Letters with Three Nigerian Poets

by David Ishaya Osu

David Ishaya Osu was born in 1991 in Onda, Nigeria. He is a poet, memoirist, and editor. His work has appeared in Magma Poetry, Poetry Wales, Transition, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Eureka Street, Slice Magazine, Platypus Press, Birmingham Arts Journal, among numerous international publications. His poems and essays are also published in anthologies including: RædLeaf Poetry: The African Diaspora Folio, A Thousand Voices Rising: An Anthology of Contemporary African Poetry, Maintenant 10: A Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing & Art, and Evening Coffee with Arundhati Roy, compiled and edited by Onyeka Nwelue. David is a fellow of Ebedi International Writers Residency, and is a board member of Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation. He is the poetry editor of Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel.

In 2015, David Ishaya Osu’s poem “Playthings” appeared in The Puritan. The next year, he sent us an interview with fellow Nigerian poet Adeeko Ibukun. I found the conversation refreshing. There was a romance to how they talked about poetry. It was closely tied to the places and cultures within Nigeria. I wanted to know more about the ways poetry exists there. So, I asked him if he would consider expanding that interview, and adding additional voices to the conversation. David happily agreed, and below is the result. Enjoy.

—E Martin Nolan

All conversations have been edited for clarity and flow.

“A poem should always be dangerous”
Emman Usman Shehu

Author of three poetry collections (Questions for Big Brother, 1988; Open Sesame, 2005; and Icarus Rising, 2017), Emman Usman Shehu is the founder and president of Abuja Writers Forum (AWF), and the director of the International Institute of Journalism (IIJ), Abuja.

I first met Emman Usman Shehu in the papers where he ran weekly columns and devoted his entire pages to literature. He wrote about poetry, plays, prose, and literary criticism and devices, so committedly that his good hands for storytelling made his articles very edible to me as a beginning reader and writer. I have since then followed his writings and contributions to literature in Nigeria. Emman’s brainchildren are uncountable.

In 2010 or so, I contacted him and we became friends on Facebook. He would later invite me to his office and gift me books. And I would become a regular at AWF reading and critique sessions, a platform that has played host to famous Nigerian writers and has remained vibrant in inspiring new literary voices from Nigeria since its inception in 2008.

So, I was really pleased when Emman Usman Shehu agreed to an interview. In this conversation Emman takes us through his olden days as a poet, days that gave birth to fellow poets of his generation, the successes of their get-togethers, and his vision for Nigerian literature.

This exchange was held over email between spring and summer this year.

David Ishaya Osu: Let’s revisit old times. I’d like to hear of The Anthill memories of Nsukka, the readings and getting together with fellow poets. How was it like?

Emman Usman Shehu: The Anthill was birthed by an interesting coincidence of events at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Two friends (Gbugbemi Amas and Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu) had decided to put together a small hangout on the Odenigbo hills just outside the campus. This was also the period (1985-6) of the fallout from the so-called Vatsa Coup Plot. Major General Mamman Jiya Vatsa was a good friend to some members of the writing community in Nsukka. Some months earlier, he had hosted the drama troupe in Abuja, which was touring the country with its performance of The Trial of Dedan Kimathi. So there was a lot of concern about Vasta’s fate when he was alleged to have masterminded a coup. The military tribunal had passed a death sentence on the accused plotters. A ray of hope appeared when three top Nigerian writers—Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, and John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo—went to Dodan Barracks in Lagos, which was then the seat of governance, to plead for clemency. It turned out to be a futile hope as Vatsa, the others, as well as the trio of writers, left Dodan Barracks. Despite the assurance given that the men would be spared, they were not.

It was shattering news. Vatsa, apart from being a soldier, was a poet and writer and patron of the arts. He encouraged creative writing within the army and also ensured, as the Administrator of the new federal capital in Abuja, the provision of land for a writers’ village.

Two days later a reading was put together, both as a mark of honour and some kind of protest against the Babangida regime. Most of the poems read that night were freshly written as a result of the execution of Vatsa and the other soldiers, and what some of us felt was the callous manner in which it was announced on national radio by General Domkat Bali.

