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

Salihu Mahe: Writing has always been a process, you are first struck by a feeling, then an idea manifests in your mind trying to fill the vacuum of that feeling. That idea has no shape or form, not even a language. Then your mind tries to identify the idea by placing it side by side with befitting words, it shuffles through your vocabulary until the right ones are found. These words at this stage are often scattered about, they float around the vacuum of the idea like gas molecules. At this point you have a fair picture of the idea, but you cannot still place your finger on it. This is like when you pour garri in water, at first it is just random particles before it starts forming, soaking, taking the shape of the cup. This is when structure comes into play, you create a form for the idea and start fitting the various words into their various places these are; lines, stanzas, rhythm, flow, poetic devices, rhyme. Before your eyes, a poem is manifests. Still young, you reshuffle positions, change a thing or two, furnish and finish rough edges. This editing process is a continuous loop, much like a refining process of wine, at a point you just have to stop and let time age it into something sweeter.

I would not say a poem is hard or easy for me, it depends, it is much easier when I am in the mood for writing, i.e. I am experiencing firsthand what I am writing about or I have experienced it before. Writing is synonymous to living, and it is much easier to write what you have lived otherwise you have to put your psyche through that life-like experience.

What I do not do when writing a poem is force it out of me. In a scenario where I want to write a poem and it is not coming to me, I usually let the idea of the poem slip to the back of my mind. This is the process I like to call “Fermentation”. I let the poem grow slowly in my head often without writing a word down or just jotting one or two words to preserve the idea of the poem, so I do not forget it. The fermentation process may take hours, days, weeks or more, and in that time like I said above, I try to fill the vacuum of the poem with befitting words until when the poem is ready to manifest, this process I call Manifestation or Birth. Fermentation can also be referred to as Gestation or Incubation Period.

I do this because whenever I force a poem out, it does not come out as good as a poem that comes out on its own accord. For this reason, I wrote a poem titled “Sleeping with an underage poem”. Therefore, I do not do well with writing prompts, collaborations and such because I do not sit down and say I want to write a poem, rather, the poem often comes to me and ask me to write it.

Salihu Mahe

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

Salihu Mahe: I think of myself as a travelling observer, journeying through life and the world, meeting and observing people, their natures, their interactions, what tickles and bugs them, meeting and observing cities, landscapes, phenomena and much more. Through observation, I became a poet. Through observation, I see and interact with the universe. Through observation, one can develop original thoughts and ideas, making them self-aware of themselves, of their environment, making them able to think for themselves instead of consuming everything that is fed to them, thus they are not shackled by the norm thereby setting their minds free. Observation is one of the ways new knowledge is acquired and as such I like to think of myself as an observer.

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?

Salihu Mahe: The poem would be “Sad boys sing the loudest”, it is a series of two poems titled the same, one written on mental-health awareness and the other on suicide. I would be sharing the latter.

From the title, I would describe the person, as being through a lot, as being sad and depressed, as a seeker of light, of happiness, of fulfillment, of meaning. The poem was written in 2018 after a student in Ahmadu Bello University took her life. She was going through a rough time and her mother was impossible to please. There were quite a few other suicide cases at that time and Twitter was a depressed place to be. I wrote the poem, hoping to save a life, hoping someone somewhere reads it and find a reason to give tomorrow a chance.

I owe it to myself to try and fail, to try again
In this life, I will try to be happy
For this life, I will not to get sad and depressed
Even if there's no reason for me to be happy
I'd look in the mirror and smile
I will be happy with who I am, with what I have
Even if I have nothing, I have life
I will look at the sun, I'd enjoy the moment
I'd crack a joke, even if it is not funny, I'd laugh
And when holding on burns my palms
I'd fall on my knees and pray
I'd cry in the middle of the night when no one is watching
I will bottle my tears into a jar
They will glow like fireflies
And in the darkness of it all, I'd see tomorrow
My future will not hang on a rope
Because I know it gets too dark before dawn
And even darker before the end of the tunnel
So, I owe it to myself to keep pushing
Believing that I'm next in line to be happy

Sad Boys Sing Loudest
(c) Salihu Mahe

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

Salihu Mahe: Africa to me as an African, means home, it means origins, it means identity, it means culture, it means diversity, it means potential.

Africa is many things, often Africa is seen by the world as one conglomerate of singularity stuffed onto the edges of a map. Yes, between spans of the body of Africa exists scars, birthmarks, stories, that often reciprocate themselves, yet in every span exists a distinguishing factor, an identity, a language, a culture, myths, legends, a history that sets it apart.

Africa can be considered as a big extended family of distant cousins, each of whom has their different parents and siblings and all of whom are united by the blood of their grandparents and a common denominator termed as “being African”.

“Being African” a term coined from stereotypical lenses, is often a misrepresentation of the diversity that is Africa. To me there is no single trait or behavior that generally categorizes one as “being African”. Africa consists of 54 countries, and to me “being African” simply means being a native of one of these countries, whilst having your own individual set of beliefs, identity, culture and africanness peculiar to you.

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.

Salihu Mahe: It was a poem by Jorge Luis Borges from his 1981 book La Cifra.

The chaste, white cat looks at himself
In the lucid moon of the mirror
And he cannot know that that whiteness
And those golden eyes, that he has never seen
In the house, are his own image.
Who will tell him that the other who observes him
Is merely the mirror’s dream?

The Cat
(c) Jorge Luis Borges

I came across this poem when a friend posted it on social media. I asked him who had written it, apparently it was a screenshot he found somewhere. So, I embarked on the journey of tracing its origins. My first stop, Google. Being a translated poem made it a bit difficult to find. It was referenced in an essay on Granta, titled The Poet in the Pocket, by Hector Abad Faciolince, which itself was translated from Spanish by Mathew Shorter.

This little journey made me even more fascinated by the poem.

What I really love about the poem is the introspective and curios nature of the cat. Of course, when I read the poem, I am the cat. I often look at the mirror questioning my existence, so this speaks to me. My favorite lines are the last two lines, “Who will tell him that the other who observes him/ Is merely the mirror’s dream?” Marvelous!

Salihu Mahe is a Nigerian writer. He is an engineer by profession and a poet at night. He writes from the deepest parts of his heart. His poems are often motivated by nature, love, the psychology of human beings, morality and philosophical principles. He believes so much in humanity, peace and unity. He recently published his first poetry chapbook How to View the World from a Glass Prism, for which he won the Green Author Prize awarded by Words Rhymes and Rhythms. His work has appeared in Pragxis Magazine, CWC Kongo Issue, The Shade of Women Foundation Issue among others.

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