To be a poet in capitalistic America is a rebellious act. When it comes to manifestos, I change the subject. Does the poem care whether you have expectations or not? Today I didn’t invent my reader. My reader invented me. Functioning, charging, exploring every crevice of a poem’s musicality and barraging its camouflage with questions.
Within a poem friendship and enmity touch each other. They invite every passerby to a conference. Gunshots are playbacks of metonymy. They are arguing a case outside my window that is, perhaps, inessential. Do spiderwebs think gunshots are important and necessary for poetry? But of course when I close my eyes I am inside a poem. And the gravel says it is imperfection that gives rise to a poem. Enigma bruises this room, that street, those gunshots.
In writing, indeterminacy and performativity can also be a trap. The hopefulness of a poem undoing persiflage. Using a Delay Pedal. A poem gaining octane. Imagination and space in relation to words. After all, most poems crave for the imaginative involvement of readers. The communality of poetry: it only takes place when our private concerns are made public. I like poems that teach us how to think for ourselves; poems that undermine standardizations. There is something to be said for not playing safe in poems. If poetry entails reinvention, then poets must be adept at self-reinvention.
In the heat of composition a poet negotiates the past, the present, the future all at once. This doesn’t have to be generalized to all poetry. Color of wheat. Unbuckling a seatbelt, waking up, writing on my skin. Above it, around it, within it, under it. Wherever self-disclosure goes. Counterassertions, flashing terracotta. Sometimes incongruity appears to be emphasized. Does this have to do with my being a bi-cultural person and poet in the United States of America? Mostly my compositional intentions in a poem move toward not simplifying experience.
Fresh revelations most times go beyond the limits of poetry. I reject the Puritanism of most North American poetry. The relationship between earthiness and timelessness interests me a lot. I draw inspiration from that. My link to instantaneous continuities that go beyond the nature/culture binary. Or the desire of the poems to channel tactility. Generative. In process. Evocative. A disheveled aesthetics. What a poet sometimes does is to position a bucket.
With regard to social, political, and religious issues, I try to set my own terms of engagement. My hope is to see revolutionaries, free thinkers and ordinary citizens from all the races unite to overthrow the present atrocious racist capitalist system. I want to see more alternatives to the kinds of literatures that support domination, historical erasures and exploitation. To me, aesthetic and political avant-gardisms belong together. They undergird my poetry and life. A poet may be anguished but he or she does not lack political agency. You can keep stuffing yourself with marginality until you become a cipher. It may make you feel better just like a red raven. Let us suppose that no opposition will restrain you. This is the secret of a poet that makes a splash. Heave to his/her poem. Filch its plank, its rubber, its rock. This goes beyond the mode of a token. Polar opposites of an axe. Dregs and dials of poetry. Think of this when a mind expander bestows tacos on you or risotto fricatives.
I don’t have an overall philosophy regarding poetry. I use any available method to make an impact on a reader. An excess of self-consciousness can be corrosive. I subscribe to the internal logic or illogic of a poem. Uncertainty and complexity open more doors and routes in art and life. They pledge their sway to rainy days. In those earliest of days, my generation of poets in Nigeria looked up to J.P Clark, Gabriel Okara, Michael Echeruo, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, Odia Ofeimun, Niyi Osundare, Pol Ndu, Ossie Enekwe, Obiora Udechukwu, Chinweizu, Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie, Ifi Amadiume, Chimalum Nwankwo, Femi Fatoba, Harry Garuba, for a while before establishing our individual stylistic paths. Without apologies. The whirlwind’s arrival was timely.
I am always happy each time I notice that I have gone beyond the Euro-American parameters of poetry in my work. Progressions at varying speeds. Searching beyond functional limits or capacity. Flexibility. Transcultural peregrinations, cross-cultural engagements, yet rooted in my African origins. Even after twenty one years of living abroad, persistent memories of Nigeria still inform my work.
It’s the wordless feeling that challenges a poet most. To hell with the objective neutrality presumptions of writing! The opportunity for exploration is where the poem resides. The kinetic poem almost always forges a wayward path. And what about those poems that do not fit seamlessly? Why must they? Do we? Does the universe? I am fascinated by how a poet and a reader dream each other into existence. We live in a revolutionary moment for poetry.
Poetry, come find us in the cityscape of Horror. The OTHERISM MOVEMENT has begun. Do rock your own way in gifting. That’s the poetry of the stone jet. You must insist on time to walk away from the syntactic map. What made Ezra Pound surrender himself to an African-American soldier in Italy?
