He won the Honorable Mention Prize in 2020 Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Contest, 2019 Morioka International Haiku Contest, Outstanding Haiku Prize in 2019 Soka Matsubara International Haiku Contest, 1st Prize in 2018 PoeticWednesday Poetry Contest and 2nd Prize in 2016 Christopher Okigbo Poetry Prize. He was listed #EGCTop10 Page Poets of the Year 2018 for being "dexterous in page and teaching poetry." When he's not in the court arguing, in the chambers drafting, in the bedchamber with his cats poeticizing or meditating as a Sufi, he'll be somewhere in the world talking.
Interviewer: Uduak-Estelle Akpan
knowing the writer
How long have you been a writer, and what are some of the highpoints of being one?
I identified and subsequently proclaimed myself as a writer in 2012. That time, I was writing self-help articles and essays of various fields and published two mini-books on the area of self-help (“Live Your Dream” and “You Have a Talent”), which were available for free download. It was in 2015 that I added the feather of poetry to my writer cap. Some of the high points of being a writer are the feeling of importance you get from seeing your works going farther, from how readers of different classes revere you, even those you put on high esteem tend to honour you for this gift of a pen. Another, and most importantly, is seeing your work making a difference in readers' life; this is so as readers have come to you to testify so; and how you inspire fellow writers to become better. The high points are countless, but these alongside the firm reality and hope of not only making a difference but also making a living from your words are all significant experiences.
Walk us through your routine when working on a writing project.
I write nonfiction and poems majorly. On the nonfiction, whether essays, articles, or creative nonfiction, I begin it with an outline of what I want to say with it. It is these outlines that will make subtopics and/or guide me into the paragraphing of my ideas. If it is an academic essay, I include an executive summary/abstract with the outline to aid focus. And if it's an argumentative or persuasive essay, I research for every data, statistics, facts, and figures that will buttress my viewpoint. And if it is Narrative or Descriptive works, I will ensure I leave no information uncovered. In the end, I'll ask if it proffers any solution-oriented, rightly put forward my point of view or successfully narrate or present the events or feelings I intended to share.
On poetry, especially when working on a chapbook or a full-length collection, I want to be sure it explores one, two, or maximum of three themes, and I'll guide that jealously. And when working on the individual poems, after satisfying each has passed its message, I'll mentally go through it with what I call "My Poesy Checklist" viz: Imagery (avoidance of abstraction), Originality (avoidance of cliché), Clarity (avoidance of ambiguity), Brevity (avoidance of tautology or unnecessary information), Creativity (assurance of uniqueness and style), Structure (assurance of fineness from first to last) and Accuracy (avoidance of grammatical blunders). After doing these, if I feel I should let other eyes see them, I'll share such works with the trusted poets before hitting the share or submit button.
Do you come from a literary background?
I do not come from a literary background. My parents were traders, and none of my siblings or close relatives were literary enthusiasts. I think my experience in literature is that of a success/failure story. I completed my secondary school in 2007, in which year I did WAEC, NECO, and GCE, but the results were bad. So bad that if I combined the three results, I can't be admitted to a Sunday school. I passed all my subjects in the 2008 WAEC but failed Literature. In 2009, I couldn't do the exam due to some financial upset. So having identified my weakness, I became obsessed with the study of literature, and in the 2010 WAEC, I passed the Exam and had a 'B' in Literature. The result was good that I needed not to combine it. So if there's any literary background for me, it was this experience.
Who are your favourite living poets?
My favorite living poets are Niyi Osundare, Tade Ipadeola, Adedayo Agarau, Rasak Malik Gbolahan, Hussein Ahmed, Safia Elhillo, and Warsan Shire.
Tell us about some of the Nigerian books you’ve enjoyed in the past year
I enjoyed Buchi Emecheta's "Joy of Motherhood" so much that I could still recall a lot of characters and places mentioned in the book. The significant use of Irony added to its aesthetic. Anytime I recall it, I still feel the empathy I felt while reading it many years ago. Another is Wole Soyinka's "The Lion and the Jewel;" its poetic dialogue and description of places, as well as its setting, really fascinated me. I also love how it was chapterized basically into something like Morning, Noon, and Evening. I 'think' it is an Act Drama and I love it.
Finally, Chinua Achebe's "There was a Country;" the book was an eyeopener for me and, since it's nonfiction, I appreciated the supply of references to buttress his story therein, and most importantly his diplomacy employed in narrating the event. The two parts the always come to my mind are the story of Christopher Okigbo as well as where Chinua Achebe took to his heel on the arrival of a plane at an overseas airport thinking he was still in Nigeria and that Nigeria's Army is approaching, it showed how the event affected their instinct, and I found it so emotional.
