THE Nigeria Prize for Literature 2022 has announced the shortlist of three poets, one of which will go home with this year’s prize money worth USD$100,000. Su’eddie Vershima Agema (Memory and the Call of Waters), Romeo Oriogun (Nomad) and Saddiq Dzukogi (Your Crib, My Qibla) are the three poets on the queue for the poetry laurel. The announcement was made virtually on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to millions of followers in the literary community.
Making the shortlist announcement was the Advisory Board Chairperson, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo, who was flanked on both sides by two her board members, Professors Ahmed Yerima and Olu Obafemi. The prize jury are university professor, E.E. Sule (chair), poet, Toyin Adewale-Gabriel and performance poet, Dike Chukwumerije.
According to Ezeigbo, “The books, in alphabetical order, are Memory and the Call of Waters by Su’eddie Vershima Agema. In this collection, There is a consistent use of memory to reflect on life and destiny through the metaphor of water. Nomad by Romeo Oriogun. The collection has a fresh language and a nostalgic engagement with the theme of exile and displacement. And Your Crib, My Qibla by Saddiq Dzukogi. This volume translates tragedy into lyrical poetry with pathos and effortless imageries.
“This year, our International Consultant who will also do a review of the books on the shortlist along with the judges, is Prof. Susan Nalugwa Kiguli. She is a Ugandan poet and literary scholar. She’s an Association of Professor of Literature at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.”
As teasers, here are excerpts from reviews of the three poetry collections. First is Agema’s Memory and the Call of Waters in AnoteArtHub: “From ‘When traffic lights went out’ in honour of Pius Adesanmi who died in a plane crash to ‘Transition II’ where ‘Our compound is a testament to the earth’s theft/ littered with concrete mounds, pillowed with/ fading names. Forgotten stories,’ Agema mourns the beginning of nightmares in his people’s encounter with herders who are the genesis of ‘earth’s theft’ of his compound. While in ‘Transition,’ ‘these graves are an encyclopaedia/ pages of our mostly forgotten past’, of deaths that occurred naturally, ‘Transition II’ assumes the macabre dance of herders murdering whole villages just to make way for cows to graze:
‘This river, this river…running behind the houses,/ rushes with urgency and waves as I leave/ warning of a time when herdsmen might lead us to Golgotha./ Our ityo, elders stand helpless while my daughter sighs from afar./ I raise a dirge of too many memories filled with holes,/ waiting to be patched when I become the earth.”
Also from TheNews magazine by Nehru Odeh is Dzukogi’s Your Crib, My Qibla: “Still, the pathos in Dzukogo’s poetry not only rings true it is also palpable. The collection is not just about a poet grieving the loss of his child, but a poet betraying strong, haunting emotions, which the reader senses line after line, metaphor after metaphor and imagery after imagery. And the memories that keep bopping up again and again and the sense of loss grip the reader so well that they also feel the poet’s pains and trauma.
“A salient feature of the collection is its polyphony, its multiplicity of voices, the striking manner in which the poet gave his daughter voice in the second section of the book and makes it dialogic. The book is not just about a poet expressing his own feelings but also about how he makes it dialogic, democratic and interactive by making his daughter, who is still alive though dead, express her own feeling.”
And Romeo Oriogun’s Nomad is described thus: “Oriogun combines the exploratory intensity of travel poetry with the confessional fidelity of a memoir to paint the journey of a curious child sculpting his truth into questing words across strange and known terrains. The result is a deeply attentive work brimming with wisdom and a power of observation.”
However, the shortlist has sent tremours down the spine of the literary community, with some expressing incredulity at the longlist that puts the younger poets ahead of the older ones. Some have already begun to call the shortlist poetic revolution and generational shift in craftmanship. Twice longlisted Prof. Remi Raji (Wanderer Cantos), once shortlisted and once longlisted Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo (Augusta’s Poodle), twice longlisted Iquo DianaAbasi (Coming Undone as Stitches Tighten), and four times longlisted Dr. Obari Gomba who won the Pan-African Writers Association’s (PAWA) Poetry Prize 2022 with The Lilt of the Rebel all fell short of the last three. What is clear from this surprise shortlist is that Nigerian poetry is the ultimate winner. The three younger poets have been on the scene for some time now, with all three also having gone abroad to hone their writing skills in various writing programmes.
all eyes on October when the winner will be announced from the shortlist of three poets.