Heart of Poetry: Tsenongu Moses Terhemba’s On His Neglect of Prose

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By Ismail Bala

On His Neglect of Prose

 How perfect have I forgot my first love1

The one of whom I dreamt daily

Who I admired both in secret and in public

And freely showered my vows to.

 

The only time I remember her now

Is when wrapped in the warmth of the new2

The new that charmed and snatched me

Ere3 I or my love herself could know

 

When wrapped’n4 rolling in her arms

And after we are both saturated with it

And have talked all that lovers do

She—the old—comes: a sheer accident of the tongue5.

 

And I mention her for the first time

Since her blue moon6 began: I then remember she

Who promised me the best in life

And to whom I promised the same.

 

But now, new forces7 have over powered me

Since I have come of age and have known another

And if I’m permitted the benefit of self-sincerity8

I must go for the latter9; I have gone for the latter.

(1997)

(from Soliloquies, Makurdi: Aboki Publishers, 2003, page 42)


A confessional poem in which the poet, who is also the speaker, confesses (privately) and with a feeling of guilt why he chooses to neglect his first love, prose for his new love, poetry. Both prose and poetry are personified as women; and preference of one over the other is likened to a romantic relationship.


A poet and a scholar, Tsenongu Moses Terhemba is the Chairman of the Benue State branch of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). He teaches in the Department of English at Benue State University, Makurdi. Tsenongu’s translation of Chinua Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart into Tiv won a prize and is being published by Heinemann. He is currently doing his doctorate at the University of Jos on Tiv’s oral poetry.

In On His Neglect of Prose the poet, who also doubles up as the speaker, attempts to confess what he, in hindsight, perhaps considers to be wrong: a disclosing of supposedly private information on why he neglects prose and opts for poetry instead, both of which are personified as women.  By so doing the poet is following an age-old tradition of identifying and describing imaginative writing as akin to dating a woman. For so many poets the creative process, the preference of one genre of literature (Prose, Poetry or Drama) over the other is synonymous with love. It calls for being passionate and loyal. Making sacrifices and enduring sudden swings of moods and even change of allegiance, say from one woman to the other until one is able to find the right lady with whom once can proudly say “I have hit the right target” and “I have got a gem, no going back”.

Right from the title, a sort of distancing-away from the crime ‘committed’ is achieved through the use of the referential pronoun “his”. But in order to drive home the importance of the confessional mode, the distance is almost immediately discarded: the poet/persona adopts a first person narration from the first line throughout the entire poem.  The title does not give a hint of what the poem sets out to do, or the subject, and/or the reason of the confession; from its opening that becomes all too apparent, because the “crime” of the poet is that of ditching his first love.

The image of love and romantic relationship is shown right from the first stanza through words that are used to describe such an undertaking, words like: “first love”, “dream”, “admiration”, “vows” and “charm”. The title also belittles the extent of the crime: it merely refers to it as “neglect”, but the picture painted in the first stanza is simply beyond that: in the beginning everything about the relationship between the poet and his damsel, prose, is perfect until the appearance of the new love on the scene, poetry. Poetry, before either the poet or his love (prose) knows it, snatches him. And the poet finds himself wrapped in poetry’s arms in an ambiance of love. Such an atmosphere is so overwhelming that prose is only mentioned as a slip, which is beautifully expressed through the metaphor of tongue.

It is only in the third stanza that the poet/persona expresses a tinge of guilt and nostalgia about his crime and once happy time with prose. Having mentioned prose for the first time since meeting his new love, the poet remembers all the vows and promises, which transpires between them.

This reminiscence is not enough to make the poet go back to his first love, even though he is still nostalgic about her, simply because he has been overpowered by poetry. The overpowering of poetry is shown to be a must and inevitable for anyone who has been dating prose, and who happens to be matured as the poet now is. His coming of age courtesy of being in love with poetry is absolute: there is no chance of tracing back his steps to prose. And the poet makes a plea to his readers that he be given the benefit of the doubt, for he must go for what his heart desires, and he is going after it as the last line forcefully attests to.

Finally, On His Neglect of Prose shows how a poet could choose to (or not) identify herself with the persona; the persona in this poem is given a tone which the poet could easily identify with; while at the same time maintaining a distance from it. The poem amply demonstrates another ability of poetry to be about one thing while it is also open to innumerable interpretation: this poem is, on the surface, obviously about the poet’s preference for poetry over prose, expressed in the metaphor of love; but it can also be seen as a love poem, or even as a lyrical poem about the art of poetry; or as a short, poetic treatise on writing. From whatever perspective one seeks to see it, one thing is certain though: On His Neglect of Prose is indeed a beautiful poem that is not to be neglected.

  1. A reference and a personification too of prose (fiction) as a woman, as opposed to poetry, which, in this poet’s case takes the place of prose.

