Biachi Ndidi Anointing won the 3rd prize at the 2020 edition of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize. In a chat with Semilore Kilaso of PIN Literary Interviews, she shares the background to the winning poem, her opinion about poetry competitions, PIN and the place of poetry as a genre of literature in Nigeria.
Biachi Ndidi Anointing is a poet and short story writer who invests her time in research on Feminism and activities that will improve the life of the girl-child in Nigeria. She is an undergraduate of English and Literary Studies in Benue State University. She has been published in Tata Review, River City Journal, ANA Review 2018, and Praxis Magazine. She is the SEVHAGE Book Club Coordinator. She won Poetry Island competition for 2018, was also shortlisted for Scribble The Future and the second runner up for NSPP 2020.
- Congratulations on winning third prize of the Nigerian Student Poetry Prize (NSPP) 2020. Can we please meet you?
Thank you. I am Biachi Ndidi Anointing. A Benue born living in Makurdi but an indigene of Delta from Issele-Uku Kingdom.
- How did you learn of Poets in Nigeria and the contest?
I first learnt about Poets in Nigeria from a friend. From then, I started following their activities online. Several people shared the post on the contest and some friends even tagged me to it.
- What gave you the confidence to enter for NSPP 2020?
I just wanted to try, to give the poem a place other than my laptop.
- How long did it take to write the winning poem “We Bear Sadness In Our Name”? What was the writing process like?
It took me few hours. The writing process of “We Bear Sadness in Our Name” was purely an overflow of emotions. I was worried about my gender and sad at that point because of so many news online of suffering women. So the poem offered itself to be written. The sadness I felt that period ordered every word in the poem to flow into life.
- If you are asked to hazard why your poem won, what would you say?
I can’t say. All the entries from the winning entry to the last poem in the anthology are well crafted. They had their unique features, so is mine. But I also believe that the theme in my poem is crucial and relevant at this particular point in time. Although the hurdles that Nigerians are facing are not limited to a particular gender. But the trial women are going through is enormous. From domestic violence, sexual harassment, neglect, and countless challenges that women and girls are passing through, the theme of my poem becomes indispensable. Also there might have been something that the judges saw. Sometimes we are not in the best position to evaluate the success of our work.
- What’s your take on poetry writing competitions?
Poetry writing competitions for me is an avenue to challenge people to improve and hone their craft. The good thing about competitions is that it trains one to work harder. But it is also crucial to state that winning poetry competitions is not the utmost validation that a poet needs to confirm that she is a good poet. Some people might feel terrible about their writings if they don’t win competitions, but, no… It shouldn’t be. A competition is like an exercise where one keeps getting stronger and keeps going beyond the mile she reached the time before.
- Tell us how you are feeling since the announcement of your win.
Everything is fast returning to normal for me. Although there is still a wee euphoria in the air with congratulatory messages still pouring in. If there is any feeling that pushes someone to do more, that is how I am feeling since the announcement of my win.
- Did you foresee opportunities for winning at the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP)?
Honestly, I didn’t until I was longlisted and I started hoping to emerge among the shortlist. I only had hope.
- Other than the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP), have you ever entered for any poetry contest organised by Poets in Nigeria Initiative or other platforms?
Yes. At Festival Poetry Calabar, I entered for On the Spot Poetry Contest. For other platforms, I entered for the Poetry Island Contest in 2018 where I emerged as the winner.
- Can you vividly recall the title of the first poem you ever wrote? Tell us about it and how you landed into poetry writing.
The first poem I wrote was titled “Our Heroes”. I saw a poster in school calling for students of Department of English and Literary Study to write a poem to be performed in remembrance of late lecturers and students of the department. I wrote the poem but never went out to read it. A week after, I was in GST class when a friend showed me a poem he wrote and another friend asked me to write a poem in my first year in school since we would be having it as a course to avoid failing. Well, after that poem, I didn’t write again for two years.
- As poets, some of us tend to look at stylistics. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style?
A friend of mine used to say my style is like Maya Angelou’s. Of course, that’s a very huge dream he was dropping on my shoulders and I often claim it with hope. My style is informed by the theme of my poem. In most of my poems, there is mostly a voice, like a woman leader’s, who bears the weight of the trauma of her fellow women. This is gotten from the tradition of the Omu, the woman in charge of the market in Issele-Uku, and have authority over curtains issues concerned with her gender, which is also like a political authority. So there is always the conversational tone of a representative that speaks of a collective anguish, joy, hope and any feeling.
- How do you conclude you are writing a poem, and how do you develop from a word into lines?
When the words are not prose. When there are connected metaphors on a journey.
I develop a word into a line when I try to create imageries. I look for words that can best describe the experience I am trying to put on paper. This involves writing, rewriting, and deleting at times.
- What Nigerian poets or writers can you say have influenced you and your writing?
Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Chuma Nwokolo, Chinua Achebe, Niyi Osundare, Chijioke Amu Nnadi, Efe Paul, Dami Ajayi, and Lola Shoneyin.
- What in your opinion is the place of poetry as a genre of literature in our Nigeria? What future? What opportunities for Poets?
Poetry is becoming an accessible genre, unlike when it seemed to be meant for obscurantists. Also, with the development of Spoken word poetry, the genre will soon become a marketable art with an industry that can sustain itself and poets. Besides its service as art, the importance of its social relevance is also commendable. More poets are emerging who want to use the art to make impact on society.
- What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in our country?
I can practically say the existence of Poets in Nigeria and all their activities lead to the vitality poetry is enjoying in Nigeria. Apart from the importance of NSPP in engaging many undergraduates in the art of poetry, by having PIN Connect Centers all over the country offers poetry at every level beyond just having it as a school course. So, yes, PIN has given a new scope to poetry. Poetry was a community affair in the pre-colonial times. But at some point there was a distortion which evolved as a result of redefinition by the colonialists. But we are grateful for the rebirth which PIN has initiated.
- As a way of ending this session, please leave us with few lines of poetry (max 10 lines)
Hear! The chants of mothers
Who marched on history’s back
Touch the skin of war on their flesh
Read times when they fought
Death’s freedom for you
Listen to the song of their past
Study their dance of victory:
In blood you were birthed