Benue-born poet Ogwiji Ehi-kowochio Blessing is the winner of the 2017 edition of the Albert Jungers Poetry Prize (AJPP), awarded to the best poem from the combined top 10 entries of the monthly Brigitte Poirson Poetry Contest (BPPC), from February to September 2017. Abah Linus Ajene and Felix Kalu emerged 1st and 2nd runners-up respectively.
Ogwiji, a fourth-year student of the University of Ibadan won the contest with her poem entitled ‘A Tune from My Flute of Freedom’, which came 2nd in the June 2017 edition, narrowly missing the top spot. She describes herself as “a poet and a lover of country music who believes that freedom is not freedom until everyone is freed.”
First-runner up, Ajene, also from Benue State, studies English and Education at Benue State University (BSU), Makurdi, where he is also the Vice President of university’s Writers’ League. His poem ‘The Man My Father Married’ came 5th in the June 2017 edition as well (Read the poem here).
Second runner-up Felix Kalu is a poet, actor and public speaker from Ohafia in Abia state of Nigeria. He lives in Enugu, Eastern Nigeria where he works as a caterer and event planner. He describes himself as “a humanist with the mission to promote equality for all: His poem ‘A Rose on the Railway’ was 2nd in the August 2017 edition (Read the poem here).
THE WINNING POEM: A TUNE FROM MY FLUTE OF FREEDOM
Watch my fingers, sway this way and that way
as I play a tune to recall that day, such a beautiful day
when I broke free from the pen-cuff of themes
Back then, I was behind bars of rules and rhyme schemes
and those days, every single day, from sunrise to sunset
I’d in vain try to write a singular sonnet
Sometimes the prison wardens wanted a ballad
but my muse prepared and served African salad
with a lot of Abacha, mixed with a great deal of Buhari
and their black stares seemed to demand my remorseful ‘sorry’
but how do I crawl out of a satire, garnished with humor
released to relish laughter-starved fellows; without an armor?
Well, I gave them an idea; ‘make my poem a legal entity’
Give poets the liberty to see through the soul of humanity
by staring long and hard into the blazing eyes of the sun
Allow our rivers of emotions, meander in its chosen distributaries
See, if in a poet’s frantic attempt to be lucid
his words become as corrosive as concentrated acid
burning the skin on your hardened hearts and sooty souls
let him be excused, for I have seen bombs stroll
out of laboratories to execute lethal pilot projects
yet we swallow the detriments of those experiments
performed by scientists who are mostly left un-trailed nor jailed
So, to the throne and throng, I throw this thorny question:
How else do you expect a poet to exercise his poetic license
other than scribble clean, this sullied society of ours
as he sweeps the system with his overflowing costume of words?
Ogwiji will be awarded the top prize, an Android smartphone, at the Words Rhymes & Rhythm Literary Festival – FEAST OF WORDS, holding at the University of Ibadan (UI) on the 16th of December 2017. Alongside the runner-ups, she will be given certificates of award and complimentary copies of the BPPC 2017 anthology, THE TRAIN STOPS AT SUNSET.
The 2016 edition of the AJPP was awarded to Kanyinsola Olorunnisola, a poet, short story writer, essayist, and student of Philosophy at the prestigious University of Ibadan, for his poem ‘TELL US WHERE THEY TOUCHED YOU’.