Konya Shamsrumi: What is the process of writing a poem like for
you? Is it a lot of hard work or easy?
Alison Ojany: I love writing poetry. I’d call it a possession. My muse takes over. I
get the first line in my head, after that I cannot let it go until the emotions
are distilled into verse. The words, for me, are like disembodied spirits.
Unsettled and roaming. They only find peace once they are re-birthed into
poems. I breathe life into them and they are exorcised from me.
Konya Shamsrumi: Please describe your sense of identity in this or
any possible world in imagery or metaphor?
Alison Ojany: I like the analogy of being a cartographer – mapping the ideas, drawing
links between them, feeling their contours and their boundaries. My pieces help
me interpret reality. Maps are a powerful thing, and we need to question them.
On our continent a few lines have resulted in so much bloodshed and poverty, as
the world sought to simplify our complexity into something simple and easy to
manipulate. I see the same thing with narratives in writing. It is our duty to
articulate accurately, as well as beautifully, what the human condition really
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?
Alison Ojany: My poem, Nesting. It is a poem
about acceptance, embracing that point in life when your soul finally
settles in the body and you make peace with the past. The poem has
words of comfort directed at anyone who is fearful of the great
dips in life. It tells them you will make peace with it or it will make
peace with you. It is about how as you mature, you stop caring about what
I have seen your despair
The weight of these things
To have held your tongue in mine
Let those words roll out so that I may speak like you
They are not mine, these phrases
They are not my offspring
All of these are yours
Reared and tended such ugly things. All these are yours
Languish with me
Settle your feet on my shifty sands
Your foundation is strong and so beloved
And I, an interloper, can only pretend to hate.
I place a poultice to my wounds, these sores that your words have tunneled
Your eyes were a mist of language, I heard your true voice.
Not the echoes.
Konya Shamsrumi: What does Africa mean to you, as potential or
Alison Ojany: As someone who has lived all over Africa, I find the question
problematic. People abroad assume we are one big country. As if someone who
grew up in Berlin had the same lived experience as someone in London: Africans
all united under a red sun sweeping over the Savannah as we tend to our cows
and our malnourished children.
at one level you do feel more acceptance on this continent than in others.
There are many things that bond us – yes our despots, but also our humour, and
some shared sense of wrong, as well as a shared sense of optimism for the
future and present. So, it is “Home”. However I sometimes feel I never fully
belong in Africa, or even just in my own country. I have a sense of being an
Inzile, at home but also an outsider, trapped inside tribal and post-colonial
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.
Alison Ojany: Again, this discusses the phase of life, when you learn to smile at
yourself. How else could I put it. It carries the musk of someone who has truly
lived. The poem for me would be Love after Love. Derek
Walcott. The lines –
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
Alison Ojany is a poet and writer. She has written poems and short stories which have been published in Africa and Europe, and is currently finalizing her first novel. She currently lives in Abuja with her husband and two children.