“Sweat and Patience Always Constitute the Writer’s Best Weapons” – Interview with Brigitte Poirson
Brigitte Poirson is a multiple award-winning poet, a former teacher, university lecturer and editor that inspires the literary world out of France. She has authored seven books ranging from poetry to theatre and fiction, both in English and French languages. She has contributed to several magazines and anthologies.
Poirson is popular in literary circles as a staunch promoter of African literature and offers her selfless support in grooming the next generation of writers and poets by creating spaces for them at the pinnacle of excellence. WordsRhymes&Rhythm, one of Nigeria’s largest poetry platforms organizes an eponymousmonthly poetry contestin honour of Brigitte Poirson. She is an editor for Expound Magazine and the WRR – Caprecon Green Author Prize.
In this inspiring conversation with Poirson, she sheds light on her writing process, her love for poetry and the sacred list of her literary mentors.
KD: Tell us a bit about your early days. Did you encounter any challenges at the beginning of your career?
Poirson: Thank you for offering me the honour to answer your questions. A few days ago, when interviewed about his career, a film maker answered that your next film is always the first. In that sense indeed, each book you produce proves a new challenge too. Each book is always the start of a new beginning, just as every child you give birth to is singular and launches a new adventure. Every time, the process has to be reinitiated, especially with poetry. The challenges of testing a new, specific theme, treating it under a new angle and possibly reaching another kind of readership are constant. I believe writers must be prepared to stand up to the many tests of steering their books to creation, distribution and promotion for all their lives…
That is why we, in France, create various associations of writers – authors from the same publishing house or from others – and organise literary “salons” together. We contact mayors liable to be interested in arranging a meeting in their townhalls and inviting people to browse about and get hand-written dedications if they buy the books. I am a member of such a group called “Les Plumes Comtoises”. We have a president and a banner, but mostly we are birds of a quill and real friends. The Paris book “salon”, for instance, is a well-known and crowded event where you can meet new and famous authors. Meeting your readership proves a fruitful experience on both sides of the book.
In any case, sweat and patience always constitute the writer’s best weapons.
Multiple award-winning poet and writer.
KD: You seem to be very interested and involved in African (particularly Nigerian) poetry. Where does this interest stem from?
Poirson: Actually, I was born to Africa practically from birth. Customs, languages, landscapes, issues, tales and first-hand stories were waved at me from family living in Benin. There has always been an African me completing my European self. I later visited some African countries, in particular, South Africa. These were emotional encounters. In 2014, it so happened I came into contact with Samson Iruesiri Kukogho, a contributor to a poetry anthology, via Grapevine, that I compiled and published in Bloemfontein. Ensued a long-lasting friendship that enabled me to better discover the scope of the Nigerian poetic genius. That was when we decided to create an online college of Poetry, then a contest to encourage young poets and reward them.
KD: Are there any literary figures/poets that inspire you?
Poirson: Who has inspired and keeps inspiring me? Every ‘person of the word’, if you allow me that expression. All writers have a specific outlook on life and /or a whole universe to share. They do it more or less artistically and deftly, but what high-brow critics sometimes label pedestrian poetry, just as much as what some revere as crazily innovative lines, only manifest each creator’s vision of poetry. Despising people is not my trade. Promoting them is my concern.
Obviously, famous poets and novelists have steered me along my journey into literature. I have admired and studied mentors such as Victor Hugo, Louis Aragon, Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Auden, and so many more! African literature has always attracted me for its imagination and wisdom. I read African stories from my early childhood, so later on Mandela, Achebe and a range of others have taught me to follow the difficult tracks of African challenges and the spirit behind its brilliance. Lots of novelists have inspired me, but of all of them, the one whose way to absorb human experiences and translate them into words has best spurred me into action remains Virginia Wolf. In this world more dedicated to science-fiction, suspense and violent actions, the stream of consciousness has lost some of its lustre, but not so to me.
Ultimately, the deep interest of meeting all these writers lies in the delectation of ingesting their creations, and by so doing, in learning to develop one’s own style under their protective eyes.
KD: What do you think about the state of poetry in Nigeria and Africa as a whole? Are there enough opportunities and recognition for aspiring poets in Nigeria/Africa?
