By Dr Rachel Bower, Cheney Early Career Research Fellow at the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (LHRI), University of Leeds.
I am currently working on a project called ‘Northern England to the World’. My research looks at the links between poets in Leeds and Nigeria in the 1950s and 60s, drawing on the exceptional poetry archives held in Special Collections at the Brotherton Library, Leeds. I am particularly interested in relations between poets in Leeds, Ibadan and Zaria, including Tony Harrison, Wole Soyinka, Niyi Osundare, James Simmons, J. P. Clark, Geoffrey Hill, Christopher Okigbo, Aig Higo and Minji Karibo.
This is a complex project and archival materials are sometimes difficult to locate. I recently met with Professor Martin Banham, one of the great authorities on Nigerian theatre and Director of the Workshop Theatre in Leeds, 1966-1998. Martin handed me a rare copy of Nigerian Student Verse (Ibadan, 1960): a slim anthology offering a selection of student verse that was published in The Horn. This magazine gives a glimpse into the extent of the transnational collaboration of this time. The Horn was a student poetry magazine at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, where Martin taught from 1956, after his time as a student in Leeds. The magazine was set up and co-edited by Martin and well-known Nigerian poet, John Pepper Clark, in January 1958 and appeared at varying intervals until 1964. It was modelled on the student magazine at Leeds, Poetry and Audience (still published and collected in Leeds), which published contributions from the Gregory Fellows as well as student poets at Leeds who would become well known, including Tony Harrison, James Simmons and Wole Soyinka.
Copies of The Horn are hard to come by. It was a flimsy, cheap publication, which few thought to collect. The magazine gives us key insights about the kind of poetry students in the newly independent Nigeria were writing, and their influences. It was certainly an important time for Nigerian literature, where questions of style and craft took on a particular political charge.
My research seeks to find out more about the extensive transnational and transcultural collaboration between Leeds and Ibadan at this time, asking how this shaped the work of a key generation of poets in Britain and Nigeria. This research also aims to uncover a previously unknown history of cross-fertilisation between writers of very different cultures.
The Northern England to the World website not only shares my research findings, but also presents a snapshot of some of the diverse cultural events that are happening in Leeds and Sheffield, and across the North of England. This diversity is what makes the region such a rich place to live and work. I welcome comments and contributions, so please get in touch with thoughts and suggestions!