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.