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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

56 Years of Nigerian Literature: Jumoke Verissimo


Photo via JumokeVerissimo.com

Up next in my literary celebration of Nigerian women writers is Lagos-born poet Jumoke Verissimo - who is one of the most exciting contemporary Nigerian poets. Verissimo has penned two poetry collections: I am memory in 2008, which was described by Biyi Bandele as 'passionate [and] sensual' and The Birth of Illusion in 2005. On the theme of memory in Verissimo's first collection, she notes in this interview on Canopic Jar that she was:
... suffused with so much emotion at the time I chose the title 'I am memory'. Actually, it seemed easy to become a totem of several struggles at that time too. This was also because I discovered that in trying to forget, one remembers much more than is necessary. The chapters, 'Memory Lane 1, Memory Lane 2 ...' came to me as one walking several paths of memory, so, I chose to forget by remembering these things in a way that it turns into a collective pain - like the death of a favourite cousin, anxieties for my country, the misunderstanding of love, the loved and a suffering beloved in love.



In the same interview, Verissimo whose poems have also been translated into a number of languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Norwegian and Spanish, reflected on the current state of poetry in Nigeria: 
... poetry has blossomed immensely in the Nigerian public space. There is some sense of relevance and recognition. Especially, on the performance front. This also means there's a perpetual 'battle' of what is and what isn't poetry? 
The internet has been rather significant too. In response to the several rejections from poetry magazines in other countries, Nigerian online magazines are flourishing too. We have online magazines like Saraba, Praxis, Brittle Paper etc. making efforts to showcase Nigeria to the world. 
Festivals like Lagos Books and Art Festival and Ake Arts and Book Festival have offered a significant presence to poetry. Recently, Lagos International Poetry Festival brought attention to the genre even more. Initiatives like Ibadan Poetry Foundation are offering background efforts to institute the culture of poetry into everyday life.

But how did Jumoke Verissimo become a writer? Well, when Chris Ogunlowo was out and about with Verissimo in Lagos, he did ask that exact question  
She mentioned how she was a science student, but with a love for literature and a gift for storytelling. A change in academic career became necessary with support from her father. The Church, it turned out, also played a role in the making of one of Africa's leading poets. 

You can check out some of Verissimo's poetry on Bakwa Magazine (Three Poems by Jumoke Verissimo)on Canopic Jar (Refugee Paradigms IThe Birth of Poets, Punctuated, Symptoms I, and Unresolved I) and on The Missing Slate (Quarter to War, Transgendered)There's also this poetry chapbook, Epiphanies, published by Saraba Magazine which contained thirteen poems.

Excerpt from one of the thirteen poems in Epiphanies
Beyond poetry, Verissimo has worked as a journalist, copywriter, sub-editor and editor. Her manuscript A Night Without Darkness was longlisted for the 2012 Kwani? Manuscript Prize. Verissimo's writing can also be found on Africa is a Country and Africa in Words

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