Posted in INTERVIEWS, LITERARY MISSIONARY, POETRY

Good Poetry should evoke feelings – Su’eddie

Su’eddie Vershima Agema, writer, editor and poet is the author of the collection, Bring Our Casket Home: Tales One Shouldn’t Tell. In this interview with Kenneth Azahan, he highlights on what poetry means to him, his book that is gathering waves in the literary community, the state of poetry in Nigeria, the NLNG long list, as well as sundry issues. Excerpts: 

 

What inspired the book, Bring Our Casket Home: Tales One Shouldn’t Tell and what is the history to it?

BRiNG OUR CASKET HOME coverThe book is a collection of poetry written at different points. The book is a product of some seven years of writing, rewriting, editing and the like. In its current form, the inspiration can be said to be simply life in all its ramifications – that includes death. The death of dear people like Mr. Charles Ayede, Ify Omalicha, Tayo Awotosin, Orvendega Gberikon and some experiences, plus some mischief (yup!) helped. Love, nationhood, adventure, mischief – that word again! – and the like, find their way there. For most of the mischievous poems I had to get the garb of a persona. So, don’t go there reading and expecting to find me everywhere (Laughs).

 

The title of your book appears to be scary, what do you have to say about this?

Scary abi?  I have heard some people say so too. Hmmm, What can I say? I have heard people say ‘Bring your casket’ ‘take your casket’ or things like that simply to avoid the ‘our’. Maybe it is the fear that words are spirits and if they mention it, they would find their deaths, Laughs. There’s more to a book, to a poem, a story – a poetry collection – than the title. I find that in the end all of us walk towards the casket, no matter how long it takes. What happens within our lives up to that time? Love, life and everything else, when we reach the stage of the casket, whether it be in coffins or as ashes, what happens? Would we be committed to the home of the soul? When the hearts of people are knocked at, would your casket – the entirety of your being and memory – be found at home? Would you live life well enough to be committed to the hearts of people? The last line of the poem, ‘Bring our casket home’ carries part of this:

‘Keep us in you, spread our word and you would find the soul of our poem: Bring our casket home.’

 

 

What’s new to your writing and what do you think stands you out?

Well, I have my Tiv roots showing in the book. This is in addition to other Nigerian influences. I have also taken time to explore different things that I believe would appeal to readers from history, contemporary themes and in full dose, love. I found lots of people saying we don’t have much love written in Nigerian poetry; a big misconception. So, I sprinkled much love. No pretense. There’s a poem on the origin of sex, laughs. Oh well, PG stuff. Some of the poems would leave you laughing – that’s humour, right. Yeah, I think there’s some humour there too. Strong emotions in all, flows through all the lines. I think what would appeal to readers of the book is the emotion behind the lines. Most of the poems – even those written in the garb of a persona – were written from the heart. There are those poems that were written with raw emotions made bare. I think these would make my work stand out and appeal to readers.

 

You have had some readings since your book came out. Would you like to share?

Sure! They have been fun. We had the Silverbird/Abuja Literary Society ‘Book Jam’ in June. I read with Joe Dauda, author of My Phlegmatic President. It

Reading at WriteHouse Artmosphere in Ibadan (Picture: 'Femi Morgan)
Reading at WriteHouse Artmosphere in Ibadan (Picture: ‘Femi Morgan)

was anchored by Reward Nsirim. I had my family there and it was fun. I also read at the Write House Artmosphere, alongside Reward Nsirim in Ibadan – August 17. There was so much intellectual engagement in that reading. The last outing was at the Abuja Writers’ Forum’s Guest Writer Session, August 31 where fellow guests Numero Unoma, visual artist and poet and Tope Fasua did their thing too. The event clashed with the PDP convention and so lots of people couldn’t come. We started late and when it got to my time, I spirited my way through some of my poems and a short story, ‘A Lust Intervention’. In all, it has been fun reading. I’ve met new people – great people – and had new experiences. There are more plans for the future. We are also planning some readings in Benue, not just for me but other people like what Purple Silver did for Dike Chukwumerije recently.

 

There seems to be much poetry in the Nigerian air. Comment on the state of poetry in Nigeria today, its ‘productivity’ and standards. Are people reading poetry at all?

