Sentinel Poetry (Online) #37
3rd Anniversary Issue – December 2005
THREE YEARS OF SENTINEL POETRY MOVEMENT
A report by Nnorom Azuonye
The International Community of Poets that Sentinel Poetry Movement (SPM) has become can be summed up as an act of faith: my faith in God and in the oneness of all the creative peoples of the world.
It was never going to be easy. I had a few sleepless nights making the transition from the original Sentinel Poetry Bar at www.nnoromazuonye.com to Sentinel Poetry Movement at www.sentinelpoetry.org.uk. Today, Sentinel Poetry Bar is an interactive members-only Yahoo! forum attached to the SPM website. The original poetry bar started out as a place to entertain and feature guest poets at my website (nnoromazuonye.com) and featured Kodi Azuonye (September 2002), Nathan Lewis (October 2002) and Esiaba Irobi (November 2002).
Some visitors to the Sentinel Poetry Bar at nnoromazuonye.com suggested that the project was viable, but that I must depersonalise and move it away from my personal website. The strongest of these voices was Dr Esiaba Irobi. He gave me the e-mail address for Obi Nwakanma and suggested that I invite him to be my guest for December 2002. I heeded Irobi’s advice and registered the Sentinel Poetry Movement, and then proceeded to register the magazine with the British Library. Once I had the ISSN issued, I invited Obi Nwakanma who kindly accepted to be the very first SPM guest, and on December 1, 2002, Issue #1 of Sentinel Poetry (Online) was published and featured “My E-Conversation with Obi Nwakanma” – an interview, and poems by Obi Nwakanma, Esiaba Irobi, Nnorom Azuonye, and Nduka Ejibe Nduka.
That first issue set SPM up either to grow or fail. I received countless e-mails of encouragement. I also received e-mails that were not so encouraging. The e-mails I recall most are the ones that said, ‘don’t let it go like all Nigerian projects.’ It disturbed me that these messages, mostly from Nigeria seemed to have accepted as a matter of fact that nothing good or sustainable could emerge from Nigeria. I made it a habit to respond to such e-mails with one of my favourite quotes of all time by Theodore Roosevelt: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat”, to which one cynical man replied and happily informed me that the only thing that has ever been sustainable from Nigeria is failure. In a way, these unhealthy expectations made me rededicate my energies to the project, with a near-obsessive single-mindedness.
With time, the concept became more focused in my mind and achieved a definition: I wanted to build a stimulating and exciting creative environment inclusive of all peoples of the world regardless of their colour, gender, age, or religious affiliation. I was not interested in creating a black or African organisation publishing black or African journals, although I shared the views articulated by Nwakanma in “My E-Conversation With Obi Nwakanma” (Sentinel Poetry (Online) December 2002):
‘The politics of publishing is critical. My analysis is that it is often the prerogative of the metropolitan press to promote what it finds most amenable, and to silence the rest…It is about economics. It is also about affirmation. It is about the narrow corridor in which publishing simply lives. It is also about something in the western consciousness that insists upon an assumption that poetry, literature, in fact, does not exist in Africa - only wars, and pestilence, and anarchy, and dictatorships…It is about the selective rituals of international publishing and I think, its imperative of deliberately silencing the African side of the story in the late 20th century, (and early 21st c.) because it is a terrifying story - one which the rest of the world is too guilt-driven to hear.’
The Sentinel dream was for a series of publications and interactive communities providing a level playing field for all poets. I figured that if African writers from Africa were published alongside Europeans, Americans and Australasians not only shall we all learn more from one another, but we shall also learn to respect the creative outputs from every corner of the world. Realising a vision like this of course means that somebody from South Korea for instance would be sufficiently aware of poetry and literary traditions in Argentina or Togo. For instance, in “My E-Conversation with Stephen Vincent” by Nnorom Azuonye (Sentinel Poetry (Online) July 2003) American poet and Publisher, Stephen Vincent having been exposed to sufficient Nigerian poetry was able to make statements like these:
‘I was happily listening everywhere I could place my ear. And there was no shortage of voices and materials in the air! ...Poetry in sixties Nigeria often seemed academically rooted in European modernism. I could read Christopher Okigbo with respect for his careful ear and phrasing, but I could not connect with the mythic content. Similarly Gabriel Okara could write quite beautifully and, I think, more movingly. J.P.Clark was more solid. His "Abiku" poem still resonates for me… Soyinka's London encounter with the English landlord (Telephone Conversation) was, however, in my terms something I could "hear." …Much of the language I encountered, however, was rendering a world of which I had no empirical sense, so much of what I read seemed to stake its significance through reference to symbols inherent and important in traditional life where on the other hand - I was trained to be hungry for literal evidence or content. It's probably why I initially loved going to Onitsha where as legend then had it someone could find all the parts required to build a 1952 Chevrolet. But I also loved the chapbook culture of which Donatus Nwoga had first introduced me. Onitsha was full of a kind of factuality that I found fascinating…The Nigerian writing on the campus that most impacted me was not popularly known or accepted. Akomaye Oko's poetry immediately caught my ear particularly for its literalness about his circumstances. He was able to write quite directly without having to invoke a whole mythological world surrounding a circumstance. And yet there was such work say that of Pol Ndu that was built around ritual whose language remained attractive and compelling. …Frankly I became stuck between two worlds. On one hand, working hard to engage the mythical "other" and yet hold my ground and look for objective manifestations of this other that I could embrace in my writing. As I once paraphrased Robert Creeley at a campus poetry workshop, I wanted to make the movement of language as genuinely felt as the kick of a foot. Yet, retrospectively, in terms of the development of my work, I also wanted to achieve an incorporation of the mythical into that process. After all, Charles Olson who also very much ascribed to the physical fact of language was also equally embraced in part by the world of myths… When I asked my colleague, Peter Obang, what accounted for this poly-lingual play, his answer was, "The more languages you know, the further your song will travel." And that was the local creed among the creative makers of language.’
