A poet and lecturer in the Performing Arts department of the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Yemi Atanda, tells BLESSING ENENAITE about his career in academia and his love for poetry
What influenced your decision to be a poet?
Creativity is an innate gift. I do not write poetry alone; I also write other genres of literature such as prose and drama. It is a natural endowment that could be influenced by the muse—’the god of creativity’. A poet possesses such an innate emotional talent to conjure images and symbols, and has (good) quality of language to use literary devices appropriately.
As a student of literature in secondary school, I encountered a number of African and European poets, who had great influence on me although I was a science student. However, it was when I got into the university that I began to write poetry. Like I said earlier, a writer’s emotional consciousness of their environment would make a great mark that can influence their writing. Besides, cultural inclinations, politics and history all ignited my interest in writing generally, and specifically, poetry. I have the desire and will to be part of the history of my people, to contribute to the advancement of the culture through folklores, myths, music and epic narratives.
What inspired you to write the book, ‘Alluring Noon Poems’?
It is my first book of poetry. The poems touch on various issues, including politics, governance and development, folklores, myths, history and culture. I am not unmindful of the role of the socially-consciously artist who teaches, entertains and writes to right wrongs, especially in an endemically corrupt and politically dysfunctional state like Nigeria.
A writer may have a lot of burning issues being ignited from within and without, that stem from the individual’s experience, thus poetry becomes a medium of expressing such emotions. Many writers, such as Samuel Coleridge, TS Eliot, William Wordsworth and William Blake, have written on the essence of the hermeneutics of emotion in poetry. In this sense, inspiration may come from one’s immediate environment, reading, or paying attention to the experiences of people in one’s social space. In my case, I am greatly inspired by the intuitive essence—metaphysical and mystical allures/understandings of interpretive dreams. From without, I am very conscious of the visage of history and politically dysfunctional situations in Nigeria and Africa, so I place the reason for this sordid and absurd reality squarely at the doorstep of the governing elite in different African countries who supplanted the colonialists in the 1950s and 1960s.
Poetry is not a well appreciated art in Nigeria. How well has your book been received?
We need to differentiate between poetry as a popular art such as oral poetry, the Yoruba chants of esa pipe, ijala and a host of others. Panegyrics and court-poems are very well appreciated, compared to high arts. As for the Western-influenced form of poetry which I write, its audience is the educated elites who have had an encounter with Western education, at least up to secondary school level.
Music, dance, festival and other social accoutrements are parts of the aesthetics of my poetry. In this regard, I strongly believe that the focused audience or reader would surely appreciate it. I occasionally publish my poems on social media, and the response has been very encouraging. The feedback I get points towards the fact that Nigerians, irrespective of their educational backgrounds, are capable of appreciating, not only popular arts, but high arts.
As encouraging people to read my works regards, then we are in a troubled enclave. The reading culture in Africa since I was growing up in the seventies has been regarded as poor. Should writers then stop writing? No, we cannot. We just have to keep on writing good quality works of literature. Another way is to ensure that our works find a space on the list of the curriculum in cognate departments.
How do you balance your careers as a lecturer and poet?
I manage my time. I strive to write at least a sentence in a day, or at worst, a word. If I cannot write in a day, I find a way of reading through what I had written. Working and managing time is the way out. Like I was taught by my former teachers, such as the late Prof Ola Rotimi, Prof Segun Adekoya, the late Prof Wole Ogundele and Mr Uko Atai, a writer must always walk with their notepads and pen, schedule their tasks and learn how to work through days and nights.
Which do you find more challenging between being a lecturer and a poet?
Both, I must say. They are very challenging, considering the many variables involved. Living in Nigeria is very challenging, more so as a teacher. What does one work with? Take for instance, teaching without modern facilities, and working under demoralizing conditions; the rest can be imagined. Not only that. What is the nature and mentality of a large number of students? In this age of ‘education is a scam’ mentality, when one may not see a student in class until the exam period, yet such student would want to pass. There are many challenges facing teachers in Nigeria.
As writing, it takes courage to dream of being a writer in Nigeria. It is only when one considers it as a calling that one would be able to do it well. One just has to communicate to one’s readers, then keep dreaming and writing.
What are your other areas of interest?
I have published some plays, including, The Vomitand A Cord in Time. I also have other manuscripts waiting to be published. I have a collection of short stories as well, and I am currently working on a novel. I am interested in all genres of literature.
In what ways do you think poets can be better encouraged in Nigeria?
There are so many ways writers generally can be encouraged to keep on writing, just like musicians are being encouraged through digital marketing and international connections. Don’t forget that the Association of Nigerian Authors has instituted annual categories of award, and the NLNG Award for Literature Prize is there too. Those are some of the ways writers are being encouraged.
Also, by publishing online through various channels, such as social media, one can encourage a stream of fans and followers. That way, one can encourage reading through one’s online works. Another great way of encouraging writers is by ensuring that the cost of publishing is considerably reduced.
Right now, we are embattled in a battered economy, and where writers find themselves is grossly debilitating, because we are battling with epileptic power supply. As a matter of fact, we are still growing in the dark.
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