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Amatoritsero Ede @60… Friends, associates celebrate the poet virtually, April 29

SATURDAY, April 29, the poet and literary scholar, Amatoritsero Ede, will be robed in honour by his friends, associates and students from across the world as he settles into his Diamond age. He was born March 6, 1963 in Sapele, Delta State.

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The virtual birthday event will hold via zoom: 86860079418 | 639630. Time: 11am (CST), 12pm (EST), 3pm (Moncton), and 7pm (West African Time).

The April 29 event will feature scholarly presentations, poetry readings, and tributes, with Dr Tosin Gbogi, Marquette University, USA as keynote speaker.

Those wishing to contribute to the virtual celebration have been asked to contact the two coordinators: Uchechukwu Umezurike at [email protected]; (587)937-8965; and, Grace Ucechukwu Adinku at [email protected]; (832)946-7677.

EDE, who teaches African and African Diasporic Literatures in the English department of the Mount Allison University in Canada, is an influential member of the Nigerian literary circuit; and has contributed in particular to the cause of poetry in the country; helping through his personal contributions and his platforms, notably the Maple Tree Literary Supplement, MTLS.

The MTLS, which Ede publishes and serves as managing editor, has been pivotal to shaping the voices and careers of many poets who are today thriving in several parts of the world.

An internationally award-winning poet born in Nigeria, but currently residing i Canada, Ede has two previous poetry collections, A Writer’s Pains & Caribbean Blues (1998) and Globetrotter & Hitler’s Children (2009). The first work won the prestigious 1998 All Africa Okigbo Prize for Literature; the second was nominated for the equally prestigious Nigeria Literature Prize in 2013.

In 2004, he won second prize in the first May Ayim Award: International Black German Literary Prize. He has appeared in 14 poetry anthologies locally and internationally. Ede is also a literary scholar and Assistant Professor of English at Mount Allison University, New Brunswick. He is the Publisher and Managing Editor of the Maple Tree Literary Supplement, MTLS.

Dr Ede’s area of specialisation is African and world literature and Postcolonial Theory.  His research interests encompass the 21st century consciousness, Afropolitanism, as well as the intersections between World Literature, Translation and Comparative literature.  He is also a poet and Publisher of the Maple Tree Literary Supplement.

His publications including Globetrotter & Hitler’s Children (2009); A Writer’s Pain & Caribbean Blues (1998) have been recognised with international prizes including the all-Africa Christopher Okibo Prize for Literature and May Ayim Award.

…Reading & Discussion in June

ALSO being planned is a reading and discussion session around his last two books: Imagination’s Many Rooms, a non-fiction collection of essays, published in 2022, and Teardrops on the Weser (2021) on te platform of the regular BookTrek, organized by the committee for Relevant art, CORA. But this would be when Ede is expected to visit home in June.

Teardrops on the Weser (2021)navigates a geographical river that runs through northwestern Germany, but also an autobiographical river that’s sourced in the Niger River Delta of Amatoritsero Ede’s native Nigeria. Thus, his river of letters — of type versus stereotype, which is sectioned alphabetically, echoes African-American poet Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” but also shouts out to German poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the martyred, Nigerian poet Ken Saro-Wiwa. But one might also think of Canadian poet Judith Fitzgerald’s River (1995) and Brit bard Ted Hughes’ River (1983). But the echoes are extras — just glintings upon the poet’s original scintillance: “a sharp drawn breath / and I swallow sea water / just as a swallow swoops // across my view and up / to claim the roof / above my head.” No mater what: Never can you read the same poem the same way twice. You lunge forward on these rapids; you don’t lounge.

Teardrops On the Weser cover

Imagination’s Many Rooms (2022) is a collection of bristling essays on different but related subjects. Partly socio-political and literary commentary, partly a young poet’s reminiscences and encounters with global literary and cultural icons, the individual pieces are thematically grouped into sections in an organic anthology. It is written in a highly arresting style, with two of the pieces being essayistic conversations with a dead Canadian writer and a dead Nigerian scholar-poet respectively.”

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Childhood fringed by ‘fiery ball of fire…’

PROFILE

I WAS born in Sapele, Delta State on March 6th, 1963. I grew up there. My childhood existence was fringed by the ever-glowing haze of gas flares on the horizon above river Ethiope. It was my one fascination to understand in my child’s wild imagination what presence it presaged. I would stand on shot legs spread wide open and bend my head between my knees, the better to gain an understanding of that cosmic phenomenon through the frames of my legs, eye-balling the sky upside down. I never understood it. Only much late in life did I realize what that strange, fiery ball of fire was, and how it has disrupted lives and wasted land. I attended Bishop Johnson Primary school in Sapele and then Eghosa College in Benin City, and finally Adelagun Memrorial Grammar school in Ibadan. Later I worked with Spectrum books as an Editorial Assistant, more an underpaid editor’s position really!; Gbenro Adegbola’s Bookkraft (did I get that right?!). And finally, in 1991, I started studies at University of Ibadan in German Language and Literature in English before leaving for Germany in 1994 for further studies.