  2. In the company or presence of poetry which is now the “new’ love.

  3. Archaic form of “before’.

  4. Deviant spelling/abbreviation of “and’.

  5. A slip of tongue.

  6. Period of neglect when the travail starts.

  7. Poetic forces/ the force of poetry.

  8. The benefit of the doubt.

  9. The latter: “poetry’ as opposed to the former: “prose’.

Ismail Bala
Department of English and Literary Studies
Bayero University, Kano
ibala.eng@buk.edu.ng
08065380091

Poets Talk: 5 Questions with Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

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

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva: Writing a poem is like giving birth before knowing the sex of the baby. For our third child, my husband and I decided not to find out the sex and so we bought all kinds of colours for the baby. Once she arrived (her name is Uwekamani) we were blest beyond words can describe. Poetry is the preparation, labour, intense emotional input and indescribable joy at the outcome. While certain topics are easier for me to write, writing a poem is never easy. I always research into my life, the environment, others’ lives and the social climate, linguistics and current trends, before I complete a poem.

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

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva: Jackfruit/Fene. A fruit with the most ghastly and frightful outward appearance, daunting and yet on the inside offers a taste that lingers forever and whose memory is unforgettable.

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Poet, Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

Konya Shamsrumi: If any of your poems could literally save a person’s life, which poem would it be and can you describe the person whose life you think it would have saved?

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva: It would be the poem, Al Qaeda, written and published in my first poetry collection “Unjumping” which emerged first runner-up in the 2010 international erbacce-press competition. It describes the situation of rigorous security checks at an airport and the inconvenience many feel. This, the poem does, using the metaphor of an erotic circumstance to convey the experience. The poem saves people in the metaphorical sense, that if offers an escape from life’s turmoils.

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

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva: It means every day of the 41 years that I have lived; both on the continent and outside the continent.

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.

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva: This poem by Emily Dickinson is one of my favourite poems in the entire world. It’s timeless, written to highlight our tendency as humans to croak about ourselves, announcing our presence and achievements to audiences that suck us in, just like bog. It’s a tedious task, which all of us have fallen to.

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish — you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!


Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva is a passionate poet, tireless mother, exuberant long-distance swimmer and lover of travelling and nature. She has two poetry collections to her name. The first is Unjumping, published in 2010, by erbacce-press, when she emerged first-runner up in their annual poetry competition. The second, published in 2017, is called Dress Me In Disobedience, highlighting Beverley’s interpersonal relationship with church, sex and politics.

Beverley is the Founding Director of the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award for Ugandan women, the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, where she spearheads the promotion of African poetry. She is also the Founding President of Bukoto Toastmasters Club,that conducts training in public speaking and leadership.

With a Masters of Fine Art Degree in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, obtained in 2012, she has completed her novel manuscript. Her hobbies are travelling, swimming and collecting foreign currencies.

Facebook:    Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

Twitter: @BevNambozo

Heart of Poetry: Abubakar Othman’s Wordsworth Lied

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By Ismail Bala

 


Wordsworth Lied

Wordsworth1 lied
That poetry is emotion recollected
In tranquility

When words drop from my pen
Like arrows from the quiver
Does it matter how they fall on paper
It is the pain they paint
That creates the emotion for poetry.

I wrote a poem I cannot edit
There is no anagram2 for pain
No recollection reduces pain
No tranquility reduces pain.

Poetry is a recurrent emotion
That shatters tranquility
Like the bewildering death
Of an innocent child.

(From The Palm of Time (Lagos: Malthouse Press Ltd, 2002, p.56)


A lyrical, metapoem (or a poem about the art of poetry) that seeks to repudiate the famous, commonplace definition of poetry given by William Wordsworth. It tries to give a “new” definition, which like the one it attempts to deny relies too on emotion.


A consummate stylist and an accomplished poet, Dr Abubakar Othman is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English of the University of Maiduguri, Borno State. He is currently on a leave of absence at his native Adamawa State where he is a commissioner. In addition to numerous academic articles in journals and chapters in books, Dr Othman has been publishing his poetry in different outlets for quite a long time. His poetry is collected in The Palm of Time (2002) from which “Wordsworth Lied” is excerpted. This debut collection is easily the most accomplished to come out in recent time from Northern Nigeria.

Spoken in the voice of the poet, Wordsworth Lied is an ambitious poem that also assumes too much, not only as it attempts to give a new definition of poetry and what it entails, but as it introduces the reader into a commonplace definition of poetry given by William Wordsworth. In his famous Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth repeatedly but polemically stated that ‘good’ poetry is the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” which is recollected in tranquility. Accordingly, poetry is not simply a mirror of people in action; rather its essence is the poet’s own feelings. The buzzword here is “imagination”. Since this definition is well known, Dr Othman deems it fit to start with a repetition of the title of his poem Wordsworth Lied and goes on to supply the said definition word for word without any indication that the two lines preceding the first are actually Wordsworth’s words quoted verbatim (now in the public domain by virtue of their popularity or notoriety).

The second stanza describes the actual process of poetic composition from the point of view of the poet. This constitutes the beginning of his repudiation (or subversion) of Wordsworth’s poetic manifesto, (and technically the actual beginning of Dr Othman’s poem).  And in this regard the word “drop” is important. It sharply contrasts with Wordsworthian calmness: the art of poetic composition is supposedly violent, with words literally dropping from pen “like arrows from the quiver”. The apt simile completes the contrast; while a rhetorical question heightens the repudiation: since poetry is never a tranquil process, it does not matter how the process takes place. The concluding lines provide a sort of prologue to a definition: it is the (painful) experience poetry vividly and linguistically captures that is the emotion inherent in it, and not how the experience is recollected.

