Poetry has to overtake your body like a true kiss – Umar Yogiza Jnr in Conversation with Amaobi Uche

Nigerian award-winning poet and author, Umar Yogiza Jnr takes us through his journey as a poet in a new interview session with Amaobi Uche of ACEworld Publishers.

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We know that you are a prolific writer telling stories with poetry with a quite unique style. What else do we not know?

Ans: I am a builder by profession, I read Building Technology. For poetry, I don’t know what exactly is poetry! I only create this wild ocean and allow the reader to step in, and whatever he or she see inside this ocean is part of his or her interaction with nature. I can’t tell you its depth, or strength of its tides, or its temperature, or its preys or you should or shouldn’t bring a boat or lifejacket, or fishing instruments.

Controlling a reader is off my limit as a poet, a reader can either jail him/herself in my work or liberate him/herself, it’s their own beginning and ending not mine as a poet.

For me, poetry is a personal therapy I am still experimenting, they are a self unapproved trial drugs, any doctor can prescribe them as effective medication, but they are not approved. My poetry call to action, to conversation, to intervention, to preservation and to destruction. I am not for you and I am not against you. I invoke the weak, the dead and the gods of all faith to have conversation beyond poetry. The reader must lost and discover himself, know where ache, what ail and how he or she can address these needs.

Almost very opposite career choices. It’s interesting to know how people like you get to manage these. Would you share that with us?

Ans: I did both art and science in secondary, I change school often, offering different subjects at different school. The love of literature is permanently there. It calms someone’s restive mind. Engineering is all about numbers while literature words.

Would you say that what you do somehow supports themselves? Talking about engineering and writing.

Ans: No money in Literature for the beginners. Young poets have to grow, they have to mature, pay their dues. I travelled to workshops, festivals and readings all over the country with my money. I published my books with my money. Poetry is hard to sell. Thank God that that is fast changing. I believe if you are good. The market is always there for you. The market is blind it opens to only serious-minded ones.

Going back to your art, people hold different definitions of what poetry is. What would you say poetry is?

Ans: Before anything else, the word “poet” in Greek is a “creator,” so before any form or style a poet should, first of all, see his or herself as a creator in service to vast truthful questions. A poem is born from something closer to your heart than blood, something intimate and personal; a thing that pang, gnaw and grind to be born without limit in your heart.

I am sad when people think they knew what is poetry, for me, poetry is anything with deep meaning, it could be a song, a dance, written words, spoken word, sorrow, happiness, nature, a spectacular artefact, ageing, death or everything.

For me, there is no style or form of poetry that has any special hierarchy over any other, poets only have their preferences, I don’t allow style troops police my imaginations, for, no style resides outside poetry. A good poem is mindless of style, it has to make you shiver, make you ask & make you sad because you cannot write more to what is already perfect no matter how imperfect its. poetry has to overtake your body like a true kiss.

Where do you draw inspiration from.

Ans: These days people find inspiration or only turn to poetry when circumstances remind them that they can’t take some things for granted. My poetry comes from a place of fear, pity, sadness & doubt, it passes and form through the articulation of emotional urgency, persistence and resistance in a subversive way.

Poetry is that efforts that help me to carry lacerating memories without letting them overpower me. Some poems stayed for weeks, months or years on my mind fighting for me to write them, and I find poetry the only genre that allows the freedom of articulation, sense of revelation, exploration of what’s hidden, craving to unearth, poetry taught me how to bring unseen into light, give them life and make them tangible, only in poetry I am free to say this is what I am thinking, this is the road I am constructing on my mind follow me, walk through this visual art of my soul as far as I can go.

What makes poetry different from the other genre?

Ans: In poetry, I am allowed to deploy languages, thoughts and feelings with military urgency. Only in poetry, I can saunter in any word, in any language of my choice. I can let anyone inside every corner of my thoughts without tearing me apart. I believe words can change history, bring relief, end tyrannical laws or sign piece of legislation.

There is no limit to the power of language. It shapes our seen and unseen existence. For me poetry is a special form of protest since there are some things we can never change in our lives, example citizenship, we can’t change where we are born in, the colour of our skin, tribes and so on, no matter how far we run away from them, they are the chain of our imprisoned souls and for me, it should the factory of our poetry.