‘Poetry… a retreat from the harsh world to my overly sensitive self’

I BEGAN writing in high school. I was a lonely and dreamy, much misunderstood child, always buried in books. So books, first and then writing was a kind of retreat to an inner world. I actually started writing songs, first captivated by Fela’s horns. My inspiration was of course my first contact with poetry at Adelagun Memrorial. I had an English teacher, Mr. Gbadebo, who seemed to sympathise with whatever it was that troubled the quiet shy boy that I was. I gradually grew more brazen, of course, as the teens years progressed! I buried myself in the the works of pioneer African poets, especially Soyinka’s poetry. Okigbo’s “Before you naked I stand, mother Idoto”, seemed to be a form of greeting between some of us boys. I like the thing happening on the page with this magic called poetry. I started trying my hands at poetry. The first time I wrote a poem, I remember, was in class four. As time progressed I collected quite a number of juvenilia and had a small notebook of them, which I seemed to log around.

Poetry became a retreat from the harsh world to my overly sensitive self. I was quiet, morose and simply thought in verse. If I had a problem – poetry was the counsellor I went to – I wrote about it. In some way then, at that point, writing was therapeutic. Hemingway insists that all you need to be a writer is a bad childhood. I had my share of a bad childhood, which made me very sensitive, and I worked out personal problems in inflammatory verse. As such poetry saved me from the streets – which is not to say I was not at times rascally as boys can be. But it was a kind of mild, disinterested truancy. As time went on I discovered the Augustans, John Dryden and Alexander Pope. I simply walked into Odusote Bookshops at Oke-Ado, Ibadan one day and bought the collected works of those poets. It was an eye-opener. Dryden had this powerful and precise way with words. I learnt a lot from him. Of course I wrote in imitation of their kind of heroic couplet at that point. I did not try my hands so much at the Alexandrian epigram. As time went on my reading got wider. Hopkins was a delight, Elliot too and so on. That was how it transpired. And then poetry became a progressive obsession, then a passion. As time went on, one realised the other uses, apart from the therapeutic, to which writing can be put, and you were hooked for life!

How being a Hindu Monk influenced writings?

At some point it did – when I was in the Hare Krishna monastery in Lagos. But I could not say, like Steve Biko, “I write what I like.” I had to write pseudo-religious poetry with Krishna stuck in somewhere there. Like the Jesuit priest, Gerald Manley Hopkins, I could only have written about non-religious themes illicitly, if I wanted to – I never did; which meant it was a dry period for me. It was one of the reasons I left the monastery amongst others, like my dislike for regimented authority. We woke up at the same time (3 a.m.), took our morning baths at the same time, had morning service at the same time (4 a.m. till about 10 a.m.), had breakfast at the same time (10 a.m.) and went about our priestly duties during the day at the same time, to return at the same time for evening service at 7 p.m. And by 9 p.m. we must all fall down and sleep and rise again like automatons and it went on and on. The lasting influence it had is that it freed me completely of any kind of that type of institutional or self censorship. Since I left, “I write what I like”!

(Culled from an interview with SUMAILA UMAISHA, published in www.africanwriter.com/ in 2017)

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‘Poetry reflects my travels as a subjective accompaniment’

INTERVIEW

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(Excerpts of an interview by Uche Umerurike upon the release of  Teardrops on the Weser (2021) 

Teardrops on the Weser consists of poems elegantly crafted by practiced fingers, poems as luminous as they are liquid. Water imagery ripples through the rhythm of the poems, charting the poet’s itineraries far and wide. Migration, diaspora, belonging, and home recur throughout Amatoritsero Ede’s newest collection.


UCHE Umezurike: Teardrops on the Weser revolves around the imagery of water. What attracted you to that imagery? What significance does it hold for you? 