Some of the problems Vincent highlights, such as being caught between two cultures or not quite connecting with mythic elements of some Nigerian poetry are things that should open the door to discourses, to a whole world of wonder. Some things may never be understood of course because they might be quite untranslatable. I have often quoted William Cookson and Peter Dale on this. In their ‘Creditorial’ (Agenda Vol.28 No.2. p.3) they write: “We believe that some of the most poignant poems are local, national, regional and untranslatable…we believe that poetry of the highest order is that which survives translation.”
I believe that Sentinel Poetry Movement is a good place to make these local or regional poetry and the mythic influences behind them to yield their meaning. Although no experience can be as complete as living and working among people different from ourselves. The fact is that majority of us will never physically visit every part of the world. The virtual world of Sentinel Poetry Movement is easily the best approximation of this I can imagine.
The Journey So Far
Sentinel Poetry (Online)
As Founding Editor, I held the wheel at Sentinel Poetry (Online) through 27 issues. Now in its 37th issue, the online journal has been edited by Amatoritsero Ede, an award-winning poet and Writer-in-Residence at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Through the issues since 2002, Sentinel Poetry (Online) has published hundreds of poets from all backgrounds, and featured an impressive line up of Guest Poets; Chimalum Nwankwo, Stephen Vincent, Roman Graf, Lola Shoneyin, Rebecca Steltner, Goran Simic, Adam Dickinson, Toyin Adewale-Gabriel, Obiora Udechukwu, Remi Raji, Chiedu Ezeanah, Kola Boof, Chika Unigwe, Chukwuma Azuonye, Amatoritsero Ede, Rob Mclennan, Afam Akeh, Alison Chisholm, Uche Nduka, Emman Usman Shehu, and Andy Weaver among others.
All the issues of the magazine are archived and accessible to everyone at www.sentinelpoetry.org.uk/magazine and provide an extensive resource of poetry, articles, reviews, profiles and interviews, for students, researchers, academics or anyone interested in poetry and what makes poets go. Easily the most consistent and most ambitious poetry ezine today, Editor Amatoritsero Ede has vowed to raise the barrier even higher than it is at the moment. It is his vision that Sentinel Poetry (Online) will attain such a level that for a poet to get his or her work into the journal will be like winning a lottery. Going by the levels of materials that have appeared in the last three issues, there is no arguing with him about his vision for the journal. That dream though is dependent on receipt of the materials. It is my hope that all the hardworking poets out there reading this today will send their very best work for the editor’s consideration.
The Sentinel Poetry Collection – an anthology of poems selected from Sentinel Poetry (Online) December 2002 – December 2005 (edited by Nnorom Azuonye & Amatoritsero Ede) is currently being worked on and should be released in the 3rd quarter of 2006.
Sentinel Poetry Quarterly
Once we had the Sentinel Poetry (online) going well, our next phase in the development of Sentinel Poetry Movement was the launch of Sentinel Poetry Quarterly, our print journal. The journal began in July 2004 as a humble 28-page chapbook style publication, growing to 44 pages by the second issue in October 2004. By the 3rd issue in January 2005, the journal was 60-pages long, and the subsequent issues have remained at 60 pages. The eventual aim is a 120-page international literary journal offering well-researched essays, book reviews, interviews, and poetry of exceptionally high standards. The journal started out with me as the Editor, with four Contributing Editors; Obi Nwakanma, Pius Adesanmi, AnnMarie Eldon and Rebecca Steltner.
