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Nigerian writer, Lawyer and publisher Richard Ali is the featured guest of this week’s #PoetryTalk interview series. We discuss his debut poetry collection, The Anguish and Vigilance of Things, and love, identity, places, extremism, Arabic poetry and literary collectives and collaborations across Africa.

 

 

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Uche

Congrats on your debut poetry collection! For someone who has been active on the African literary scene over the years, how come it took you so long to publish it? What pushed you to bring out The Anguish and Vigilance of Things? I find the title ironic, seeing that love frames much of your vision. Can you say a little about this?

 

Richard

Thanks for the kind words, Umez. I like to think that books arrive at their own time, and there is an element of irony that, having started out my writing as a poet, I first published a novel, City of Memories, in 2013 and am only now getting out my debut collection of poems. But, flowing from my belief in the historicity of text vis-à-vis publication, I’d say the last decade and a half, which might have seen me turn out several collections, has been better spent making more perfect my work. Beyond this, you would have noticed that The Anguish and Vigilance of Things is a very slim volume? This comes from two related things—a desire that each poem must count powerfully as a meditation on its theme, concern or mood, and a desire to not waste the reader’s time. Have I achieved this? I hope so, in any case, that was my intention. You are correct that the poems of The Anguish and Vigilance of Things are, indeed, love poems. Each one is the essence of something, a woman, a lover, for long or briefly, gave me. It is possible, with some effort, to tell my life and lovers, as beads, against each poem. The trick is to write a love poem specific to one person that, read, is cosmic and universal. Now, to the name of the collection, I think it is fitting. The line was taken from a poem by the doomed Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, from the poem Landscape of the Pissing Multitude. In relation to my life, the people I have loved and to my poems, there is a relationship of precarity quite like Lorca and Spain, like the boy on the schooner in that poem, and the pissing multitude. The lines are “the boy on the schooner was crying and hearts were breaking/ in anguish for the witness and vigilance of things”. It is a dark poem, as most things Lorca, but I also think that love ruins us, in sequence, eventually, always. There is less and less to give but more of what is left, sort of like how the will is made perfect through strife?

 

Uche

I wonder if you can tell us about how you have been able to manage your legal practice and literature. Do you think that there is any relationship that might exist between law and art? Which of this has affected the other more?

 

Richard

It is a tricky balance. To be honest, there is precious little legal practice being done these days. I’ve always been and I still am a corporate lawyer. Keeping the briefs I take on few allows me to give attention to other of the many things that interest me. For example, I have been doing quite some work in preventing and countering violent extremism through my managing the Association of Nigerian Authors’ PCVE programme. There is of course my writing, poetry, two new novels I should be working on, a short story collection. One must seem like, and one must imagine oneself, as a man serving multiple capricious gods for whom the confidence to deal with each and all as well as one can, without apology or a moment of doubt, must become second nature. I cannot choose between the many things I do, the many things I am. To doubt, to falter, is to be torn to pieces. And there is more to come yet. I am trying to set up a coffee company… Someone I know once called all these “my Variouses”, but while in that case a need was felt to coalesce these variouses into something whole, composite, I feel no such need. It is the imprecise balancing that is my true second nature, not these gods or personalities, and definitely not my works. Law gives a certain lucidity to the world, an eye for detail and the minutiae that, on emphasis, become significant. How does a glance lie, or inform desire, change reality? Remember the lawyer Cromwell from Hillary Mantel’s Henry VIII trilogy, musing the weight a turn of phrase can bear? It is the same thing with the poet—it is about finding the prescient word, the lines that can capture your meaning. This is hard in a world of endless synonyms and where insincerity of feelings dominates, a society of the increasingly digitally repressed. Simply, I see not difference between the me that is a lawyer and the other me’s that inhabit this body. I am thoroughly indifferent to all my variouses yet tend each of them best as I can and am welcoming to new myselfs that I’m dying to meet

 

Uche

You have various things going on at once, as an editor, publisher, literary judge, etc. You are a cofounder of Parrésia with Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi, weren’t you? Could you tell us more about recent initiatives you are involved with and a bit about your experiences? Konya Shamsrumi, and/or Jalada Africa, for instance, how did those come about?