Despite being an impromptu event, the reading was successful and well-attended. The general feeling was to do it on a regular basis. Then came the suggestion to use the new venue outside the campus. Thus was born the weekly “Wednesday Musings” at The Anthill, featuring poetry, music, and the occasional drama skits. My room became the rehearsal place for the informal band which featured two guitarists—George Anozie (Big George) and Gbugbemi Amas. The latter at this time had two albums to his credit showcasing his versatility as a guitarist, songwriter, and singer.

The weekly event took on a life of its own, attracting even people from outside Nsukka. Gradually, on a monthly basis, top writers including Tunde Fatunde and Niyi Osundare were invited and Professor Obiora Udechukwu would sometimes host them. The news spread and Anthill would get its fair share of mentions on several arts pages within the two-to-three-year span of its active existence.

Each Anthill edition was a thrill. It inspired a lot of people to write or sing and attracted people from various disciplinary backgrounds including the Fine and Applied Arts Department. So there were artists-poets like Barthosa Nkrumeh, Greg Odo, Tony Ndikanwu, Chike Azuonye, Uko Akpaide, Sylvester Ogbechie, and Olu Oguibe. The eclectic mix was enriching. A poetry anthology, The Anthill Annual, was published. The Anthill remains an indelible artistic period of my life. 

DIO: After Questions for Big Brother, it took nearly two decades for your second book, Open Sesame, to arrive. Then a twelve-year silence for your third poetry collection, Icarus Rising, to appear. I am interested in the length of time between these books. Weren’t you writing? Or was it just a decision to not publish?

EUS: Questions for Big Brother was published in an unexpected circumstance. This was the point where I had started taking creative writing a bit seriously. I would do several drafts of a poem and still feel I had to do more and I was churning out a lot of new material. It was suggested I should put together some of the poems and enter the collection in the annual Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) contest. I did and the next thing I knew, the manuscript was selected along with five others and published in a collaboration between the Association and Update Communications. The other poets were Afam Akeh (Stolen Moments), Idzia Ahmad (A Shout Across the Wall), Kemi Atanda Ilori (Amnesty), Esiaba Irobi (Cotyledons), and Uche Nduka (Flower Child). Thereafter we have been referred to as the Update Poets.

The lacuna has not been deliberate. It’s a mixture of several factors including the challenges of publishing in Nigeria. I have never stopped writing nor has my writing been limited to poetry. I write plays (stage, radio, and television), fiction, and articles.

We seem to only live for the moment without a care for enriching the future with the humus of the past.

DIO: Cross-examinations of mythologies are a dominant aspect of your poetry. From your earliest work to the most recent. There is “Gorgon,” there is “Mermaid,” there is “Icarus Rising,” there is “Averting Sisyphus.” What I notice in these poems is that you’re not only drawing analogies out of these narratives, you’re subtly making new myths and domesticating them. How do you reconcile facts and imagination?

EUS: Part of my approach to writing in general is to have fun and one way of doing it in poetry is to rework existing material and see what comes out of it. Working with myths also is a form of interrogating the realities of life embedded in those stories, and that makes reconciliation of facts and imagination a worthwhile challenge.

DIO: In the poem, “Mermaid,” you talk of Lagos—not as an outsider but like a former lover. Interestingly, this is closely tied to the mermaid spell. Can you briefly talk on the history of this poem?

EUS: I had a close friend in Lagos who had a passion for the beach and I discovered it was also part of her sexual fantasy. So the poem started out initially as an exploration of that fantasy and then took a life of its own.

DIO: There is then “Beachside.” This reminds me of a poem by Lisa Ciccarello titled, “A Water Woman Has No Body.” Matters of restlessness, wakefulness, realization of truths. Is your involvement with water a ritualistic act or simply poetic?

EUS: Although I recognize and appreciate the ritualistic dimensions linked with water, in this case it was simply a poetic exploration.

