“Write what you’re sure about and not what would make your work sound intelligent.”
Seye Kuyinu describes himself as a man who wears many hats. A software engineer, Agile Transformation Specialist, violinist, magician, animal lover, adding writer to his profile will also be justified having published 4 books in total, including Inside I Am Just Like You, officially going to be announced on the 13th of November, 2018.
He spends his paid time coaching software teams, helping them to deliver faster and more efficiently. In his spare time he learns about how the human mind can be expanded, often times journaling personal development experiments on HighLifer.co.
He currently lives in Jacksonville, Florida where he tries to bring poets and writers of all cultures together.
Knowing the Writer
What and when was your introduction to poetry?
I have always loved writing. I have written a diary almost every day for the last maybe 15 years. My diary initially contained experiences I had in school, details of disagreements with my parents, secret encounters with school crushes, stories my friends told me experiences I would otherwise not share with others and of course and spiritual encounters. An ardent reader, I came across a few books of poetry that my mother had in her library. Coincidentally, my own taught me literature in high school. I would never have imagined that she would not only be the best teacher to tens of students but she was also my favorite teacher. My mum was my literature teacher. She did a fantastic job of teaching poetry through critiquing the styles of other poets, explaining the ideas behind these poems and teaching in details the figure of speeches and how 100s of poets used them. I found these learnings valuable in expressing emotions in my personal diaries. It was now easy to create allegories; it was now more fun to practice using apostrophes (my mum’s persona in my earlier poems was called Martha Baruno). It was now easier to create and identify hyperboles. I was enjoying using topics I learned in class to create my own little form of art.
In a literary world where contemporary writers have often faced criticism about their choice to not follow the conventional idea of poetry writing, how have you found your unique approach?
I started out writing poetry traditionally. I still do once in a while but I find it more challenging, in a fun way; of course, to create my own unique style. After all, many of the greatest poets do break the rules. I am an ardent fan of EE Cummings because of his approach to dismantling word forms, making you see the genius in separating characters from words, joining words together to form new words, his use of punctuations and disjointed words and the most insane poetic licenses. Check out his poem, r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r. I am a fan of Charles Bukowski. His style of poetry is absolutely unique and so care-free. What I find beautiful is how irrespective of their styles, you can feel the bit of emotions they try to convey to their audiences. I, as if following in their footsteps, focus on the expressions I am trying to convey, damning convention, focusing on painting emotions with words, spacing and the use or disuse of punctuations. I want to pass across to anyone who picks up a page of my poetry.
What was your background in photography and how did it influence your writing?
Photography started as a hobby for me. I always wanted to still moments from everyday life because there’s always a story to tell. Moreover it keeps me in the present moment- which has the side-effect of reducing stress. While photography doesn’t have as much impact on my writing as the conversations and situations I see people in-which ultimately inspires my work, I am often able to go back to photos captured in times past to pull out stories I can share in the future.
Between you writing and doing photography, which takes more time and priority or how do the priorities differ?
I do both from a position of absolute passion. I write everyday and I take photos everyday. In fact, I take great lengths to travel to new cities just to take photos of people, their culture, and nature.
How do you determine a boundary in sharing your personal life and experiences through your writing?
A good question! I consider myself a very private person. I love to share my growth and experiences making sure I don’t break my own privacy code: I don’t share location details, I don’t have many photos of myself out there, I don’t share photos of my apartment, I don’t write about others without their permission and I don’t give so much information that would make you conclude you know me. I like to leave room for others’ interpretations.
Do you consider your writing as a career and how have you combined your other professional and career demands with writing?
I love writing. I know without a doubt that I will at be switching to writing full time. Hence my website, HighLifer.co a website where I write about personal growth experiences which I share with my email subscribers.
What qualities do you think an excellent writer and particularly, a poet possesses?
I believe the most critical quality any writer should have is the ability to observe. You should be able to observe, and share. But you can’t share what you don’t see or feel. You can’t properly share when you don’t study what you see or feel.
Just for fun: If there was a storm and you could only save one of your pets, which one would you save? Zizu or Mya?
I won’t even think too long. Zizu! Zizu is my 7 year old African Grey. I have known him and the better part of his growing up. By the way, Zizu features in the artwork for my new book, Inside I Am Just Like You. I lived with Zizu for 5 years. He lived with me in my house where I only had a bed. He was the one I could always have a conversation with. If I never got a good night from anyone, I got that from Zizu every single night. There was no day I would step out of the house without him saying ‘Good bye’.
What is the best daily habit you have that contributes to your creativity?
Meditation. I meditate 20 minutes a day.
The Writer’s Inspiration
Where do you find inspiration?
From conversations with friends, movies, songs.
