We are unlucky to be writ­ers in a distracted gen­er­a­tion – Yogiza Jr

Sunday Trust - - ARTS & IDEAS - From Dick­son S. Adama, Jos

Umar Kakanmu Aliyu, pop­u­larly known as Umar Yogiza Jr, is a writer, a poet and the au­thor of

a poetry col­lec­tion, as well as the founder of Free Po­etic Uni­verse, an on­line poetry plat­form. Yogiza, whose works have ap­peared in an­tholo­gies, jour­nals and on­line sites is also the 2017 win­ner of the At­lanta Black Street Poetry Award. In this in­ter­view with

he stressed that writ­ers must learn the craft of book pub­lish­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion in or­der to as­sist them­selves, pro­fes­sion­ally pub­lish au­thors and doggedly pro­mote them. He spoke on other vi­tal things.

In­stru­ment of Im­mor­tal­ity, Ideas,

How will you de­scribe poetry un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­a­tion in the coun­try to­day?

I think for the past three years, we are wit­ness­ing a poetry boom in Nige­ria and Africa at large. It is only now that po­ets are get­ting shows, go­ing to par­ties, lun­cheons, wed­ding cer­e­monies, sem­i­nars, con­fer­ences, birth­day cel­e­bra­tion, burial cer­e­monies to re­cite eu­lo­gies and po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ing; and in the process com­ing back with some pay. Sorry to men­tion “burial cer­e­monies to re­cites eu­lo­gies”, but it is true. A friend of mine called me a month ago to re­cite po­etic eu­logy for a uni­ver­sity lec­turer who died in mo­tor ac­ci­dent along Kaduna ex­press way. And I got paid, to my amaze­ment. Be­fore now, how­ever, poetry books hardly sell in Nige­ria. But thank God poetry has re­ju­ve­nated it­self, and we are all work­ing hard for poetry to be ac­cepted and ap­pre­ci­ated as it should be in Nige­ria; just like the film, mu­sic and com­edy in­dus­try. If you can pay co­me­di­ans, mu­si­cians and dancers hun­dreds of thou­sands of Naira to per­form at your event, then a poet can be equally or bet­ter treated.

Be­sides, I think po­ets need to do more than writ­ing if they want to be taken se­ri­ously in Nige­ria. Po­ets need to en­ter into pol­i­tics and be rel­e­vant in the gov­er­nance of the coun­try. We have many great po­ets who have held great po­si­tion in the world, and even here in Africa. A great poet like Léopold Senghor was pres­i­dent of Sene­gal, a poet like Ró­mulo Gal­le­gos was Pres­i­dent of Venezuela, while a poet like Pablo Neruda was an am­bas­sador, and later con­tested for Pres­i­dent of Chile. Also, Aimé Cé­saire, a poet, was once a Mayor of Fort-de-France in Mar­tinique.

What is the dis­tinc­tion be­tween the poetry writ­ten by young po­ets to­day and those writ­ten by renowned po­ets of old?

Renowned po­ets of old have set a foun­da­tion for us the young ones to learn and progress. We are lucky most of them are still alive with us to­day. Po­ets like Sir J. P. Clark, Jared An­gira, Sir Gabriel Okara, Wole Soyinka, Christo­pher Okigbo, Okot P’Bitek, Amu Nnadi, among oth­ers, are the foun­da­tion we are build­ing on. They have won ev­ery­thing winnable in the lit­er­ary world. But one crit­i­cal dis­tinc­tion be­tween them and us is that their poetry deals with hap­pen­ings in their time; like col­o­niza­tion, in­de­pen­dence strug­gle, con­flict be­tween tra­di­tion and mod­ern­iza­tion, slave trade and so on. But now, our world is chang­ing, peo­ple are chang­ing, be­hav­iours are chang­ing and English it­self is chang­ing. And so, our poetry is con­cerned with cur­rent so­ci­etal hap­pen­ing like kid­nap­ping, gun vi­o­lence, ter­ror­ism, thug­gery, ethno-re­li­gious clashes, drugs abuse, pros­ti­tu­tion, mi­gra­tion, hu­man traf­fick­ing, body part traf­fick­ing, mass un­em­ploy­ment, and so on.

What are the chal­lenges fac­ing poetry writ­ing and pub­li­ca­tion in the na­tion to­day, and how can the prob­lem be solved?

