By Shehu Mubarak Sulaiman
“I believe that the best learning process of any kind of craft is to look at the works of others” – Wole Soyinka
About a month ago, I woke up to a message on my Facebook Messenger. I was perplexed as to why a message would come in that early. It was dawn, and the skies had not brightened significantly enough for the layman’s morning to be declared.
The sender was someone who had once informed me of his interest in poetry. He had slid into my inbox a couple of months ago, and had registered his love for my writings, after which he requested that I mentored him.
Without wasting much time, I had introduced him to Poetic Wednesdays Initiative and urged him to follow-up on their activities. I had also introduced him to similar platforms, like the Poets in Nigeria Initiative Facebook Group.
A week later, I sent him a flyer for a forthcoming workshop and asked him to register. The workshop was organized by Poetic Wednesdays Initiative, and was to be facilitated by top-notch poets: Umar Abubakar Sidi and Dr. Ismail Bala. To cut the long story short and hit the nail on the head, Abdul-Rahman Jafaru Wali, a medical student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was the person in my inbox.
He had messaged me that early to inform me of his emergence as one of the ten winners of the recently-concluded “The Nigeria I See” poetry competition organized by MOP (Movement of the People). His feat had come just about a month after he had registered for a workshop organized by Poetic Wednesdays Initiative.
That is a practical portrayal of how much of a platform Poetic Wednesdays Initiative is, one does not come and leave empty-handed.
For three years now, I have been approached consistently by people slightly younger or even older than I am. Their solicitation has over the years lost every element of surprise. Whenever I receive a message from a stranger on Facebook, half of the time, it’s about poetry writing or writing pertaining to other genres of literature.
The question had always been the same from all of these people. They keep asking: “How can I learn poetry?” This is such a difficult question to answer, as there is a never-ending debate about whether poetry writing is an innate or a learnt skill.
Regardless, I refer back to Wole Soyinka’s quote about learning the craft of writing; how it relies heavily on imitation, and Poetic Wednesdays Initiative had always been my first recommendation for them.
First, if the advances are offline, I will ask them if they have a Facebook account. And if they answer in the affirmative, I’d urge them to like the page, and submit poems of any quality every Wednesday of the week. Over the years, I have lost count of people I had introduced to this platform. Some of them have now grown to become a significant fraction of the finest writers that we have around.
The journey of these wonderful poets and wannabe poets reminds me of my own journey. I had started just like them, a newbie, and a sprouting seed. In the concluding months of the year 2016, I had grown tired of talking about my dream of becoming a writer. The more I talked about it, the more I felt like a fraud, my impostor syndrome was becoming more and more intense that I had contemplated giving up writing altogether.
I was at the crossroads, one road led to an Eldorado of a life I had always made up in my head; the fantasies of what a celebrated writer’s life seems, and the other led to a path of giving up, a one-way route to despair.
Being a science student was more than enough deterrent already. I talked to a friend who had graduated from the university a year before me and who I believe had more life experience than I. He spoke of his friend called Salim Yunusa, who has founded this small literary platform that aims at nurturing young talents in literary-inclined endeavors.
I talked to Salim Yunusa and he introduced me to a platform called Poetic Wednesdays, that was before it became Poetic Wednesdays Initiative. It was the newly-founded platform of his. I had written a couple of poems before then, but I had posted none, they were all in my phone’s notepad, longing to be seen.
So, all I did was waited for that fateful Wednesday before making my entry. My poem was handpicked and afterwards posted on the page. I followed the poem up, and relished some of the praise-coated comments. That was my first official encounter with poem writing.
As time went by, submissions from me became more and more regular. I enjoyed every bit of it; the praise, the feeling of having written something someone else enjoyed reading. Amidst all that nursing school monotony, consistent memorization, and voracious reading to stay afloat, I found an escape.
I had started to look forward to every Wednesday, it felt refreshing reading through poems on the page, and sometimes using them as a blueprint to craft mine. I started to make friends online, Facebook transfigured from a place where I come to catch up on viral gossip, or post pictures, to a place where I have direct contact with intellectuals and like minds. My time online started to become more of an educative endeavor rather than a fun-seeking one.