Which writers have been most influential to your writing? (Mention up to 5)
JAMES ALTUCHER! Then EE Cummings, Charles Bukowski, Justin Halpern, Michael Faudet.
Who are your favorite Nigerian writers? (Mention up to 5)
Nnedi Okorafo, Tolu Akinyemi, Ben Okri, Chinua Achebe, Sefi Atta, Cyrpian Ekwensi,
What are your favorite Nigerian books? (Mention up to 5)
Your Father Walks Like A Crab by Tolu Akinyemi
Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
Under the Udala Tree by Chinelo Okpara
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
Foreign Gods by Ndibe
What challenges have you faced as a writer?
Distribution! I love to share but the art of appealing to an even wider audience is not something I am very passionate about.
How have you challenged yourself as a writer?
I read a lot from my writing mentors: Ryan Holiday, James Altucher, and Michael Hyatt.
How did you develop your writing?
Development of my non-poetic writing has been mostly through feedback from friends. I practice the art of getting people drawn into my writing from the first sentence, sharing some of my vulnerabilities without letting too many cats out of the bag.
How has your writing helped you to develop?
I am more retrospective when I write. It helps me understand myself.
The Book and the Writing Process
What was the book assembling process like?
Quite cumbersome. I had to work with two editors who were not used to editing for poets. A good learning for me. I worked on the cover illustration design myself while employing my brother, Toni Kuyinu, for the internal page illustrations. I had about 42 poems removed from the initial collection to make sure the others were closer to the theme of the book; a proof that I am just like you.
You employ various styles of poetry writing in your books and there is a distance between the repetitions of your styles. For example, some poets choose to write “i” in lower case in all the parts of their books but in yours, the use of upper and lower case fluctuates. Why have you chosen that approach?
It’s interesting you asked this because I have always questioned the use of this style as a form of art myself. The questions have been, ‘will this communicate the expression or not’. I’d rather use lower cases for all my words and lay emphasis with uppercase characters and new lines. I believe it makes it easy to read out loud to highlight the importance of the words.
Besides distinguishing yourself as a writer, what other intentions did you have while using diverse styles in your works?
I particularly love and value writing about the relationship I have with this ‘secret lover’. In Inside I Am Just Like You, I introduce this lover as the Reckless Forgiver who loves me despite the times I go looking for love in the wrong places. It is to me a form of worship, if you will. In Things I Wanted To Say In Other Words, I had a section called Spiritual where I share my feelings about this lover.
What are your favorite poems from your three anthologies?
Things I Wanted To Tell You In Other Words: To The Memory I Can’t Recall (page 138)
Dates & All Those Things I Tell You: I have (page 21).
Inside I Am Just Like You: Lagos Traffic (Page 25)
What would you be interested in learning and what skills do you still hope to develop for your writing?
I still have a lot to learn. Improving on my choice of words is an obvious one.
What challenges and breakthroughs did your first book make for you? And do you think that without the success of your first book you would still have published the others?
I am not much for looking out for success. I wrote the first book because I told myself I was going to publish a book in 2015. If only one person bought the book, it would still have been a success. I have never cared much for figures. I consider myself a very passionate artist who cares more about sharing than making gains.
To talk about the issue of challenges, I print my books in the US and ship to Nigeria because I am all for quality. I love books and I would love for someone to own my book not just for the words but for the quality of the print. So shipping down to Nigeria was/has been a huge challenge.
Are you ever concerned about competition with other writers?
Never. I write for myself. I absolutely enjoy the process and I love to share my art and these experiences I talk about in my work in private gatherings, with friends and family. I do what I do exclusively for these!
Do you believe that each book has different impacts or do you believe that your next book must always be better than the previous? Or both?
I actually don’t talk much about the previous books because I almost feel like each book signified a phase in my life. I have grown since and more in touch with my current self. I am super excited to share Inside I Am Just Like You with everybody. I know at some point, that excitement would not be the same. And yes, for me, the next book should be better than the last.
What plans do you have in the future with your writings?
I am currently writing another project. It focuses on why more people get married late in this generation, the impact of cross-culture, economy and social media on relationships. I am also working on a second phase on my HighLifer.co project.
What is the best advice that you have gotten as a writer?
Scott Adam’s article “The Day You Became A Better Writer” probably contains the best advice I have taken. He writes, “Your first sentence needs to grab the reader. ..Write short sentences. Avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence. Readers aren’t as smart as you’d think.”
What advice would you give to writers that read this interview?
Be resilient in your ambitions, I tell myself.
Practice and keep practicing till it becomes a habit. Those who are the geniuses we see did the same. I tell myself these things. And that’s the advice I leave.
Seye Kuyinu's books are currently available on amazon and 13th of November, it would be available on inotherwordsbooks.com.