Poirson: With the development of social networks in recent years, we have all become aware that the possibilities of reading, writing, and publishing books have increased exponentially. In that sense, Zuckerworld offers authors new opportunities to leverage their chances to be acknowledged and get a sense of belonging. The dreadful problem of location and isolation thus seems solved. This accounts for the innumerable blogs and sites devoted to literature. The oral traditions of spinning tales and poetic stories in Africa have also found a channel to expand the realm of the word. Nigeria and Africa, in general, are blooming into creativity, to my experience. But in the new, connected world, many aspiring streams may get lost and suffer from drought along their rush to the sea. Traditional publishers, more than ever, remain reluctant to invest in new talents. It is imperative to offer more opportunities for the poets and prose writers to shine. That is why I offer my services to WordsRhymes&Rhythm Publishers today and sponsor my eponymous contest with them, and many others too, plus editing. Naturally, initiatives such as Kreative Diadem must be encouraged. Talents do not necessarily need to be acknowledged in the UK or elsewhere. Recognition at home is worth any other award…
“In consistence with what I mentioned before, allow me to state that we reinvent ourselves with every word we write.” – Brigitte Poirson
Brigitte Poirson (center)
In a recent gathering of a literary salon, Les Plumes Comtoises, held in France
KD: What is your writing routine like? Do your poems have a unifying theme or do you write based on matters of the moment?
Poirson: I have no specific writing routine. I write…when I find the time for it. I used to sit and scribble pages all day long when I was able to because a lot of concentration and documentation is needed to create collections of poems and novels.
But I am more involved in counseling, editing, scoring and rewarding a younger generation these days.
When I do compose pieces, I try to unite originality and depth, freedom of inspiration and respect for the language. The spirit of a poem or a longer form of literature is what matters most to me, coupled with a clear style.
KD: You host or promote many different poetry contests for Nigerian/African poets regularly. What is the overall vision with that?
Poirson: Hundreds of budding authors have been chatting me in the wake of the contests (and originally from posting my poems). As I have already hinted at, there comes a time when legacy becomes an obvious priority. And lending a friendly shoulder to young talents falls into line with my commitment to the various teaching activities I have been involved in. Lots of deserving, but isolated people feel lost when confronted with the harsh realities a writer must face in his activities. And they need counseling and editing. And encouragements. And recognition. They also need to test their capacities in a welcoming environment. Hence the contests. Mostly the BPPC, aimed at lifting their spirits.
KD: Any forthcoming books at this time?
Poirson: I have a forthcoming novel in store. It has been longing to be published for ages. It just needs a bit of editing after all this time. I just hope to be able to find a few moments to do it! I have a publisher for it. So, I look forward to adding that nice gloss it is lacking today. It is a French novel, by the way. I also have a few English short stories waiting to be published.
KD: Any advice for aspiring poets in Nigeria?
Poirson: Aspiring poets know they must strive to find their own style. They know they are expected to stand out among the writing crowd, if they are to be noticed. But it is my belief that finding one’s style cannot be a forced process. It must come from reading others and sweating over one’s own work, and naturally from delving into one’s deepest experience. Aspiring authors, during this quest to the Graal, sometimes tend to align big, learned words. Fine. But accuracy in the choice of words and economy of words and simplicity also work very well when your point is forceful. They also tend to have recourse to tricks supposed to be inventive, like making endless sentences in which they and we may get lost, deleting punctuation, which may be very misleading for the reader, or creating jarring images, all in the name of poetic licence. Poetic licence cannot be invoked to justify [your work if] you don’t master the language. It is my conviction that authors must know where they lead their readers, even in poetry. Letting the readers find a meaning to your texts sounds to me like a justification for not really knowing what you mean. Forgetting to systematically self-edit texts is also a common weakness. But these are only beginners’ issues. Most of the poets I happen to read master the language with incredible creativity and pleasant inventiveness.
KD: What do you think about Kreative Diadem?
Poirson: Online platforms like Kreative Diadem, that create communities of poets, are obviously initiatives to be admired, encouraged and celebrated. The aim consisting in providing an audience with opportunities to share their creations and be published…and read! must be lauded indeed. “To inform, educate, entertain and inspire” young minds through literature is what fights ignorance and violence best in this crazy world. Just never stop!!!!
KD: Any Final words?
Poirson: In consistence with what I mentioned before, allow me to state that we reinvent ourselves with every word we write. We keep experimenting literature and the world inside and outside ourselves, and the next word is always the first. So, I’ll let you mull over this line that concluded a French poem I wrote years ago as an epitaph and which could translate into this:
‘Give yourself time to grow and learn’ – Interview with Samuel Ugbechie
This edition of Table Talk is an educative interview with award-winning poet, Samuel Ugbechie, who authored a compendium of poems that won the 2016 Fred Holland Poetry Collection Award.
Asides his artistic side that churns out myriads of amazing poems, he is also a software developer who never hides his love for basketball.
Join this interesting walk and learn from the story of an architect of beautiful literary pieces.
Who’s Samuel Ugbechie?
Samuel is a writer who works as a Software Developer.
Can you please share your childhood memories?
I grew up with computers around me. Then I did a lot of sports growing up. Then I fell in love with writing and started to shake off a couple of activities.
When did you start writing?
Maybe age 13 or 14.
What inspires you to write?
The beauty of language. Its shape. Its wide and wild literary possibilities, widened even more, sometimes, by how I feel within—joy, loss, longing, etc.
Apart from poetry, is there any other genre you write?
Yea; essays and fiction.
Photo accessed via Facebook
In the literary circle, who are your mentors /role models and favourite authors?
It’s a long list. Mark Tredinnick, Colum McCann, Virginia Woolf, Cormac McCarthy, Charles Wright, Barry Lopez, Wole Soyinka, Annie Dillard, etc.
What motivated you to start writing poetry, considering that poetry appears to be far apart from your academic pursuit as an engineer?
Love. I think love is a great motivator. I fell in love with language from listening to music as a young teen, particularly rap and country. And what stood out from those songs, I felt then, was how the singers said what they said—it was poetry, metaphors, similes, rhythm, etc. I knew then that I was hearing poetry. So I started trying to write what I was hearing. And I started to search for poems to read—the kind of poetry I felt I was hearing in the music I loved. So good music didn’t just send me to more music, it also sent me to searching for poems that were written on the page.
Many writers have, in the past, made remarks about how winning a prize has made them more conscious of their craft because of the high expectations that follow. Have you felt this way after winning the prestigious Fred Holland Poetry Collection Award?
Yea, I may know that feeling. You win a prize or get into a long or shortlist and then there’s this hovering thought that you need to live up to some expectations. Well, I immediately dismiss thoughts like that. I do not allow a thought with that kind of content to motivate, inspire or put some form of pressure on me. I want to be driven more from within than without. Love, joy, loss, longing, etc. These things, from my experience, go well with the writing process than imagined peer pressure or anything like it.
” Give yourself time to grow and learn, and the time you must give is lifelong. So when you read, then write. Accept all the rejections and acceptances in good faith. And keep going. ”
It’s a widespread opinion that Nigerian writers are not accorded the full honour they deserve. What’s your take on this?
I am not sure of that. I think Nigerian writing and writers seem to be doing commendably well. And I think the respect and honor are there.
Do you think our publishing industry is doing well in promoting the works of Nigerian writers?
Yea, I think so. I know a bit of what it takes to run a business in Nigeria. What our publishing industry has achieved so far, considering where we were years ago, is commendable. However, we’re not there yet. It’s a long road. So there is always room for improvement.
What is the most attractive thing about poetry that makes you keep writing?
It’s how it leaves you after you’ve read it. How it rubs off on you. It’s the music and language. It’s the way, as Mark Tredinnick would say, it tells us our secrets while keeping its own. It’s how it says with the finest and fewest words, what many of us yearn to say or would have said if we knew how, if we had the right words. Its universality is beautiful.
Could you give a description of your writing process or routine?
I love mornings for poetry. But the mornings don’t stay long or never come. Something else often takes them away—a pending software task, or some other pending stuff. So I try to write everyday whenever I’m free—it’s either I’m writing a new poem, completing a poem that wants to linger more before it reveals the other parts of itself, or adding to or editing an ongoing work of prose.
Samuel Ugbechie, winner of 2016 Fred Holland Poetry Collection.
Photograph accessed via Facebook
How has geographic travel played a role in your writing life?
I think life experience in total, of which traveling is part, adds something tangible to one’s writing life. It gives you names of birds, of places, of stones, of trees, the shape of different memories, and within, it gives you the compassion and nostalgia you may need for a writing piece someday.
How would you describe your own work, your style, and your sensibilities?
I strive to be the student of the many beautiful writers out there. I try to be the product of the many tricks or techniques I find in their works, some of which I find I haven’t forgotten. So I go through different routes in my writing. Talking about subject matter, though, in poetry, I find myself influenced a lot by nature; by family, landscape, love, loss. In fiction, because I approach a part of it differently, my subjects could vary more.
What is your advice to young writers?
Read on. Reading is a lifelong activity. Invest your time and money in the craft. Don’t just read poems and stories. Read about the craft also—how the craft is done, how they said it should be done, the said rules and all. Know what techniques they say work and what they say don’t. Then disagree or agree with them, but know what they’re saying first. Give yourself time to grow and learn, and the time you must give is lifelong. So when you read, then write. Accept all the rejections and acceptances in good faith. And keep going.
Midway into the month of June, we have decided to publish our educative interview with an inspiring poet who is popularly known for crafting beautiful poems using Naija languej.
In this informative interview, Sir Eriata Oribhabor sheds light of lucidity on his sojourn in the world of poetry. He talked about when he started and what inspires him to script his thought-provoking poems.
Enjoy the interview!
Kreative Diadem: Who is Eriata Oribhabor?
Eriata Oribhabor: Eriata Oribhabor is a poet and frontline promoter of Naija languej. He started off writing poetry in the indigenous Nigerian Pidgin currently being standardized as Naija languej. Writing in the languej, he authored; “Abuja nakpangba and Oda puem-dem (2011), edited, “IF YU HIE SE A DEPRIZIN” (poems) and “AMEBO YAD” (collection of plays). A former chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja Branch, Eriata Oribhabor is the author of two poetry collections; “Beautiful Poisons” and “CROSSROADS & THE RUBICON”. He is the Editor, WUSHAPA – Beating the Drums of Peace, Who Shall I Make My Wife (collection of Food related poems), and a passionate lover of the streets where he once hawked various items in Warri, Nigeria; his place of birth.
KD: Can you please share about your childhood memories?
Eriata: I am 3rd in a family of 8 (all male) and grew up in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria. I am from a humble family. I attended Baptist Convention Primary School in Warri and trekked to and from school daily after going to hawk “Akara, agidi, etc).
KD: When did you start writing poems?
Eriata: I started writing poems in the secondary school but took it seriously when I came to Abuja in 2005. By this time, I was conscious of writing for people to appreciate and critique.
KD: What inspires your poems?
Eriata: My writing is inspired by my personal thought and feelings, events/activities and the environment and all that comes with it; good, bad and ugly.
KD: Do all your poems have a unifying theme or you just write on the matters of the moment or what inspires you?
Eriata: Poems can never have a unifying theme except one sets out to have them crafted that way. For example, one could devote time to write on the environment, Beauty, Sex, Food etc. A good example is the Food Poetry Contest sponsored by Eriata Oribhabor leading to the publication of one of the most treasurable books I have ever come across entitled; Who Shall I Make My Wife? (Anthology of food related poems) edited by Eriata Oribhabor. Another good example of poems dedicated to a theme is that on Sickle Cell Anemia Safe Dreams Initiative sponsored by Awodiya Funke.
KD: Can you shed more light on your tenure as the Chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Abuja Chapter?
Eriata: I was voted as Chairman, ANA March 22nd 2012 for a two-year tenure. As the Chairman of ANA Abuja, I repositioned the concept of book reading and author hosting/staging of literary events and made reading much more attractive to members of the literati in the Federal Capital Territory. At the time I was ending my tenure in 2014, lots of people who hitherto avoided coming to meetings became drivers of positive changes for the association. Importantly, the generality of members now saw how things could be done differently for good, applauded my tenure which is still a reference till date.
KD: Let’s talk about your exceptional promotion of the Naija languej, what inspired the writing of some of your books in the language?
Eriata: Naija languej is a standardized version of Nigeria pidgin. If you ask me why, I will simply say, while Nigerian pidgin has no standard spelling, Naija languej has one being experimented upon. I started writing poetry in Naija languej before using the English language. More than 40 million Nigerians speak in pidgin English and always referred as Nigeria’s unofficial lingua franca. So referred, it tells how much it plays in the social relations of the most populous black nation in the world. Why it is not made official? It is because it has no standard and most people still live in yesterday thinking pidgin shouldn’t grow like other forms of communication but end as one for entertainment. The literary and economic benefit of standardizing Nigerian pidgin are overwhelming. Currently, the following works have been published in Naija languej:
Abuja na Kpangba an Oda puem-dem (2011) – Eriata Oribhabor
IF YU HIE SE A DE PRIZIN (Antoloji of puem-dem fo Naija languej) Edited by Eriata Oribhabor
AMEBO YAD (Antoloji of ple fo Naija) – Edited by Eriata Oribhabor
KD: Amidst your published works, which one do you consider as the best?
Eriata: It’s difficult to speak on this because what eventually becomes the toast of readers may not be the one considered best in one’s thinking. Only the people can speak. For the records, apart from the mentioned works, I have two collections of poems viz:
Crossroads & The Rubicon
KD: Aside poetry, which other genres of literature appeals to you?
Eriata: All the genre of literature appeal to me and I promote all.
KD: Which literary works are you working on at the moment?
Eriata: Literary works in the offing are:
(1) Good old Naija (collections of Essay) – Eriata Oribhabor
(2) Join Me Write a Poem (Uncommon Poetry Anthology) – Editor
(3) That Beautiful Picture – Eriata Oribhabor
(4) Colours & Borders – Eriata Oribhabor
KD: Can you share the memories of your most memorable day as a poet?
Eriata: My most memorable day was when I was hosted by Abuja Literary Society where I read from my first book, Abuja na Kpangba and Oda puem – dem in Abuja.
KD: In the school of poetry, who are your mentors and role models?
Eriata: Mentors and role models? Poets whose works featured in the first books of poetry I read while in secondary school.
KD: A lot of people believe that poets and writers are not appreciated in Nigeria. What is your take on this?
Eriata: Poets and writers are appreciated. The level of appreciation is the question. It is so because we are in a corruption ridden society where merit is compromised daily in all ramifications. What do you expect? This is why continuous promotion of literature and writing is vital towards changing orientations for good. Meanwhile, as long as a country’s politics is wrong, the concept of the good life; the essence of politics, will keep nosediving to the detriment of the citizenry.
KD: What is your advice to young poets?
Eriata: My advice to poets is to always read wide. Write. Read. And, be open to critiquing. Finally, writing should be seen beyond writing for writing sake. Or, poetry for poetry sake. Poetry should be seen as a vital tool for reorienting a people towards greatness.
Eriata’s advice to young poets
KD: What do you think about KREATIVE Diadem?
Eriata: A diadem is a crown of power. Creative Diadem is a non-literary literary body that values creativity as a crown of honor readily deployed for the development of literature for the good of the people.
If you have suggestions about poets or writers that you think are worthy to be featured in this segment of our website. Don’t hesitate to send us a mail about their details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let us know your sincere thoughts about this interesting conversation.
In the bubbling ebullience that accompanies the serene arrival of every new month, we have decided to feature a lovely and exceptional poet in the “Celebrate a Legend” section of our blog.
In this interview, Laura talked pasionately about her illustrious journey in the world of poetry. This will surely inspire anyone interested in the art of writing especially a budding poet who is willing to learn.
Enjoy the interview.
Kreative Diadem: Who is Laura Kaminski?
Laura: Identity – that’s always a most difficult question. It’s tempting to fall back on a list of roles and labels, categories that are easy for other people to recognize, to say “daughter, wife, cook, mentor, friend,” perhaps go further and say “Hausa-speaker, observer, advocate, believer, skeptic.” I suspect identity-labels can be a dangerous thing – limiting and misleading, encouraging us to view and respond to people according to preconceptions about groups or categories rather than responding to them as individuals. What I can tell you for sure here (laughs) is that Laura Kaminski is someone who feels uncertain about having an interview appear under this “legend” heading – when I think of “legend” I think of people like Ibrahim Malumfashi, Dike Chukwumerije, BM Dzukogi – not someone like me.
KD: Can you please share your childhood memories?
Laura: My childhood was in Nigeria, mostly in Bambur in the Karim Lamido LGA, then later in Yola and Jos. I took most of my schooling in Jos. As far as specific memories, I often find myself with difficulties putting words to those memories except through poems – but they are slowly emerging in poetry.
KD: When did you start writing poems?
Laura: I wrote my first poem in an English class in Jos when I was maybe eight years old. It was drivel, but I recall being proud of it at the time. (A good reminder for poems I am too proud of now, yes? Who knows what I will think of them in time!) I wrote occasionally during my teen years, then stopped almost completely during my twenties and thirties.
I first began to apply myself to poetry with attention and discipline, to make a daily practice of poetry, during August 2012. At that time, I committed to studying other people’s poetry on a daily basis, and trying to sketch some lines myself, and to do so for four years (should I live that long), as if I was putting myself through “poetry university” – four years of study. I did so with a sense of “I will apply myself to this, and learn all I can, and we’ll see where it goes.”
19 Ghazal Street (full cover) — chapbook, forthcoming 2016
KD: What inspires your writing of poems?
Laura: Childhood memories. Poems I read by other poets that grab my heart and won’t let go. Troubles and tragedies that leave me grieving and otherwise speechless. Some pieces of art. People I want to celebrate in some way. Really, when I feel at a loss for the right words to express myself, I turn to poetry. I still write mostly in Hausa first or a mix of Hausa and English, and then translate into English when I’m revising.
KD: What initiated your entry into the league of poets?
Laura: You should see my face now. Am I in the “league of poets”? I don’t even know. I’ve had an active practice of poetry for some 196 weeks now, with 12 weeks left on my original study commitment. I can say I am “in league WITH poets” – does that count? I enjoy writing response poetry, conversation and collaboration poetry.
KD: Do all your poems have a unifying theme or you just write on the matters of the moment or what inspires you?
Laura: Most of my poems are responses – most frequently to other poets, but also to memories and events. If there’s any unifying theme at all, I’d like to think that most of my poems are in some way about compassion and finding common ground and celebrating what is beautiful in people. But then again, I have poems about spiders and rain and my companion dog. What leaves me in awe, what leaves me feeling short of words – those are the places where the poem begins.
Laura’s latest book – Dance Here (front cover) — full-length collection, 2016, Origami Books, Lagos
KD: Can you shed more light about your Pushcart award nominations?
Laura: In 2013, Conclave: A Journal of Character nominated “My Grandfather’s Parka”. My grandfather was an Army chaplain in World War II; the poem touches on what that responsibility might have been like, the number of people whose hands he must have held as they crossed from this world, people of different faiths, different nationalities. What evils he must have seen, what sadness he must have felt. It did not win a place in the 2015 Pushcart Prize anthology, although I was deeply honored by the nomination. What that poem really “won” was a way for me to begin engaging through poetry with my feelings about conflict, about war, about human frailty and dignity, common ground and compassion.
The second and third nominations were from poems published last year: “Sharing Salt” was nominated byExpound and “Conveying the Blessing” by The Lake. Both of those poems were written for friends: “Sharing Salt” was in response to “This is Home” – a powerful poem by Rasaq Malik Gbolahan; and “Conveying the Blessing” was a birthday gift for Saddiq M Dzukogi. As far as those two poems, I would, of course, be delighted if either of them were to be selected for the 2017 Pushcart Prize anthology, but I know they receive many nominations of exemplary poetry each year, so I’d be far more surprised to be selected than not. But in my mind, they have each already been part of something significant. To the best of my knowledge, 2015 is the first year any Nigeria-based literary journals submitted nominations for the Pushcart – to have a poem be one of the six nominated by Expound means something. That Expound exists, under Wale Owoade’s editorship, and submitted Pushcart nominations – that means something more significant.
“Conveying the Blessing” – how to cross the distance from where I live now to Zaria to wish Saddiq blessings on his birthday? That poem combines childhood memory with classical myth, geographic realities, longing. It is a celebration of the magical, the way poetry can surmount borders and barriers.
KD: Asides poetry, which other genres of literature appeals to you?
Laura: Almost anything that’s well-written with thoughtful content. Science – fact and fiction both. Nature and environmental science. Astronomy. Physics. Creative nonfiction. Classical scripture from as many faith traditions as I am able to find translated into languages I can read. Philosophy. Hagiography. Legends and myths. Art history. Short stories and novels with a strong sense of place (geography, history, culture, socio-political and religious constructs), that also hold more universal lessons, meaning that transcends the immediate setting. Words in a row that go beyond borders and boundaries in any genre.
KD: In the school of poetry, who are your mentors and role models?
Laura: It’s hard to even know where to begin answering this question. I’ve learned so much from so many poets and writers – and, with rare exceptions, have found them to be receptive, generous, willing to answer questions. I look up to people who write from the heart, who wrap words around the difficulties of being human in a troubled world, who give back to the creative community and the world as a whole not only through their writing but through their lives – through being activists, educators, chroniclers, collaborators, mentors, facilitators, editors. So start with Hauwa Gwaram, and then just start naming poets, writers, editors, poetry-film makers…and don’t stop until you get all the way through that list to the poets and writers I mentor – I learn much from them as well. I admire the dedication, generosity, community-building and compassion and voices for justice that are willing to reach beyond geographic, ethnic, and cultural borders, willing to take risks, willing to try and fail. Willing to pick rocks from the road so the next person who passes is less likely to stumble.
A lot of people believe that poets and generally writers are not appreciated in Nigeria, what is your take on this?
As opposed to where? I don’t know of any other nation that has a national organization quite like the Association of Nigerian Authors, with state-chapters nationwide and an active, voting membership. And in all of the U.S., there are only a few organizations that even begin to come close to doing what the Hill-Top Arts Centre in Minna does. There may not be as many poetry publishers in Nigeria as there are in the US, for example, but I would be surprised, actually, if the average number of copies sold for poetry books published in Nigeria is not quite a bit higher than the average number of copies sold for ones published in the U.S., even though the U.S. population is higher.
Returning to Awe (front cover) — chapbook, 2014, Balkan Press
KD: What is your advice to young poets?
Laura: Read. Accept all the critique you can get and say thank you, regardless of whether or not you find it useful. In every criticism, look carefully to see if there is anything at all you might be able to use. If there is, use it. Discard anything that is not useful, but do so later, in private, while you are revising. Read. Take advantage of all the online poetry journals you can, particularly if you don’t have ready access to a bookstore or library with poetry books. Read. Don’t expect to like all the poems you read. Don’t expect everyone who reads your poems to like them – this includes editors. Don’t expect ANYONE, even your most loyal readers, to like ALL of what you write.
Laura’s advice to young poets
Read. Try to understand what it is you like about the poets you most enjoy reading, what it is in their poems that appeals to you. Try to understand what makes those poems work. Read poems – ones you like and also ones you don’t. What is it you don’t like in the ones you don’t? Look for those same characteristics in your own poems and revise to remove them. Don’t be afraid to revise a poem fifteen times… you can always go back to an earlier version if the revision doesn’t work out, but it’s sometimes helpful to produce several versions of a poem and keep the parts from each version that work the best.
Read. Recognition for your writing…through awards or journal publications…may be part of your dreams, but if that’s the only reason you are writing, I’m afraid you may find yourself disappointed. But if you write a poem for one person, or to commemorate one event, or to call attention to one injustice – and you have one reader who finds that poem meaningful, you will have written something worth writing. Whatever it is you get out of reading poetry yourself, each time you set out to write a poem, tries to give that same gift to one of your readers.