The third stanza is a revelation from the poet: the realisation that pain (whether experienced or imagined) cannot just be substituted in the name of poetry. The fact that Dr Othman cannot edit (or rather ‘excise’) bad memories from one of his poems, and by extension his entire poetic oeuvre means pain would always remain a painful thing to deal with in poetry and ironically central to it: there would be no anagram, no substitution or an alternative. The last two lines of the stanza are powerful affirmation of the poet’s firm belief in the painful but necessary nature of poetic composition. Each of the lines start with the word “no” followed by clever use of words (“recollection”, “tranquility”) borrowed from Wordsworth’s definition, but serving a different purpose here.

The definition that Dr Othman hinted at the beginning is given at the last stanza. As such the preceding stanzas are merely preambles to a definition. The definition, when it comes is the stark opposite to that of Wordsworth as expected: Dr Othman sees poetry as a series of repeated emotions that disturbs one’s tranquility. Even though the word that is used in the previous stanza to suggest this is conspicuously missing, the word “pain” is subtly but powerfully hinted at through another concise simile, “like the bewildering death of an innocent child”—a reference to the death of the poet’s daughter which is the subject matter of another beautiful poem, “I am Now Strong Enough”.

In the end, Dr Othman’s definition turns out to be a very personal one, just as the art of poetry is: the death of his daughter, a painful, recurrent emotion, is what poetry is all about; and it is what would generally inform his poetry just as happy memories informed and entailed the Wordsworthian definition.

Therefore, Wordsworth lying is ironically Othman’s crying. Wordsworth Lied is a poem that is composed to ignite compassion and excite benevolence to the kind of experience that we daily encounter. I guess the ‘subversive’ definition outlined is not a difficult one to grasp as it removes the mystique of the imagination and emotion in poetry which Wordsworth’s definition endowed (or is it stained?) it with.

  1. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) one of the great Romantic poets; while Romanticism is a term used to describe the philosophical and literary movement dating from 1789, the French Revolution, to about 1830. It upheld the central importance of the imagination, the individual and nature as a source of moral knowledge.

  2. Literally, a phrase or word made simply by changing the ordering of the letters of another phrase or word, for example, “Listen” can be changed to “Silent”. But here it is used to denote substitution or an alternative.

Department of English and Literary Studies
Bayero University, Kano
ibala.eng@buk.edu.ng
08065380091

Poets Talk: 5 Questions with Leila Chatti

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

Leila Chatti: It depends! There are some poems—rare, magical ones—that come down fully formed, as if some ethereal hand delivers them to me. It may sound absurd, but it really does feel like it comes from outside of me, or at least happens with its own agency, while I sit back passively. And it happens very quickly, in a surge. I find that I receive a number of these “magic poems” in the shower, so I keep a waterproof notebook there to catch them before they disappear.

I also have a practice of writing a poem every day for a month every other month, so six months out of the year I write 30 or 31 poems in a row. I do believe this exercise has made it easier for me to write certain kinds of poems quicker; I’ve built that muscle, and I keep that creative, leaping half of my brain from drifting too far. Often, I’ll write poems in bed, in the few minutes before I fall asleep, on my phone. I used to tell myself I was a morning writer, that I couldn’t write poems at night, but I’ve discovered that isn’t exactly true. I can write poems at night, but they are very different kinds of poems—hovering on the threshold of sleep, they are more lyric, imaginative, wilder and shorter. Writing before bed forces my more critical, rational brain out of the way and allows the stranger voice to chime in. It keeps me from worrying about whether or not what I’m writing is any good, or even a poem at all, and I’ve been surprised by how many poems I’ve kept after looking at them again, clear-headed, in the morning.

All that said, the other half of the time, the poems are agonizingly slow. This past weekend I sat for 12 hours working on one poem, nonstop. I am very meticulous about every choice I make—every word used, every line’s distinct meaning and meaning in the whole—and it takes me a long time to work my way down the page. I prefer to finish a poem in one sitting, so I’ve spent many days sitting at my desk from sunup to late evening, or later. These days are, of course, exhausting, but they’ve produced some of my favorite poems. Very rarely, I’ll let a poem sit and return to it weeks or months later, but this is not really my process and doesn’t often work out well for me—to write a poem, I seem to need to be in that headspace that it was first conceived, whether that lasts for three minutes or 15 hours. Small tweaks I can make later (word changes), but usually I finish a poem the day I start it—sometimes painlessly, sometimes after long torment.

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Poet, Leila Chatti

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

Leila Chatti: I don’t believe my identity has a metaphor; it’s complex and resists simplification. Aspects of my personality, however, can likely be represented by other things. I think if I were an animal, for example, I’d be a housecat—I like long stretches of solitude, I’m fickle, curious, self-reliant, and prone to periods of unprompted moodiness, and I rarely go outside. If I were weather I’d be the sudden downpour and the sunbreak after. If I were a landscape I’d be a beach in winter. A time of day, 6 am. A colour, violet.

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?

Leila Chatti: Oh my, that’s quite a question. I don’t think I could predict something like that—I never know who needs my work, or what they might need from it. I’ve written a fair amount about my own struggles with mental health, and my chapbook Ebb centers on a specific depressive period, but I think one of my earliest poems, “Ode to Ugly Things,” is my most hopeful, or hope-adjacent. There is a lot of ugliness in the world, more than enough evidence for despair. I think survival depends on finding beauty and clinging to it.

