World Poetry Day: Verses in honour of Womanhood as 2023
TUESDAY, March 21, is World Poetry Day.
It “celebrates one of humanity’s most treasured forms of cultural and linguistic expression and identity,” according to UNESCO.
March 21 was adopted by the body at its 30th General Conference in Paris in 1999, with the aim of supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increasing the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard.
Providus Bank will be staging its thrid Providus Bank Poetry Café on this year’s poetry day, as has become a tradition since 2019. The occasion is at the Grand Ballroom Eko Hotel & Suites Victoria Island, Lagos.
World Poetry Day with Wole Soyinka, as he event is titled, is designed as an evening of engagement in poetry rendition and performances between the grand poet and Nobel laureate, Soyinka, who is the inspiration behind the project, and a coterie of established, mid-career and young poets, including students of varied persuasions and styles.
With the theme, Restating Humanity With The Woman, the edition will have on call eight poets from five countries – Nigeria, UAE, South Africa, Canada and Ghana.
Five of the poets are Nigerians, while three are other nationals. The Nigerians are Wana Udobang;
Amrah Aliyu; Achalugo Ilozumba; Kemi Bakare and Jumoke Verissimo (based in Canada). The non-
Nigerians are Nathalie Handal (French-American based in Abu Dhabi, UAE); Vuyokazi Ngemntu (Cape
Town, South Africa), and Emma Ofosua (Accra, Ghana).
Culture Advocate Caucus, CAC, the programme’s producers, say, “the overall idea of the theme is
to explore poetry works that pay close critical attention to the various modes of reduction and exclusion
that the female gender faces in many parts of the world, notably Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and other
countries in Asia and, some other parts of the world”
In his introduction to this edition the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka reiterates the strength of poetry to triumph over odds placed on its path by state authorities and people of extremist persuasions. “Poetry has survived millennia of corruption, hate and destruction”, explains the poet-dramatist and essayist, states: It will outlive all enemies of the freedom of thought and imagination. Even in the dankness and despair of torture chambers and dens of the hangmen, the ember lives, straining to burst into purifying flames in the least expected places.”
Providus Bank says its engagement with the Nigerian literary community is “designed to be a cross-
generational endeavour, one where established, mid-level and budding writers could share one big stage.
“We could not think of any other iconic and preeminently qualified persona than the legend, Professor Wole Soyinka, to be the grand patron and in some sense, the ‘patron saint’ for the project, and for the many young people who have graced the stage since the inception of the World Poetry Day series in 2019.
“It is important to underscore the fact that Prof Soyinka has been fully involved in the different themes and the artistic direction of the various events yearly. We are honoured, grateful and appreciative of his leadership and for being personally invested in this project.”
The bank restates the objectives of the World Poetry Day as outlined by UNESCO, as “the occasion to honour poets, revive oral traditions of poetry recitals, promote the reading, writing and teaching of poetry, foster the convergence between poetry and other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and raise the visibility of poetry in the media.”
PROFILES OF POETS
NATHALIE HANDAL: French-American poet and writer, she was born in the Caribbean to a Palestinian
family from Bethlehem. She has authored books of poetry, plays, essays, and has edited two anthologies
and has been involved as a writer, director, or producer in several theatrical or film productions. Her work has been translated into over 15 languages, and have appeared in anthologies and magazines such
as Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Irish Times, World Literature Today, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry New Zealand, Guernica Magazine, and The Nation. Her poetry draws on her experiences of dislocation, home, travel, and exile.
VUYOKAZI NGEMNTU: Writer- performer resident in Cape Town, South Africa, Vuyokazi uses poetry,
song, physical theatre, storytelling and ritual to navigate ancestral trauma, confront inequality and inspire healing. She was selected to fill the ‘International Poet' slot at the Austin International Poetry Festival in April 2016. Notable career highlights include sharing a stage with such luminaries as Malika Ndlovu, South Africa’s late Poet Laureate, Prof. Keorapetse Kgositsile, Don Materra, Madala Kunene, Lefifi Tladi,
Neo Muyanga, Natalie 'The Floacist' Stewart and Jah-9 amongst many others. Her work has appeared in
The Kalahari Review, Herri, Ibua Journal, Ake Review, Pepper Coast Lit, The Culture Review, Aerodrome
EMMA OFOSUA – Freestyle Performance Poet from Ghana, who has been performing her work for over
a decade to audiences cross-continent, her work explores themes of Ghanaian lifestyle, women
empowerment, mental health, identity and faith. She is the director of the All African Women Poetry
Festival, the chairperson of the Poetry Association of Ghana and a board member of the Speakers,
singers and artists association (SASA). She believes in community building, curation of platforms and
spaces for artists; and using the Arts to interrogate life, systems, challenge mindsets and generally be
used for a good cause. She is the creative lead of Tuniq Africa ltd; a project management company with a
focus on creative art events, concerts and others. https://youtu.be/sz9ihPV_AsI |
JUMOKE VERISSIMO: Poet, novelist, and children's book writer., Jumoke is the author of two poetry
collections, I am Memory (Dada Books, 2008), and The Birth of Illusion (Fullpoint, 2015), which was on
the longlist for the NLNG Prize for Literature, and a novel, A Small Silence (Cassava Republic Press,
2019), shortlisted for the 2020 Ondaatje Prize and the Edinburgh Festival First Book Award. After
completing her PhD at the University of Alberta, she joined Toronto Metropolitan University as an
Assistant Professor in the department of English. Some of her poems have been translated into
Norwegian, Italian, French, and Macedonian, among other languages. She was a Chinua Achebe Center
Fellow, Kwani, Kenya, in partnership with Bard College, USA, in 2012.