I was lucky in those days to be in the company of sympathetic spirits/poets/writers like Izzia Ahmad, Afam Akeh, Chiedu Ezeanah, Onookome Okome, Maik Nwosu, Sanya Osha, AL Bishak, Sola Osofisan, Obi Nwakanma, Ogaga Ifowodo, Esiaba Irobi, E.C Osondu, Emman Usman Shehu, Olu Oguibe, Toyin Adewale, Carlos Eyaketang Udofia, Sesan Ajayi, Funmi Adewole, Nduka Otiono, Nike Adesuyi, Remi Raji, Kemi Atanda Ilori, Obu Udeozo, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, Pita Okute, Amatoritsero Ede, Obiwu, Elias Dunu, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, Ike Okonta, Adewale Maja-Pearce, Obododinma Oha, Adegoke Odukoya (Ade Bantu), Nnorom Azuonye, Chris Abani. We believed that faith, delight, and consolation are impulses from which poetry arises.
It is about not losing contact with the writing itself and the life that feeds it. A poem that may throw you back or propel you forward. So my poems continue to respond to shifting countries, cities, individuals, ideas, dreams, provocations, lovers. I have little regard for genre pieties. A poet can speak to the future without abandoning the here and now.
Yet a poet is not a kind of court reporter. A poem is one of the emancipatory spaces available to anyone. A poetry in extremis for human beings in extremis: that’s the state of poetry I’m attempting to write these days. And to live a poet’s freedom and live it deeply wherever one is.
I am more than willing to be lost inside vagrant poems. A poem reveals itself on its own terms for the writing of a poem involves putting oneself in question each moment. Technique is second skin so a poet need not be secretive about his or her methods. A poem registers/records/notes the significance of being alive.
Why did Thomas Jefferson claim that even religion could not make Phillis Wheatley a poet? Because she was black?
Lyrical pulses as unruly as unshakeable precarity. Whether purists like it or not, poems are mediated by technology in some ways today. Being insistently called to write poems, I am beginning to realize the importance of the unlanguaged. Immanences do not need my protection. Or the tender couplings of my poems. Or the noon pull and drag of a poem; its insistence on a larger canvas now. Who will mind my moveable altar of desire?
Lit from above, lit from below: a poet’s cultural generosity. The eyestones between Pynchonia and Rushdiea. A poet wondering if there is a connection between vigilantism and vegetarianism. And what about the Kreutzer Sonata that helped me write those poems in Berlin? Finding sources of joy is an important aspect of dealing with Writer’s Block.
A poem’s intelligence does not constrict; it sets something in motion beyond the hunger for the static of a vestibule. Changing a routine is a candle’s job. Penitence is not as simple as you think. And when I put my arms around the poem it begins to ring. Various forms of aesthetic irritation help me battle false coherence. Thank you for the gnocchi. Perhaps programmatic poems may be avoided. But can programmatic statements be avoided? I think it would be fraudulent for me to make this complicated world less complicated in my writings. Writing without a safety net. Debunking myths. As a teenager I was already looking beyond Nigeria’s borders.
Write the way that suits you. Do not try to convince others to write like you. We do not need a poetic consensus. America has no poetic consensus. I like that situation. A poem defies the notion of immutable truth. From material to immaterial, a poem has claims for perpetual process. Therefore, I am in search of all the presences and absences that poems can reveal. Going beyond the limits of either/or.
Between Empire and Massacre. That Sellout. Almanac, bracket, central lighting. These days I see the writing of a poem as part of my social responsibility but I don’t believe that poetry is just there to purify the language of the tribe or to prove a political point. A poet is a maker of culture. Poems come to me and when I write them down they are answerable to none. They do not need to fit together as passages that bear upon sepia or the U.S. What is the emotional weather of America’s hegemony?
It is an invaluable perspective to see poetry as a cross-disciplinary practice. Poetry has always deemed art to be far more important than commerce. The solemn face of a slide rule among these crazies. Not realer than the black words of a pink almond. I think there’s a sweetness to eroticism. I think there’s a danger to eroticism. And they suit me fine.
I can’t write with complete clarity and objectivity about my own life. Yet I keep trying. Why do poets get up in the morning or noon or night and write against daunting odds? In the everyday world is where the potential of the poem is. Afrobeat is the music that sends me back to my youth again and to Lagos. This music illuminates my recent poems. Are you the one with whom the poems will want to have a closer communion?
OTHERISM is not an aesthetic; it is an attitude. As a self-defining artist, I tend to understand the writing of poetry in an international context. I am indebted to translators and the poets I read in translation. Some of my poems try to impart meaning to every country I have ever lived in or visited. To puncture the pompous solemnity of conservatism is one of my missions in life. A poet is not there just to slavishly write “a good poem.” A poet has to battle self-parody.
The connotations of plus-and-minus poems of brown bravura. At once: precision and elusiveness. Bloom of tone, pattern, dissonance. Parting and closing a curtain. It’s not incompatible with bending and breaking classical fixity. I hope to contribute as much as possible to the fabric of American Poetry. I write this now in New York City—city of opposites and speed—after a petulant blizzard.
Originally Published: March 2nd, 2016