Winner: “It is Hope That Keeps the Flame of Dreams Dancing” by Abdulmueed Balogun
There’s a decay in our consciousness—the individual and the national consciousness—a deep and flourishing decay, and there’s a rot in our conscience: this poem reaches and speaks to that decay, it addresses and peels itself away from that rot. Yahoo (also Yahoo Yahoo) is presently at the heart of Nigeria’s popular culture; consequently, the morally upright young person is frustrated at every turn by his peers. Abdulmueed writes:
[Dear God] Gaze upon me—a poet,
a pilgrim and dust, with your merciful eyes, I do not want to brew my bliss like birds my
age who have murdered their conscience with knives of greed, from the core of what you
ordained profane, I do not crave to oil my harmattan-bitten lips like my peers with my neighbors’
oil, while they go to bed with growling stomachs, with bleeding hearts.
This poetry is not marked by a sense of self-morality, however, but is rooted in a God-consciousness, a knowledge of His commandments for the living and how He has put parents in place as landmarks. And though deeply reminiscent of Khalil Gibran’s poetry (The Prophet), the long lines and the cadence of Abdulmueed’s voice kin the man’s, it is the young prophet Jeremiah, speaking of a nation rotten at the very heart, that I hear in a corner of my head when I read this poem: “I sat not in the assembly of the mockers, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of thy hand: for thou hast filled me with indignation.”
This poem sings of hope, and it is itself a thing with feathers. It filled me up with joy; I am glad to have encountered it.
First Runner-up: “Elocutio” by Olaitan Junaid
This poem, about grief and friendship, with faith woven into its fabric, sustains its power despite its length, and no word feels out of place. Its careful lineation and a masterful use of // allow for a containment of the overwhelming emotions that want to burst the poem’s seams. This is why it is remarkable; it holds heart-tearing grief so tenderly.
It’s also wonderful how it moves beyond the self and engages other bodies, even a ghost body and the body of the earth: “but o, i keep screaming/ & screaming // subhanallah // when a termite bites // & now /// my tongue // is lost // to grief’s brutal dialect.” In this way, this poem reminds me of J. P. Clark’s succinct ‘Streamside Exchange.’
After reading this poem, it felt like I had taken a walk with the poet in a park, on a warm afternoon, and we’d held hands and he’d touched my face and opened to me a throbbing, bleeding room in his chest. That’s how intimate this poem feels.
Second Runner-up: “Euphemism” by Samuel A. Adeyemi
Samuel A. Adeyemi is one of the few young Nigerian poets whose sense of observation is acute, and who has a language to deliver what he sees in plain yet highly lyrical lines.
Here is a surreal poem, bone quietly sharp. There’s a death-sharp tissue; by calling a wound a flower an ache could be tapered. Though dark and brutal, in language Adeyemi makes possible a softening of violence, which is just what an euphemism is. The poet thus employs a literary device as the internal driving force of the poem: ‘Euphemism’ itself is a long euphemistic song.
The poet’s deliberateness makes for a gentle and shocking—at the turn of the lines, which are broken with care—read. I am deeply humbled and honoured to be writing at the same time as this poet, and to be able to share this poem!
“Overuse” by Chijindu Terrence James-Ibe
“Sunrise” by Chinedu Gospel