 

Richard

I tend to wear quite a number of hats. I think this stems from a certain nomad tendency I have. Parresia was co-founded with Azafi a long time ago and it has done quite a lot of good work in its time. I remain quite proud of it and even I am curious about what the next steps on that would be. It is in the nature of things to grow and die, perhaps be reborn. Was it Okigbo? We carry our words that flourish in our words that have failed. Or was that Ben Okri? Jalada, for its part, is one of the most exciting groups I’ve been part of. Its roots lie in a workshop Ellah Allfrey put together in 2014 or so. She was at GRANTA then and it was on the heels of the Best of Young British Novelists list coming out—so she’d gotten two people on the list, Nadifa Mohammed and Tim Cocks, to have an event in Nairobi and our workshop was on the sideline of that. I saw the call somewhere online and put in an application. The British Council in Nigeria got in touch that I had been selected to attend. They furnished me with a ticket. There, I met this really cool set of young writers—Moses Kilolo, who would later be out first Managing Editor, Ndinda Kioko, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma who would be the Deputy ME and whose stunning new novel, Heart of Stone, you should read. It’s been getting rave reviews. Richard Oduor, Okwiri Oduor was there as well, Clifton Gachagua, Wanjeri from Kwani? Okwiri won the Caine, Clifton won the Sillerman. So, here were these chaps in the ferment of their creativity and I was thrust in the midst of them. How cool! Afterwards, the idea was mooted to set up Jalada. It started as a Google Group and later on, got registered as a Trust in Kenya. I was all in, and Jalada has given me a lot of mileage, as has my work at the BN Poetry Awards based in Kampala, both in getting my work out there as well as in the exposure it has given me to a lot of fine writing. Opportunities too have flowed from my being a member of Jalada and being on the board of the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation which runs the BN Poetry Award, which is Africa’s only in-Africa continental poetry award. A couple of years ago, Jalada had the mobile book festival where we travelled half the distance between Cairo and Cape Town, Africa really, between five countries—Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and the DRC. And then, the anthologies. Each of them unique. Jalada 05 was also Transition 123, co-published with the famous journal based in Harvard. Collective member, Abdul Adan, is currently leading work on our After Life anthology. So, exciting stuff all around. Konya Shamsrumi is my latest project, and the poet Umar Abubakar Sidi is my partner in that crime, so to speak, that monumental gamble. Here’s the premise—is it possible to have a traditional-style non-vanity Africa-centric poetry press that actually shifts and sells quality poetry continent-wide? This is the gamble and, so far, the books are garnering a lot of interest. In Nigeria, poets usually self-publish their work, often times shoddily in a way that is an outrage to the very talent and craft in these books. We want to change that. So, with my background at Parresia and Sidi’s knack for brilliant ideas, we adapted the Jalada model into a publishing house. At the centre of the press, Konya Shamsrumi is a closed, presently four-member, collective called the KSR Collective. This comprises me, Sidi, Rasaq Malik Gbolahan and Funmi Gaji. Kechi Nomu was with us and served as our Managing Editor in the early days.

 

Sidi and I put up the initial funds for book production and administrative costs. Here’s the engine—if we can sell 2,000 copies each of two poetry collections and two chapbooks in a year, we would be able to reprint that quartet and, in the second year, bring four new members into the KSR Collective who would then be published by Konya Shamsrumi Press. We keep replicating this year after year, growing organically, paying royalties, strengthening the platform and the brand. That’s what we are doing now. The two poetry collections, my The Anguish and Vigilance of Things and Sidi’s The Poet of Dust are now out on the market and are doing well, but it’s too early to say if we would lose our shirts and our optimism or not. So, exciting, heady times. We are wrapping up arrangements to have Rugano Books and Huza Press make our work available in Kenya and Rwanda. It is already available via Ehamon Books in Accra. Shadreck Chikoti as well will be carrying it in Malawi and Zambia. So, things are looking up. Re: Konya Shamsrumi, I am also very proud of the website, especially our Poet’s Talk five-question interview series and the Black Poets feature. We’ve had all sorts of interesting poets on week in week out, from Laila Chatti to Abigail George to Dike Chukwumerije, to Wole Soyinka to Gwendolyn Brooks. Also, we will be announcing columnists next week, five brilliant poets from all across the continent. I’m thoroughly excited!