While Soyinka's drama inspired me to write a drama I still have in my archive, Chinua Achebe's story made me decided to write a collection of poems calling for peace and unity. I hope to release them in the nearest times.
Where does literary art fit into your career as a lawyer?
Firstly, for a candidate to be eligible to study Law in any University, (s)he must have at least a "C" in Literature. And that was the reason behind my Literature ordeal while struggling for my O' Level. Secondly, Law is a profession that deals with words and interpretations of same. As a Solicitor, we draft and interpret documents. As a lawyer, we prepare court processes, even an argument to persuade the Court to our position on a particular matter. Someone who has the understanding of poetry and the witty usage of words will definitely find it easy to triumph in both his study and practice.
Also, Lord Denning, the acclaimed semi-god of Law succinctly explained in his book "The Discipline of Law," why lawyers should be versed in literature, and he cited two landmark cases wherein two judges quoted some characters of Shakespeare in their judgment. He thereafter concluded thus: “Words are the lawyer's tools of the trade as they are the vehicle of thought. To do it convincingly, do it simply and clearly... This is achievable by reading literature, as it will provide for you a wide vocabulary of words. Thus, as a pianist practices the piano, so the lawyer should practice the use of words, both in writing and by words of mouth.”
Which Nigerian writer would you most like to have a drink with and why?
I’d love to have coffee time with Sir Tade Ipadeola, the reason being that he is a successful lawyer and renowned poet. As a lawyer and poet myself, I firmly believe I have a lot to learn from him – the antics and tactics of the profession and how he walks the two paths successfully. I also admire his style of works and literary feats greatly and I look up to getting there someday. Trying to understand and explain his poem "Songbirds" in 2016 deepened my knowledge of word usage in poetry.
What Nigerian writers have had a strong influence on your writing?
Aside from Tade Ipadeola and Niyi Osundare, Adedayo Agarau's works have had a strong influence on my poetry. Since 2017 that I discovered his chapbook, "For Boys Who Went," I've fallen in love with his craft. I do not only read his works, but I also master and understudy his aesthetics. Recently, I may also have a feel of Rasak Malik Gbolahan's simplicity in my poems.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Talk about the last literary event you attended.
It was the Feast of Words, 2019, at the University of Ibadan, days after my call to bar in Abuja. The event was organized by the Kukogho Iruesiri Samson's WRR. It was so historical that I can remember I watched Ajijola Habib Da Beloved and Penawd performed their poems. I met part of Adedayo Agarau's lecture. I met a lot of poets for the first time, namely Agarau, Jide Badmus, Kukogho himself, and members of Writers Connect, a writing community I founded. I also went home with a certificate and a copy of the anthology that has my poem printed being one of the finalists of the monthly Brigitte Poirson Poetry Contest.
What sparked your initial love for poetry?
The creative tapestry of words and how it makes you feel made me fall in love with poetry. Recall poems like "The African Thunderstorms," "Naet! I Will Pronounce Your Name," "In His Blindness," "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day," all are interesting poems that made me want to read poems again and again. The fact that you can gather a lot of stories and ideas and compress them in just a few lines made me love poetry. Before the conscious proclamation and decision to become a poet in 2015, I've always been writing some things that looked like poems leaning on my O' Level literature war, until I later realized in 2015 that poetry goes beyond rhymes and punchlines.
How do your poems develop? Guide us through the stages of writing poetry.
Almost always, I allow my poems to hit me naturally. It is with that feeling that the punchy words and lines flow and thus have the same effect on your readers. So when no line comes even when I already have the idea or title in mind, I leave it till it comes or read some good poems that could trigger the muse. In any event, when the lines are conceived and are ready to be reproduced, I write them down the way they come. At times, they come poetically, and sometimes, they come in day-to-day communication. But after completing the scribbling, I then test its proficiency using "My Poesy Checklist" I mentioned above. I'll also check the title as it connects to the body of the poem as well as how the poem grows and ends.
Since you began writing poems, how has your experience changed your previous idea of what poetry is?
In addition to what I said earlier that I realized poetry is beyond the use of rhymes and punchlines, I also discover that poetry has some prophetic aura in it as such, anybody can become a poet, irrespective of your educational background. By this, I mean you do not need to study English language or English Literature in school like Wole Soyinka to become a poet, if you have it in you, you'll definitely be guided to the way and perfection.
Do you think that to write meaningful poetry, one has to be able to feel things deeply?