Poetry writ­ing in Nige­ria and any part of the world is still the same. Po­ets write as they like. Some write at night, some write in the morn­ing, and oth­ers dur­ing the day, it de­pends on the rou­tine of a writer and how best he/she gets un­der­stand­ing/ in­spi­ra­tion. Ba­si­cally though, the chal­lenge fac­ing the writ­ing of poetry in Nige­ria is lack of men­tor­ship and lack of pas­sion­ate edi­tors. Ev­ery­thing has been com­mer­cial­ized and it’s all about the money. And with re­spect to poetry pub­li­ca­tion in Nige­ria, I will say we don’t have real pub­lish­ers, ex­cept just a few. That is the fact. What we have these days are print­ers here and there who use writ­ers’ money to print books for them. No pub­lisher to­day uses their money to pub­lish books for you and give you roy­alty. I can­not fail to re­calls when I first con­tacted one prom­i­nent pub­lish­ing house in La­gos, about the pub­li­ca­tion of my work. With­out look­ing through my man­u­script to de­ter­mine the qual­ity of the work, he just said had to pay N700,000 (seven hun­dred thou­sand naira), and even added ‘only’ at the end. The pub­lisher also told me that I am to mar­ket and sell all my books my­self. They will only do public­ity in two news­pa­pers, two ra­dio in­ter­view, and two tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances. How do you ex­pects me to sell N1500 copies my­self and where did he ex­pect me then to get N70.000? I later dumped him and went for a mod­er­ate pub­lisher who then pub­lished my book.

So you can see that in Nige­ria to­day, many young writ­ers have great manuscripts, but have no money to get them pub­lished. Per­son­ally, I think if pub­lish­ers are not liv­ing up to the ex­pec­ta­tion of the writ­ers, it is bet­ter for writ­ers to pub­lish them­selves. Writ­ers should en­deav­our to learn the craft of pub­lish­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion. By then we will know the best way to econ­o­mize our lit­tle re­sources with good re­sult. Again, peo­ple want to read books but the books are not reach­ing them be­cause many manuscripts are un­pub­lished, and some of the pub­lished ones are not ef­fec­tively dis­trib­uted. That is why I en­cour­age writ­ers to en­deav­our to get into the craft of pub­lish­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion so that in the event of fail­ure to get a good pub­lisher, the writer can then help him­self/her­self.

See, when my book ‘In­stru­ment of Im­mor­tal­ity’ was pub­lished and af­ter the launch, I helped my­self, and we used so­cial me­dia to cre­ate aware­ness about the book and to sell it. We picked peo­ple with pow­er­ful so­cial me­dia pres­ence from all the 36 states of the fed­er­a­tion and sent 20 copies of the book to each of them. And be­fore that month ran out the books were sold. We shared all the names of the sales rep­re­sen­ta­tives on so­cial me­dia; that’s how we man­aged to get the book across to every­one who needed it. We be­lieved we could turn In­stru­ment of Im­mor­tal­ity into a suc­cess, and we did.

How do you get in­spi­ra­tion for your po­ems?

If you are a poet, ev­ery­thing around you is a piece of poetry. For me, ev­ery­thing I see is an in­spi­ra­tion; ev­ery­thing around me is poetry ma­te­ri­als wait­ing for me to give them life and form. Ev­ery hap­pen­ing around us needs the best of our crafts­man­ship to come to life. I see poetry in al­most ev­ery­thing around me and I get in­spi­ra­tion from those things. There could ei­ther be phys­i­cal or imag­i­nary. We as hu­man be­ings are poetry, our ex­is­tence is poetry, our re­li­gions are poetry, our

Arts and

hap­pi­ness is poetry, our sad­ness is poetry, our good health and sick­nesses are poetry, our birth and death and poetry, our graves and mourn­ing are poetry, and so on. So, ev­ery­thing a poet meets should sprouts poetry in him/her.

Many have won­dered why you write long po­ems. What is the ra­tio­nale be­hind that?

For me, Poetry is a seam­less jour­ney, full of bends and bumps with­out bus-stop. There was a day I asked Amu Nnadi how I can end a poem when I have writ­ten a lot and yet there are so many things un­said. He looked at me, smiled and said, ‘Yogiza, just break the pen; be­cause a poem has no end. This world’s wor­ries, anx­i­ety, bliss, sor­rows, lost, think­ing, suc­cess, or ec­stasy has no end.’ Since then I don’t re­strain my­self when writ­ing po­ems. For in­stance, when­ever I am writ­ing about how beau­ti­ful

Umar Yogiza Jr

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