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Lagos International Poetry Festival (LIPFest) 2023: A Sanctuary for Language-Hungry Creatives

Lagos International Poetry Festival (LIPFest) 2023: A Sanctuary for Language-Hungry Creatives

LIPFest 2023 - Sanctuary - Afrocritik

“There is no creativity without solitude. That’s why the festival theme for this year is ‘Sanctuary.’ We wanted to create a space to reinforce the need for stillness, quietness, and rest.” –  Efe Paul Azino

By Seyi Lasisi

For nine years, the Lagos International Poetry Festival (LIPFest) and by extension Lagos State, has become an annual haven for Nigerian and international creatives, especially poets. This is quite ironic because Lagos, the unchanging venue for the event, has an affinity for chaos. Known for its habiting disarray, the city lectures visitors and Lagosians, too, about its repository of violence. However, Lagos is home to LIPFest, Lagos Fashion Week, and Art X Lagos – art and cultural events that keep attracting Nigerians and tourists en masse. 

For almost a decade of its existence, Nigerian Spoken Word poet, Efe Paul Azino, has been the Festival Director for LIPFest. With the help of his team and support from cultural institutions and corporate bodies, the festival is boldly walking towards its tenth edition next year. 

Every October, Lagos becomes a pilgrimage spot for Nigerian creatives obsessed with words. Nigerian young poets — who are the prominent faces at the festival — travel to Lagos from various parts of the country: Benin, Jos, Ogun, Ibadan, and Osun, to attend the four-day poetry-suffused festival. This year’s edition was no different. The festival, which is held at Alliance Francaise, Mike Adenuga Centre, Ikoyi, from October 26th to 29th, attracted creatives who walked into the festival auditorium in sparse and lush numbers. As expected, LIPFest participants, a mix of Nigerians and international guest poets, had distinguishable eccentric and conventional outfits complimented with tote bags. And when a tote bag (or any bag) was absent, there was always a book(s) adorning the hands of the participants. During the festival, the venue metamorphosed into a haven for creatives. 

(Read also: Echezonachukwu Nduka and the Music of Poetry)

LIPFest was created as a platform to cater to the growing number of poets in Lagos and Nigeria at large, due to the absence of such kind of festival. As the convener of the festival, Azino shared, it was, “to create a space in Lagos, every year,  where poets from across the world could come to celebrate the written and spoken words.” The festival also aimed at positioning itself as a homegrown festival that platforms younger and established poets within and across the continent, and also across the global Black diaspora. “In the last nine years, we’ve created a space for international exchanges and collaborations. These exchanges have allowed poets from across Nigeria to visit other parts of the world, to expand the audiences for their work, and also interact with other poets and foster collaborations.” 

LIPFest 2023: A Sanctuary for Language-Hungry Creatives - Afrocritik

LIPFest 2023: A Sanctuary for Language-Hungry Creatives - Afrocritik

LIPFest 2023: A Sanctuary for Language-Hungry Creatives - Afrocritik

“The festival has grown in terms of the programming and how ambitious we’ve been. The size and scale of the activities and events we have been able to put together, and what we’ve been able to do is a testament to that scale. The festival has also grown in terms of the team of people who organise it. And I am proud of the work we have done,” Azino added. 

This year, the festival, in partnership with the Moniack Mhor Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre, initiated a two-city art residency funded by the British Council. The residency had six writers: Alycia Pirmohamed, Edwige Rene DRO, Heather Parry, Chika Jones, Amanda Thomson, and Tolu Agbelusi, in Scotland and Accra. After their sojourn in Scotland and Accra, they came to Lagos to end their residency. The two-month-long residency resulted in an anthology, Here and Now, which was available for purchase during the festival. Similar to the Moniack Mhor art residency is the UNDERTOW Poetry Translation Centre artists’ development programme that focuses on working with young poets from mixed heritage to explore the creative potential of polylingualism. The UNDERTOW development programme, which is in its second year, is a year-long virtual workshop that had seven young Nigerian poets of varying cultural backgrounds: Arimoku Obaigbena, Isaiah Adepoju, Muiz Ọpẹ́yẹmí Àjàyí, Rahma Jimoh, Pẹ̀lúmi Obasaju, Sodïq Oyèkànmí, Iheoma Uzomba. The virtual workshop ended with the publication of a poetry collection, Silence is the Bone of Our Awakening, featuring the poems of the seven poets. 