 

Uche

Can you tell us about how a poem begins for you, “She-Shell,” for instance? How much revising is involved, for “The Sadness of Love”?

 

Richard

Ah, she-shell. As with some of my poetry, it was borne out of the imprecise dance of love between two, then clumsy, young people. We’d become friends in the early days of Facebook. She had this warm gift of the snarky, witty remark and we soon enough found ourselves going through misunderstandings and awkwardness and jealousy and fear, the imprecisions that assume fatal force when people who should love are far apart—geographically, and then there is a distance of hearts that, from separate histories, cannot quite open up to love. Because love is a scary thing. Of course, it didn’t work out in the end. We grew older, racked up new lovers and other stories and successes. But the poem, that poem was written in one of those moments of clarity when I tried to capture what we were about and cast a spell to keep safe what we could be. We unravelled, the poem remains. I shared it with her. I wonder if she remembers.

 

The Sadness of Love. I remember that one viscerally, the second stanza was what was written first. If you are as open to love as I am, if you love to love, to be in love, you must also try to forget the faces of lovers when love is done. But you cannot, of course. To remember is to die, to forget is to live. And because you cannot truly forget, what you do is to lock up these latencies in your heart, which is how the image of rooms comes in the poem. I remember it came to me in one of those Abuja hotels as an affair was unravelling; she was in bed and I was standing naked at the balcony and I was filled suddenly with a sadness and a weariness, peculiar, when you know you are going through the motions with a woman you love, when you know you are going to beg her not to leave, do that as beggarly and as clumsily as you can manage, and that when she leaves, you will wind up with someone else, because you know your nature, someone worse, and that when the earlier love returns you will have be ruined by what came after she left. By the one that came after. Do you remember Hemingway’s butterfly image about the ruin of F. Scott Fitzgerald? It affects me deeply, I take it quite seriously, and I see myself that way. Unlike Fitzgerald though, I do not think I can be as wholly destroyed in the end as he was. Sometimes, you see, we put an uncanny weight on women to save us but it is because we know that we are doomed left to our own devices. There is such a thing as a person who is doomed by, to, love, who nonetheless cannot be destroyed by love. Hence the recounting of the rooms—for the child that died, for sunshine, for another’s laughter. One publishes a poetry collection when one can look back, and to look back you must be brave enough to look calmly at the wreck of your nonconforming life behind you and come to terms with it. To count the rooms, as it were. So, there, for that poem, for this entire collection.

 

Uche

In “A Poem is a Live, Bloody Thing,” you say, “A poem is a bloody thing women/Know.” What is a poem to you? Can you remember when you first started writing poetry?

 

Richard

That definition is specific to that poem, and it was part of a conversation in the course of an affair. Five poems. The section is titled The Woman God and the purpose was to place how thoroughly one can love, from rise to recession, between two sections on two type of poems—Songs of Light and Songs of Darkness. The five poems of The Woman God are a transitory zone because a woman is both light and darkness, like a poem, like poetry. No good poetry, no bad poetry, I think, just light and dark poetry, in my case, light and dark poems, all love poems. But, what is this about? It is about essence, what is essential, poetry, love. What is poetry, what is love? For me, a poem is an attempt to find the essence of things, of complexity and skyscrapers and rockets and reduce them to pure mood. Mood needs no language. The idea of the Big Bang is important to me, that the universe is forever expanding from its core, from the big bang moment. And some say, at some point of this expansion, it would all reverse itself and the universe will start retracting into its core and we will all die. Poetry does that already, killing the fractionizing tendency, it is the seeking of the core of things because the point of a poem is to take a reader and immerse him in a primordial mood. That is what I seek to do to the reader, I want to strip away his house and learning and experience and clothes and degrees and bullshit and make him, when he is done reading one of my poems, enter a new mood that is essential and alien to him. So, when a person says they read my poem and felt a tear drop, or grew tetchy, or smiled, I have succeeded in reversing the expansion of the universe. I have succeeded in touching the essence of what a human being truly is, a mood. I’ve always played around with ideas. Poetry came to me in secondary school—the beggar boy on the kerb who maybe will be a rasta someday, and so on. These go to the early noughties. I tend to not like my older poems because in the newer ones, I feel I am channelling mood better. But when one decides one must put a collection together, one cannot present merely the five most recent poems. So, I jettisoned about seventy poems written between 2004 and 2019 to get the forty three or so in The Anguish and Vigilance of Things.

