmorley.wordpress.com/
Prize Magic – https://www.prizemagic.co.uk/
Writers-Editors Network – https://www.writers-editors.com
Poets’ Directory – https://poetsdirectory.co.uk/
ZenPens – https://www.thezenpens.com
Australian Writer’s Marketplace – https://awmonline.com.au
Creative Writing Contests – https://writingcontests.wordpress.com/
Creative Writing Link – https://creativewritingink.co.uk/
Australian Writers’ Resource – http://www.austwriters.com/

Nnorom Azuonye

Mark Totterdell in conversation with Nnorom Azuonye

Mark Totterdell

Poet and copywriter Mark Totterdell is the author of two poetry collections; This Patter of Traces (Overstep Books, 2014) and Mapping (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2018). His poems have also been published in The Interpreter’s House, Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, Envoi, Orbis, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, The Rialto and Stand, and in anthologies including Bridgewatcher and Other Poems and Poems for a Liminal Age (SPM Publications). This interview by Sentinel Literary Quarterly editor Nnorom Azuonye is taken from a feature on Totterdell as the SLQ Monday Writer on 26th October 2020.

You enjoyed writing poems as a child. What got you interested in poetry in the first place?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested. There were always loads of books at home. Both my parents were librarians. My mother sang us songs and told us stories, my father told jokes. I was a bookish child and poetry was part of that.

Why did you study English Literature at University? What did you plan to do with that?

It was simply what I was interested in and good at. I had no career plans. I still don’t, and I think it’s a bit late now!

Apart from poetry and your work as a copywriter, have you tried your hand with prose or drama?

I have never attempted drama. I may try a short story some time, but anything longer seems unlikely. I have tried magazine articles but I think my focus will always be on poetry.

So, Mark, what is your own definition of poetry? Why does the world need poetry at all?

Nice easy questions! Many claims are made for the importance of poetry and its ability to say things that couldn’t be said another way. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. I think for me, though, it is at heart simply something like ‘language at play’, using words to do more than communicate their dictionary meanings, putting them together in patterns so they somehow ‘mean’ more than they mean. Or something like that. Ask me tomorrow and I might say something different.

Does the world need poetry? I don’t know. This year I have read and written poems that deal seriously with our current concerns, but at the moment I’m reading and writing light-hearted limericks in a Facebook group. What can I say?

Offer a brief review of the poetry practice in the UK today.

Gosh, another easy one! In the ten years since I returned to poetry I have come to appreciate that there are many ways of writing poems, from the straightforward, heartfelt expression of emotion, to a more detached, intellectual concern with language itself; from what could be prose if it wasn’t chopped into lines, to exacting and precise forms. And so on. Some well-respected magazines are full of poems that, while I can see their cleverness, leave me largely unmoved. Others publish poems that don’t seem to show much evidence of being crafted at all. As in visual art, there is a tendency for people in one ‘tribe’ to look down on those in another. I think there’s room for everything. Diversity is good. I just do what I do and try not to pin myself down.

For over five years, I have enjoyed the ‘word of the day’ you share on Facebook. How do these daily encounters with words inspire and form part of your poetry’s DNA?

I think words are there to be used, and I enjoy finding new ones with interesting sounds or meanings. When I first joined Facebook, which I did with some misgivings as I value my privacy, I chose to do a ‘word of the day’ as a way of posting something regularly that wasn’t too personal. I have used obscure ‘words of the day’ in my poetry quite a few times. My view is that, if a poem engages the reader enough, they will want to check out an unfamiliar word. I kind of assume that everyone has access to Google. Maybe this is very annoying to some people.

If you were to write letters to a young poet as Rilke did, based on your own experience what would you say from finding inspiration, theme development, choice of form and getting a poem out there?

Just get writing! I wasted many ridiculous years thinking of myself as a poet without writing any poetry. It’s like most things, keep practising and you’ll get better. Or if you truly have no aptitude for it, at least you’ll find out. Keep reading, you’ll be influenced by other poets but in time your own style or styles will develop. Write about anything that engages your attention. Pretty much anything can be turned into a poem, in pretty much any style. There’s the world, there are words. The possibilities are vast.

In my work as a literary editor and poetry competition organiser, I receive so many emails from writers, young and old, who are apprehensive about submitting their work for publication or prizing. The fear of rejection is immense. You have been there yourself. Say something to these writers, and if you can, share with us how you have handled rejections and adverse critiques of your work.