DIO: You seem to be fond of clichés, and unapologetic about it. Yet what I notice is a skillful play with words to draw the reader into some sort of familiarity with the text. Is this ever a tension during composition?

EUS: There is always a tension because the objective is to use something old and familiar as a bait to draw in the reader and then give him a little surprise.

DIO: Are you a morning writer or the I-can-write-anytime-anywhere kind of writer?

EUS: I have had several phases but with the current status it’s more of writing in the morning.

DIO: You dedicated a poem to late Carlos Idzia Ahmad. Anytime I read about him, I often wish he lived longer to write more poems. But what I find most worrisome is the historicization of his work—not so much about him or his work has been extended to the current generation of poets. I could be wrong, but I think Nigerian literature is suffering from what I term “the willful laziness of memory.” Documentation is poor, and literary biography is almost nonexistent. Ours isn’t a culture of memoirs or diaries, or even publishing accounts of our writerly experiences and shared experiences.

Operating in our kind of environment that barely cares about nurturing creativity, it is only passion that keeps one going.

EUS: Documentation is a major problem here in Nigeria and is a sad reflection of our structural deficiencies and the way we prioritize things. We seem to only live for the moment without a care for enriching the future with the humus of the past.

DIO: You responded to Herberto Padilla with this: “every poem becomes dangerous / the moment I open my mouth loud.” Let me ask a funny question: when should a poem not become dangerous? [Laughs.]

EUS: A poem should always be dangerous. [Laughs.]

DIO: Your preoccupation with music is a fact. How do you do it? I mean, the more I read your poems aloud, the more I enjoy them and I think they best succeed when they’re performed. It was Jane Hirshfield who said that, “A poem’s music affects us whether or not we make it conscious.”

EUS: I have a passion for music. I grew up surrounded by music. There are songs I relate to as signifiers of certain phases of my life. Poetry itself is aligned with music and one way I try to inhere music in my poems is by sticking with established structures but avoiding rigidity as much as possible. It is a huge demand, but I find that working that way enables the musical tone and other literary possibilities.

DIO: Abuja Writers Forum (AWF) is ten this year, and has irrefutably played significant roles in promoting authors, in nurturing new talents, and in largely inspiring a vibrant literary community in Abuja and Nigeria at large. How has it been so far? There is also the Abuja Literary Festival and the literary journal Dugwe, all run by the forum. What motivates such relentlessness?

EUS: The word for it is passion. I am passionate about creating avenues and platforms that can enhance our literature. Operating in our kind of environment that barely cares about nurturing creativity, it is only passion that keeps one going.

DIO: I am aware The Old Man and the Sea is a major book on your shelf, so I won’t ask you about Ernest Hemingway. [Laughs.] I would rather like to know your favourite poets.

EUS: I have come to be very open-minded and that enables me to discover new material. I have stopped talking about favourites.

DIO: What are your ten best books by Nigerians? And what’s your take on recent poetry in Nigeria? What new things would you like to see?

EUS: It’s difficult talking about ten best books. We have very good books across genres that can make the cut for various reasons. I like the growing interest in poetry and the surging output. I would like to see more definite structures especially in terms of funding for the arts in general.

DIO: Finally, what books do you think will become classics of the 21st century?

EUS: I can only speculate because tastes change with time, and the current favourites may not endure over time.

“Things that are not vague, yet remain unnoticed”
Jumoke Verissimo

Among the books Emman Usman Shehu gifted me was Dugwe, an anthology of poems, fiction, essays, and interviews, compiled and edited courtesy of Abuja Writers Forum (AWF). Dugwe became my major introduction to contemporary Nigerian writing. I saw the works of Elnathan John, Uche Peter Umez, Unoma Azuah, Mike Ekunno, Jumoke Verissimo, and many others. I went online to become their friends via Facebook and started reading their works any way I could.

This then began my close reading of Jumoke Verissimo. Her poetry struck deep into me. A line of hers that got me really interested in her poetry reads thus: “I know brokers of diamond dreams …” Such sensitivity and agency of diction.

