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An Evening Of Conversation On Nduka Otiono’s Poetry Book DisPlace

By Ndubuisi Martins and Funmi Gaji

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Otiono poetry

The second online interactive poetry session hosted under the auspices of Peaquills Review, a new literary journal committed to promoting the literary arts, was held on Saturday, July 23, 2022.

The session was facilitated by five panelists: Funmi Gaji, poet and comparativist; Paul Liam, Abuja-based writer and content strategist; Akin Tella, poet and lecturer, Department of English, University of Ibadan; Olaoluwa Senayon, scholar and Director, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan; and Iquo DianaAbasi, a creative writer, performer and social activist.

The focus of the evening was Professor Nduka Otiono’s poetry collection, DisPlace: The Poetry of Nduka Otiono, published in October 2021 by Wilfrid Laurier University Press as part of Canada’s foremost poetry series, the Laurier Poetry Series (LPS).

The event drew an impressive gathering of the literati from three continents—Africa, Europe, and North America. Moderated by Ifesinachi Nwadike, poet, essayist and rapper, the session opened with a discussion of the semantic and thematic implications of the title of Otiono’s DisPlace. The opening round of analysis was followed by Otiono’s reading of two poems from the collection, “Homeland Securities” and “Dessert Crossing.”

Several adjectives were used to qualify the collection, the most frequently used one being “fascinating.” DianaAbasi was intrigued by the trajectory of Otiono’s work. She remarked that time has distilled from Otiono’s mind more sober reflections and brevity than the rage and longer length of the earlier poems; that his later poems are more concise.

She expressed a desire to see the path Otiono’s poetry will take in the next ten years. In response, Professor Otiono said he looked forward to someday in the future when he would consciously write poems free from the tragic tone which overlaces his poetry.

In his contribution, Dr. Senayon Olaoluwa, beginning with a semiotic interpretation of the book’s cover art by Victor Ekpuk, analyzed the migritudinal temper of the collection, and provided insight into his ongoing research on what he calls “extalgia.” According to him, it is about the dispersal of the living from the homeland to other lands.

He argues that there is, nonetheless, an uncanny but logical correspondence between “extalgia and death.” He noted that he finds Otiono’s new poems in DisPlace fascinating because of the way it is generative of the fundamental assumption of “extalgia.” Olaoluwa also highlighted the use of “madness” as trope in Otiono’s poetry, arguing that it “represents displacement from the domain of sanity.”

Another panelist, Paul Liam, dwelling on the cultural significance of Otiono’s poetry, expressed his fascination with how Otiono affirms Igbo culture using codes and symbols.

Funmi Gaji remarked that the collection underscores Homi Bhabha’s idea of the Third Space and the keenness that the Diaspora lends to the perspectives of migrant African poets, sharpening their incisiveness.

She emphasized the urgent, symbiotic and dynamic relationship between place and humanity, succinctly declaring that “place makes us, and we make places.” She argued that “placeness can be transmuted into power” and lamented how living in a tragic place often culminates in desensitization to tragedy. Then, she appreciated how Otiono’s poetry refocuses attention to such tragic living conditions.

For his part, Dr. Akin Tella provided a robust stylistic analysis of the work, carefully revealing how Otiono utilizes morphological, heteroglossic and stylistic creativity to achieve a more powerful realization of his thematic preoccupation.

The panelists generally concurred that the collection, together with its arresting title, was powerfully realized, and noted the masterful synchrony of African and Western literary traditions in the book, especially in relation to the poet’s alignment of style, theme, and performance codes.

The evening was further enlivened by the grand intervention of Professor Toyin Falola, the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin and celebrated author of dozens of books. Falola voiced his delight at being present at the event and recalled his recent review of Otiono’s DisPlace which was syndicated in “at least seven publications,” to quote the historian. He revealed that he was working on a study of Nigerian poets and only recently concluded work on Otiono’s poetry as part of a section he categorized as “contemporary poets.”

Beyond the style and form of the body of work, Falola delved into the question of the influence of migration on the aesthetics and thematic concerns of Otiono’s poetry. He contended that his scholarly interests have enlarged from Yoruba culture to Nigerian culture, to migration and diaspora, and finally to philosophy and epistemology, along with his scholarly migration from Ife to Cambridge, to Toronto, Canada, and to Austin, Texas, where he lives.

Thus, he reaffirmed the influence of time and space on the creative imagination. He stated his keen interest in the future trajectory of Otiono’s poetry.

In response, Otiono offered to share as his final reading for the evening, one of his recent poems. Titled “Homeland News”, the following opening lines rang through cyberspace thus:

An angel of death floats in-

Between lines of an email

Dancing skelewu like a demon-crazed

Naija politician excited by the bulge

Of Ghana-Must-Go bags from Oga at the Top…

Among the distinguished guests that virtually attended the session were Dr. Wale Okediran, Secretary General of the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA); Dr. Josephine Olufunmilayo Alexander of the University of South Afica; Dr Nureni Fadare, a lecturer at Sokoto State University; Dr. Barth Akpah, author of Land of Tales, and Mr. Odoh Diego Okenyodo, writer and founder of Akweya TV Ltd and Isu Media Ltd. Also present was Romeo Oriogun, who like DianaAbasi one of the panelists, is longlisted for the 2022 NLNG poetry prize,

At the end of the session, Ndubuisi Martins, poet, scholar, and Peaquills Series Team Head, offered his vote of thanks, and rounded off by informing the participants that, to clear the panel backlog, there shall be subsequent bi-monthly sessions between August and October.

Nurudeen Aribisala, Peaquills Review Senior Editor for Non-Fiction and Literary Essay, closed the meeting with a call for submission of literary works on a rolling basis to Peaquills Review as further detailed at Peaquills.com. It should be noted that Peaquills poetry series was launched on Saturday, 2 July 2022, with the live review of Utibe Hanson’s The Unnoticed Presence of Things on Google MeetUp.

Source: Brittle Paper

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