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

Leila Chatti: I would be foolish to try and remark on Africa on the whole—it is a massive continent with many, many different experiences and stories. My personal experience with the continent is rooted in Tunisia, though I have also spent time in, and have a great deal of fondness for, Mali, where I taught one summer. So, what I can say about Tunisia is that despite a history that has involved oppression and violence, Tunisians are resilient, adaptable, creative thinkers and problem solvers. I think it is important to acknowledge suffering where there is and has been suffering, but the West’s conception of Africa is a narrative of constant misery, and this is grotesque and over-simplified, an act of erasure. There is, of course (of course!), a great deal of joy and community and innovation and creativity and success found every day in Tunisia, and across the continent. I believe there have been a number of obstacles, and I also believe those obstacles will be overcome.

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.

Leila Chatti: Ah, there are so many! But I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Marie Howe’s Magdalene—there are so many brilliant, stunning poems in that book, many of them brief and powerful, like a punch. I’ve been thinking a lot about lovability and how women are loved or not loved and for what reasons. So, I was particularly drawn to Howe’s “What I Did Wrong,” a confession of forgivable transgressions followed by the startling and, to me, heartbreaking ending lines, lines reaching toward redemption: “Who would/follow that young woman down the narrow hallway?/ Who would call her name until she turns?”

 

Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet and author of the chapbooks Ebb (New-Generation African Poets Series) and Tunsiya/Amrikiya, the 2017 Editors’ Selection from Bull City Press. She is the recipient of fellowships, scholarships, and awards from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Tin House Writers’ Workshop, The Frost Place, the Key West Literary Seminar, Dickinson House, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, where she is the 2017-2018 Ron Wallace Poetry Fellow. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, The Georgia Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, New England Review, Kenyon Review Online, Narrative, The Rumpus, and elsewhere.

Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram: laypay

Poets Talk: 5 Questions with Yinka Elujoba

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

Yinka Elujoba: I like to begin my thinking around writing poetry with the last stanza of Tranströmer’s “Morning Birds:

Fantastic to feel how my poem grows

while I myself shrink.

It grows, it takes my place.

It pushes me aside.

It throws me out of the nest.

The poem is ready.

There is of course that tension that subsists between the poet and his poem. Sometimes, the poem itself is a delineation of that tension. I do not necessarily consider the process of writing poetry in terms of ease. Rather I think about it in terms of clarity: how clearly am I able to articulate whatever motions made me conspire the poem in the first place.

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

Yinka Elujoba: The idea of having to define my identity startles me. It’s not an idea that I’d willingly entertain—I prefer, always, to think of myself under the provisions with which I respond to every impulse, which is, as a writer. My identity is simply a summary of one of Naipaul’s titles: “The Writer and the World”.

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?

Yinka Elujoba: Poetry as savior? Interesting. Sometime in 2015, I chased to Calabar what I considered to be the selfsame illusion that took Okigbo to Yola. Okigbo’s expedition ended in futility. I imagined, on my way, that I might end up sharing the same fate. Still, I dared. Okigbo writes about it in his foreward to “Labyrinths“. Of course, my journey ended like Okigbo’s — the eventual realisation that the whole framework was not to be. I wrote this poem, “Calabar”, on my way towards this dream. Whose life can a failed experience save? The thrust of this poem, for me, is to encourage at least one individual to consider chasing whatever dream they think valid regardless of the possibility of failure.

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Poet, Yinka Elujoba

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

Yinka Elujoba: Was there ever a time when Africa wasn’t bearing the burdens of words and phrases? ‘The dark continent’. ‘The heart of darkness’. ‘Africa is a country’. ‘Africa rising’. All of these things tire me. I think that Africa is both potential and reality. Potential because you have all of this energy waiting to either be commodified or processed into a tool for agency. Reality because, regardless of what the world thinks or does, Africa is here and now. And the continent will continue to be different in radical ways. What is important is what we do with this radicalism. Do we commodify it? Or do we, like I said, make it a tool for agency?

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.

Yinka Elujoba: There’s plenty to think about. Different poems impress upon me for different reasons. My philosophy in thinking about my work as a writer is defined by Unamuno’s Throw Yourself Like Seed.” In the final lines, he says:

For life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds;

From your work you will be able one day to gather yourself.

In thinking about the summary of my life and the spaces I fill, Homero Aridjis’ “Goethe Said Architecture is my mantra. I leave you with these lines:

Musical streets didn’t concern him either,

although man slips via these walkable rivers

into old age, love, the night,

up to the table, into bed,

like a sonata of flesh and bone.

 

Yinka Elujoba is a writer and art critic living in Lagos. His works have appeared in Saraba, Klorofyl and elsewhere. His chapbook, Collective Truth, was published in 2016.