Jumoke Verissimo is the author of two full-length poetry collections, I Am Memory (2008) and The Birth of Illusion (2015). Her poems are widely published in international journals and anthologies, and some are in translation in French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Norwegian. Among several honours and distinctions, Jumoke is a recipient of the Chinua Achebe Centre Fellowship at Bard College. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Alberta, Canada.

This interview was held over email between spring and summer this year. It has been edited for clarity and flow.

David Ishaya Osu: I’m finding it hard deciding where to start. There’s so much I want to talk about with you, because your work is out of this world. I will go straight to the work that blows my mind. I am interested in the genesis of your chapbook, Epiphanies [which you can read online]. How did it all begin?

Jumoke Verissimo: Thank you for the kind words, David.

It was just pure coincidence that I was finishing work on my second collection, The Birth of Illusion, when Emmanuel Iduma (of Saraba Magazine) requested to publish some of my poems as a chapbook. I sent him poems with a common theme in the manuscript, those ones I could let go of at that time; perhaps to test the waters!

DIO: The same rush of excitement, that intense rise and fall of waves in my belly when I read Anne Sexton, Lyn Hejinian, Alice Notley, Li-Young Lee, Sylvia Plath, Anne Carson, Kathy Acker, Lidia Yuknavitch, Adura Ojo, Uche Nduka, Emily Dickinson, Sappho, and other favourites, it’s exactly the same feeling I get when I read you. Not in the sense of influence now, but on the slant that poets come from one ocean. Let me put it this way, where does art come from? Your art.

I think the sky speaks if you can access its language, and where I have the chance to hear these things when I’m in the right frame of mind, I write them down.

JV: Hmm. Let me answer this question this way: I have no idea where art comes from. I am, however, interested in a chance meeting with art, you know, at the restaurant, playground, on the bus, in the bathroom, on people’s lips, in rumpled sheets.

I really do not want to know where art comes from. I guess, there is a thrill in chancing upon art.

As for my art. I think it invests itself in the process of hunting for meaning, in things that are not vague, yet remain unnoticed, unknown, undiscovered. And just as I do not know where art comes from, I don’t go searching for art in its abode (if such a place exists).

DIO: You’re a poet of both the corporeal and the transcendental. See these wonderful lines of yours:

It was the first time I heard angels sing
So this is how souls depart from here
Ghosts lie down all night listening to songs
I like this song but I do not want to die

And these:

Before now, my eyes became many things
A river, a mirror, a flower, a door, a lit bulb

Here I am in the hands of my morning desires
Where my body has resumed an ended dialogue

Calm: wear the spirit on your legs
There is no fear in the coconut tree
Wear light in your eyes, and see

What I notice in your poetry is that paranormal phenomena and everyday stories cross into each other. And while these depictions are not easy experiences, they, to me, appear to be largely drawn from personal experiences. My question is: do you ever get into conflict over what metaphors to allow on paper? Especially as “there is no fear in the coconut tree.” I’d also like to have a picture of your interaction with Mother Nature and with haunting surroundings.

JV: I believe in the paranormal—I believe in magic, miracles, ghosts, and spirits. Perhaps you can say I’m superstitious—you won’t be wrong. I think that it is possible to access these channels if you want to. I think the sky speaks if you can access its language and where I have the chance to hear these things when I’m in the right frame of mind, I write them down. I wish I could write down the things I hear, but I’m on a journey still. I think I’m falling in love with investigating the rationale of the immaterial.

DIO: In a June 1959 letter to W. D. Snodgrass, Anne Sexton remarked that, “Poetry and poetry alone has saved my life.” Does this testament reflect yours?

JV: I gave my life up for poetry, there is no life to lose. I lose poetry, I lose life.

DIO: Let me ask a silly question: are there poetic or literary forms you despise?

JV: I read all forms of poetic or literary forms, even if I never read some to the end. And this is not because I despise them. More because I didn’t enjoy it at the time of reading. The brain sometimes revolts and desires those forms that it takes delight in. There are times I give in. At other times, I ensure that I frustrate my brain and tire myself out.