Yes! I think there's a place of feelings and emotions in the delivery of good poetry. You may not have the firsthand experience of things, but if you throw your mind into the scene and feel it, you'll deliver meaningful poetry. It is that emotion that will eventually set your muse in motion. Or else, if you are writing about the victims of Boko Haram or the Uighur people of China or the Rohingya people of Myanmar, it will just feel as if you're newscasting.
How important is the accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work hard to uncover the meaning of a poem?
Poetry must okay the requirement of imagery but should also be comprehensive. If a poet writes about the ineptitude of Nigeria's government for Nigerians to see, but only his fellow poets and literature students understand his works, then he is doing no good. Even as a poet, there are poets I have to read their works more than three times before I could be able to crack the nut of their message. And I wonder, if I battle this hard, what would be the fate of a regular reader. I believe a complete message of a work should be accessible at the first or second read and understandable to any class of educated persons. On this, Ezra Pound said “If a man uses “symbols” he must so use them that their symbolic function does not obtrude; so that a sense [and the poetic quality of the passage] is not lost to those who do not understand the symbol as such, to whom, for instance, a hawk is a hawk.”
Do you always write with an agenda in mind?
Yes! Every literary work should be targeted at a purpose. My poem "Our World as Tree Falling Leaf by Leaf" that just won the Honorable Mention Prize in the 2020 Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Contest was targeted at the repression of the Uighur's minority of China and the oppression of the Rohingya minority of Myanmar. My poem "Everything Set This Land on Fire" presents the pain of the people of Syria, Yemen, Palestine et al. and "The World Our Tears Ask for" confronts the persecution of citizens by the Police who should be protecting us; both poems appeared in The Pangolin Review. Writing about this indiscipline and injustice is a form of awareness and igniting the sociopolitical consciousness of the world's citizens. So whether I'm writing sociopolitical or didactic poems, I have a certain agenda in mind.
What could make you retire from writing?
I strongly beseech the Almighty God to not touch me with any illness or disease that takes one's muse or ability to think straight and write in any way. In Amen to that, I think it's only death that can make me retire from writing. This is because even on my death bed, I want to leave a death poem for the world to rule their religious, mundane, individual, and social life. In other words, whatever height I attain or personality I become in life, I trust, will not stop me from being a writer.
What were your expectations for submitting a piece for the Anthology, Today I Choose Joy?
Well, understanding the purpose of the Anthology as presented by the curator and editor, Jide Badmus, as a way of helping writers purge out their pain and celebrate their failure instead of dying of depression and resorting to suicide, I knew I also have stories to share as a writer and Nigeria youth and expected to see a rainbow of similar stories from writers alike, to see people read my piece and feel they're not alone while keeping hope alive and to see people getting healed and escaping depression.
From your poem, How I Tame Fire into Light in the anthology, Today I Choose Joy, one can suppose the unfortunate realities as the fire and the decision to be joyful, as the light. In reality, how can one choose joy despite unfortunate experiences?
By first understanding and admitting the fact that life is not a bed of rose. That some days will be for you and some days will be against you. That fire (challenges) are not bad at all time, to light a candle you need fire and behold there's light everywhere; even the bottom of halogen light is always hot. That a cooker needs fire to cook your food, the fire itself is a natural force boiling egg into hardness and potato into softness. So life's challenges at times make us strong the way Yusuf's (Joseph) drop into an abyss and subsequent imprisonment led to his becoming a Minister in a strange land.
In a poem I'm working on, “Demystification of Goodness or the Augury of 'God is Good all the Time,'” I cast a sample of a boy who asks for a loan and gets it, he'd be filled with Joy; I said God wanted him to get his things done. I also cast another boy who asks for a loan but didn't get it. He'll be grieved, but I said God simply didn't want him to become a debtor. Having these understandings [that some things happen for a reason or reasons beyond our ken] mixed with the hope that the unfortunate experience is not permanent; finding solace in doing what ordinarily gives us joy; fighting on without giving up; sharing one's fear, hope, and admiration with trusted ones who care; are ways to choose joy amid hardship.
Do you think the Anthology; Today I Choose Joy fulfilled its core mission? If yes, how? If no, what could be done in the contribution?
I have no hesitation in stating that “Today I Choose Joy” anthology fulfilled its core mission, and that's because almost all the poems therein are realized and are of good quality woven in the spirit of the Anthology's theme. In the anthology, you'll read some poems and feel like you're reading works that replace suicide notes. You'll see people sharing their fear and hope, weakness, and strength and how they surge through life with boldness. It naturally gives bereaved people a feeling of joy and pride to share what they've gone through and show how they grow or are growing through it, how you've fought, and are still alive despite the unfortunate. I think the Anthology served as a platform that enabled many to do so as such, fulfilling its core mission.