Twitter: @yinkaElujoba

Instagram: @elujoba

Poets Talk: 5 Questions with Samuel Ugbechie

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

Samuel Ugbechie: It helps when I have a line to start with. If there’s no first line, I have to find one. It’s roughly about getting the verbs and nouns and the other word classes into their proper spots to make them sing the songs they alone can sing. I write with my ears, my heart, my head, and my eyes. And growing older and learning more about the varicolored anatomy of a poem, it takes more time and silence to get the work done. Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s easy. But it’s rarely quick. Sometimes a poem demands days to complete and then it demands a later time to be revisited and reedited. I write to sing, and for me, each line (by line I don’t just mean the typical line a line-break makes, but each line of a sentence fragmented by a punctuation mark) must be musically self-sufficient. Must be a song of its own.

The more I learn as a student of the art, the better I get at attempting to sing down a piece of poetry with the right key and pitch and tone.

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

Samuel Ugbechie: If a poem were simply sound, I would be an alloy of the metallic elements that carry its singing waves over distance. If it were simply water, I would be more of a sluice than a spillway. But poetry sounds and smells and tastes and feels and reads and looks like both, and more, so it demands a human-conduit: one that bears the burden of the five senses. And I am just one of the many humans through which it makes its way into the world. There’s a poem in the gong of grief belling through the night. The slice of a glance, the burr of a river, the blur of the sun edging into noon. My job, then, is to capture the instance of these and conserve it.

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?

Samuel Ugbechie: I don’t think I’ve written a poem that could save a person’s life yet. I hope to write one someday.

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Poet, Samuel Ugbechie

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

Samuel Ugbechie: A work in progress. And one that ticks many fine boxes through some of its recent growth in the arts, and arguably, in technology too, if we look at some of the impressive startups coming out of the continent. What impresses me most is the entrepreneurial spirit that seems to have possessed the entire continent and now reflects in some of the beautiful risks I have seen a number of people take. It’s a long road. Still, it’s nice to know we have some successes to point at.

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.

Samuel Ugbechie: A poem that comes to mind is “Margaret River Sestets” by Mark Tredinnick. Sinnead Morrisey was one of the judges who named it winner of the then Cardiff International Poetry Prize. She captured my thoughts about the poem in better words: “…this is a work completely at home in its own flow of language: its fluency is breathtaking, not least because it takes so many risks with syntax along the way. There is great originality of description here, a way of making the Australian landscape in which it is embedded flame and sing…”

The line, “I’d rather lie in the poem of your hand,” works, because although it reads and sounds well, Mark Tredinnick seemed to have avoided falling into the trap of using the easier word, palm. In substituting poem for palm (a near homonym), what would have turned out to be cliched, became a fine-sounding original line: one at ease with its own breath; one that leaps off the page. There are many beautiful lines like, “The grasses thrum like a squadron of spitfires…” Then this: “My whole life an addiction to country, falling forever for places / that were never going to be any good for me.”

Then the entire poem flows so effortlessly, like the river it hums and longs for. And reading the poem out loud, it reads so fast and fluently like a river telling its history in its own tongue, and as Sinnead Morrisey said, the poem takes several syntactical risks along the way, and still it succeeds and arrives.

 

Samuel Ugbechie’s works have appeared in Sentinel UK, Elsewhere Lit, Nottingham Review, Bird’s Thumb, Jalada, and elsewhere. When he isn’t writing, he is either playing basketball, soccer or listening to some debate or music. Some of his works have been recognized in some awards like the National Poetry Competition, Vice- Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize, Frederick Holland Poetry Collection Award, RL Poetry Award.

 Twitter: @sunical_s

Poets Talk: 5 Questions with Alexis Teyie

#KSRCollective

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

Alexis Teyie: To answer the question directly, yes, it is embarrassingly simple. And yet, since that doesn’t ring fully true, I should start by saying, I don’t think of it as ‘writing’ poetry as such, but more of ‘making.’ So the writing itself often comes out of me without too much suffering, but the making is quite an ordeal. A lot of writers have wondered where the poem begins. Famously, Frost says, “a poem begins with a lump in the throat.” And for me, there are some poems that stay this way, only fractionally formed, but very tangible nonetheless and I can only clear my throat many years later. Now, the poems that are a puzzle (I love puzzles!), these are strangely easy to churn out. I ask: how can one transmute this thought-feeling into this form, a ghazal or a villanelle, say. But those lumps, those are the ones that take years to make, to undo and redo, until finally they unravel on the page. To amend my falsely transparent answer then, yes, making poems is often simple to me, but rarely easy.

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

Alexis Teyie: My sense of identity. Well, that’s rather fraught, especially given the times we live in. I have multiple, tiered answers to this question that change frequently. That said, if at all there is some significant place for agency here, and I like to think there must be, then before anything else, I’m a radical Marxist. This decidedly sketchy way of being in the world, a deliberately Marxist/Leninist way of being in the world, has informed how I polish other aspects of myself, and how I engage with others. Because I am Marxist, I’m a feminist. Because I’m Marxist, I’m anti-colonial. Because I’m Marxist, I work to incorporate queer, trans, and disability aware philosophy and activism in my own life, and in the work I support. Because I’m a Marxist, I am a poet. If there’s an image or metaphor for this kaleidoscope, I’m not sure I’ve encountered it, but if you’ve ever put the music loud in the dark and placed your palms on the speakers, then that’s sort of how it feels like to live inside this body sometimes.

Poet, Alexis Teyie

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?

