Poets Talk: 5 Questions with Uche Nduka

Nigerian poet, Uche Nduka

Konya Shamsrumi: What is the process of writing a poem like for you? Is it a lot of hard work or easy?

Uche Nduka: The process is both hard and easy. Most times l react to wherever I am, whatever weather it is, the mood I am in, the news of the day, my night and daydreams. The poem that wants to get written propels me to write it. These days I find myself in an investigative position with regard to the poems I am presently writing. I try to find out what the poems need when it comes to structure. In other words, I don’t preplan my poetry. I don’t usually know the themes I am going to write about or even the direction the poems will go. So, my process takes shape in tension and release that practically go on forever. And the hard work comes in the form of focus, receptiveness, direct writing and rewriting. Lots of the time I allow myself to be uncertain during the process of writing. I tend to burrow into a poem in progress and get lost in it.

Konya Shamsrumi: Please describe your sense of identity in this or any possible world in imagery or metaphor?

Uche Nduka: I am magnetic. The raw materials of poems stick to me: voices, subjects, styles, rhythms, forms, cities, music, travels, visions, colours, prophecies, dialogues, settings, time, sensuality, philosophies, mythologies, pop culture.

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?

Uche Nduka: I don’t believe a poem can literally save a life.  I think a poem can enrich a life, make a life courageous, tilt someone into adventure, joy, questions, knowledge, spirituality, protest, humour, curiosity, sadness, eroticism.

Konya Shamsrumi: What does Africa mean to you, as potential or reality?

Uche Nduka: Africa, for me, is about multiplicities: civic interdependence, sophistication, festive spirituality, material abundance. Despite some oppressive tendencies, Africa is a space for intense creativity and renewal. I find it notable that Africa has spawned a defiant and lively diaspora. I work and live in the African diaspora. My work as a poet is not divorced from Africanity. Africa is a treasured earth and dream.

Konya Shamsrumi: Could you share with us one poem you’ve been most impressed or fascinated by? Tell us why and share favorite lines from it.

Uche Nduka: At the moment, I find Arthur Nortje’s “Episodes With Unusables” agreeable. It seems to celebrate self-possession and acceptance of a particular scenery. It rejects self-pity and false hopes. Here is the first section of the poem:

            At dawn I rise to water.
            Smelling the stucco and my shoes, leaning
            into a wisp of air through shafted sunbeams:
            it is another relief to be alone.
            My liquid drops ammonia jewels
            smoking in a net of grass.
            Such a brief while the art of scintillation
            lives in a miniature rainbow, the spring
            earth tells me that all my words now,
            my winter phrases, my wrought sentences
            are dead as the thin conversation of evenings.

Uche Nduka, a Nigerian poet, is bilingual in Igbo and English. He earned his BA from the University of Nigeria and his MFA from Long Island University, Brooklyn. He left Nigeria in 1994 and settled in Germany after winning a fellowship from the Goethe Institute. He lived in Germany and Holland for the next decade and immigrated to the United States in 2007. Nduka is the author of numerous collections of poetry and prose, including Nine East (2013), Ijele (2012), and eel on reef (2007). His latest collection is Living in Public (2018). Nduka currently lives in Brooklyn.

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