Women Poetry from Northern Nigeria: A Bibliographic Note

Article excerpt

Many critics have decried what is often called "the zero presence" of the female voice in Nigerian poetry: Nigerian female writers trail behind their male counterparts for a number of reasons (literary, historical and cultural). This is more pronounced if not more acute in Northern Nigeria, where literature of English expression is slow in evolving, compared to other parts of the country. Poetry of English expression by women from Northern Nigeria is indeed young, and is written in a tradition that is not only new but developing. This paper is a preliminary bibliography of the few collections of poetry in English (or English translation) by women from Northern Nigeria.

Introduction

Successive studies such as Maduakor (1989), Aliyu, Sani, Abba, Ibrahim, Jibrin & Omobowale (1997) and Raji-Oyelade (2004) among others have documented the abysmal number of women poets in Nigeria. The few who have indeed managed to "break the barrier" such as Catherine Acholonu, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, Mabel Según, etc could axiomatically claim nothing much more than a foothold in the slippery scene of Nigerian poetry. Their ephemeral, if not ethereal, presence is almost eclipsed by the critical establishment which, as it were, is more at ease with a literary mien that is both dominated as well as controlled by men.

If the above is the general situation in Nigeria, it is certainly worse and much messier in Northern Nigeria where a number of factors suggest that the region lags behind the rest of the country in literary creativity and writing of English expression. The level and development of (Western) education, conservative, fiercely patriarchal atmosphere occasioned both by cultural and religious factors, and as a near-total absence of publishing industries all stunted and negatively impacted on literary creativity in the region, especially as it concerns women using the medium of English in Northern Nigeria. For this reason, it is plausible to say that poetry in English from Northern Nigeria is indeed a very recent literary and cultural phenomenon within the context of the burgeoning Nigerian literature. Until the 1990s, there was no published woman poet from the region, but since then there has been some level of improvement in terms of the number of new women poets being published, and in the number of books brought out by the few already established ones. Within the larger context of Nigerian literature therefore, it is safe to argue that women poets from northern Nigeria suffer double-fold invisibility. As such, it is important to highlight the few books that are published so far and bring them to a wider attention.

Scope

This brief, introductory bibliographic note seeks to list the books of poetry in English published by Northern Nigerian women. Only collections of poems written in English or translated into English are listed. Individual poems by individual poets published in journals, newspapers, newsletters and other allied, ephemeral publications, as well as students' final year papers (or projects), dissertations and theses are not listed.1 Here, Northern Nigeria is taken to be the area which was carved out of the defunct Northern Region of Nigeria, and which is now divided into nineteen states that are culturally diverse, albeit with a tinge of a collective identity as a result of a long period of the region's pre-colonial and postcolonial political administration. 2

Available record do not show any comprehensive bibliography of Northern Nigerian Literature3, let alone that of the sub-genre of poetry by women other than occasional surveys, historical/ evolutionary explorations in disparate journals, and proceedings of conferences7. In the Annual Bibliography of Commonwealth Literature, especially the 2005 and 2006 editions, the whole of West Africa is completely ignored; had it been included, Nigeria would have been largely represented perhaps by books and authors from Southern Nigeria. …