BY Yinka Olatunbosun

“Let’s ignore the softness of the moist lips as they pressed against each other. And the probing tongue between them and the fire they can collectively ignite in the heat of passion. Instead, let’s focus on the words they speak.” That was the attitude of most of the audience at the Lagos International Poetry Festival (LIPFEST) recently held at the Freedom Park, Lagos. Running from November 1 till 5, it was a roll call of wordsmiths, artists, poetry merchants and deep-thinkers who sat calmly during the five days of the festival that featured guest poets from the UK, South Africa, Egypt, Ghana and other parts of Africa.

Sponsored by the Nigerian Breweries, the night that signalled the start of this phenomenal show was very animated, thanks to the QDance, led by Nigeria’s foremost dance export, Qudus Onikeku and Femi Leye, who really should stop singing and do more of what he knows how to do best: strum away the guitar like a rock star. He brought an orgasmic energy on stage with his “Sise” track, accompanied by voluntary choruses from the audience who participated during the call and response performance.

But the gathering was for words not just dance, music or beer, though the sponsors ensured that the latter was sufficient. The poets dazzled, provoked thoughts and gasps and a few laughs. Moderated by Isabella Akinseye, the sessions were well-timed and the poets gave a good account of themselves, justifying the applause that ushered them to the stage by means of the quality of delivery, measured in their naturalness and truthful lines.

In his opening remarks, Kufre Ekanem, the Corporate Affairs Adviser of Nigerian Breweries Plc, delivered his poetry to everyone’s pleasant surprise, without apologies. A lover of the arts, Ekanem said the sponsorship is a strand in the fabric of the company’s philosophy of “Winning with Nigeria.”

“We recognise that the arts play an important role in strengthening the cultural values of our society and we believe that we can help to contribute to the breeding of young, emerging talents and create a shared performance space for poets from Nigeria and across the world,” he said.

Ekanem added that Nigerian Breweries’ support hinges on projecting the role of poetry as a tool for re-engineering of society. “Poetry does not only interpret society or serve as its mirror, it also helps us imagine better ways of being and living,” he explained.

This year’s theme, Bridges from Walls explores arts capacity to unite society around its common humanity. As promised, the festival included workshop, master classes and road trip to Badagry, a major tourist destination.

Last year, the festival was aborted due to financial constraints. But this year, it was a determined effort to sustain what Efe Paul Azino, the Founder/Director, Lagos International Poetry Festival conceived. Azino praised Nigerian Breweries for the unwavering support for the arts community and its huge investment in the intellectual life of Nigeria and Nigerians. “Nigerian Breweries should be lauded for its immense support of initiatives that add value to people,” he said.

But there are several poets who should be lauded for their contribution to the literary festival. One of them is Chike Jones, an epitome of calmness.

He was the opening act at the opening and closing ceremony. Contrary to the belief that the best is usually saved for last, Jones is one unbeatable pace setter whose poems may not necessarily rhyme as they speak directly to the heart. In his first performance poetry, he painted a vivid imagery of blood “under our feet”, making it tempting to actually take a glance at the floor, just to be sure it wasn’t literally spoken.

Dike Chukwumerije, all the way from Abuja, mesmerised the audience with his unassuming stance that contrasts the power of his words. When he played around the subject matter of the “other” in “Where Are You From?”, comparing racism with tribalism, indigeneship, religious difference and other social margins that create walls amongst humans, it was simply touching. For copyright reasons, he didn’t perform a political poem but a personal one on the closing concert. He delivered an emotional poem telling of a father that buries a child the same place he was conceived- in his heart. Then again he played with wild imaginations when his lines hinted at sexual undertones.

Then came Rhyme Sonny from Accra, Ghana. He started with a eulogy to the Almighty then began a very sexually provocative poem that was just about a car. He named the brand in the end. Aduke Gomez, one of the oldest performers on the stage, spoke about being a well-bred Yoruba girl, the criticisms from other tribes for being overtly respectful, in their greetings and general decorum. Like Chukwumerije, Rex tha Poet, danced around the black theme with his “Black is us” chants.

The UK based, internationally renowned poet, theatre maker and educator, Sophia Walker raised the roof with her performance poetry on migration. Dramatic and didactic, the poet is quite historical, bringing mental ashes kept from Vietnam to bear on the subject of existentialism. Yomi Sode from the UK was clad in well embroidered Yoruba traditional wear, Buba and Sokoto, with sparks reflecting on his left ear, thanks to the little stud he had on. His accented delivery was punctuated by applause, the type that brought Ruth Sutoye, a black British poet back on stage for a second time to perform after a little technical glitch. Titilope Sonuga was quite mid-tempo in her performance which were sometimes read. But there is no crime in reading as Koleka Putuma from South Africa proved when she missed a line and with all sense of dignity, requested for a copy of her collection, which made her recollection smooth.

Azino couldn’t escape performing. He delivered without microphone his popular poem that his fans now know by heart. Next year, LIPFEST will return with magnificence as most emerging and established poets will contribute to human development through their well thought out words.