Share your experience as a published author in Nigeria
Having self-published two poetry e-books in the past: "Oro n Bo" and "Bayelsa Taught Me How to Leave" via Okadabooks, I will say that to be published in Nigeria is hard work. As e-books, you'll need a lot of online marketing, whether organically or through Ads, to ensure the works get to enough people. It's a dainty task that worth it anyway if your works are good. And for those who publish in print, the best the publishers do for you is to place it on their websites – to count scores of works they've published. Once they get their money and print, they stuff it in your mouth to begin praise-singing it. You then have to start a rigorous process of marketing in ways such as launching, book chat/reading, and distribution to bookshops, and at literary events. You know, it is not enough to just author a book; the purpose is to make a difference in our readers' lives and the society at large and to make a living – which is determined by how far and wide the works reach. In as much as we have professional publishers in Nigeria that publish based on the author's financial readiness, we also need publishers (traditional) who publish based on the author's artistic and qualitative readiness.
Talk about your work with WritersConnect: impact, challenges, and prospects.
Writers Connect started in 2014 as a paid Writing Academy, where I trained several participants on essay and article writing. In 2015 when I began poetry and more people keep approaching me about writing, I decided to restyle it as Writers Connect, a community where writers share literary knowledge of all genre among one another; and that's what we have been doing till date, and many growing writers have attached their success story to their membership of Writers Connect. We organize lectures, interviews, writing prompt, duels and duets, and we are the publisher of the QuillS: a journal of everything art with which since its beginning, we have helped budding writers get their voices heard. Today, the journal is on its 6th Issue. The challenges at times are lack of sufficient or committed artistry as well as funds to execute some of the projects. However, Writers Connect has the prospect of a continued impact making on Nigeria's writing community at large as it spreads its hand across Universities, organizes Residency, and Contests that reward writers with print publishing.
Can you give any pointers to someone looking to write and publish poetry in Nigeria?
Write as much as you can and ensure you widen your publication history; when such is seen of you, it gives a good impression of expertise. And if you're ready to publish, publish first a chapbook (self-published or traditional) and make it accessible to the public via free download. That will serve as your offering into the literary world and help familiarize your poems with readers. However, be sure that the chapbook contains quality works because it stands as your first impression, and, you know, it lasts longer. Consequently, the chapbook shows your capacity and determines the acceptability of your subsequent publications, which may be self-published or traditionally. But professionally, I'll suggest we strive for more of traditional publishing as it's more honoring and favorable to a literary author. The author is not spending a dime but will get royalty in whichever form for his published works. The marketing of traditionally published works is also the business of both the author and the publisher, and such will have a skyrocket and meteoric effect on its sale and distribution. We may presently not have but one traditional poetry publisher in Nigeria (KonyaShamsRumi, which is, however, at its premier stage). There are a number of them in the world poetry community, and Nigeria young poets are claiming spaces in these crowds of a competitive world. If we strive enough for professionalism in our crafts, we, too, will get there.
How do you manage your reading audience?
I do that by establishing and maintaining a cordial acquaintance with them by always sharing my works: even if they are mere excerpts; retreating when necessary and coming back timeously to quench their thirst for more; responding to events that concern them or which they can relate with; sharing my acceptances and rejections as well as my wins.
What projects are you currently working on?
I'm currently working on five chapbooks, two have been submitted hoping for traditional publishing, two are undergoing editing while I'm still compiling pieces for the last one. They are respectively “Tongueless Secrets,” “Across the Full Moon,” “Fireplace,” “A Gun & House Dust,” and “How We Tamed These Rivers.” Tongueless Secrets explores the theme of life, death and everything in between such as fate, belief, morality and humanity as well as the mysterious aura around them; Across the Full Moon is a collection of haiku & senryu around the theme of night recreating its various rustic and modern events; Fireplace is about the state of Nigeria and the Nigerianness of her citizens and leaders; A Gun & House Dust, on the other hand, goes into the demystification of fate & grief, narrates the plights of boyhood and shares a crumb of my personal life vis-a-vis family, love, heartbreak, and hope; while How We Tamed These Rivers is a collection of haibun and is a memoir of my NYSC experience in Rivers State and a few periods after that. I hope some of them get set for the world by this year or next.
If you were on a stage and the whole world was listening, what would you want them to know about you?
Let's assume my short bio earlier provided has already been shared with them, I'll love to add that “I am a patriotic citizen of the Universe and I practice the religion of Love.”