Konya Shamsrumi: What is the process of writing a poem like for you? Is it a lot of hard work or easy?
Yinka Elujoba: I like to begin my thinking around writing poetry with the last stanza of Tranströmer’s “Morning Birds“:
Fantastic to feel how my poem grows
while I myself shrink.
It grows, it takes my place.
It pushes me aside.
It throws me out of the nest.
The poem is ready.
There is of course that tension that subsists between the poet and his poem. Sometimes, the poem itself is a delineation of that tension. I do not necessarily consider the process of writing poetry in terms of ease. Rather I think about it in terms of clarity: how clearly am I able to articulate whatever motions made me conspire the poem in the first place.
Konya Shamsrumi: Please describe your sense of identity in this or any possible world in imagery or metaphor?
Yinka Elujoba: The idea of having to define my identity startles me. It’s not an idea that I’d willingly entertain—I prefer, always, to think of myself under the provisions with which I respond to every impulse, which is, as a writer. My identity is simply a summary of one of Naipaul’s titles: “The Writer and the World”.
Konya Shamsrumi: If any of your poems could literarily save a person’s life, which poem would it be and can you describe the person whose life you think it would have saved?
Yinka Elujoba: Poetry as savior? Interesting. Sometime in 2015, I chased to Calabar what I considered to be the selfsame illusion that took Okigbo to Yola. Okigbo’s expedition ended in futility. I imagined, on my way, that I might end up sharing the same fate. Still, I dared. Okigbo writes about it in his foreward to “Labyrinths“. Of course, my journey ended like Okigbo’s — the eventual realisation that the whole framework was not to be. I wrote this poem, “Calabar”, on my way towards this dream. Whose life can a failed experience save? The thrust of this poem, for me, is to encourage at least one individual to consider chasing whatever dream they think valid regardless of the possibility of failure.
Konya Shamsrumi: What does Africa mean to you, as potential or reality?
Yinka Elujoba: Was there ever a time when Africa wasn’t bearing the burdens of words and phrases? ‘The dark continent’. ‘The heart of darkness’. ‘Africa is a country’. ‘Africa rising’. All of these things tire me. I think that Africa is both potential and reality. Potential because you have all of this energy waiting to either be commodified or processed into a tool for agency. Reality because, regardless of what the world thinks or does, Africa is here and now. And the continent will continue to be different in radical ways. What is important is what we do with this radicalism. Do we commodify it? Or do we, like I said, make it a tool for agency?
Konya Shamsrumi: Could you share with us one poem you’ve been most impressed or fascinated by? Tell us why and share favourite lines from it.
Yinka Elujoba: There’s plenty to think about. Different poems impress upon me for different reasons. My philosophy in thinking about my work as a writer is defined by Unamuno’s “Throw Yourself Like Seed.” In the final lines, he says:
For life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds;
From your work you will be able one day to gather yourself.
In thinking about the summary of my life and the spaces I fill, Homero Aridjis’ “Goethe Said Architecture“ is my mantra. I leave you with these lines:
Musical streets didn’t concern him either,
although man slips via these walkable rivers
into old age, love, the night,
up to the table, into bed,
like a sonata of flesh and bone.
Yinka Elujoba is a writer and art critic living in Lagos. His works have appeared in Saraba, Klorofyl and elsewhere. His chapbook, Collective Truth, was published in 2016.