Spokenword entrepreneur, Dike Chukwumerije shares insights on how to host successful Poetry events

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Dike Chukwumerije is a poet and poetry performer with many awards under his belt. His publications have also appeared on international journals like the Pan-African Community Journal UK (Vol 9 Issue 4). He is currently a member of the Abuja Literary Society where he hosts the OpenMic sessions on the first Friday of every month. As a regular on the Nigerian performance poetry scene, he shares some advice with aspiring poetry show producers on hosting a successful poetry show. Read his post below:

First, can you fill a small hall with Poetry?

Some time in 2011, I started working with the Abuja Literary Society (ALS) as a volunteer, coming early to arrange seats. Then Quill Master, Victor Anoliefo, asked if I would anchor one of the Open Mics. I said, yes. Then ALS engine room, Ken Ike, had to leave for Lagos, so I went to his office to talk about the future. His charge was simple: make sure ALS runs every week, come rain or shine, no excuses. I will tell that story another day. But by 2013 I knew that, yes, you can fill a small room with Poetry. I had been doing it every Friday with ALS for a year. So, I tried a pilot in February at Savannah Suites Area 3, in conjunction with the Association of Nigeria Authors Abuja Branch, headed then by Eriata Oribabhor. It worked. So, 6 months later in September, in conjunction with ALS, I did my first NSW. And the 150-seater hall was filled beyond capacity.

Dike Chukwumerije (middle), Bukunmi Olukitibi (lady in the foreground) and Chukwuka Chukwumerije

Dike Chukwumerije (middle), Bukunmi Olukitibi (lady in the foreground) and Chukwuka Chukwumerije performing on stage

Two, can you get people to pay for a poetry event?

Literary events are typically free, depending on grants from people who not only appreciate their importance, but have cash to spare. In Nigeria, these people are hard to find, making the art dependent on the expatriate community. So, everyone said, it won’t work, except you include wine and food and tell people that that’s what they are paying for. So, well, the first 3 NSWs were free. It helped that the venue itself was free, courtesy Silverbird Entertainment Center and Dare Oguntoye. But by NSW4 things had changed, the venue wanted money. So, encouraged by those who believed I should, I bit the bullet and put a price on my poetry. Immediately, attendance dipped, yes, but it held. My brother, it held!


Three, can you get people who paid for your first poetry event to come back for the next one, with more people, and pay again?

So, for NSW5 I said to the team: “If we are going to do this, we must justify every kobo we charge. Yes. This can no longer be, ‘O come and listen to me recite poetry’, or ‘Please, come and support me and my artist friends’. No. It has to be more. It has to be something people pay for because they believe they NEED. So, from today on, we think like the audience. This means that no matter how nice a metaphor sounds to me, the writer, if it communicates nothing to THIS audience, I look for another. For this is our philosophy; to prioritize the need to reach our audiences in ways that are meaningful to them over the need to showcase our talent or express ourselves. Okay?”


Four, can you get people to listen to the same poem over and over again?

Otherwise, it becomes impossible to sustain, especially now, at the pioneering phase, when I must combine this with other things. After all, a musician does not need to sing a new song every day. And plays are written once, but acted and re-enacted endlessly. So, how do I counter the tendency of people saying, ‘I’ve heard that poem before. Boring! Recite another one’? So, my brother, I stopped trying to simply reel off information through poetry. Because, really, nobody likes to listen to a lecture twice. But an experience – like standing in a warm shower, or sitting across the table from a stimulating conversation – these are things we might want to come back to again and again. Yes. How did Maya Angelou put it? ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’. There is a lot of truth in this.


Five, can you get a poetry show to pay for itself from ticket sales alone, so you don’t have to be constantly begging for money?

Ah. Well, this is why it is a journey. This is also why we must never accept, too quickly, to become legends in our own eyes. My brother, there are too many more mountains to climb. So, put your head down, and keep walking.


I'm interested in stories, news and opportunities for African entrepreneurs. Be it tech, fashion, SMEs; breaking entrepreneurship stories is the next best thing that can happen to me, after Jollof

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