Alexis Teyie: That’s a tricky question, but one I think about often. Czeslaw Milosz, one of my favourite poets, says, “What is poetry which does not save/ Nations or people?” I can’t really say at this point. The work I am making now is not yet doing what I trust it can. Even so, the poem that saved me is titled, ‘Water Lilies.’ I made this poem after 8 months of writing nothing. I was unwell, and my mind was both on fire and deeply foggy. The only thing ringing in my head was “what then?” I was a big Yeats fan was I was younger and for some reason this stupid refrain rose up from somewhere and got lodged in a groove in my mind. Anyhow, there I was, not getting any work done, properly sick and drowning in the most acute loneliness of my life but then I somehow muster enough energy to go to a gallery. There’s a painting by my favourite artist. And then I think, colour. Colour is what will remain. I didn’t need any sweeping philosophies, or any grand miracles. I just needed the assurance that something small and beautiful would last; you know, that old Keats promise: “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: / Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness…”
So, for people who treasure small consolations. For people who are done but need an excuse to hold on, despite all the cases supporting the contrary, then ‘Water Lilies’ is the poem. It’s a short thing, and it closes simply:

Colour is all that will remain, darling.

Deeply, darkly, but more often, gently,

lightly. Lightly.

And when we are older, we can dream our souls, too,

will leave a residue; paler maybe, but the colour of

water lilies.

Lightly. Just to take the terror and the joy and the juice lightly. To take it all lightly, that’s all.

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

Alexis Teyie: I studied History, and would like to continue to work as a historian so this question is worth a few volumes in answers. I’ll say this here, then, I have been an enthusiastic lover and practitioner of Afro-futurism, which is really a philosophy that many of us live, even if implicitly. I am keen for a turbo charged vision of Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism, but with a deliberate class lens, and most importantly, with the audacity and wild promise that only people with the history that we have can create. What does that mean, in praxis? It means I work to read and critique and fall in love with different works by Africans. It means investing in so-called development work, which to me offers a way to restore people’s dignity, especially for African women. It means caring for and loving other Africans, undoing all these colonial hangovers. It means living in Kenya, and carrying it with me, but knowing this work is for much more than these borders.

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.

Alexis Teyie: Just one? That’s mildly perverse. Jared Angira is one of the poets who meant so much to me in the early days. Nye, Takuboku, Diop, Creeley, Bei Dao, Mapanje, Paz, Carson, O’Hara, Cavafy, Okigbo and so on. Ah, but I shan’t try to run through any of the poems I’ve been ‘most impressed and fascinated by’; instead, I’ll tell you about the first poem I remember completely knocking the wind out of me. I was 8 years old. I remember walking around with this poem clinking in my mind for weeks, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud.’ It’s this simple, delicious, open poem. The music of it just got me, and I worked on rhymes for years after because of it, but my word, “a crowd,/ a host, of golden daffodils.” It leaves a sweet taste on the tongue, reciting it. And, it reminds me of why we make this poetry. Partly to document, partly to savour, partly to honour, to commune, to be restored to ourselves. Anyhow, that’s Wordsworth’s way, and now to figure out mine.

 

Alexis Teyie is Kenyan writer. Her poetry is included in the Jalada ‘Afrofuture(s)’ and ‘Language’ issues, as well as the Black Girl Seeks anthology. Her short fiction is published in Short Story Day Africa’s ‘Water’ anthology and GALA’s ‘Queer Africa II’ anthology. Her work is also featured in Omenana, Q-zine, This is Africa, Writivism, Anathema’s ‘Spec from the Margins’ anthology, HOLAA’s ‘Safe Sex Manual’ among others. Alexis recently co-authored a children’s book titled Shortcut. Alexis is a co-founder and poetry editor with Enkare Review. She also works in impact measurement, and is an early career scholar building a portfolio of work on visual culture and militarization in the Horn of Africa. Upcoming work includes a poetry chapbook, Clay Plates, to be released in early 2018 by the African Poetry Book Fund in partnership with Akashic Books.

Facebook: Alex Teyie

Twitter: @alexteyie

Poets Talk: 5 Questions with DM Aderibigbe

#Poetstalkseries

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

DM Aderibigbe: Oh my! This question doesn’t have an explicit answer. You know, when I started out, writing wasn’t that hard. I used to write 3 to 4 poems a day constantly. I once wrote 10 poems in a day and finished a novella and short story collection in 3 months. But as I grew older, it started to get harder. I can attribute this to maturity. You know, I became a harsher critic of my work and began to watch what I put out. I should mention though, that I still very much enjoy the process.

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

DM Aderibigbe: In my present state of mind, the most accurate metaphor for my sense of identity would be jollof rice. What I mean in essence is this, when I lived in Nigeria, I wasn’t attached to the idea of jollof as much as I am now. I guess that’s due to the fact that I’m away from home now and the past has become a luxury. So, each time I sit to eat jollof, it serves to remind me of where I’m from and strengthens my sense of identity.

#Poetstalkseries
Poet, DM Aderibigbe

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?

DM Aderibigbe: Wow! I know poems save lives, and I know my poetry kind of deals with how we could keep our dead from leaving the living and how to prevent the living from joining the dead, but has my poetry saved lives? I have to leave this question for posterity to answer.