 

Uche

Your interest in Arabic literature is known among peers, and you delivered a speech “Arabic as a Bridge to the Rest of Africa” a year or two ago. Can you remember when your interest in Arabic literature began? How much of it has shaped your writing? What is your feeling about language? How has your being multilingual affected your sense of poetry? We are both poets, and crazy ideas come naturally.

 

Richard

Ah, not really multilingual, my very rudimentary Arabic cannot save my life. But I am an Arabophile and I think the roots of this lie in the significant years of negotiating an identity for myself. One uses the materials that one has, and builds from there. I have always identified strongly and contentiously with northern Nigeria and, generally, we, and this “we” is a tricky pronoun, looked to the Arab world. I was born in Kano and though I grew up in Jos and was last in Kano in 2008, it looms large in my imagination of being. Kano is a cosmopolis that grew rich from the trans-Saharan trade across the desert to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Hausa, the lingua franca of the north borrows heavily from Arabic, and Islam was everywhere. These were the primary materials. And when I started to read seriously, it was to the Islamic and Arabic writers I was drawn to. I remember, particularly, the Sudanese Tayyeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North—the very title intrigued me. The North… my north, which north? Of course, he meant Europe. But what fascinated me was the descriptions of village life in Sudan were similar to my context, were familiar to me. It was in Salih that I first heard of the poet Abu Nuwas. The main doppelganger, Mustafa Saeed, is seduced by a white girl who references that poet. From seeking out Abu Nuwas, then it was to the Baghdadi Omar Khayyam and later, Rumi, who was Turkish. Then there was the issue of Palestine. I was a young person when the second intifada started and I sided with the cause of the Palestinian Arabs, I still do, though I think with age I have become more moderate. But, the intifada led me to thinkers from the earlier era, particularly the late, truly great Edward Said. Here was this thoroughly brilliant intellectual with a name as seemingly invented as mine, here was he demolishing arguments in a powerful and nuanced way. He became someone to model myself after. From him, of course, to his great friend the poet Mahmood Darwish. These, and others, furnished the underpinnings of this Arabophile tendency.

 

In that address, which I presented at Abu Dhabi, I sought to emphasize the long historical links between Nigeria and the Arab world in a way that built bridges of positive sharing of culture. This was around the time when there was rising concern about Islamist terror and an extremism that claimed to be fundamentalist. It was an argument, and I was willing to make it, that culture transcended religion and knowledge could be shared both ways, in an intellectual space of equality and mutual respect. This was, of course, an argument against a certain movement I had witnessed, of uncritical worship of everything Arabic, in northern Nigeria, in subaltern terms. We can share, as equals. We can create, as equals. Language is extremely important. I have spoken about how poetry works for me, the seeking of the core of what the universe means. Language plays a similar role as well. What I am trying to do, when I seek to break things down to pure mood, which is what a poem is, should do, I am also trying to dynamite language. Here’s the thing, similar to the Big Bang, languages have been evolving away from each other. Each and every day. The image is that of dispersal, after the Flood. And with the move away from the primal universal language, we evolve endlessly these languages that open people up to misunderstanding, that are capable of being politicized and weaponized and can be used to make Others of people. Language is important because it is only by understanding it that you can unravel it. When I write a poem, I like to think that it will affect the mood of the reader in whatever language he reads it. Because I have superseded the disintegrative reality of any single language and touched the stuff of human consciousness, this thing I call mood. I can alter it with my poetry, and thus I destroy language as we know it by superseding it.

 

Uche

“Kampala” captures a romantic moment. But it speaks of fragility and transience. “Ash” echoes this notion: You despair the end of fire. I say—ash is potent too./ Ash is the dream of wood that cannot be burned. What insights have poetry afforded you?