Weeks passed by and I had started to play with different themes, I had become a favorite on the platform. People looked forward to every Wednesday, so they could catch a glimpse of my poem and savor all its flavors. I had copied styles of poets like Maryam Gatawa, Salim Yunusa, Sani Ammani, Nasiba Babale, and a host of others, before I had come to find my feet.
In 2018, there was a literary hangout somewhere in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria organized by this selfless platform. We dined, and recited poems for the relish of fellow poets and literature lovers present. We had a swell time. In 2019, I rendered my masterpiece titled “I AM NORTH” at one of Poetic Wednesday Initiative’s get-together at Kongo Campus, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
It is the reception it received that had led me to promoting it on different platforms. The video of the poem was played at the 2020 edition of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize event that held in Lagos. The written form of the poem was published on Daily Trust Newspapers, Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation official website, and other notable platforms in Nigeria.
The creatively titled essay of Sa’id Sa’ad “Poetifying the North” is not a coincidence. I particularly love the witty coinage of the word ‘Poetifying’. Indeed, the North has been ‘Poetified’. Today, in northern Nigeria, as opposed to the nearest past, there is a resurgence of literary activities and discussions like never before. There has been a fast-rising awareness of what literature stands for, and many have continued to embrace it.
Virtually all the states in northern Nigeria have one festival or the other, celebrating literature and further educating young minds on the importance of both literature in English as well as in other indigenous languages. This is not to say that the region had always been dormant in the realms of literature and arts, that won’t be fair to a region that has produced notable writers like Helon Habila, Abubakar Imam Kagara, Abuabakar Adam Ibrahim, Ahmed Maiwada, Ismail Bala, Aliyu Kamal, Victor Dugga, Maria Ajima, Zainab Alkali, Abubakar Gimba, and many others.
It is to say that the awareness about writing, reading, and other literary-inclined endeavors has been quite unprecedented in the last decade. Many young people have come to find it as interesting as any other thing young people enjoy. There are now more festivals, literary contests, literary magazines, literary organizations, school-based literary clubs and so on.
The younger generation had come to transform reading and writing from a tortuous exercise to something exceptionally pleasurable.
The perception towards literature has taken an entirely different dimension. If I am asked to pinpoint literary organizations in the north that have contributed immensely to this growth and literary resurgence, I will place Poetic Wednesdays Initiative amongst the first five on my list.
For the fact that it deals basically with young people and neophytes who may have or have not written anything before, it lays a solid foundation for those who develop cold feet when literary matters are being brought to the table.
This is quite hypothetical, but if one is to assemble ten young writers in northern Nigeria today, I am rest assured that two to three of them would attribute their literary indoctrination and growth from having to read, follow, or interact with poets and literature lovers like the likes of Salim Yunusa, Nasiba Babale, Aliyu Jalal, Mujahid Ameen Lilo, Abdulbasit Abubakar Adamu, Abdul-Rahman Abu-Yaman, Hajaar Muhammad Bashar,Usman Karofi, Maryam Gatawa, Sani Ammani, Abduljalal Musa Aliyu, Sa’id Sa’ad Ababakar and many more.
These writers that I have all had or still have something to do with Poetic Wednesdays Initiative. Nothing makes one more proudhearted.
Poetic Wednesdays Initiative’s six years anniversary is a celebration of poetry, literature, passion, creativity, community development, man-power development, and social change. As it stands, the initiative has organized offline creative writing workshops for more than three hundred secondary school students in Kano, Katsina, Yobe, and Kaduna. It has organized several literary hangouts for free, while also partnering with literary organizations like PIN (Poets in Nigeria), Ahmadu Bello University Arts Festival (ABUFEST), The Arts-Muse Fair, Open Arts, Creative Writer’s club, ABU, Minna Book and Arts Festival (MinnaBAF), Hausa International Book and Arts Festival (HIBAF) and many others, all to promote literary activities, especially in northern Nigeria.
If this literary organization is assisted in its selfless strides, the future of literature in northern Nigeria will be as rosy as it could ever get.