In my mid-twenties I began submitting to magazines, convinced with the arrogance of youth that I was an undiscovered literary genius who would immediately find fame if not fortune. It only took a few rejections to discourage me thoroughly. I didn’t appreciate then that rejection is part of the poet’s experience. One of my early rejections was from Martin Bax, then editor of Ambit. As I remember it, it was quite an encouraging rejection, but at the time, the fact that he didn’t want my poems was everything.

I deeply regret the wasted years. I wish I’d listened to the small part of me that always believed I could write.

When I began writing and submitting again in 2010, I was lucky enough to have an acceptance very soon. And there is a degree of luck to it. Editors have their personal tastes, acknowledged or unacknowledged, in styles and subjects, and have to choose poems that fit with others as well.

I still get more rejections than acceptances. I believe that this is true of most poets unless their name is Dylan Thomas. In a way it’s worse now. I find myself thinking ‘I’ve had two collections published and have won competitions, how dare you not publish my poem!’ But I don’t think that’s a useful attitude.

For the record, I have had one poem accepted that had already been rejected twenty-five times. But often I’ll ‘retire’ them long before that and try to write better ones. And I have now been published by Ambit!

First time I saw the cover of Mapping. I thought it was something cartographic, and I reckoned that’s what you do when you are not writing. Then I read Steve Spence’s comment that the book combines “a love of maps and places with flora and fauna and a taxonomy of pubs.” Why did you write a book like this?

I’ve always been fascinated by maps. I got this from my father, who stuck together several Ordnance Survey maps to hang on the wall, centred on where we lived. I enjoyed playing with the idea that the map is not the reality, but does say something true about the world (like a poem maybe?). I still spend a lot of time looking at maps, mainly online now.

The maps in the book are very definitely the ones that were new in my teenage years, so there’s certainly a nostalgia element too.

Flora and fauna are always likely to appear in my poems, and pubs, especially old and quirky ones, are some of my favourite places. Not that all the pub poems are necessarily just about pubs.

So the book is really simply a collection of poems about different things that interest me.

Covid-19 has not been kind to pubs, and many are feared not to survive the pandemic. Do you reckon that Mapping will be instrumental in preserving the stories of some pubs, especially to the literary types for whom a little drink is muse?

A couple of the pubs in the book closed before Covid, and I fear for some of the others. Others I’m sure will survive, though the current situation may have given the pub poems a more elegiac tone.

Are there any recurring themes that can be found in your body of work?

The natural world, in all its diversity, complexity and fragility. Most of my early poems especially could be labelled ‘nature poems’, though I like to think that a lot of them say something about the human condition as well. I find it quite hard to write directly about, say, love and grief, but with millions of species on the planet, and the continued destruction of nature being, in my view, the true big issue of our day, I don’t think I’m going to run out of subject matter any time soon.

Is a third collection simmering somewhere in your study? Tell us a little about it and when it can be expected.

A third collection has already left my study but I don’t know yet when it will appear, so I won’t say anything more about it for now.

Thank you Mark for giving me your time for this interview. I am particularly thankful for your support of Sentinel Literary Quarterly as a contributor, magazine buyer, regular participant in our competitions with great success. You have also judged our competition once. I trust that I may call on you to judge for us again in the future?

Thank you Nnorom for your interesting and perceptive questions, which have certainly made me think. It would be a pleasure to be a judge again some time. For now, I’d better get my entry in for the current competition. SLQ

Echezonachukwu Nduka in conversation with Nnorom Azuonye

Echezonachukwu Nduka

Echezonachukwu Nduka, poet and pianist, is the author of two full-length poetry collections Chrysanthemums for Wide-eyed Ghosts (Griots Lounge, 2018), and Waterman (Griots Lounge, 2020). He holds degrees in Music from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Kingston University London, UK. In 2016, he was awarded the Korea-Nigeria Poetry Prize on World Poetry Day. Hailed by Guardian Life Magazine as Artist Extraordinaire, Nduka’s literary works have been published in The Indianapolis Review, Transition, Bombay Review, Saraba Magazine, Jalada Africa, Kissing Dynamite, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry Vol. II, and A Thousand Voices Rising: An Anthology of Contemporary African Poetry, among others.

A specialist in piano music by African composers, Nduka has performed at the National Opera Centre in New York, Gateway Playhouse (New Jersey), IMI Concert (St. Louis, Missouri), as well as numerous other venues. His work has been featured on BBC Newsday, Radio France International, Classical Journey Ep. 134, and Radio Nacional Clasica de Argentina.

He currently lives in New Jersey where he teaches, writes, and performs regularly as a solo and collaborative pianist. Official Website: www.artnduka.com

This interview by Sentinel Literary Quarterly Founder/Editor, Nnorom Azuonye is taken from the feature ‘Echezonachukwu Nduka, Monday Writer 12 October 2020.

