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