Poets Talk: 5 Questions with Numero Unoma

#PoetsTalkSeries, Interview
Numero Unoma (image by Marc Baptiste)

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

Numero Unoma: I often feel used. I feel like a utilitarian piece of kit, the conduit through which a poem has elected to come into existence. With motherhood for instance, there is more free will… I could simply choose to abstain from sex. Not so with writing poetry. So, for the most, I have submitted to the tyrannical nature of poems. They choose the subject, and they choose me. I have no choice… than to acquiesce.

Even when I set out to write about a very specific or given subject, after I have done all the hard work that research might require… the reading, the podcasts, documentaries etc… the poem still forces itself upon me, and I find myself ultimately editing out a lot of what I’d thought to be pretty bright ideas… because Poem spits them out and then spits on them.

I think it must be the tension between my will or ego or vanity, and the submissive other me, that gives pleasure in plenty, to this closet masochist. I like to be subdued… on occasion… by a worthy master.

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

Numero Unoma:


I am that space between parallel universe and multiverse, and so created, I in turn create. I merely touch the borders, and so permit content to permeate. All the while, I maintain my lane. In this osmosis, I am a membrane. I am the no-man’s-land to which everyone makes claim, if I am good in their sight, but whom everyone denies a part in, if in their esteem I fall short of their bigotry or hypocrisy, or if I might be right.


This greatest of compliments informs The Who that I am… an essence without nomenclature, which only the strong and brave could possibly fathom. This my supernature. The restless rest are condemned to shade, unconsciously played out in the petit bourgeois mosaic of their flatline existence, post paid. I break the rules for them fools, upon their own insistence. And if I do the crime, I’ll do the time, timelessly and effortlessly, you know… like a swan’s pristine grace and flow, I live for the struggle I conceal, which just to rouse them, I never will reveal. And yet, I keep it real.

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?

Numero Unoma : So… literarily, not literally you say. Hmmm. Well, my poem ‘Seeing Double’ (from my collection ControVERSEy) speaks of how I have no need to be part of a couple to feel good about my life, or to be happy and content. And complete.

Why are we packaged and dispatched into matrimony before we are mature enough to investigate the concept and make an informed decision? Is it because that’s the best thing for us… or is it in fact the best thing for our parents?

I think that if more people had the strength to resist succumbing to automated social and peer pressure by understanding what the poem is saying, then it might save them a life of enduring an unhappy union just because.

After all, everyone’s just cheating all over the place, anyway. So what’s the point?

This lifeline is for all those miserably married in meaningless matrimonial mires.

Numero Unoma

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

Numero Unoma : Africa… we are the Beautiful Betwixt and Between.

Between histories, true and false. Between cultures, supposed and imposed. Between philosophies, east and west, north and south. Between realities, relative, realtime or realizable. Between revolution and reconciliation. We are like the seed, about to sprout into a delicate shoot, that might grow into a tall and mighty tree… if only it is not trampled by maladroit myopia and materialistic madness.

We must stop looking to the rest of the world for redemption, for they see us merely as desirable real estate, presently occupied by a bunch of misguided morons who will buy any BS they sell us (and can you blame them, going by our track record and behaviour patterns?) We must exercise discipline as a cure. We must use introspection as a compass, and history as a map. Industrial revolution should be our blue print, no need to reinvent the wheel, just tweak it to suit our needs. We should take clever jargon out of the classroom, and beyond the policy conference, into the field, and there, plant, water and grow it to maturity.

We need to construct robust African identities that proudly forfeit the compromise of dual citizenship, unless it is intra-African.

We need to discourage blind capitalism and mindless consumerism. It’s all about what we allow to shape our youngest minds, a steeply growing demographic. We have sheer mass on our side, if we can only guide the growth properly. And we must realize that time is NOT on our side, and that we teeter on a brink.

The brink is a place of paradoxical potential. Where we ultimately land is up and down to us. Let’s read the writing on the wall.

Anyone speak Cantonese?

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.

Numero Unoma:  I detest being asked to choose favourites, there’s just too much fabulous stuff out there, coming out of every era of history, or corner of the globe, and I have chronic commitment issues.

But the twist in my arm has just about managed to wring out Rudyard Kipling’s “If”. However, that is as far as the arm twist has worked, as it is impossible to choose lines from such a holistically perfect poem, it needs to be read in its entirety.

Incidentally though, I’d amend the last line to read “And which is more, my daughter, you’ll be a woman” depending on whom it were directed at.

But why this poem? Because it renders obsolete the pandemic-like infestation of self-help scriptures bullying us at every juncture and street corner, to part with our hard earned cash, in order to make complete and utter strangers – and often questionable gurus, at that – rich and famous in our stead.

The best thing about the poem is that it is written in the conditional. It’s all about free will, about choice, about exercising one’s prerogative. So love it, live it….or leave it.


Numero Unoma is a multidisciplinary artist best known for witty, sensitive and incisive work, that dissects her life experiences as an utter Nigerian (and biracial at that) through the technological, socioeconomic and personal eras of her lifetime, and between the continents and races of her origins. She is preoccupied with both the minutiae and the grand scale of human rights and wrongs, as well as philosophical musings of practical value. When visual, her work is both semantic and semiotic, when literary it is…well, wait and see and hear for yourself…

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