DIO: Can you name five must-read books of poetry of your preference?

JV: I’d have done this some years back. I don’t do this anymore. I don’t have must-read books. Why should I? My relationship with books is polyandrous. I’ve learned that good books conspire against favouritism.

DIO: What would you like to see happen in the Nigerian poetry community?

JV: I like what I see so far, there is accord among those who seek it, and there’s the discord among those who desire it. It is important that this continues. It breeds something. Things like prizes, books, and magazines will evolve as technology, ideas, and politics mold us into frustrated ranters (as now evident on social media).

DIO: Lastly, when should we expect your next book? And how is Canada?

JV: My next book, as it is, won’t be poetry. This time I’ll be publishing a novel. It should be out next year that is in 2019. Cassava Republic is publishing my next book.

I feel a sense of place here, at this time. I’m learning new things, making new friends, gaining fresh insights … and that is quite good.

I remember I was talking to a friend on the phone when I first arrived in the country, and she wanted to know how I was enjoying the Canadian cold (she was trying to be sarcastic). My response to her was that the Canadian winter teaches piety. You’ll wake up each morning asking God for mercy. And you’ll feel at peace assured that after winter, there’ll always be spring and summer.

“A Sudden Shine”
Adeeko Ibukun

Adeeko Ibukun’s poem, “A Room with a Drowning Book,” emerged from over 2,000 poems to win the 2015 Babishai Niwe African Poetry Award. The judges praised it for the subtle politics and vivid imagery. His poems have appeared in Sentinel and Ake Review among numerous publications. He has read his poems as a guest at the Lagos Poetry Festival and Ake Arts and Book Festival, among others. He lives and writes in Abeokuta where he also works with Association of Nigerian Authors (Ogun chapter) to promote reading culture across schools.

In this interview, Adeeko talks about his favourite poets and his favorite place, Abeokuta. He also talks about his usage of Facebook to reach readers. One immediately connects to the vision of the poet when he says, “The effort is not a waste. It is joy.”

This conversation took place in parts, in 2016 and in 2017, over email.

David Ishaya Osu: First, where were you when you received the news of being included in the Babishai Niwe African Poetry longlist? And how did it feel being the eventual winner?

Adeeko Ibukun: I got home that evening around 10 p.m. after work and then put on my computer to link to the world and got this phone call, “Ibukun, have you seen the BN longlist?” My friends, at the entry stage, being aware of the growing interest in poetry across Africa, said we can only hope to be on the longlist. We’re there, right there in the longlist and the shortlist. The three of us that entered: Gbenga Adesina, Tolase Ajibola, and me. So the news came with enormous surprise—these things we do here, at this corner, will go everywhere. When I won, I felt I was dreaming and I got jolted into a higher reality. I now find myself believing more in the words I play with.

DIO: Your winning poem starts with “Somewhere in the room a book is / drowning …” It’s like movies shot in various places—what was the physical setting for this poem? Can you walk us through the history of this poem?

AI: Yes, it is a camera going through a place heavy with memories. Places are often like this, holding memories. Although all places may not have this import for everybody when it comes to the particular, there is always that space you go into or return to, and you find a sudden shine on everything, something saying this place holds something for you—memories, possibilities, love. I got home after a year of travelling through Nigeria, North and South, and geography came alive to me in vivid images. I then learned of places as stories. When I got home, because I had received the news of my mother’s death, I began to find this conversation with spaces to be true of domestic places, too. I think of geography in terms of stories determining or marking out borders and history. The poem, A Room with a Drowning Book, left me and stretched into crevices that have social and political implications because that is what metaphors do.

DIO: Sorry about your mother’s demise. Do you have specific audiences in mind while writing?

AI: Everybody curious enough to care about my poems. I like how we are tied to stories of our lives and geography. It endows our pieces with both a time signature and experience; it is what I go to books and pieces to uncover. It is all I care about in creating mine.