 

Richard

We cannot get rid of love, even when it is gone and done and you and your lovers have moved on. Think of love as a fire. Think of that house in that poem about the rooms, with your lovers past locked inside. Think of the image in Flame Lines, setting that house aflame. But even when all is burned down, nothing is rid of. You still have that dream that made you love, the dream that found another dream that shared a dream with it. Thus, ash is potent. Love cannot be destroyed. Those you loved cannot be rid of. You are forgetting nothing.

 

Uche

While reading the “Flame Lines,” I found this line evocative: Do not forget this place, Djenebu, and I recalled reading your powerfully affecting fiction “Djenebu” on Jalada Africa website. What connections, if any at all, were you trying to make in the set of poems under “The Woman God”? Can you speak more about your fascination with Djenebu?

 

Richard

You are a perceptive reader. Djenebu was a woman I loved completely and passionately for about two years. She was sophisticated and well-travelled, humane and intelligent and at the time I met her, she was in an existential crisis. But from the get go, we both knew that no matter how fundamentally we affected each other, how much clarity we gave each other, there was a ticking clock to our affair. And though one knows better, one still thinks that because you have ease between yourselves and are beautiful together, an exception will be made. It was a very fertile two years for me, quite a lot of writing was done in the period. The poetry collection, The Anguish and Vigilance of Things, was put together in that period as well. Beyond the person, Djenebu was a period of creative ferment for me. And when you are as old as I am, looking back, it is this period of artistic activity and innovation and work that you look back to with appreciation and something akin to joy, regardless of how it turned out between us and how we hurt each other in turn until people meant to love are now just friends.

 

Uche

There are references to towns and cities in your poetry. I know you have travelled far and wide. What attraction do places hold for you? Are there encounters in some places that inspired some of your writing that you would like to talk about? How has travel challenged your views on politics, identity, belonging and difference?

 

Richard

I’m a nomad, I can’t sit still. I want to be on the road, to be away from home, to immerse myself in new experiences. And I have been lucky in having done this. I have eaten godlessly delicious sambaza and chips with Skol beer on the Lake Kivu, the DR Congo across the lake from me. I have spent a night sailing up and down the River Main in Frankfurt, on a boat named after native son, Goethe. I have spent days in the old Medina at Marrakech so I got to know my way around, eaten greasy chips mayeye in Dar es Salaam and these, all these, and more, furnish my best memories. And the people, of course. In Kampala, you never know what you are going to run into next and the poem, “Kampala,” tries to capture this with the image of an ingénue I knew there—Uganda is like Nigeria that is not Nigeria but in certain instances, a turn down a street and, wallah, Nigeria. I had the sense once that I’d been dropped off at Bukuru, the twin metropolis to Jos, my hometown. Yet, it was an avenue of bars off a side street in the Ugandan capital. Port Harcourt as well, the girl with the braids and the sense of being foreign. Of necessity, I have found myself in need of pluralising myself but the purpose of this is to universalize myself. I will explain. Personally, I have always emphasized those aspects of my heritage that are complicated and seemingly at cross-purposes in my identity—my very name blending West and East, Christianity and Islam; my being of Kwararafa descent hence originally from the Sudan somewhere but now, after five centuries of intermarriages, something quite else. I emphasize this because I refuse to be defined as one thing only, and thus, in pluralizing myself, coming to terms with my Variouses, as my friend put it, I transcend them all and become human. This is what I seek when I travel, the common trail running. I think there is one of my poems about that, about how beneath myriad paths was a common trail running. It is this human core that I seek, the desire to love, the way a smile speaks all the languages of this world, the trust of a child, and song and dance and music, how they make us feel. We are the same beneath all possible adjectives. I travel to meet my brothers and sisters, to confirm this thing I know implicitly.

 

Uche

“Wedding Feast at Qana” calls up the biblical wedding feast at Cana. But sadly, it mirrors a moment in history, the 2006 Qana massacre in Lebanon. Can you say a little about this poem? How much can poetry do to incite awareness about human misery – or is that asking too much of poetry?