Do you too believe in the healing power of poetry?

Ans: Sometimes I feel really down and out about current events, happening close and afar, be it the herdsman’s plundering, terrorist invasion, kidnapping free picking, clueless governing or a black man being killed openly in America, I thought I might not be the first one to suffer them!

To cry over them, to laugh, to live and resist all these atrocities, but want can I do? How can I contribute positively to these life annihilating scenarios? It’s easy to be the victim, it’s easy to suffer, easy to cry, easy laugh, or even resist but it’s not easy to survive, it’s not easy to love and support one another, it’s not easy to tell the truth, to need one another, only poetry say go on, carry on beyond your frustrations, rage, fears and failures, only poetry say, another good day is coming.

Do you think poetry can do more?

Ans: there are more interesting lives out there than ours, more struggling, more painful lives out there unknown that just didn’t get to heard. Many poets who don’t know that they are poet, many poets that their life, waking and sleeping is poetry.

The poet with the next phenomenon collections is somewhere cutting grass as a gardener, selling fuel as filling station attendant, opening and closing door as a security man in one fancy hotel, bent over as a gateman to say thank you, Sir, dying in the army as a recruit, that’s where you will find a lot of my kind there searching for their life’s meaning.

I feel very privileged to be able to be here and not there, to write my pains in poetry as a science, art and technology, as a moving vessel, its captain and sailors. Our survival is to me as a poet: a sort of intricate vessel that we get to cherish, seek its knowledge, speak with its ailing parts.

I don’t want to add any flavour to what is already known, fate to me is not unique, people are, our activities and understandings are. I always assumed there are so many more sorrow, more struggling, more disadvantage life out there than my own, lives that are chronically special that get wasted without being heard of or being articulated.

Do you have a role model?

Ans: I am familiar with many great writers home and abroad, they are all friends, models and mentors. But I have some closer to me than others, Amu Nnadi is great mentor, friend and role model, as well as Pope pen, Denja Abdullahi, Camillus Ukah, Bentex, Eriata Oribhabor, BM. Dzukogi, G Ebinyo Ogbowei, Emman Shehu and so many others who helps me one way or the other.

What challenges do you think writers face in especially in Nigeria. And how do you suggest it can be solved?

Ans: Writers in Nigeria like every other place in the third world country faces negligence, underrating and lack of sincere platforms to showcase their talent. Even the well-established writers suffer lack of support and encouragement.

University lecturers teaches outdated literature, most of the professors mastered the craft of old era, professors of the literature of the past. Books sell in schools based on connection, not quality. Most of the Publishers out there are scammers, pest and talent manipulators. By being sincere in everything we do it would heal the sickness in the publishing industry. We the younger writers are in a hurry to become famous, to become Wole Soyinka, Achebe and co overnight without working hard day and night on our crafts.

We don’t want criticism yet we want to grow and be on the lips of everybody. Learning, Patience, Adjustment should the first thing in Literature to learn before poetry, prose and drama.

Would you say that there are enough platforms for up and coming writers.

Ans: Yes! I think we have more than enough platforms to excel than ever. We just need to write good stuff, learn to walk with four legs before two. The problem is that we quickly think we are good before we hear from others. And when we hear otherwise from others we became angry and frustrated, literature is game of working working, patience, patience and little success. We should learn to handle that.

Being that you have authored among others three hard copy poetry chapbooks, would you give a tip or two: what writers must remember before publishing?

Ans: Correction! I have only one chapbook and three complete books of more than a hundred pages. A chapbook is a mini book or a meaningful part of a work in progress. ‘How I Killed Suicide’ is my only chapbook. As I said before, I am still a young writer scavenging for advice myself. As young writers, we need to learn like a thief, learn as if we don’t know anything, learn from everywhere and everything. We need to relax our mind from the taste of publishing. There is nothing special there if you are not yet mature.

Is there something we should expect to see from you soon?

Ans: Yes! If not because of the Covid —19 my two books would have been published. But it’s a blessing in disguise. Now many people are going through them right now, advising and suggesting. So expect something better than anything I’ve ever done. Like as I said some months ago that I am struggling to become a poet this year.

Its funny you say that. Thank you very much for your time.

Ans: You are welcome Uche Amaobi.

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