We’ve always had lots of poets since forever. It is the genre that has produced the most writers, I dare say, in the country. It was Mabel Segun who said something to the like, that if one was to throw a stone in the market place in Nigeria, there was a great chance of it hitting a writer. Odia Ofeimun remixed it and particularized it to poets. In addition to all the early voices, there’s Chuma Nwokolo Jnr, Moses Tsenongu, Maria Ajima, Emman Shehu, Bose Ayeni-Tsevende, Unoma Azuah, Hyginus Ekwuazi, Musa Idris Okpanachi, Tubal Cain, Abubakar Othman and more recently, Eugenia Abu (have you seen her Don’t look at me like that?) Emmanuel-Abdalmasi Samson, Andrew Bula, ‘Kufre Ekanem the pidgin poet, Eriata Oribhabor. To mention a few more, from my generation now, there’s the performance king, Dike Chukwumerije, Dami Ajayi, whose chapbook is coming out soon and is something to look forward to, Agatha Aduro, Seun Odukoya, Sibbyl Whyte, Samson Iruesiri Kukogho, Major Robert Agee, Maik Ortserga, Jumoke Verissimo, Elvis Iorngurum, Gimba Kakanda, Ololade Olatunji, Rasaq Gbolahan, Stephen Alechenu Aba, Aondosoo Labe, Tosin Gbogi and Richard Ali… And here again the list begins to expand. You can almost write a thousand names and still keep going. These are simply people who would give you some pleasurable read. Now, don’t forget that these names exclude those dead ones. But any knowledgeable person would know I have not even mentioned the key players. You would realise they are names you might not have heard of.

But as there are good poets, there are some bad poets too.

Some people seem to be writing broken lines because of the increasingly mistaken view that poetry is the easiest of the genres to write. Or better put, considering that poetry is relatively the shortest genre to put down, people simply sit and put down whatever comes to their head.

It seems too many people are having too much fun with the poetic license thing. That and free verse. Most of us are learning too but we can do better especially if we would do more reading than writing. We have some people who write and don’t read.

That answered, yes, we have an increasing number of people reading poetry. The internet has also greatly contributed to the increased voices.

Phew! Did I talk too much on that? (Laughs)

 

Briefly comment on the role of the internet particularly Facebook and blogs on Nigerian poetry.

Facebook and blogs have led to more people writing poems and more people reading same. You know, you don’t have to pay to publish. Just write, click and post! Two of my most interesting Facebook poetic finds can easily be said to be Okwy Obu and Paul Oku-ola. Blogwise, Kola TubosunEmmanuel Iduma, Adaobi Okwy and Azafi Omoluabi Ogosi, some people don’t even know she writes! There’s the army of internet critics bashing poetry too to ensure that poetry gets better. The internet has opened our poetry to a wider audience and also given room to more people to be able to express themselves. On Facebook, on blogs, on different sites, literary e-zines – Naijastories, Sentinel, Saraba, there are more voices being heard So to say, the internet has grown us more.

 

What do you consider as good poetry?

I believe that poetry is an expression of feelings – one’s feelings. Poetry should be able to evoke feelings in you. It should stir something and not just leave you wondering ‘Hun! What was that?’ either due to its complicatedness or due to its not making sense. You should work away from a poem feeling like ‘Wow!’ This is irrespective of what feeling it stirs in you – fear, anger, happiness, love, sorrow or whatever. Let it be able to do something to you. So to say, it is a big plus when you find apt metaphors and ample fitting imagery. These two things make a big difference in any work. You can add Osofisan’s famous words: poetry shouldn’t be like a nun hiding it all, or a prostitute showing it all, laughs. The perfect balance is difficult but that’s what makes good poetry, I guess.

 

What’s your take on the NLNG Prize for Literature (poetry) long list recently released? How come you are not on the list?

I didn’t enter for the contest. Bring our casket home: tales one shouldn’t tell was reissued after the deadline.

I had lots of people in the contest that I was rooting for – Musa Idris Okpanachi and Ekwuazi to mention two – but no, it wasn’t to be. Nice list still. Most of the people on the list are poets of some big reputation – Remi Raji, Okinba Launko (Femi Osofisan), Afam Ake, Obari Gamba, G’ebinyo Ogbowei (whose names kept on being misspelt for some reason)… You know, it’s nice. Have you read the books? I got Ogbowei’s Marsh Boy and other poems from the author and I am reading it; Lovely book. You should get a copy yourself. I have been following that poet for a while and I am glad he made the list; Great guy. I recently bought Ipadeola’s The Sahara Testament and Remi Raji’s Sea of my mind. I can’t say what they are like but I hope to get a good read soon. We can only hope that the best person wins. Even with the reputation of the current judges including Dr. Andrew Aba (a man of integrity, taste and high standards) and the international consultant, Kofi Anyidoho, I think these ones have their (judging) work cut out for them.

 

Is there anything you would want to add in closing?

Well, who is reading? That is the question? (Laughs) Well, no final word, just a few words to hold: If there’s any dream you have, don’t let it go. Keep pushing on. For writers, please, read as much as you can. It is the way to get better. Write, write, and write. Read, read, read, read, and read. We can’t really make much progress or become better if we remain static. Let’s put in our best and always give nothing more than our possible best. Yeah, we have great Nigerian poets. Take out time to buy their books and you would have a great time.

 

 

From The Nigerian Pilot Newspaper (http://www.nigerianpilot.com/good-poetry-should-evoke-feelings-sueddie/). This interview appears in The Nigerian Pilot Newspaper edition of 4th September 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Some all-rounded writer with the wits to turn anything and everything to words with inspiration... cheering to glory and on...

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