Kanyinsola Olorunnisola got to discuss with Olawale Ibiyemi (Pamilerin Jacob) recently. Olawale Ibiyemi is a young poet, and a graduate of Babcock University, Nigeria. He was a mentee in the first cohort of the Sprinng Literary Movement Mentorship Programme however, in August, 2018, he will be serving as a mentor in the second cohort of the programme.
Pamilerin Jacob is the author of Memoir of Crushed Petals. The major themes in his poems include death, love, abuse and mental illness. His goal of writing is first; to ease internal turmoil and also to shed light on the struggles of mental health patients in Nigeria. Therefore, his poems are often of a confessional nature, taking after the likes of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Another goal that Olawale has for his writings is, being a voice against the oppression of women, bigotry, tribalism and cultural decadence.
Olawale Ibiyemi has won some local poetry competitions. His poem was shortlisted for the Ken Egba Prize for Festival Poetry 2017. His poems have appeared in the anthology These Words Will Cure a Dead Man by Sprinng Literary Movement 2016, 7th issue of the PIN Quarterly Journal 2017, Words, Rhymes & Rhythms website and on other prestigious Nigerian Literary websites. Some of his poems will also appear in the Best New African Poets 2017 Anthology that will be published in 2018. Olawale also writes non-fiction and can only be kidnapped with a cup of ice-cream; chocolate flavour.
Read their discussion below:
Kanyinsola: Out of curiosity, is Pamilerin Jacob the pen-name or the real name? I see you use both Olawale and Pamilerin for your works online. The Olawale works are more adventurous, particularly "a poem eludes me." Beautiful!
Olawale: Some of us change our names to buy a second life. Pamilerin Jacob is Olawale so to speak; I often say he is a teenage boy living in Olawale’s body.
Kanyinsola: Congratulations on the success of your recent collection, Memoir of Crushed Petals, which has indeed generated quite the attention since its release earlier this year. How has the reception towards the book been for you?
Olawale: Oh, thank you! The reception has been encouraging. Considering the feedback from readers, reviewers, booksellers; I am thrilled that the poems crawled stealthily into people’s bodies.
Kanyinsola: Coming upon the title of your work, one senses a deep sadness – or a sort of mourning, perhaps – layering the poems themselves. And that premonition is proven accurate when one does read your work, as there is this a really eternal frustration in your voice. Where does that come from?
Olawale: Hmm… Kanyin, I think sadness like a god, is not a respecter of persons. And when that sadness finds root in the soul, all that the mouth will hold are songs of grief.
Kanyinsola: You talk a lot about mental health in your interviews, and this work itself is majorly about that, what exactly makes you particularly interested in shedding light on mental health? Is it just a passion or something more personal, because some of your poems actually point to the latter?
Olawale: (Laughs) This question ehn. Some pains when they live in our bodies long enough become passions. I can’t help but speak about mental health. We have demonised it for too long as a society. I believe it stems majorly from a place of misunderstanding. I talk about it a lot also so that others will not feel alone in the fight. For mentally ill patients, it can be daunting: fighting illness, and stigma.
Kanyinsola: One thing I find interesting about the collection is how it mocks our proneness in Nigeria to tell people with mental illness to toughen up and just…phase through it. And I love how you related it to African masculinity and the unrealistic expectations ascribed to it. How do you think we can reconcile these two – black masculinity and emotional fragility? Can they ever be compatible?
Olawale: As I said earlier, our misunderstandings are responsible for such mindsets. The African man is expected to be fierce, hide pain in his ribs, and even when his brain is suffocating, he is expected to lock all windows to this soul and endure the pain, “as a man.” (sigh). To be fierce is to be human, to be weak is also to be human. No one ever says to someone with malaria, “toughen up.” No. We give them the needed attention and care. Black masculinity and emotional fragility are really not mutually exclusive: the more open a flower becomes, the more sun rays it devours, the more eyes can behold his beauty. We have taught our men to be stones, and even found a way to sneak it into our religious doctrines. Kanyin, Jesus cried in Gethsemane, the Buddha expressed grief at the beginning of his ministry, Mohammad cried when he heard his grandson was going to die, and we teach our men to be stones?