DIO: What is the essential ingredient for a poem?

AI: For me, for now, sounds and vision. By vision, I mean the eye of the writer. People talk a lot about the painter’s eye, but I think of cameras as universal to all artists, including writers. The nuance of the actors, animate and inanimate, stationary or momentous, evoked by the hue of words, is the poem. If it is less than that, it is sheer reportorial, which is not bad—at least we read newspapers. But poems? They must be emotionally charged. They must be that fluid evidence in a situation, emotionally true, deeper than bland presentation of facts.

DIO: I find this line documentary: “Places own us like this, / light bounces off them, / turning their spears at me.” First, I thought of birthplaces, fantasy, even social constructs. How attached are you to Abeokuta?

AI: You are right. As Yorubai, one is proud of where one is from. Where you come from is a continuum of where your father and his father and his grandfather came from. I am from Imushinii. The Orikiiii of my family largely traces the places that constitute our family history and a few heroes are mentioned. This Oriki is, for me, the most valuable part of the burial ceremony pamphlets usually archived by my father. It is how I learnt this interesting fact. My travel experiences amplify this human-and-place interaction that builds the most interesting story there is, history. History is what the Oriki documents: it is also the “spears” pointing at me. Abeokuta is where I’ve lived more than 20 years of my life. In building my Oriki, the complete journey would include Abeokuta.

“Overlooking Abeokuta” Credit to Melvin Baker (Flickr)

DIO: I notice a painstaking attention to water and light in the poem. This line says: “somewhere / a lover holds you in her heart, light in / water teaching these lessons.” I have permitted myself to connect these elements with some biblical character. One quick instance is the baptism of Jesus Christ at the river Jordan, with “lover” as God and “light” as Jesus. I wonder whether my half-interpretation tallies with your thoughts; if yes or no, or both, could this be your way of repeating mythologies or retelling stories, though, by means of ingenious symbolism? Or, Christian witnessing?

AI: I have read people referring to an interview question as difficult. You see I don’t like explaining my poems. Opeyemi once said, surreal, referring to one of my poems. What you bring up is not out of place. I grew up reading the Bible; it must have constituted a meme around me, no doubt. But my preoccupation at the time of the poem is place.

DIO: Do you consciously allow your poems to be readable, in the sense that they make tonal impacts on the reader when read aloud?

AI: Poems rely on form and rhythm to create heightened meanings. I care seriously about both; though in creating my works, I don’t really consider how it will be presented, page or stage. I care solely about a successful poem. So I keep chiseling, bending, and building for a wow-ending. A reader I admire said my works have a sound effect. That is a compliment, I think. Going back to some of my works, I’ve seen accidental rhymes not considered at the time they were written. I’ve imbibed poems from different cultures of the world. If you are close to me, you will know how, at times, I am obsessed with Paul Adrian’s “Robin in Flight.” If you came to my place, I would say, “Hey, have you read this poem, Robin in Flight?” I remember discovering Adonis, too. How it shifted my picture of what I grow up to know as poems. There is a truckload of diverse poetic voices, traditional and modern, local and international, that helped shape my sensibility for a good poem. Whenever I achieve that glow of images, I know I now have a poem. Most times people say they are readable. I thank them and then ask myself … is that all?

DIO: In your piece “In Glow and Thoughts: A Morning After Winning,” you mentioned that “the process of writing and producing a worthy work is only fired by hope.” How long does it take you to finish a poem?

And because the process of writing is rigourous, you need hope to fire on, you need that inkling that the work will eventually turn out well, that all the efforts will be worth it.

AI: One can’t be certain. Some poems already exist in a reality (that I believe is higher than me) and only seek to exist here, locating me. So I complete them faster than others. They are just there. Whole. Complete. Most other poems I struggle to complete. Words on the page are hues my poems channel to capture a glow of presence. It is complete only when the eventual image is, or a fair compromise of, that glow that conceived them. There shouldn’t be a definite timeline to complete a poem; I believe that may become too much of a burden for the writer. And because the process of writing is rigourous, you need hope to fire on, you need that inkling that the work will eventually turn out well, that all the efforts will be worth it.