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

DM Aderibigbe: Africa is both potential and reality to me. Although the only other African country I’ve been to is Morocco, I was born in Lagos and grew up under its scorching sun and restless rain. I survived on its dusty streets before finding my way to the University of Lagos. I flowed with the thick water of its gutters, played felele football on its streets. This is my reality, and the reality of most Africans, you know. Hustle every day. But then, I think it is safe to say Africa is also a potential. We’ve always had the natural resources, and these days, the things that are lacking –  its human resources as productive force,  technology etc – are falling in place. I believe in a few years from now, Africa will be on her feet.

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.

DM Aderibigbe: Oh geez, so many poems haha. One of my favourite poems ever is “The Seashells of Birdlington North Beach” by Malawian poet, Jack Mapanje. I like how with raw simplicity and directness, one sees how a 28-line poem covers over 500 years of history. One sees how poetry is the past, present and the future. Look at lines like:

She hated anything caged, fish particularly,
Fish caged in glass boxes, ponds, whatever;
‘Reminds me of prisons and slavery,’ she said;

The three lines above, cover more than 300 years of history. How incredible is this?

 

D.M. Aderibigbe was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He earned his BA in History and Strategic Studies from the University of Lagos, and received his MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University. His chapbook, In Praise of our Absent Father (Akashic Books 2016) is part of New Generation African Poets Chapbook series. He teaches creative writing in South Florida.

Poets Talk: 5 Questions with Peter Akinlabi

#poetstalkseries

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

Peter Akinlabi: For me it depends on the poem. I have written poems easily, say in one minute. But I can contradict that in a way and say I have never published a poem that was easy for me to write. Words and ideas come to me easy enough, but because they come mute and tangled, I have to set them up in a cauldron, you know, and bid them speak and unfurl as I seek the language to “translate” them. It is the process of translation that I find ‘hard’.

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

Peter Akinlabi:  I will borrow these lines from  my poem “A Song for Dada” from the collection “Iconography”:

I am he who straddles two lives

A courier of another’s

Inarticulate transition.

These lines in a sense capture all the corporeal, spiritual, and agonistic significations that I bear, plus my aesthetic duty.

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?

Peter Akinlabi: Of course you did not  mean  this  tongue-in-cheek, with the spectacle of a Pentecostalist testimony at the back of your mind. Like you know, Praise the Lord,  I was reading this poem at the station, got engrossed  and missed the bus and there was an accident involving the bus… Hallelujah!!

See, I think therapy will save life, so will a life jacket, or seat belt, or those hymns they sing in orthodox churches. Not contemporary poetry. Certainly not my own poems, hain!  My poems to start with seem to have  little interest in the physical, physiological or spiritual well-being of my subjects – be them persons or things.  I am interested in the fact and meaning of their existence, certainly, but my agon is actually with the language used to convey those facts and meanings. How’s that kind of poetry going to save anyone? But then, stranger things have been known to happen.

#Poetstalkseries
Poet, Peter Akinlabi

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

Peter Akinlabi: Africa can be both. The fact of her existence confirms her reality. As potential,  she seems more complicated. “Africa” is an entity that brings the word “incompleteness” to mind, like something that is continually being invented, or forever in a process of becoming. Being African, for instance, is way dissimilar to say being  European or even Asian. In Africa, we emerge everyday with a new sense of identity, of reality, of magic, of definitions. Hey, ever heard of a category of Europeans called Europolitans?

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.

Peter Akinlabi:  One day many years ago, as an undergrad, I opened pages of a book of poems titled “Boleros” at the University Library, and time stood still. It was  poem 5:

All names are invocations, or curses.

One must imagine the fictive event that leads to

He-Who-Shoots-Porcupines-By-Night,

Or Andrew Golightly, or Theodore, or Sally.

In the breath of stars, names rain upon us;

We seem never to be worthy

Or , having leaned the trick of being worthy,

We seem never to be prepared for the rein of names,

That will walk beside us, even unto surly death.

By the second stanza, I had decided the book should belong to me and not to the neglect of the Library. See, a moment before I found this book, I was bemoaning the defacement of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s Collected Poems.

And like Hermes, at that moment, I planned an heist:

Sometimes death has embraced those who never came forth,

Those who were impeached for unspeakable desire,

Even as they lay in mothers‘ cave hollow wombs,

Speechless. Eyeless, days away from the lyrics of light

And a naming. Dead or alive something waits

In the face or movement of a child still held in that hollow, something

That will become an appropriate exchange for the life

Buried by coming forth, or by disruption of the life with no reason to appear.

Now I cannot name the child you carried.

All voices, dilated with need not desire, have ceased.

For a young student who was very familiar with Yoruba’s ritual and mythologies of childbirths, stillbirths, aborted births and naming, this poem showed me something. Some poetic possibilities I never imagined possible outside Africa. Something similar to what Soyinka did in “Death at Dawn” or Mukhtar Mustaha’s “Gbassay- Blades in Regiment”. It was a triumph of the hybridised imagination.

I have read many of Wright’s poems after that. But I always go to this poem and let it hold me by the hand, as it whispers: “see how transmutable hidden things can be made visible with the right poetic fervour, see?”

Well I never stole Boleros, which I had planned to spirit out, together with that Mayakovski’s, on my way out of the Library. But not for lack of trying.  Do our people not say “behind an egregious reading habit, there is an egregiously failed crime”?

