Saddiq Dzukogi was recently shortlisted for the 2017 Brunel International Poetry Prize. We published his poem, “Collect Rainwater,” in February. Saddiq is Poetry Editor at Expound. A three-time finalist for the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Poetry Prize, he is the author of Sunbeams & Shadows (Origami, imprint of Parresia Publishers, 2014) and Canvas (kraft Books, 2011). His poems are featured or forthcoming in New Orleans Review, African American Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Juked, The Poetry Mail, Chiron Review, Vinyl Poetry, ELSEWHERE LIT’s anthology of contemporary African poetry, The Volta, Construction, and Welter. He was a guest at the 2015 Writivism Festival in Uganda as well as at the Nigeria-Korea Poetry Feast in the same year.
Over email, we had a question and answer session with him. Here, he discusses his attraction to nature, how he gains new language from the universe, the female protagonists in his poems, the prominence of his anima—that girl inside him calling out for a voice—and why he admires the work of his favourite poets: T.S. Eliot, Edgar Allan Poe, Tomas Transtromer, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Ladan Osman, Unoma Azuah, Chris Abani, Amu-Nnadi, John Koethe, Rachel Heimowitz, Adeola Opeyemi, and Hauwa Shaffii.
1. Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Brunel International Poetry Prize. We are delighted to see someone we once published high up there.
Thank you so much, Obi-Young, for your kindness and for what you do every other time at Brittle Paper. It is an important work you do. Thank you for carving out time to talk to me.
2. The imagery in your work often revolves around the concept of clarity, and often it is water that you use: this happens in “father’s demise,” as well as in your “Collect Rainwater” which we published this year. But you use light as well: in “space to trade with shadows,” you have this phrase “before its eyes dim at things/ it’s seen far too much”; in “When the clock said” you have “carrying morning to your doorstep”; and in ” father’s demise” you have “father’s demise is a dispersing light.” Clarity, the way you write it, is something that is sought or offered or backed away from. Could you tell us more about this?
Hahaha. There, you know, most times when I write, I am only trying to bare my heart out in the best possible way that I can, and most times I depend on the language my immediate situation feeds me with. There isn’t really any conscious routine to write in an extraordinary way or even depend on a peculiar concept to paint various dispositions. However, I am a person who is deeply in love with pictures and things I can touch, and I can feel beyond its conceptual existence, so often I try to draw these things out from the “ghostly life” and animate them in the flesh of what I can see and touch, exemplify them as relatable metaphors. I love to paint pictures in my poems in addition to being a storyteller, because it is the poems with germane pictures that stick in the mind of the readers; this is a way I think the reader can claim the experiences the poet seeks to transmit. Coming back to the poems, often I find myself lusting after the sky, and the many things it embodies—light and water and their variables. Basically, I love to lie on grasses, wet in the morning dew, and soak my sight into the cloudy sky; it gives me a strong sense of floating right there in the sky, a sort of exertion that gives me new language, in order to stand the part of my world I fancy the most. Perhaps that is the sole reason why these elements keep finding their ways to sit in the poems I write. Essentially in the poems you mentioned above, I was trying the same, to speak with the language and metaphor that the universe pays for.
3. Your female protagonists often carry the bulk of the story, particularly in the poems I mentioned earlier. In “father’s demise” the mother sleeps with her late husband’s brother. In “space to trade with shadows” the lover is a protector of sorts. In “When the clock said” we have a marriage whose future might rely on the compression of time and distance for survival. In the first and last poems, also, these women try to communicate—the first in the hope that her son does not understand, the last on the phone as her son calls out. Do these women come from a need?
Somehow I feel there is a girl inside me that is calling out for a voice, to speak and be listened to. This is a part I am still trying to understand, because each time a certain poem comes to me, it brings a female voice. I only noticed this recently. I do not know if growing up among women lures me to want to explore women’s experiences in my writing. There was a time when it frightened me, when I wrote about a rape victim who got pregnant in the horrific event. That poem, “Learning to Love My Child,” marked a point where I stopped being scared of letting the poems out, the poems where the women are the protagonists. Since then I realized that each time I want to write the important poems, it is the girl in me who seeks to speak. The “female protagonists carry the bulk of the story” maybe because in my one little space and time already on earth, the women in my life are the ones who have shaped my life the most, they are the doers in my life; it is not surprising that they carry the story and are the movers in my poems. There is a lot I am trying to understand. This same point was first drawn to my attention when by a dear friend who commented about my poetry thus: “It is not often that you can hear a woman’s voice so actively in a piece written by a man and such ecofeminism is queer.” I still don’t understand this, but I know my life is what it is because I grew up with a strong grandmother, an assertive mother, and three beautiful and confident sisters. I have basically learnt everything I know from them, even my voice.
4. Do you have favourite poems or poetry collections and poets? What specific thing have you learned from each?
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, and many poems by Tomas Transtromer and Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson, Ladan Osman, Unoma Azuah, Adeola Opeyemi, Hauwa Shaffii and many others. As for poetry collections: Chris Abani’s Sanctificum, Amu-Nnadi’s a river’s journey, John Koethe’s Falling Water, and many more that haven’t come to mind. I also love the writing of Rachel Heimowitz; she is one of the most brilliant people I have ever come in contact with. Amazing, amazing poet!
5. What are you currently reading outside your work as Poetry Editor at Expound?
Sometimes you think you will get overwhelmed by the numerous submissions you receive as an editor, but no, it is an exciting learning curve. I have taken a backseat since February, trying to sort life out, but still, time to time I read. What I have presently open on my reading table is Thought in Solitude by Thomas Merton.