Konya Shamsrumi: What is the process of writing a poem like for you? Is it a lot of hard work or easy?
Maryam Gatawa: It has never been difficult. My muse is a stubborn one that gets inspired by almost everything. Mostly by nature. Anything can be my trigger to pen down poems. Once that happens, the process of birthing that singular poem has started. Everything can become a food to my muse. Once it is fed, there is nonstop to its gushing. All I need is to look around, outwards and tap from the nature, and nature is everywhere. Or sink inwards, to those voices, crevices, those places, even the realms I never thought I’ll cross to, then stir the waters of musings therein. I get inspired by cute and beautiful things, maybe because my muse then assumes a lady’s voice? Sometimes, she assumes the voice of the broken and spews out dark poems, ugly pieces seeking a way out. Other times, the voice of two doves madly in love. I get inspired by a flower by the roadside, or dead yellow shrubs, a bottle of syrup thrown carelessly into the gutter, the smells of a neighbour’s soup, a crack in the wall, pieces of a broken tumbler, my praying mat, the North, love, food, books, poesies. Strangely, sometimes, I am inspired by this neem tree I pass by every morning, my coffee, the traffic, other times the blue sky or the shredded grey clouds. Other times, the well in front of my house and how skilfully little girls throw in the pails. I’ve been inspired by the cracked heels of this beggar by the way, the way the city cries during the day and how it snores at night. Other times yet, I am inspired by the joy in the faces of these little boys flying their kites, and these two lady friends giggling and gossiping about God knows what. Sometimes, this girly muse finds the night a trigger, its silence and even its shadows.
At other times, my muse assumes the voice of this man that’s bossy, domineering, stubborn, and daring. Once I am in this mode, I quickly become exhausted. This muse pushes me. I write technically on death, on war, on violence, I write about rape, on disunity, on everything bad and wrong. I write about home. Most often, this muse is angry, frustrated, ready to kill with words. This muse drains me emotionally and leaves me tired, yet satisfied. Its mild triggers can simply be a picture of Sardauna of Sokoto on my mother’s wall, enough to unleash this muse for many days, or the big triggers such a sound of bomb blast, or pictures of dead bodies half-buried in ruined and burned homes.
The process is easy because when the poems come, I don’t go back to them for editing. They come intact, perfect. Once I trance into that muse, the poems come out flawlessly, complete and spontaneously. They come especially at night like divine revelations. Most of the episodes of my “Wanderer Series” fall in this category. That is why after I’ve written them and go back to read the pieces, I keep wondering if they were indeed mind. It’s like I was possessed by some spirit. Perhaps that is why a friend, after I’d discussed this process with him, called me the spirit poet? Haha!
Other times, the process is weird, especially during the day. Sometimes I’d be on the road walking and suddenly I’d have to stop and quickly type them on my phone else they’d disappear. Sometimes they come when I am in the bathroom. God, there are moments I’ve had to leave the shower to grab a pen and scribble the poem down, and then go back into the shower. Another weird situation I’ve written a poem was when I was on horseback, some weeks ago actually, riding. A poem came and my phone was not with me. I had to get down, and from my bag yanked a piece of paper out, wrote the poem even though I couldn’t hold all of it in my head. I wrote the only parts I could salvage at the moment. And I think, up until now, my best poem was written in a dream. It came to me in a dream, a poem like no other. I am not sure if I am ever gonna write a better poem as that. I woke up and it was gone. I tried to recall but only disjointed fragments that were not making any sense. It was all gone like yesterday, but left its indelible taste still lingering, like the scent of a perfume, in my mind. That’s the weirdest of all. I consider that my best poem even now.
Other times, I leave poem sketches, their skeletons on my phone or on a paper and develop them into drafts, and later to be beaten into solid pieces. A poem may take me a week depending on other personal engagements I attend to. But once I am on it, I try to complete it and get it all set for my editor.
Sometimes, I don’t write poems at all. I can be in this situation for a good two weeks. At first I thought it was writer’s block. Later, I realised that that’s all a myth. There is no such thing as a writer’s block, just a beautiful term writers only use to give excuse for not writing pieces at some point in time because they are probably re-booting themselves, refilling the pools of their muses. I think I go through that moment only to reboot and bounce back fully to rain down torrents. It is from one of those moments I got out of and wrote 11 poems at a go after 17 days break.
I do not force myself to write poem every day, or have some plan of writing at least a certain number of poems in span of a week or month as some others do. I just let my muse enough space to torment me to write as much poems I can before lapsing into that rebooting phase or interval.
I think writing poems has never been a difficult thing for me. Rather, not writing poems is what is becoming difficult to me. Words have always been my loyal friends. They always come to me like rain, with clouds or not. They come bearing thunder and lightning, other times as soft drizzles caressing the earth’s cheeks. These words find solace in my mind, and onto the paper they find peace, as do I.
Konya Shamsrumi: Please describe your sense of identity in this or any possible world in imagery or metaphor?