 

Richard

The poems of Mahmood Darwish forever capture the situation of Palestine and his words will never be forgotten, poetry calls to what is beneath adjectives like Jew and Arab and Sykes-Picot, adjectives like Ariel Sharon and Bibi Netanyahu, and adjectives like Camp David and Oslo and intifada. Poems can reach to the core of what it means to be human, and Darwish does this in relation to the reality, I refuse to say the misery, though it is miserable, the reality of the Palestinian occupation by Israel. The poem, “Wedding Feast at Qana,” was from my moment of active engagement with all issues Palestine. In it, the ghost of a child, illegitimate in its mother-bride’s stomach, speaks of difference and how, nonetheless, children who see nothing, who refuse to see the differences, cannot be hurt. Yet, this is a poem spoken by the ghost of a child killed, murdered, assassinated, call it what you will, by an Israeli bomb dropped from an airplane at a wedding feast. Poetry, in trying to capture what I call pure mood, can encode our humanity. It is not asking too much, it is poetry’s collateral function. Remember Yeats and his poems on the Easter Rising in Ireland, the activist Maud Gonne his muse? Those were powerful meditations of those times that sought to make a different framing of what was happening then. I have tried to do so, in my limited way, for I am only a poet, for the inhuman carnages that have affected me—from my street, as in the poem “Broken Radios & Blood,” or the Palestinian issue with that poem about the wedding in southern Lebanon.

 

Uche

Could you talk more about Ordinary Saviour, which you co-edited with Abubakar Adam Ibrahim? How was it conceived and when? Why was this an important project for you?

 

Richard

Ordinary Saviour was conceived by the Northeast Regional Initiative (NERI) as a corollary to their North East Intellectual and Entrepreneurial Fellowship (NEIEF). It was decided that a culture-component around books should be scaled into the fellowship experience. Abubakar and I held meetings with them and fleshed out the idea of a workshop that would have a book of short stories as its product. I do a lot of work in preventing and countering extremism so I was interested in the possibility of generating counter-narratives from the exercise. Of course, it was also important that the victims of the Boko Haram insurgency reclaimed their voices in telling their stories. This crucial thing is all too often lost in the bewildering mass of journalism and academese that has surrounded the crisis in the Lake Chad area. So, all these things coalesced into the workshop, which we held over a three-day period in Yola. Abubakar and I facilitated the workshop and the fifteen fellows got down to writing their stories. From these fifteen, we eventually selected the best eleven that made it into the anthology Ordinary Saviour: Stories from Nigeria’s Northeast. One of the many caps I wear is that of a policy enthusiast, with some level of expertise, in the broad range of issues surrounding internal security, especially as it relates violent extremism. My interest in extremism is, of course, related to my writing. I am against the politically motivated ways that fringe ideas and groups bulldoze themselves centre stage and then claim to be definitive. This tyranny of narrow interpretations, often backed by violence and terror, goes against everything I believe in—plurality, live and let live, freedom of thought, religion, of association. It goes against, in my way of thinking, humanity. Ordinary Saviour is one of the ways I have expressed my opposition to this dangerous tendency. I think that the fight against extremism, in all its forms, is the most important arena for the defence of humanity today, especially in Africa.

 

Uche

Some of your fiction have been published online and in print. What was your experience of writing City of Memories? Do you think there is something fiction can do that poetry cannot?

 

Richard

I like to think of poetry and prose as two modes of creativity, of expression. With fiction, especially long fiction like a novel, you are executing a mosaic on a wall or a tapestry, and you have a lot of space to do this like Picasso’s vast oil painting, Guernica. And the point is for the reader to be able to place himself in the story, to be able to feel the layered emotions of each scene that builds up till the end. That is its purpose. With poetry, the point is to obliterate all the layers so that what remains is a core, an essence, and the reader is meant to identify himself or herself with that essence. A poem should bring about the realization of pure mood, it is its stuff, what it is about, what it seeks out, what it manipulates. But, both modes have the same effect, which is the bringing of the reader to face with themselves without adjectives and lies and distortions. So, you can either look at the painting of Guernica or watch Saving Private Ryan or the war scenes of Atonement. The first is poetry, the second is prose. The effect is the same. There is nothing the one can do that the other cannot, assuming that the artist is willing to bring to bear the best of him or herself into the process.