Son of an itinerant minister, what sort of literatures, apart from the scriptures, were you exposed to when you were growing up?

Fiction and plays. I have thought about this fact many times because now, I am more of a poet than a fiction writer, even though I have written and still write short stories. I have never written a play, but I read a lot of plays while growing up. For instance, Ola Rotimi’s ‘The Gods Are Not To Blame’, ‘Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again’, Wole Soyinka’s ‘The Lion and the Jewel’, ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’, and others in that category. Camara Laye’s ‘The African Child’, Chinua Achebe’s ‘Chike and the River’, Ayi Kwei Armah’s ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’, Chukwuemeka Ike’s ‘Toads for Supper’, ‘The Bottled Leopard’ and ‘The Potter’s Wheel’ were part of the first works that introduced me to the world and genre of fiction. My parents owned a decent library. But more interesting is the fact that some of those books were bought in their early years as college students, and they sometimes had annotations which aided my reading and made me see things from their own perspective. I wasn’t thinking so much about what I read at the time. I only enjoyed the stories and how I was drawn in by the depth of language in which they were written. Perhaps, I should give some thought to why I was not very much interested in European literature, especially children’s stories at that stage. We had them in our library, but I was more interested in books by African authors. Poetry came into the picture much later when I was in secondary school.

At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to write? Do you recall your earliest pieces and what they were about?

It must have been in 2012 when my poem was published in The Kalahari Review. I had just started writing again shortly before that publication. My earliest pieces were a lot of garbage presumably, because I wrote more than I read at the time, and I was more ambitious about getting published than learning the actual skill of writing. I wrote political protest poems, love poems, and poems about my environment.

Who formed your support and encouragement base when you started out? Are they still there now?

When I finally decided to take writing seriously, my support and encouragement base were mostly writers on Facebook who had formed literary groups online where comments were made on my writing. Griots Lounge published one of my poems on their blog and encouraged me to keep writing. Fast forward to six and eight years later, they have become the publisher of my two poetry collections. I am indebted to the generosity of writers such as Dami Ajayi, Jumoke Verissimo, and others who shared candid feedback on my early poetry manuscripts and gave me the support I needed to thrive. Timi Nipre encouraged me to finish the early drafts of my first manuscript. Toni Kan published my poems in Sunday Sun Revue (SSR) of Sun Newspapers where he was editor at the time. Those platforms, among others, were a huge source of encouragement. I still enjoy unalloyed support from some writers who supported me when I was starting out.

Your first and masters degrees were in music, and your analysis and research is on West African Composers. Sounds fascinating. Tell us a little about your work as a musicologist, particularly about Choreowaves.

My earlier preoccupation was with European classical music in all its many forms and styles: choral music, organ music, piano music, etc. But in addition to playing organ music in church, I performed as accompanist to choral societies and solo performers before I decided to focus on classical piano music for a while. It was while I was studying the rudimental European repertoire that my teachers, Dr. A.O Adeogun and Professor Christian Onyeji, introduced me to piano music by Nigerian composers. First, it was Joshua Uzoigwe’s ‘Ukom’, then Christian Onyeji’s ‘Oga’ and ‘Echoes of Traditional Life’. Their compositions were quite unique, different in rhythmic and harmonic structures, and imitated traditional instrumental styles that I could relate to. So, I thought: African composers wrote piano music too! That was all I needed to know that I had struck gold. I did engage in popular music studies and analysis at some point, but I redirected my focus to African pianism. Since the past few years, I have dedicated my time to finding, studying, performing, recording, writing, and speaking about piano music by mostly West African composers. Recently, I recorded selected pieces from J.H. Kwabena Nketia’s book ‘African Pianism: Twelve Pedagogical Pieces’ published in 1994 for International Centre of African Music and Dance.

In 2018, I decided to record an EP that will comprise only solo piano works by Nigerian composers. I selected pieces by Christian Onyeji, Emaeyak Peter Sylvanus, Fred Onovwerosuoke, and Chijioke Ngobili. The recording was time-limited, together with a discomforting process that stirred my resolve to complete the recording. I had doubts at some point because I was concerned about the EP’s overall quality. However, I needed to get the work out there, to make a bold statement about this genre of piano music which I believe deserves more attention and appreciation. I gave some thought to what I wanted to call the EP, so I coined the word Choreowaves: a combination of dance and sound. What it implies is that African Pianism embodies the kind of classical piano music one can dance to. As I mentioned earlier, many compositions in the genre imitate rhythmic structures of indigenous African instrumental music, which are often responded to by dancing. In many African cultures, audiences do not sit still to watch instrumentalists perform, waiting to applaud afterwards. Everyone dances, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell performers and audiences apart, if there are no costumes for distinction.
Shortly after Choreowaves came out, it drew some attention and got featured on BBC Newsday, Classical Journey Ep.134, and Radio Nacional Clasica de Argentina.