Maryam Gatawa: If I am to be reincarnated tomorrow, then I’ll be back as a parrot. I have a special liking for birds, especially parrots because they have the ability to imitate words.
I am also an owl who prowls the dense jungle of words at night to weave poems. Because of my nature’s soul, one that is ever restless and free, I’ve likened myself to a bird hovering over the sea, the mountains, and tearing into the wide sky, singing songs of love and peace. Other times, I am a mythical raven, warging into peoples’ minds and writing their heartsongs, turning their pains to poems. Since some flowers symbolises love, I think I am a rose, then the beautiful sunset at dawn, the soft pebbles inside the ocean, the vegetation covering mountains, a pool, say in the desert, a green lawn. I think I could be the sky that has all under its roof, and the earth that never gets tired of taking all our weight! I am also anything blue: sky, sea or even socks. Haha!
But in all this, I have always being Meegat, making words turn to poems.
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?
Maryam Gatawa: Wow! I think I have a poem that can revive Mr Dead Hope by polishing his faded dreams and renewing his zeal. It’s a poem of perseverance and endurance. It is daring yet uplifting, deep, reflective and inspiring. It is capable of re-awakening our slumbering consciences by showing us strength, perseverance and inspiring us with new hopes. So I think this poem “…And tell the stars” can do that. Once that’s done, a person’s life is saved technically. Because a dead man isn’t only the one who ceases to breath, but he who has lost hope, focus and is without dreams.
Konya Shamsrumi: What does Africa mean to you, as potential or reality?
Maryam Gatawa: Africa to me is both. It is real as this poetry on the paper. A poem is not perfect until it is perfect. But what matters is not the perfectness but the fact that I have a poem, on a paper, that I can tweak and perfect it. Half cup, they say is better than an empty one. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Africa has potentials to be greater than what it is now. It is a potential, as is this muse in my head, this musing that I can’t get onto paper yet, but I keep growing it, sharpening it, weeding its unwanted plants, and watering it right there in my head until the dawn comes, and the cock crows the name of this new ‘poem’ that will be birthed now on the paper. That’s what Africa is to me.
It is a black poem on the lips of far and near nations. True, it has had its share of violence, conflicts, ravaging diseases, poverty and the likes but it has survived, like a young rose whose petals are plucked everyday, yet grows another one in its place. Sometimes, this rose got bees all over it, other times flies. But it remains resilient because once the dawn knocks, Africa opens its petals to the world, embracing all in its humanity with the grace of all its blackness. Africa closes at dusk giving all a place to warm their cold feet irrespective of religion, race, gender and ethnicity. I see Africa as home, where we come back to, after roaming. For the fact that it exists, the entity, its people, the colour, the cultures, Africa to me is a reality, one big home, independently blessed. It should remain so, a big hen that covers its chicks beneath her with the warmth of its ubuntu spirit. Spirit of togetherness and unity until it reaches its full potentialities.
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.
Maryam Gatawa: There are many. But of recent, this poem by A. W. Kayper-Mensah pricked into my soul, gripped me and got me thinking. It’s titled ‘Destroy The Hatred Between The Races.’
I am most fascinated by it because it’s a poem that’s not only about Nigeria or Africa but also the world. It’s a poem about racism, which has been a global phenomena, be it subtle or otherwise, and the hatred it breeds. It’s a poem that challenges us all to destroy the hatred caused between us by invisible hands of racism and do away with it and never let it grow again. I read the poem also in the light of hatred caused by ethnic jingoism and religious bigotry in Nigeria and Africa at large.
In this poem, the author reminds me of a popular quote by Imam as-Shafi when he said:
“Always hate what is wrong, but do not hate the one who errs. Hate sin with all your heart, but forgive and have mercy on the sinner. Criticize speech, but respect the speaker. Our job is to wipe out the disease, not the patient.”
The poem reiterates this in its first verse, my very favourite:
Destroy the hatred
Not the man
Unless the two
In the second verse below, the author terms racism as a crime and explicitly tells us how to destroy it metaphorically:
Uproot this crime
Twixt man and man
And cast it
In the sun
And the last verse, below, also my favourite, hits the final nail to the coffin of hatred, and suggests a closure that tastes of forgiveness, and mercy. It is a poem of love, of peace that reeks of unity, oneness and togetherness.
That it may never root again
Burn it, and if you can
Forget the harm it
Maryam Gatawa is a young poet and a graduate of Economics from the Bayero University, Kano. She lives in Kano, Nigeria and is a passionate lover of the Arts. Some of her work has been published in the African Writer Magazine, Praxis Magazine, Ink Sweat and Tears, PIN Quarterly Magazine, Tuck Magazine, Better Than StarBucks, Anthology Of Best New African Poets 2017, The Arts Muse Fair, Kalahari Review as well as in local papers. When not writing poetry, she talks to her parrots or plays snooker, watches Netflix, or reads other poets.