 

Peter Akinlabi lives and works in Ilorin, North Central Nigeria. He is the author of two books of poems, A Pagan Place and Iconography

Twitter: @ayemidun

Poets Talk: 5 Questions with Unoma Azuah

#KSRCollective

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

Unoma Azuah: The process of writing a poem for me starts with a flash or an idea, depending on what triggered the urge for me to write. In other words, my surroundings and lingering thoughts fuel and feed my inclination to write a poem. Sometimes I write because I am bothered about something. In that way, writing the subject or issue in the form of a poem purges me of that pain or that joy, or even that overwhelming emotion. The idea does not come as a complete package. I carry ideas around in my head for a few days or weeks. Sometimes, I carry these ideas for months. It is almost the same as the process a python takes to digest a massive meal. The manner of ingestion and assimilating that topic could take days or weeks, and that is the same process I apply to birth a poem and any creative piece. In that course, I come back to the poem to flesh out,  re-arrange and polish till it feels complete because writing is re-writing. All that to say, like any fine art, the process of writing a poem or creating is not easy.

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

Unoma Azuah: My sense of identity is multi-layered: it is complex. Think of a maze.

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?

Unoma Azuah: Many of my poems saved my life. I can’t say whether or not it saved anybody else’s life. If I am constrained to use just one of my poems as an example of a poem that saved my life, it would be “Dots of Lineage Lines.” It is a biographical poem. It helped me navigate the chaos of knitting through the fabric of my many layered identities. I traced the burden of always being on the fringes of life and living.  For instance, I am a Nigerian lesbian woman confronting homophobia. I am a Nigerian woman with a dual identity; Igbo and Tiv. That label is burdened by its historical context because my mother formed a union with a Nigerian soldier who was supposedly an enemy to the Igbos or to the Biafra cause. Additionally,  I am anti-religious in a hyper-religious country like Nigeria. Then, I am not just a woman, but a black African woman confronting racism in America. The list goes on. In other words, I tried to make sense of a senseless world in that poem as a way to stay sane. So, I ferried and still journey across many boundaries of negotiations. In some of these bargaining I  lose bits of myself. In writing “Dots of Lineage Lines”, I confronted my fears, my baggage, my conflicts, my flaws, etc. It was therapeutic; the poem healed parts of me.

Poet, Unoma Azuah

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

Unoma Azuah: Africa means home to me: beautiful people, the continent with the pulsating heartbeat, the thump of the tropics, the familiar aroma of spices, the place with the warmth of the sun, the place where leisure embraces the calmness of life. Africa means poetry to me in all her gore and glory.

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.

Unoma Azuah: I am impressed and fascinated by a multitude of poems, from African songs to European sonnets. However, the one that comes to mind at the moment is Elizabeth Holden’s “As the Cold Deepens.”  Holden’s “As the Cold Deepens,” utilizes simple but powerful lines, metaphors and imagery to address the topic of aging and death. For instance, the poem opens with these lines about her mother: / “She is eighty-six and her friends are dying. / “They’re dropping like flies,” she grumbles/and I see black winged bodies crumbling/on window sills when we open our summer house.”/

She delivers even more powerful lines and metaphors with:

/” her flesh shrinks back toward bone. /Braced in her metal walker/she haunts the halls/, prowls the margin of her day/… erect in this support/that fuses steel with self. ”/

Here she makes us see her mother’s resolve to stay alive and not give in to death. Like a lioness marking her territory when threatened, we see her mother “haunt the halls” and prowl the margins of her days. Her grit is described as “in this support that fuses steel with self.” Even in the intensity of this theme, we still see how Holden effortlessly works in alliteration and internal rhymes. So in such a weighty issue, we hear music.

Her closing is yet potent: “It is hard to hold the light/which grows weaker every day. /The temperature is falling/The glass is cold.”

Her closure is the ultimate; it reverberates. “The glass is cold.” Apart from her impressive weaving of narration into lyricism, her craft in employing multiple mediums and images from merely working with the image of flies, their attraction to warmth, summer and the contrast of cold is formidable.


The #KSRCollective poetry combo comprises Umar Abubakar Sidi, Richard Ali, Kechi Nomu, Funmi Gaji and Rasaq Malik Gbolahan. Order all five at a discount HERE.


Unoma Azuah teaches writing at the Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago, Illinois. Her research and activism focus on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights in Nigeria.  Recently, she concluded a book project on the lives of gay Nigerians entitled, Blessed Body: Secret Lives of LGBT Nigerians.  In 2011 she was listed as one of the top professors at small private colleges in the United States in the online publication, Affordable/Private Colleges and Universities in the United States. Additionally, she is recognized by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education under the topic, “Honors for Four Black Educators.”  A prolific author and a speaker, Azuah has been a guest lecturer at such institutions as Yale University, Connecticut, USA; Queens University in Kingston, Canada; Maynooth University, Ireland; University of Cape Town, South Africa; and State University of New York, (SUNY) Oneonta.  Her writing awards include the Hellman/Hammett Award; the Urban Spectrum Award for her debut novel, Sky-high Flames; and the Snyder-Aidoo Book Award for her novel, Edible Bones. Her undergraduate degree in English is from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.  She has an MA in English from Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA.