Emerging Northern Nigerian Female Poets to watch: A Prognosis (II) ~ Paul Liam

Aderemi Raji-Oyelade in his equally pioneering 2008 bibliography of Nigerian Women poetry entitled, ‘Notes toward the Bibliography of Nigerian Women’s Poetry (1985-2006)’supposes that women’s poetry in Nigeria is just about thirty five years old. Raji-Oyelade submits that Nigerian Women’s poetry has come of age and deserves serious critical attention from critics who appear to have been paid less attention to it. He asserts that,

Interestingly, the increasing publication of poetry by Nigerian women authors has not been met with a commensurate critical study of the emergent works. It might well be repeated that the available poetry collections by Nigerian as well as African women writers in general have been rarely engaged as subjects of analytic discourse in contemporary literary criticism.

Raji-Oyelade comments on women’s poetry in Northern Nigeria thus, “it is also useful to point to the relatively new tradition of anglophone poetry by women from the northern part of the country, with the first notable collections being Maria Ajima’s Cycles (1996) and Hauwa Sambo’s The Genesis and other poems (circa 1996)”. Both Bala and Raji-Oyelade in their separate works have drawn attention to the need to give more attention to women’s poetry in order to appropriate and accelerate its development. Clearly, a lot has happened to Nigerian and Northern Nigerian women’s poetry since the publication of their studies more than a decade ago.

Unoma Azuah in her 2015 “Reshaping Obliterated Faces: Ten Female Nigerian Poets” essay, draws attention to the exclusion of female poets by Uche Umez in his ‘Eight Young Poets Whose Poems Delight’ describing it as silencing “the fundamental contribution made by women’s work by excluding them from what he intends to be regarded as a compilation of good flavor.’ Azuah’s re-echoes Raji-Oyelade’s charge that Nigerian women’s poetry has been neglected by critics. She asserts that by excluding women in his list, Umez further “perpetuates the impression that women writers would need to work harder to appeal to the patriarchal palate”. However, the poets listed in this essay have been distinctively identified by male critics as mentioned earlier, to have exhibited uncommon poetic brilliance which delights all.        

I didn’t set out to write a bibliography of Northern Nigerian Female Poets like Bala and Raji-Oyelade have done. I simply set out to introduce to readers some of the remarkable Northern Nigerian female poets whose works have been found to be delightful by critics and academics. These bards remind us of what it means to be uniquely different and poignant. Their proven artistry is an affirmation that they answered the right call by answering to poetry. It is therefore my hope that readers of Northern Nigerian women’s poetry in English would find this list handy and resourceful as an initial introduction to the metamorphosing literary tradition and poetry of the North. I hope you find them thrilling like I did.

Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu

 1.       Hauwa Nuhu Shaffii

(for g)
when you tell him of how, with
the soft of his breath,
he torched your body
into flames stark as a moan
and wild as thick hair that will not be tamed,
you say nothing of the ash that will remain
when he leaves
but like all revolutions,
love is a protest against silence.

to the light that left before dawn:
i am thinking of you, wondering
why chicks break away from eggs,
and wander far
into blind roads
leaving shells discarded and crushed
to blend eternally with earth.
the landmarks
that define the city of loss?
the hills, and slopes,
and curves,
they reveal themselves day after day
to me, in acuity
making a tourist of me,
as they lead me
to a ditch where parts of me have slipped into.
there is the slope that leads to a spring
another leads to the ditch above
another leads infinitely 
there is the curve that ends in the groin of a wall
there are others that empty into dark corners
where demons prowl
i know the smell of death
have known it since the day you left
i carry it in my eyes
as it shrinks me into the distance
between voice and self

Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared in The Republic, Jalada Africa, African Arguments, After the Pause Journal, The Rising Phoenix, Ake Review, Eunoia Review and elsewhere. She's a 2018 fellow of Ebedi Writers Residency. She holds a law degree and is currently pursuing a BL at the Nigerian law school.

Maryam Gatawa
2.      Maryam Gatawa
      ...And tell the stars

Then tell the stars
To take their leave too
For within our breasts
Shines the inward light
To sail us through
These fields of darkness

Why wait for the gardens to
Bear you sweet roses
Or rent the cloaks of your hope
To greedy mighty whales

Go forth with your hoe
And till the fertile land
Plant upon its face
Sweet corns and grapes
And when the winter knocks in
Tell her to stay
You have enough grains in your home.


Tell me
How do you do it
How do you look into the
Sun’s eyes and dare it
Like the oceans live in you
How do you clap when
You have thorns growing
On your palms

How easily you wear ten souls in one
While I’m battling to wear one
Just this lanky one

Why do you love the mountains more
When you know the seas dwell in my heart
When every shore begs for the prints of my heartbeat
Why do you sing the songs I abhor with my soul
When the canaries kneel to hear the
Tambourines seeping from my soul
Why stride across this land when I’ve waited for you
With my breath spiked and suspended
To walk through the thorns majestically with poise,
Hand in hand with you
With poise and stand close to my restless shadow
Why let the Birdie fling you off your flight
When you know and I know
That the road is a path that leads home
And in my heart is comfortable a heart for all,
But most of all, for your tired feet?

I am afraid of the ashes
That’ll settle on my heart.
Like howling breeze of Sahara
Spreading dust on cacti
I’m scared of the sighs that may suffocate
My shrunk lungs
I’m afraid that if I wake me within me
Hurricanes will slap tornadoes
And the seas I love, will taste the warmth
Of handshake with the sun rumbling inside me

So I say the farewell words
As I bid bye to the seas
I love and world thawing before my eyes
As I bid bye to the enchanting
Hues seeking for feeble drops of
My tingling rosy smiles

“That I dare the sun this time
To get into the ring with me
I dare the moon to rest in its cave
For the nights would be illuminated
By the fiery fireflies dancing
On the field of my forehead
I dare me to tread west, behind
Those hills and nest my ribs in that cabin
That cabin where me is waiting again
To wake me up and give me
Another compass where I shall sail North
In my ship with my heart enclosed in a green locket
To cruise the path where HOME awaits
Where it’s warm and cozy
Where my heart belongs
For I have dared that rickshaw to carry me
To the sun and I’ve dared you to be my company”

For If I wake up Tomorrow
I shall bask in the midday sun
That roamed and settled tonight
For if I wake up tomorrow
I shall bask under the glowing moon
And the timid stars pretending to shine
During the day
For if I wake up tomorrow
I’ll find me home, Gida, which
Even you know so well.

Maryam Gatawa is a graduated of Economics, Bayero University, Kano. She lives in Kano and is a passionate lover of the Arts.  Some of her works have been published in the African Writer Magazine, Praxis Magazine, Ink Sweat and Tears, First Writer Magazine, 1Dollar Publications, PIN Quarterly Magazine, Tuck Magazine, Better Than Star Bucks, Anthology Of Best New African Poets 2017, Anthology of Arts and Nature of Free Poetic Universe 2016, The Arts-Muse Fair, Kalahari Review as well as in local papers. She edited a poetry anthology titled "Songs of Zamfara." When not writing poetry she plays snooker, or reads other poets.

To be concluded.
Paul Liam is a poet, author, Critic and Associate Editor at The Arts-Muse Fair