Kanyinsola: I have, myself, been fascinated by the open conversations I have had recently with different people over mental illness and I can testify that it is such an overlooked issue, as you’d agree. What do you think we can all do to be better, to converse more open-mindedly about mental illness?
Olawale: First, would be to stop the demonization of mental illness. Nobody starts a seven-day fast when malaria strikes. What we do is take them to the hospital. When the liver fails, you do not run to a religious home, why do that when the brain hiccups? Personally, I think the demonization of mental illness is a way of shifting blame. It places a huge burden of guilt on the patient. I always reiterate, a million kegs of anointing oil will not cure lack of impulse control in an OCD patient, 50mg of Sertraline, however, will do something wonderful. Also, we as a society, need to stop the criminalization of “attempted suicide.” It is a fear tactic, and it does nothing. Someone with a mental illness is really unperturbed by such laws, that person is looking for an escape from Psychache, and in a society laden with stigma, death is often the warmest room. We are to tackle stigma, rip its head off, burn it at the stake of empathy. Then, societal healing will be monumental.
Kanyinsola: Your words can sometimes be rather jarring. For instance, in Jungle Justice, you wrote, when your child steals from the pot/drag him to the town square/douse him in petrol, and tell/a bystander to light a match. And here is another disturbing one: kill your son, slice your wrists/swallow office pins, swallow/the masquerade’s penis. Do you aim for these kinds of surreal images in your work or are they done subconsciously?
Olawale: (Bursts into laughter) Kanyin, I often refer to myself as an evangelist of imagery. I speak mostly in pictures. It’s a notion I picked up from the Imagism movement of the 20th century. And because I fetch these images from the subconscious, they are surreal. Let me add that I am a huge fan of Surrealism as an art movement too. It is thoroughly stimulating and most often, shocking. There are times when I murmur to self, that art that doesn’t shock, sucks. Of course, this is not objective truth. But it guides me, nonetheless, -when I write-.
Kanyinsola: I remember reading your work somewhere once and then finding out in your bio that you are an Accounting student. How have you reconciled that with your status as a man of the arts?
Olawale: Oh that accounting thing, I just graduated this June in fact. I mixed the two by being attentive to the Muse. Some poems attack you in the lecture room, some in the street. I just kept my ears peeled.
Kanyinsola: So, how did it begin for you exactly? The writing life.
Olawale: Hmm…in my case. My father is a journalist. Mr. Man was always writing. Always churning out news stories, still does so presently. So, you can imagine when the poems came for me. I had no choice but to yield. In 2015 though, I did decide to become serious, when a friend Obafemi Olatunde, saw a primitive poem of mine and said, “to get better, read. Read the traditional forms, the free verse, read everything”. It stuck. I believe that marked a new beginning for me, in writing.
Kanyinsola: And who were your earliest influences? Did they mirror what you now write about?
Olawale: Earliest influences were Khalil Gibran, Pablo Neruda, Anne Sexton, and Niyi Osundare. I definitely see Khalil everywhere; I even write poems to him. I see Pablo in my incessant need to ask rhetorical questions in poems. Anne Sexton, she taught me to break recklessly unto paper without fear, to use the poems as vehicles of both self-discovery and utter scrutiny. Oh, and Niyi, that sweet old poetic messiah, I see his influence in my line breaks, my constant experimentation with forms, and aphorisms.
Kanyinsola: You are an established man in the literary scene, having bagged a couple of honours. And now this book is a major feather to your cap. Where do you go next?
Olawale: Kanyin, I go where the Muse leads, my ears are taped to Her lips.
Thank you very much for your time Olawale. It was a pleasure having this conversation with you and I hope many writers can learn and become inspired by you.
Kanyinsola Olorunnisola is a poet, essayist and writer of fiction. He is the Founder of Sprinng Literary Movement and the author of a chapbook titled In My Country, We're All Crossdressers.