Amatoritsero Ede: What inspired the water imagery in this collection was, in fact, actual physical water! The Weser, the subject of the major part of the collection, is a river flowing through Bremen city in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is formed from two headstreams, the Fulda and the Werra, with their confluence in the town of Meunden. There is a famous peninsula of real estate on the river Weser. It is called the Teerhof, which in English means “tarring yard.” In a distant, medieval German past, it used to be part of a shipyard where hulls and ropes were, well, “tarred” for ship-building purposes. When the English Department at the University of Bremen invited me to be Writer-in-Residence in the summer of 2016, I did not expect to be housed in the scenic Teerhof peninsula. I was living on a half-Island—on this peninsula—in the middle of Bremen city. My windows opened onto the larger body of water on the West side of the peninsula; on the East flowed the “small Weser,” so-called because that body of water is narrower. The overall view on the West peninsula is breathtaking and idyllic for as far as the eye can see into the distant horizon. I had no choice but to make this idyll—and what it began to symbolize for me—into the subject of my summer creative writing project in 2016. In direct response to the second part of your question, the significance of the water imagery in the title poem is that the flow of different bodies of water becomes figurative for how Europe and Africa’s histories flowed differently, like their respective rivers: one untroubled, and the other tumultuous. 

In the poem titled “w,” the poet recalls “that trafficking of black souls / in rotten ship holds / across the cursed Atlantic.” What connections were you trying to make between these various waters?

I invoke European and African rivers to signify the sharp differences in the historical experiences of their respective geographical regions. I note the physical similarities and properties between these rivers while also highlighting their metonymic qualities. In other words, I am comparing the relative peace of the European river to the historical trauma that African rivers symbolize. The Atlantic was, for example, the conduit for shipping Africans into slavery. Today, we know that the River Ethiope in Nigeria is polluted by Shell, Chevron, British Petroleum, and oil-prospecting European companies. Growing up in Sapele, Delta State, Nigeria, I went to bed aware of the gas flaring on the horizon. As a child, I was confused by that orange glare, and I only understood what the hellish glow on the horizon meant much later as an adult. Today, Nigerian rivers and their eco-systems are polluted, and sometimes permanently destroyed, by European capitalist activities. This environmental assault on African land can be seen in other parts of the continent, such as the Congo. The historical encounter between Europe and Africa has been very disastrous for the latter.

Could you speak more about the significance of place and diaspora to your poetics? 

 Migration as a modern, deliberate process of existential dispersal litters my poetics. This is connected to my own restlessness, my sense of exile, alienation, and cultural loneliness. I have lived and studied in Africa, Europe, and North America; have worked in Asia and the Caribbean, and now live and work in Canada. Since writing can only proceed mainly from lived experiences, my poetry reflects my travels as a subjective accompaniment, as in the long poem “Globetrotter” from my second poetry collection, Globetrotter & Hitler’s Children. Or as a motif for unpacking non-subjective migratory experiences in Teardrops on the Weser. So, the question of place and displacement naturally occurs in my poems either as subjective or non-subjective experiences, or as fictive background contexts into which I embed a poet persona. For example, the poet persona in another long poem, “Caribbean Blues,” from my first collection: A Writer’s Pains & Caribbean Blues

I’m struck by this image: “the air is still / big with poem / impregnated with / joy.” How do you decide on an image that best captures the sense of a poem for you? 

 I do not decide on an image; the images insinuate themselves into my vision in the heat of writing, depending on the imaginative inner life/world generated by a topic. I am, of course, an imagist in the manner of the modernists. And I rarely fancy abstracta in poetry; you must communicate, and the image helps me do that unambiguously.   

If poetry is a way of seeing the world, how much has your vision of poetry changed, considering that your last poetry book was published over a decade ago and you have lived on several continents in the last few years?

My vision has not changed. For the mature poet, positive ideological vision hardly changes except in rare instances. Style might indeed change—some technical changes occurred in my poetry in the 1990s. However, my ideological predilections are still the same. I see poets as “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” as Percy Shelley writes in “In Defence of Poetry.” This means that, apart from writing idylls or love poems, etcetera, we must bear witness. That is what I do in Globetrotter & Hitler’s Children—beyond the idyll and subjectivity of “Globetrotter,” the long poem “Hitler’s Children” is a robust engagement of the rightwing in Germany at the time. Bearing witness to history is what I primarily do in Teardrops on the Weser, which probes the history of the injustices perpetrated against the oppressed. Poets must bear witness because, as Henry Miller says in Time of the Assassin, his study and critique of Rimbaud: “If the poet can no longer speak for society, but only for himself, then we are at the last ditch.”


Uche Peter Umezurike holds a PhD in English from the University of Alberta, Canada. An alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), Umezurike is a co-editor of Wreaths for Wayfarers, an anthology of poems. His books Wish Maker (a children’s book) and Double Wahala, Double Trouble (a short story collection) are forthcoming from Masobe Books, Nigeria and Griots Lounge Publishing, Canada, respectively, in fall 2021.

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