We are now reorganising the editorial board completely to strengthen it further and ensure a thorough refereeing of the materials that appear in the journal. The new Editorial Board shall include Nnorom Azuonye (Editor), Pius Adesanmi and AnnMarie Eldon (Contributing Editors), and Molara Wood (Reviews Editor). Obi Nwakanma moves from being a Contributing Editor and joins three others to be named within a fortnight as Associate Editors. The 8-member Editorial Board will assess and approve all materials before they appear in the journal from Issue #7 of Sentinel Poetry Quarterly due out 30th March 2006. The deadline for submission of materials for that issue is January 31, 2006. It is the aim of this journal to attain a fair balance of critical materials as well as poetry itself, afterall if people did not publish poems, there would be no poetry to review or talk about. www.sentinelpoetry.org.uk/quarterlymagazine
Sentinel Poetry Bar
Somebody once described the Sentinel Poetry Bar as the Sentinel Poetry School. That is the general idea, but it is more like an exclusive club of poetry enthusiasts. For some time now, the main focus of the bar has been the monthly poetry writing challenges, whereby every month, members pick a topic and write on it. At the end of the writing period, members vote for their best poems. The poem with the highest number of votes wins a book prize. The winning poem also gets published in Sentinel Poetry (Online).
Before now, it was possible for anyone to apply and become a member. This meant that the bar’s membership once shot up to 97 members, with only about 30 being really active. The membership is down to 74 now, and new members will only be admitted by invitation. The reasons for the slight change in the admission procedure are to prevent anonymous registrations, and to ensure that anyone joining the bar will be an active member. Because there were no fixed participatory criteria earlier on, it is not practical to insist without problems on a compulsory level of participation. New invitees from December 2005 will agree before hand that they will enter at least 1 writing challenge every quarter, and actively post work for review and review other people’s work. To join the bar, interested poets may ask an existing member to nominate them. If they don’t know any members, they may approach the bar’s moderator in by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
With 16 Poetry Writing Challenges successfully held since July 2004, an anthology of the top 5 poems from each challenge is currently being compiled under the title “Poems We Drank: The Sentinel Poetry Bar Challenge Frontliners” (edited by Nnorom Azuonye & Malcolm Fabiyi) In addition to the poems, this workshop anthology covering challenges held between July 2004 and June 2005 features independent reviews of the individual challenges by independent writers who are not members of the bar. This anthology is expected to be released in the 2nd quarter of 2006.
The Sentinel Poetry Bar is moderated by Malcolm Fabiyi, a United States-based poet and Environmental Engineer.
The Sentinel International Poetry Competition.
The Sentinel International Poetry Competition is an on-going series of 4 competitions a year with a small prize fund of £200 per competition. The Winner receives £100 plus 1 year’s subscription to Sentinel Poetry Quarterly, whilst the first and second runners-up receive £60 and £40 respectively. Unlike some competitions, the Sentinel Poetry Competition will pay out the prizes whether or not the entry fees cover the prize fund and the cost of adjudication. The aim is to encourage poets to create poetry that will be judged best among their peers.
The 1st Sentinel International Poetry Competition was held in July 2005 and was adjudicated by Martin Holroyd, editor of Poetry Monthly. That competition was won by Jane Gyamfi-Sarkodie with her poem “Rwanda”. The second prize went to William Birtwistle for the poem “Oh Brad” and the third prize to TM Dowling for “Farm Hand”.
The 3 prize-winning poems were published in Sentinel Poetry Quarterly #5, September 2005.
The 2nd Sentinel International Poetry Competition was held in November 2005 and is currently in the adjudication stage. The adjudicator is Tom Chivers, editor of Keystone and Associate Editor, Tears In The Fence. The results will be announced as soon as he hands them in on or before the 10th of December. The prize-winning poems will be published in Sentinel Poetry Quarterly #6, December 2005.
The immediate plan is to consolidate all the components of Sentinel Poetry Movement into one strong force for the development of poetry and the study of poetry, and to maintain the consistency of our publications whilst raising their standards. We can do this by locating strong and sustainable sources of funding and by retaining the commitment and enthusiasm of our editorial teams, our contributors and our readers as well.
We encourage members of the Sentinel Poetry Movement and members of the Sentinel Poetry Bar, (I make this distinction because there are some members of the bar who are not registered on the main list of the movement and hundreds of members on the main list who are not members of the poetry bar.) to subscribe to the quarterly, and to buy their books through the sentinel poetry bookstore. We encourage members who work within academic institutions to suggest our journal to their libraries. There are also huge advertising opportunities within the Sentinel Poetry Movement structure. Publishers and authors may advertise in the print journal, the online magazine or any of our information pages.
Ultimately, we want to afford to commission essays, and to pay poets for their work. As far back as 1990, I received £12 for my poem that appeared in Agenda, UK and it has been a constant prayer of mine that the Sentinel Poetry magazines afford some authors’ fees. If we are able to harness all the potentials that our publications have, we should be happy to remunerate our contributors. Until such a day, we ask our contributors to stand by us. We are only as good as the last issue with outstanding materials. I have no doubt that if we continue to strive for excellence all other things shall be added unto us.
Once again, on behalf of all the members of the Sentinel Poetry Movement and The Sentinel Poetry Bar, I will to express my appreciation for your support through all these years, and I pray that we can count on your continued support in the coming years.
Founder & Administrator
Sentinel Poetry Movement
December 1, 2005