Upon returning home from toiling in an English grammar test at the university, I met an informal request in my WhatsApp inbox to join a team of Nigerian poets seeking to curate, edit and publish an anthology. According to Adedayo Agarau, originator of the idea and Assistant Editor at Animal Heart Press at the time, it was time the Nigerian literary space experienced the thoroughbred poets whose poems were licensed to awe every reader.
It was the middle of 2019. The university reeked of overzealous students, their senses heightened more than before with examinations set to roll in earnest. It would be a ton of work, a closet voice warned. You barely even understand the craft, it pressed on. It will be crazy for you to take up this offer—think about the fullness of your inadequacies. To silence the tirade, I replied Ade, in the affirmative. He was excited, his lighthearted reply an overwhelming exhibit of clear joy.
I would soon learn more about the proposed anthology. The editorial team, at first glance appeared to be composed of myself, Ade, Nome Emeka Patrick—my compatriot in the university, though a final year student while I surfed the waves of my penultimate year.
Joining the WhatsApp-based group for our project led me to two new, though not entirely new despite the fact that we had never shared a moment of conversation, individuals. I knew these men from their Facebook profiles which stood as portraits of their immense talent in the craft. There was Kolawole Samuel Adebayo, a companion to God & a stunningly divine poet. The exploits of O-Jeremiah Agbaakin had always marched through the plains of social media and poured out the mouth of Patrick.
He mentioned O-Jeremiah often. He was said to take forever to outline a poem, but then, his poems when faced by the human mind, o God, yielded always an ovation despite their peculiar origins. Glory lay in the biblical references sprinkled throughout his poems, metaphors reengineered in each stanza, endings that reminded me of how a nipple, though tender upon contact with the teeth, can spring up to be considered a rock that streams milk. The poetry of O-Jeremiah always brought to mind the fulfilment of sex with every limb of me killed.
According to Ade, we, the editorial team, would build an anthology of poems by poets we chose to term as “established” in terms of publication credits and experience in the craft. The anthology would also permit the inclusion of brave new voices whose slot in the project would be determined via a submission process. This method was to allow us witness the many incredible pieces that seemed to go unnoticed by the tight-knit Nigerian poetry canon.
I was tasked with the duty of soliciting submissions from a couple of poets I had recommended during one of our meetings. All our meetings were virtual. We lived cities apart, only Patrick lived a couple hostels away.
The work at hand looked humongous and we realized early enough that a lot of effort was demanded. I already resigned to the temporary fate of juggling schoolwork with my Contributing Editor role at Barren Magazine and now, this.
This was an anthology that promised victory for the contemporary Nigerian poet.
It took me a couple of weeks to dig into the slush where the submissions lay. A spreadsheet was designed, another of Ade’s marvelous doings. Working with the spreadsheet was not a new activity to me, although I wished for some other method believed to be less tasking. I managed to squeeze the reading of three to five poems daily in my already packed schedule. The university wasn’t letting go of its chokehold on my affairs so I committed to read for the anthology regardless of the glaring risk.
Ade never spoke of the anthology as a pet project. Hell, it didn’t even have a go-to name at the time. He thought of it as a service to the community, a community that continued to die with the entrance of a fresh morning.
The concept of the anthology, according to Ade in his infinite desire, was documentation. So many poets appeared and disappeared. They disappeared not because their pieces stopped becoming a marvel. It was because there existed not a single space or platform to record their doings. This wasn’t about literary journals. It was an accepted happening now and then for journals to fold up. The works, every single one of them, deserved to be immortalized. It was this cause that spurred Ade into action—and by extension us, the team of readers.
Weeks formed into more weeks as our curation matured into a great slice of completion. There remained more slices, and each would blossom like the universe gifting trees a cape of leaves.
Towards the middle of January in the new year, Ade emailed us saying that we now inched closer to the actualization of the anthology. I read the email with the eyes of one whose cock had anticipated to be drained of a warm, potent desire but instead received a head job so outlandish that time stiffened in a display of solidarity.
The thrill of reaching a milestone such as this was shared evenly among the team. If I could hold Ade with a long stare, I was certain to be greeted by a face that operated on joy, yes, joy the fuel of every perfect world if there ever lived one. Kolawole’s excitement tried in no small measure to cloak his many late deliveries of decision on poems. I remembered his apologies—profuse in fashion, his royal baritone echoing through the slit of WhatsApp voice notes, baritone sailing into the port of our ears. Patrick was prompt when he set his mind to be. Being a final year student at the time was an ache that orbited the many acres of his mind.
O-Jeremiah’s work pace was in no doubt a happening that we found gratifying to be surrounded by.
I was by far the laziest and most uninspired editor. Reluctance took me to every imaginable scene except Ade’s overweight spreadsheet.
A shamefaced confession like this one had earned the right to live alone in a paragraph.
When Ade suggested a title for the anthology which was complete, except that it had not been proofread keenly, relief erupted in our bodies.
Ade culled the title from one of the contributors’ poems—Francis Salako, I learned.
The project launched at the tail end of March 2020. A pandemic brewed in cities across the world. Nigeria too was covered with the sting of the virus. For the coming months of distress strengthened by dishonest government policies, the release of Memento could not have benefited better from such circumstances.
It was to the reader a balm for the recent death of happiness in the world.
My love for Memento trumped the agony we encountered in the curation process. We hoped that it would be recognized by contributors as more than a new publication feat. We wanted it to be seen for what it was till the end—a soft revolt. We wanted documentation for the established and the fledgling poet.
We acquired for our collective future a movement in which poems would outlive the loved Nigerian poet and the unloved Nigerian poet. We acquired continuity at the lean cost of service.
Michael Akuchie is a poet proud of his Igbo-Esan heritage. His debut chapbook, Wreck (December 2020, The Hellebore Press), selected by José Olivarez, received the 2019-2020 Hellebore Poetry Scholarship Award. He reads submissions for Frontier Poetry and Whale Road Review. He tweets @Michael_Akuchie
The Anthology Memento can be acquired through subscription to Animal Heart Press’s newsletter at: Animal Heart Press – It takes the heart of an animal
Banner: Process /Intervention a digital image (c) Robert Frede Kenter Tweets: @frede_kenter