LIPFest 2023: A Sanctuary for Language-Hungry Creatives - Afrocritik

LIPFest 2023: A Sanctuary for Language-Hungry Creatives - Afrocritik

(Read also: Is Nigerian Literature Truly Dying?)

The festival had an exhaustive list of panel discussions featuring seasoned professionals holding conversations around the festival theme, “Sanctuary”. Although the atmosphere of each panel session varied, there were lurking similarities: the conversations revolved, as expected, around literature, and recurring in different forms is the conversation around mental health and well-being. In one of the conversations, “I Hear You”: Readings and Performances by Nigerian and Slovenian Poets in Translation, the conversation was anchored around translation.  The session dialogued around translating literary works from one language to another, and the language and cultural issues faced during translation. Featuring three Nigerian poets – Ismail Bala, David Odiase, and Aremo Gemini, and three Slovenian poets – Veronika Razpotnik, Karlo Hmeljak, and Brane Mozetic, the cross-continental conversation had a sentence I haven’t lost hold of after hearing it, “You are creating a new art when translating.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought uncertainty and chaos into the world. And despite its seeming disappearance, the disease still courts dread. In curating and programming this year’s festival, the organisers were conscious of this and wanted to create a space to hold dialogue around the need to rest. “Post-pandemic, there was a global sense of anxiety on a collective and individual level that has attended our lives, where it feels like everybody is exhausted. In curating this year’s festival, we wanted to create a space that reinforces the idea of rest against the backdrop of hyper-capitalism and the need for us to be productive constantly.  There is no creativity without solitude. That’s why the festival theme for this year is ‘Sanctuary.’ We wanted to create a space to reinforce the need for stillness, quietness, and rest”,  Azino said. 

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The festival also witnessed performances from Nigerian musician,  Dwin, The Stoic, whose soothing voice and lyrics occasionally help ease tense moods. There were also books for sale on display.  As expected, those who couldn’t resist the alluring book stand gladly fell prey to buying more than their budget. When the festival took the occasional 10 to 20-minute recess, the festival participants shared heartfelt laughter and conversation that might have started in various mediums. Those meeting physically for the first time instinctively took pictures and shared warm hugs.  Amongst this year’s guests, Pulitzer-prize winner, Jericho Brown, was the centre of attraction. Describing the festival after his Writing Masterclass, Brown wrote on X,  “Idk what you did with your day so far, but I just taught my face off in Nigeria for a room of poets who were the most language-hungry people I’ve ever met.”

LIPFest 2023: A Sanctuary for Language-Hungry Creatives - Afrocritik

LIPFest 2023: A Sanctuary for Language-Hungry Creatives - Afrocritik

LIPFest 2023: A Sanctuary for Language-Hungry Creatives - Afrocritik

In my conversation with Azino during one of the festival programmes, we spoke about what prompted the initiation of the Poetry Slam. He had been a  judge at a Poetry Slam in the South-South and the cash prize was 300,000 thousand naira. He felt the money compared to the risks young poets take travelling far and wide to compete in slams is insufficient. Hence the beginning of the Poetry Slam in 2021.  The Poetry Slam was another major highlight of the event. While my attention occasionally trailed off during the panel sessions, I became religiously attentive during the slam. Fourteen spoken-word poets competed in a fierce battle of words. It was genuinely impossible to not applaud the competitors’ powerful use of language. Marvel Iyare, with the memorable line, “Ikorodu l’Oga wa”(The boss resides in Ikorodu), from his last performed poem wowed the crowd and judges,  Nana Asaase, Bassey Ikpi, and, Iyanu Adebiyi, and won the Poetry Slam. 

In all, the four-day festival was a medley of poetry events and conversations. To conclude the event, and to concede to the cliche, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, ” the festival had a music and dance session, “Poetry After Dark” that allowed poets to stretch their limbs and unwind. This year has ended and anticipation for the tenth edition launches already. 

Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how it aligns with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: seyi.lasisi@afrocritik.com

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