I got to sit down recently with Adedayo Adeyemi Agarau, a prolific poet, photographer and spokenword artist who hails from Oke-Agbo, Nigeria. He won the 2015 Eriata Oribhabor Food Poetry Prize and the Season 2 of the Pulse Student Poetry Prize. His debut chapbook, “For Boys Who Went” was released in 2016, courtesy of Authorpedia. Read our discussion below:
Kanyinsola: Who is Adedayo Agarau?
AGARAU: Adedayo is human before anything, before being a poet, photographer and student of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Kanyinsola: I've noticed your choice to consciously identify first as human before anything else, even though it does seem obvious in the literal sense. Is there a particular philosophy to this self-identification?
AGARAU: If we all took this as our "philosophy" maybe the world would have been better. Maybe Gaza would be in one piece, maybe Buni Yadi will still be that silent town with children singing. We take ourselves as higher "humans" and this is why this place is this place.
Kanyinsola: So, is this the approach you take to your themes when writing?
AGARAU: Yes. Maybe it is because I love to travel, I want to be here and there all the time, but I may never be free from all the pain I have let into my poems, most of which are not mine.
Kanyinsola: But that is the interesting part about writing, isn't it? The way we can burden ourselves with the pain of others. Do you not think that can be a little too much responsibility for one writer to take on?
AGARAU: Maybe this is why we are called writers. When Shakespeare took to love, it was his burden. When Senghor took to Negritude, it was his burden. Kofi Awonoor and his rediscoveries... But because upon realizing that you have what others do not have; a hand to write and a mind to express, we express expressly. Poetry is underutilized if you tell just your story with it.
Kanyinsola: So, you believe poetry should be more political than it is personal?
AGARAU: I just believe it should not be monopolized. You tell your story, fine. But remember, there are bodies writhing in a fire somewhere that has no name. Their voice comes in your sleep, but what is your business, Yeah? It reminds me of Niyi Osundare's Not my Business.
Kanyinsola: Historically, there has been a debate over the Nigerian literary industry's treatment of the youths. Some believe that the demographic is being oppressed by the over-celebration of the older generation while some opine that the advent of the social media actually favours the youths as the new celebrities, so to speak. Where do you stand?
AGARAU: The night is turning into a room full of light for young writers. I used to believe that it's not working for these set of enthusiasts who are working tirelessly and churning out brilliant pieces almost daily. Romeo Oriogun, Rasaq Malik, Mesioye Affable, James Ademuyiwa, Wale Owoade, Saddiq and so many others are perfect examples. These are the future of years to come. The fore part of the question is a kick off of a different politics. Because we are human and we want to be in the news for the good reasons, we turn the atlas to our country and laugh. My stand however is that the Nigerian Writosphere is growing and we are emerging. We are emerging.
Kanyinsola: Would you say that the internet age has birthed a new generation?
AGARAU: Yes. Since the days of Safia Elhillo, Shajal Patel, Warshan Shire, Gbenga Adesina. The days when Rasaq would post his poems on Facebook and wait patiently on one like. Internet was just lucky. It could have been another channel. The youth don't take long to find a way out.
Kanyinsola: How has the internet helped you to build your brand? How did it all start?
AGARAU: Haha. Brand! Kanyinsola, you question took me back to the 2go poet room that evening of 2012 where I met Malik Gbolahan. To cut the long tale short, all the important people in my life right now are the "online people". Funso Oris, DM Aderibigbe, Gbenga Adesina, Victor Adewale. I find it hard to cut out people from the story, names can never be swept under the carpet. The Internet has socialized my writing, reshaped my mind. The Internet gave me photography.
Kanyinsola: Now, let's discuss your photography. What led you to begin documenting the delicate subtleties of the streets of Ibadan with your camera?
AGARAU: A better half of Africa are always described as the "Third world countries" and the media patches its misconceptions and fill them in our mouth. But it is our own to say this is what we are, this is who we are, this is how we live here. Ibadan has been under-represented and in a bid to try to save the face, it has been over represented. Too many lies. So I decided to say to the city, "this is you, embrace your scars and heal".
Kanyinsola: It seems every form of your art - be it poetry or photography - knit perfectly to form a cohesive outlook towards life. This outlook shines brightly in your debut collection, the critically-acclaimed chapbook "For the Boys who Went". Do you feel different as a poet now that you have a collection out there?
AGARAU: Aside the need to do better than I have done in the chapbook, there is no big difference between a published poet and the unpublished one. I am breaking nights and working on a full collection and I hope it comes out better.
Kanyinsola: The literary critic, Pa Ikhide Ikheloa once wrote that the book is dead, claiming that the new way for African writers to communicate their reality is no longer through the full-length. Do you agree?
AGARAU: Pa Ikhide is a body of ideas. He to his own ideas. I agree that full length may be a conglomeration of too many themes that leads no where, but when it is done in the right manner, it gives the readers a bit more of the writer.
Kanyinsola: Interesting. So, you see writing as a form of gifting oneself to the world. So, what is your creative process like? Does it feel like giving bits of yourself to the readers?
AGARAU: Of course. You share a piece of your mind. You give the world your pain, you say to them, "See if it's genuine, if it is, take it as your pain too".
Kanyinsola: So, of all the writers in the Nigerian literary sphere, which of them would you say have made you take their pain as yours? Who has made you feel such deep connection through their writing before?
AGARAU: Rasaq has got me crying an endless times. Mesioye's poems are packed with very stiff energies. My circle of friends are my best poets. They reach my core. Romeo, Kanyinsola, Precious, Arinze, Tares, so many of them. And this does not say that I'm emotional.
Kanyinsola: If you could change one thing about the Nigerian literary scene, what would it be?
AGARAU: All is well with the Nigerian literature. The world is reading us. Gbenga Adesina told me that the world is enough.
Kanyinsola: What is your opinion on the reliance of young poets on literary prizes for relevance?
AGARAU: Well, I don't blame us. I am a young poet too, I still enter for literary competitions. It is how they recognize us, how they put our works to test.
Kanyinsola: So, how do you deal with rejection?
AGARAU: Rejection is not a good thing. But it's necessary in build up. James Ademuyiwa would say, no body was configured to be happy always.
Kanyinsola: So, what is your initial reaction anytime you find out that you didn't win a contest or get accepted by a lit mag?
AGARAU: For contests, I look forward to reading the winning entries. Literary magazines are managed by people who have preferences. So I choose to believe that my poems do not appeal. I return to write better.
Kanyinsola: That's a rather positive outlook. Speaking of, you do seem to be in high spirits nowadays. I dare ask, is there someone special in AGARAU's life?
AGARAU: Hehe. Yes there are special ladies. There always have been people who hold the night for me to walk through. Thanks to all of them. But of course amongst them all, there is one who is the next string after the heart – Dayo.
Kanyinsola: What should we be expecting from Agarau in the nearest future?
Kanyinsola: So, what do you do besides poetry, photography and...performing miracles apparently?
AGARAU: Those are the three things up my sleeves aside schooling.
Kanyinsola: Okay, so, fast-forward to a hundred years from now when we are all dead, probably. A literature teacher is about to introduce AGARAU to her students. How best will she phrase her description of his life's work?
AGARAU: I'd leave her to decide. Between now and a hundred years is probably 99 collection of poems and each is sacred. I however would remember for boys who went because today I live to say I survived.
Kanyinsola: Well-put, as usual. Thank you very much for your time.
AGARAU: Thank you.
Conversations is a series of interviews conducted by Kanyinsola Olorunnisola. It features discussions with young Nigerian writers.
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