DIO: Many writers testify of the goodness and succor they receive from reading other writers. Is there a particular writer that confirmed your drive? Tell me about your favorite poets and people.

AI: People are my glorious raiment. That is a translation of a Yoruba saying. The word “people” is the first word that jumped at me in your question. Unoma Azuah is the first person that believed and took my poems to the public realm when I was not sure they were worthy of such attention. The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Ogun chapter has been my beautiful home, too­—people like Tope Olaifa were doing great work in Abeokuta via ANA Ogun at the time I wanted to take my poems more seriously. I have friends, too. Fiona Lovatt believes in my poems in a way I often think is more than I can ever believe. I am always having beautiful exchanges with Samuel Ugbechie, engaging one. Emmanuel Dairo is also a joy to meet. There is always continuous debate and creative interaction between Gbenga, Tolase, Opeyemi, and me that geography made possible, and I believe it is a lot of help. But this shouldn’t only be about important people in my journey so far. It should also be about my favourite poets. I am in love with John Burnside. I go everywhere with his “Black Cat Bone.” I love Niyi Osundare; Eye of the Earth is one of my early companions. It is usually in my bag alongside Labyrinth by Okigbo. Reading Place by Jorie Graham, felt like gold; some of her poems cling to me. I also like Rem Raj, Tade Ipadeola, and Amu Nnadi’s poems. I often think there is a dearth of works on this generation of poets, yet brilliant works were produced by them. Without the Nigeria Prize for Literature sponsored by NLNG (Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas), I would not even know of these poets. There are younger poets I like, too. To mention a few, I like Kechi Nomu, Shittu Fowora, Samuel Ugbechie, Helen Mort. It is an endless list.

DIO: Some are addicted to smoke, others to wine, milk, films, others to a kind of smell; what are you addicted to?

AI: Growing up, I was sermonized by the usual Sunday school culture of Pentecostal Churches my mother drenched me and my brothers in. This comes with a character difficult to break from, not necessarily because you always see them as a superior way of life, but because it is now your character, it is now you. This knocks out smoking and alcohol. Addiction suggests lack of control. I completely don’t like that word. I like Coca Cola though. I joked somewhere that when Jesus turned water to wine it was Coca Cola. Never mind the flaw of that joke as Coca Cola is not even a brand of wine. But I also like conversations particularly with strangers; it is weird for most people, but for me it is just okay.

DIO: So what is of the utmost in your poetry, art and life?

AI: Audience, which could also mean readers. It was why I put my works on Facebook before I learned that most editors will not publish them as they are usually categorized as published works. But why do I care? Some readers don’t go to Facebook to read poems and the feel of print could be great. I was overwhelmed when two guys at the Lagos festival said they enjoyed my poems. I was overwhelmed because they were not talking to me, they were talking to each other and I overheard them. The effort is not a waste. It is joy.



i Yoruba: A language of the Yoruba people, an ethinic group from southwest Nigeria, and which is spoken widely in West Africa. The Yoruba people also have large communities across the Americas and Europe.
ii Imushin: A place or community in Ogun state, southwestern Nigeria.
iii Oriki: A pattern of praise or praise poetry among the Yoruba people.


David Ishaya Osu was born in 1991 in Onda, Nigeria. He is a poet, memoirist, and editor. His work has appeared in Magma Poetry, Poetry Wales, Transition, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Eureka Street, Slice Magazine, Platypus Press, Birmingham Arts Journal, among numerous international publications. His poems and essays are also published in anthologies including: RædLeaf Poetry: The African Diaspora Folio, A Thousand Voices Rising: An Anthology of Contemporary African Poetry, Maintenant 10: A Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing & Art, and Evening Coffee with Arundhati Roy, compiled and edited by Onyeka Nwelue. David is a fellow of Ebedi International Writers Residency, and is a board member of Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation. He is the poetry editor of Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel.