One of the most perceptive interviewers now active in Nigeria, Uche Peter Umez, recently conducted an extensive interview with Parrésia poet Saddiq Dzukogi. Our Origami Books imprint published Saddiq’s bestselling collection, Sunbeams and Shadows, in 2014. #enjoy #share
New Voices: Uche Peter Umez interviews Saddiq Dzukogi, Sunbeams and Shadows
Saddiq Dzukogi works with the Niger State Book Development Agency. Author of three poetry collections: Image of life, Canvas, and Sunbeams & Shadows, he was the winner of the maiden edition of ANA/Mazariyya Teen authorship Prize for poetry in 2007. Canvas was the first-runner up in the 2012 ANA POETRY PRIZE. Saddiq has been published in Ebedi Review, Kalahari Review, Saraba Magazine, Africanwriter.com and numerous national newspapers.
1. When did you begin writing poems?
I began writing poems in my primary six, a year after I had attempted writing short stories. I never thought of becoming a poet, until there was a power cut and I tried to capture it a poem. So you could say that NEPA inspired me to be a poet.
2. What’s poetry to you? And what defines a poem as a poem for you?
A poem, to me, is that fit of joy, beyond madness, a feeling of being close to death yet never having felt more alive. Poetry is that one phrase, one word that tells a thousand tales. It is a craft, and the only craft at that, that says all, without naught.
But again, poetry is more than just the crafting of poems for me; it is a way of life that connects one soul to another, whether in this world or the other. Personally, there is poetry in all things I see, yet not all the things I see are poetic. A poem is a delicate process of cultivating words into lines, to paint images in the reader’s mind. A good poet should be a painter, drawing images as speaking portraits. So, a poem should awaken the imagination. Every line and each word should aim at fulfilling the collective objective of the poem.
3. There appears to be a burden of tradition for many Nigerian poets to write poetry that tends towards the didactic. How much of this burden applies to your practice?
Indeed, there appears to be a burden of tradition for many Nigerian poets, the seeming pressure to write poetry that tends towards the didactic. Didacticism is a socially constructed phenomenon in the Nigerian literary scene; it is a bane if, you ask me. Personally, I feel art should be a getaway from social chaos. There are two worlds out there, one that is crazy with passion and vanity, and a fictitious one that seeks to build a fence to halt the advance of that passion and vanity.
Art, to me, opens the heart and makes it receptive to ideas – things that only exist in the mind – but through art, writers have been able to give flesh to ideas, such that we feel, see and even touch them – the massive ship floating on water, or the plane gliding on air were once abstractions that couldn’t’t be related to by the society, something out of this world, if you like. The tilting towards the didactic limits the scope of literature, limits the abilities of man.
Let your poems breathe the air they choose to breathe, that’s my key and there is no one way to go about poetry, so I don’t buy it when people stereotype our literature. Didactic poems bore me, to be frank, it doesn’t’t awake anything in me. It is just saying what I know in perhaps fancy language. We really need to break away from traditions, in fact, if you want to be remembered, break free of the familiar.
4. What poets were important to you when you first started writing poetry?
I am a son of poets, a son of many fathers. Not like I was exposed to their poetry, they were exposed to my poetry, and they guided me. I was excited at first by the poetry in the Quran – I read the English version with keen eyes. West African Verses was always somewhere close to me, reading Okara and Clark (to me) they were the finest of that generation. But, later on, I found the poet who wielded a gun and I came to love Okigbo more. He was the first poet I was fanatical about, but it is unfortunate that he didn’t live to write more books of poetry. I love him, somehow I relate to his poetry. I read them and feel like “this is something I could have written.”
5. What inspired the title: Sunbeams and Shadows?
The sweet irony that defines the very existence of human beings, the beaming vanity that drives valour, the grave insecurity that measures our fears. The title “Sunbeams and Shadows” finds its tilt in the dark secret that holds the madness of humanity in place. It describes the joy in sadness and the melancholy in merriment. It is also a contrast of bad and evil. The inspiration of the whole collection is the celestial bodies, whose activities determine day and night, it was important to acknowledge that by using that contrast to arrive at a title for the book.
6. How do you go about writing a poem? For instance, “Poem of Pain 11”?
I just let the words take control. I open myself to the power of words without using my emotions to control the poem. I don’t write poetry when I am too emotional, I don’t want it contaminating the pure spirit which a poem is. “Poem of Pain II” almost wrote itself, I remember it waking me up that night; I was gripped by the poem and poured it down on paper. It was one of those poems I write with the pen. For poems like that one, I prefer to see the ink forming the words rather than typing on a device.
7. What’s the story behind “Suicide Note”?
It is basically a love song of someone who leads a life of lies, even when he tries to take steps to right the wrongs, he still find himself deep in the murky waters which he has created and is stuck in. The image he has created of himself is knitted with lies and he can’t bring himself to the truth even when he wants to, because he doesn’t want to lose the one person that is dear to him. So he is contemplating suicide, but he is too weak to take his life. After all, there is bravery in taking one’s life. Both ways, he is a coward, who didn’t’t have the courage to change and face his demons.
8. Pain and tears recur in Sunbeams and Shadows and you ended the collection with “Future in Tears”. How much of your poetry is influenced by loss?
Pain and tears, heavy burdens I must say. Sickness can bring out things wonderful, each poem, whether good or bad is a wonderful experience for me, and during that period, I was able to write a book. I made poetry from my sick bed, from the silence of my room to the darkness, from noise of the spinning ceiling fan to the light of the bulb – I made poetry out of that rhythm. I can see seasons as they turn in the blades of the ceiling fan like it was the spinning that changes the seasons. I lived that period in constant fear of death, I had everyone by my side but I was lonely, I was missing them. I was in a race to leave something behind, a book, so I made poetry, on my phone, on pieces of paper, on my laptop, anything I could write on.
“Future in Tears”, our future in this country promises more tears, unfortunately, with the trend of events, and even the quality of citizenry, more and more uncertainties.
9. Time appears to be another major theme you engaged with. Why is it such an important theme for you?
We are in a time loop, everything we do is within that time. It is almost a metaphor for life, when you have time, you have life. The celestial bodies, the moon, sun, stars, even the earth’s movements, speak to us of time and since my preoccupation in the book was with life in all its contrast of light and darkness, it was important for me to speak of time, and those things that tell us of time, which is in sync with the name of the collection itself.
10. Your poetry is laden with references to the sky, clouds, dusk, and shadows. It’s brooding in a way that suggests a grappling with darkness. What informed this preoccupation?
The ever sudden speed of growth, as the light travels from the east to the west and buries itself away in this sleep called life. I am constantly preoccupied by the vanity of man and the misgivings of all our emotions. The continuous fall of the moral standard and the sweeping force of change. All the endeavours that define human thought make little sense to me. This leaves a hole in me, a hole of darkness. And it’s this darkness that drives me to write, except of course when I write of love.
11. What insights have you gained in your engagement with the questions of home and mortality, as reflected in the poem “Where is home”?
Home is where one finds comfort, the world is everything but comfortable. So there is no home on this earth. Home is a place of bliss, and here we are constantly in a race to survive, and man is against himself. Natural disasters, yearnings, lust, wars. I feel only death can open the doors to home. I am still breathing, so I can’t really say what home looks like.
12. Tanure Ojaide once branded the new generation of Nigerian poets as “copycats”. Do you agree that the current generation lacks originality and ideological depth?
With all due respect, to begin with, I think Tanure is just like all those old Nigerian politicians whose ages have gathered into a huge rock, but seem not to want to retire, even in the face of that crushing weight. That’s a hell of a weight for a frail pair of shoulders. A lot of them don’t live in our realities but they kind of mail arrogant laws at us, how this should be, how this is, this shouldn’t be, this is not. And you kind of find it hard to see this is. I don’t get it; maybe they feel they legitimize themselves by snubbing the climbing generations “below” them? They spend more time explaining how bad they are than actually helping them up.
You don’t stay up the ladder and bark down diktats at us, you come down to us and teach us how you climbed. Chimamanda is doing that with her workshop and a lot of us are benefitting and that’s even for prose. “We need new names”, we need the old ones in the background to help create these new names that will take centre stage, like what is happening at the HillTop Art Centre and Niger State Book Development Agency. See Hon. Wale Okediran with the good he is doing with Ebedi residency.
To be clearer, I think Tanure is talking to my fathers, you guys. To me, he is a grandfather that knows nothing about his grandchildren oh!
13. Can you say a few words about the current state of poetry in Nigeria?
Well things are looking bright, very bright. There are lots of exciting guys out there growing, who are driven by the raw passion of poetry. The established ones are still out there as well, producing incredible poetry. Amu Nnadi is one big bard, whose poetry holds the mind in a spell, the things he does with words, with ease and so much subtlety, is a spectacle to behold. Dami Ajayi just got a book out. It is impressive to see members of my generation publishing, although there are others who are quietly brewing their offerings. I really must say that Nigeria will still be known for producing quality voices that will endure for a long time to come.
14. Do you think poetry is some kind of enactment of something we wish to bring into existence?
Yes, it is. I feel it is a yearning in one part. Sometimes it takes the shape of a prophetic message, an exposition, a description and an expression. It would be murder to take poetry in a single dimension for it is fluid and smoky, and assuming different shapes. I see poetry as a voice from a mind within a mind; you don’t control this mind that controls the words.
15. Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
I just finished work on a poetry collection, Elysium, which would soon be published. Another collection tentatively titled Fire Chambers is also in the works, alongside a collection of short stories.