Konya Shamsrumi: What is the process of writing a poem like for you? Is it a lot of hard work or easy?
Star Okpeh: To me, writing poetry has been more of an adventure. It’s been what a mother will tell you. Like pregnancy. Exciting and made of uncomfortable times. There are seasons when you sit to paint out those emotions, shame those thoughts or propose lyrics to those feelings and like the River Niger on a rainy day, it flows out. Washing your heart clean and leaving you cold and sleepy, a baby bathed in warm water. Other times, it is torture and loneliness. As though your words have captured your mind into condemnation. “Poetry is Evil!” You hear this scream in the ears of your soul.
In all, writing a poem is like being Michelangelo locked up in a quarry of stone and marble. Or maybe Leonardo da Vinci being made to serve punishment in an art supplies store. It is pain expressed with smiles. In writing and being a poet, one can connect the process of creating art with words to producing music. In thoughts, it is simple and smooth. Reality tells a different tale. But at the end, it bounces back to fun and fulfillment.
Konya Shamsrumi: Please describe your sense of identity in this or any possible world in imagery or metaphor?
Star Okpeh: When asked to define poetry sometime ago, I said it was the occult of words in the most fascinating artistic record of narration. I didn’t really grasp the distance I have journeyed with words, lyrics, rhythms, rhymes, metaphors, narration, hyperbole, madness and all until I emerged Princess of African Poetry 2019 by Miombo Review Blog in Zimbabwe. All of a sudden, I realized that poetry has been the definition of Star Okpeh. In it I have found a path that has prepared an identity for me. One that is constant and has opened me up to new heights of literature, hope, healing and the world. I believe art is the spiritual molded to be seen, felt or read and believe even more that poetry is the wholeness of her.
Poetry is the soul’s language and it is this that helps us communicate to the Us inside of Us, and to others as well. I cannot deny the fact that being a Poet has been selfishly a little above just writing poems. It’s been a tour through spirit, soul and body. Through the core of the earth and thoughts of man’s hearts. If I’m to be a Poet a million times over, I’ll be a poet born of steel because that’s how we roll. A little below what madness can only describe.
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?
Star Okpeh: The origin of art and literature has been to save. To save a heart from the solitude that comes from seeing everything with big eyes. As we move on, we poets have applied this same principle to save and protect and give life from different angles of reality.
One of such poems is Children of Time.
We are the fetish children of Time
Hovering with dreadlocks
Believed beyond mountains to be fathered by the village masquerades or banished spirits
of madmen left in the forest to die.
We are Igede
The dwarfs of Etane
Born among men but buried in hills
Plagued of a curse that does not exist.
We are Abiku
Born for the umpteenth time
Evil child of return
Born of the river gods.
We watch you pour libations on lazy altars of stone overfed with the blood of bones.
And we are at the riverbank
Loosing and untying ropes we cannot see.
You stress our spirits until we die
Then you say,
The Ogbanje has left again!
Cultural stereotypes in our Africa has laid waste great lives and raided the most vulnerable whose crime was only to be born special. Writing Children of Time is, for me, a prophecy of hope. A voice for these ones who cannot yet speak or fight for themselves. Caught between culture and ruthlessness. Maybe this could have saved them. If Society is continually violated by such words of justice and common sense, maybe just maybe one small part of things would have been different?
Konya Shamsrumi: What does Africa mean to you, as potential or reality?
Star Okpeh: Africa is both potential and Reality. Every day, I wake to a new sun, I strive to see the world with a child’s eye, a mother’s heart and listen with the ears of a poor old musician singing by the bridge. One that portrays Africa to be the zenith of a dream beyond our reach.
Talking about Africa is talking about Life, Culture, Drama, Traditions, Dance, Water, Nature, Beauty, Hope, Customs and Norms. Africa appears to be the begining of all things known. A land where fountains are found. Being African is being a life source. A city and a stool. When potentials and the realities of life in every face to different races is shaken together, it is Africa we draw—made from it all.
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.
Tell me not in mournful numbers
Life is but an empty dream.
For the soul is dead that slumbers
And things are not as they seem.
A Psalm of Life by Henry Longfellow remains and will forever be imprinted deeply in my mind. It talks of Life in depths that only old souls can relate to. English Literature is no doubt a very strong aspect of history, especially when men like Longfellow stand out. In remembrance of this great poet I wrote another version of A Psalm of Life in my poetry collection, The Dance of Dawn. Last three stanzas read—
I heard the heaven call the earth
The Ball of all there is.
But man must learn to chop his meat
In faith to his belief.
Of what is this without a that?
Tell here without a there?
Man must know he treads two lanes
And time obeys his heart.
I seek no more to judge of words
Let silence do the trick.
But, know this spice of life we live
Survive on our dreams.
Star Okpeh is a Nigerian writer and poet, Miombo’s Princess Of African Poetry 2019 and the author of The Dance of Dawn. She has a great Interest in music, drama and community service. A member of Writers Space Africa, a volunteer at the African Writer’s Development Trust and Head of Writers at Portal Network International. Aside writing and the beauty it paints to her, Star presently works as a volunteer at The Christian Faith Homes, Abuja, where she finds peace, warmth and fulfillment in working with children. JB Burrage, an American writer and publisher, has said of her—” Star is a communicator. A true story teller. A new vibe in a world that needs to be shaken and reminded of who we are. She’s the Future and The Bridge.”