 

Uche

I have heard it said that new Nigerian poetry is too self-centred, almost solipsistic, shunning the political in favour of the social and sexual? What is your opinion and what is it to be a poet in Nigeria?  What inspired “We, to Poetry”? Could you go through its context with us?

 

Amidst the careering, all we can do is find a thing unknown
Baptize meaning with tears, seek to loop renegade metaphors
Unto styles of peculiar madness so grey memorials posterize poets —
A race of gods who were, but briefly, men.

 

Richard

Shunning the political in favour of the social and sexual. Interesting. There might be some truth in this emphasis, from say Christopher Okigbo and Gabriel Okara to say Dami Ajayi and Jumoke Verrisimo today, but I think it is a consequence of two interrelated and opposed things. The first is the infernal rise to dominance of post-structuralist thinking frames in today’s world. This mode of thinking was tetchy and in-formation in their time but inescapable in ours. This thinking prizes marginal, liminal spaces and sub-subjects, and is concerned with the emphasis on what is subjective—sexuality, gender, urbanity, women, queer, the entire gamut of identity politics. And because this allows for an endless possibility of power structures of representation to be created, it incentivizes those who have a will to power over those in need of custom-made identity brackets. Thus a win-win. No matter how marginal and fringe a work is, with this frame cover it, proposers can perform indignation and deploy language and code to protect favoured fractions and sub- hegemonies. We cannot have kings anymore, because kings are bad, so, balkanize the kingdom into a hundred pieces and have a king and court in each which call themselves servant and council instead. This is the milieu. It is a correct response then that sometimes, when intellectually crippled art is created, it is reflective of intellectually crippled societies. What else can you expect?  But, regarding that poem, there is something else. It is my belief that at the end of the day nothing at all matters. Not our kingdoms and bullshit, our envy and greed and needs, our rockets and science and paintings. Alas, not even our poetry or our history. We die eventually, the world will end eventually and both life and the world are absurd. At the end of it all, social or self-reflective, intellectually rigorous or morning cereal Rupi Kaur, we end up with Shelley and the colossal, meaningless heap of a thing in the sand, for which “nothing else remains”—

 

 

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About the Interviewer:

Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike is a PhD student at the department of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta. His research interests include postcolonial literatures, print culture, gender and sexuality studies. An Alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), his work has appeared in several print anthologies such as On Broken WingsDream Chasers, MigrationsAfrican Roar 2011, Daughters of Eve and Other StoriesWork in Progress & Other StoriesA Generation Defining Itself (Vol. 8),Weaverbird CollectionNew Nigerian WritingWater TestamentCalvacadeAuthor Africa, and Camouflage, etc.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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Bakwa Magazine Presents: Literary Translation Workshop in Collaboration with University of Bristol | How to Apply

Bakwa translation workshop

PRESS RELEASE: Bakwa Magazine, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, is pleased to announce that applications are open for […]

E.C. Osondu Wins the BOA Short Fiction Prize, Gets Publication Deal for His Manuscript, Alien Stories

EC Osondu

The Nigerian writer E.C. Osondu has won the $1,000 BOA Short Fiction Prize for the manuscript of his short story […]

The 2019 Writivism Prizes Awarded to Nigeria’s Frances Ogamba & South Africa’s Resoketswe Manenzhe

writivism 2019 winners - graph

The winners of the 2019 Writivism Prizes have been announced: the Koffi Addo Creative Nonfiction Prize went to Nigeria’s Frances […]

Teju Cole Offers Thoughts on Controversy Over NYT’s Coverage of Trump & Racism, Shares New Spotify Playlist

teju cole sydney morning herald

Days ago on Facebook, Teju Cole made a post about the debate over how The New York Times covers and […]

Dinaw Mengestu’s Novel Picked by Barrack Obama for His Summer 2019 Reading List

dinaw mengestu - how to read the air - graph - joydelire.worpress.com

Former US president Barrack Obama has revealed his summer 2019 reading list, and among his selections is the Ethiopian writer […]

Poetry Chapbook Review | Ama Asantewa Diaka’s You Too Will Know Me | Nana Prempeh

Ama asantewa diaka - you too will know me - graph

Publisher: Akashic Books. As part of African Poetry Book Fund (APBF)’s New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Sita), edited […]

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