Are you optimistic that West Africans will one day warm up to classical music by West African composers and that this will someday appeal to the rest of the world?

I am optimistic, but I must admit that we have a long way to go, even though African classical music enjoys a bit of appreciation and patronage in Africa. What feeds my optimism is the enormous work that many artists such as William Chapman Nyaho, Rebeca Omordia, Glen Inanga, Darryl Hollister, Emeka Nwokedi, James Varrick Armaah, Jude Nwankwo, and a host of others are doing to promote African classical music both on the African continent and in the diaspora. A few years ago, Dr. Edewede Oriwoh launched the African Composers website that archives profiles and contributions of composers from all parts of Africa. I have always maintained that one of the major points of action would be to take African classical music from the universities and conservatories to major concert stages, while seeking useful collaborations. If you visit many departments of music on the continent during performance examinations, you would be overwhelmed by the rich diversity of music by African composers which a lot of people both within and outside the university know nothing about. Unfortunately, many of such performances come alive and die right there. That shouldn’t be so. Africans will easily connect to this genre of music because there are several elements in such compositions that people can identify, understand, and appreciate. With constant performances, recordings, publishing, masterclasses, and collaborations, African classical music will take its prideful place on the continent, and in the world of music at large.

There is a temptation to think that writing is a side gig for you, but you have an impressive body of work in poetry, fiction and essays. Does your writing have a different life from your music, or do they work together?

They work together, I suppose. I write as much as I play music because I am dedicated to both art forms in equal measure. In other words, I split my time between music and writing. My writing schedule only suffers a bit of neglect when I focus more on music mostly because I am preparing for a concert. To be clear, I don’t write all the time. But I consider reading, research, and meditation on themes as part of the writing process. There’s a lot of music in my writing which could be found in themes, but also in the musicality of my poetry. As a creative and thinker, I am often caught in the web of exploration where both art forms feed each other.

One of the things I found fascinating whilst researching you for this interview was that in 2015 you translated the poems of Vladimir Vysotsky into Igbo language for the International Poetic Project Anthology (Marlena Zimna, ed.) was it a one-off thing or do you have original writings in Igbo and other translations into the Igbo language?

All of my original writings are in the English Language. The 2015 translation project has been my first and only translation into the Igbo language. I was specifically contacted for that project, and I took the offer with enthusiasm. To me, it was a huge opportunity to share my language with the world. However, I did not quite understand the importance of what I had done until I received a complimentary copy of the anthology, and saw my translation alongside the works of many others in various languages. In the future, perhaps, I might consider taking up the task of translating literary works of interest into the Igbo language.

In October 2018, Griots Lounge Publishing released your first collection of poems; Chrysanthemums for Wide-eyed Ghosts which ‘explores the intersections of death, love, music, wine, and the otherworldly.’ Walk us through this book and what you set out to do with it.

My first poetry collection is a dark work of art. I set out to re-imagine the idea of death, afterlife, and love with an inquisitive language. There are also poems about religion, cities, and seasons. Speakers in the collection ask existential questions that tug at the heart of what it means to be human in an ever changing world. The few love poems in the collection are mostly on the negative side of romance. In fact, a reader took it personal and queried my love life, wondering why I didn’t write a love poem with a happy ending. In one of the reviews of the collection, a critic argues that in the collection, I tend to build a bridge across the sea of grief. I agree. But of course, I am hopeful that the poems will speak to readers in many ways.

Just two years later you have another collection, Waterman, tell us about this book. Thematically, what sets it apart from Chrysanthemums?

Waterman takes a sharp turn away from the main thematic concern of my first book. It does not lend itself to dark themes of death and ghosts, but re-imagines the lives of people and places, interrogates memory, the sacred and mythical, sings aloud in many voices, all with a different depth of language and musicality. If there’s a thread that connects all the poems in Waterman, it is music.

Waterman is due to be launched virtually on October 16, 2020. You will be reading and discussing your poetry. You are looking forward to it, surely, we wish you every success with the launch at https://griotslounge.com/waterman-the-book-launch/

Thank you so much! I appreciate you and your team at SLQ.

Chrysanthemums for Wide-eyed Ghosts is available here.
Waterman is available here