WANA UDOBANG: Writer, poet, performer, curator and storyteller, Wana has released three spoken
word albums titled Dirty Laundry, In Memory of Forgetting and Transcendence. Her work as a performer
has taken her across Africa, Europe and the US, along with working on commissions for Edinburgh
International Festival, Bristol Festival and Deutsches Museum in Germany. In 2021 she was awarded the
International Writing programme residency at the University of IOWA and the inaugural Ama Ata Aidoo
Fellowship at Northwestern University in 2022. She has a background in journalism working with the
Guardian, Aljazeera, CNN, and Observer as well as producing and presenting documentaries for BBC
Radio4 and BBC World Service. She runs The Comfort Food poetry workshop which uses memories
around food as a conduit to create new poems.
ACHALUGO CHIOMA EZEKOBE: Lawyer, writer, and broadcaster, Achalugo explores storytelling via
several mediums of expression — photography, film/TV, and stage. She is a culture enthusiast and
infuses elements of this in her work, exploring old and evolving African beliefs and traditions. Her works
have been shortlisted and awarded prizes, including Mr. Brother, 2nd runner up for the ANA prize for
Drama, and Boys on Jumping Trousers, 2nd runner up for Quramo Prize for Fiction. Her debut novel
–Mmirinzo: the Ones Who are Rain, was released in 2020 by Winepress Publishing. She is the first
female winner of the Beeta Prize for Playwriting, after winning the third edition of the prize in 2020 for her
play ‘Daughters of the East,’ published in 2021 by Paperworth books.
KEMI ISLAMIYAT BAKARE: Winner of several performance and spoken word poetry contests, Kemi
Bakare aka Kemistree, is known for her lyrical lines and powerful imageries, which she delivers in her
unique energetic performances on every stage she appears on, including at several editions of the Lagos
Book & Art Festival, LABAF; Lagos International Poetry Festival, LIPF, Lagos Black Heritage Festival and at the Wole Soyinka @80 poetry tour of several cities in Nigeria. Her awards have included overall winner of Wordslam (2011; Goethe Institut), Eko Poetry Slam, 2014, and Abuja Literary Slam 2015. She was a finalist at War Of Words Season 1; among others. She was declared best poet at the United Nation’s promoted project Search For Common Ground on Religious tolerance. She is currently the coordinator for the Eko Literary Society.
AMRAH ALIYU: A women and child rights advocate passionate about leveraging media to create a safe
haven for the most vulnerable members of her community, Amrah spent four years in community service as a volunteer at her school's radio station Search FM. She started volunteering in June 3rd 2016 as a volunteer Broadcaster, Voice over artist and reporter. Her major programme; Ba Kyaun Fuska Kadai Gareki Ba (Not Just A Pretty Face); was conceived to educate the rural woman about her rights to life, rights to vote and be voted for, to education, to opportunities, to her body and much more. Her works have been featured in cpj.org, Neptune prime network, Daily Boom, Dphnews, BBC media action and other platforms.
There has been a gale of political and cultural assaults on the person of the Woman in recent time around the world. Though appearing as isolated cases in the different countries, or parts of the world, it is beginning to look like the rise of an orchestrated misogyny against the female gender.
In Iran, the feudal regime imposed stringent rules on women dressing, insisting they must compulsorily
wear the hijab, and cover their heads with scarf. The situation was triggered by the arrest of Amini, a 22-
year-old ethnic Kurd, for an alleged breach of strict dress rules for women. Amini later died on September 16, 2022 in custody. The funeral procession in Amini’s hometown of Saqez in Kurdistan province turned into one of the first protest actions, followed by more than four months of unrests. Hundreds of people,
including dozens of security personnel, have been killed during protests. Thousands of Iranians, including
public figures, journalists and lawyers have been arrested. Tens of the journalists arrested over the
protests are still in custody, Tehran Journalists Association said. The state would seem to have won
temporary victory with its violent actions against the citizenry but it has only repressed a growing
discontent, that could lead to further threat to the peace of the society. Essentially, this draconian rule
could destroy the mental being, and endanger the comportment of the girl child in that society.
In Afghanistan, the extremist regime of the Talibans has banned the admission into, and attendance of
women in its universities. The action has also led to widespread violent protests, which expectedly have
resulted in repressions and arrests of countless protesters and activists. The consequence of this assault
on womanhood can only be imagined for the future of the female persona in the Afghan society.
In India, Pakistan and some East Asian nations, incidences of Honour Killings targeted at the female
gender have been on the rise, leading to frequent protests and clashes between activists and the law
enforcement agencies. Rape impunity has escalated to the extent that public figures openly accord a
“hero’s welcome” to those convicted of rape. These further damages the psyche and personality of the
victim and shreds the fabric of the full society.
Specifically for the Nigerian society, the Female personality suffers multidimensional oppression in
political, cultural and economic spheres. Aside from the lopsided economic opportunities which aspects of national economic policies instigated at workplaces and in some public engagements, women in Nigeria continue to suffer serial repression in the national scheme.
In representation in national and sub-national governments, women occupy paltry numbers of seats,
some of which are even threatened by corruption that defines the Nigeria democratic systems.
Six times the Women Bill of Rights has been presented before the National Assembly, and six times, the
dominant male members with largely extremist and misogynist persuasions have ensured that the bill is
stopped from progressing through parliamentary deliberations. Needless to add, the targeting of the girl
pupils of Chibok and Dapchi for mass abduction remains a gaping wound in the nation’s psyche, a wound that is constantly distended by mimic violations across the nation.
The 2023 Providus Bank World Poetry Day is dedicated to reinstating the female gender by paying
close critical attention to these various modes of reduction and exclusion of a vital segment of humanity.