Culture Vulture

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    Antiquity of SuburbiaHeadley Theatre, The Ashmolean5 November 2005The clean modern lines of the Headley Theatre were broken on Friday by two Nigerian poets: Chuma Nwokolo, the Ashmolean’s Writer-In-Residence, and Afam Akeh. It was an amazing experience, attended by people of all ages and backgrounds. Once again the Ashmoleanhas succeeded in uniting people from all walks of life, sex and race.Before the reading started, I spoke to Nwokolo and Akeh, both courteousand friendly. Nwokolo told me about his fascination with comparingpast and present events – a subject explored both in his poetry and his online magazine Ddéjà Vu.The room filled slowly, but people were enthusiastic. Akeh, whose poetry has won many prizes, is interested in the “praise singers” of his country’s past (employed by the monarch to write poems and songs to praise achievements). Nervous at first, he came into his element when reading in Eedo, the language “praise singers” wrote in.The words washed over us like music, absolutely beautiful. He spoke of difficulties in his nation’s history in uncomplicated verse, but what struck me was that both poets were concerned with their own sense of mortality: death crept into every poem, yet this was not a morbid reading. They obviously love what they do, taking great pleasure from our applause.Nwokolo himself then took over. He explained the title Antiquity In Suburbia, inviting us to look forward to when new suburbs would be as old as the Museum now. His poetry aims to bring together the past and present, combining Nigerian with Western culture. His deep rich voice filled the room; a voice which wraps you up and warms you before droppingyou back to earth and making you think. I particularly liked the eponymous poem, with its images of “car mountains” and “refrigerator ridges”, our age seen through the eyes of a post-apocalyptic community.Cloud Watching and Brother’s Dday were also excellent – the latter affected some members of the audienceso much, Nwokolo was asked to read it again.Finally it was question time, and Akeh was asked to translate his Eedo poem. It was interesting, but somewhat of a shame to hear the magical phrases transforming themselvesinto ordinary words. Perhaps it removed some of the mystery and enchantment actually knowing what was said, and this was slightly disappointing. However, the enjoymentof the evening far surpassed any brief moment of disappointment.Melancholy, haunting, and beautiful, this African poetry was a new encounter for me, but very much enjoyed.ARCHIVE: 5th week MT 2005

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