EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH TADE IPADEOLA
To start the “Celebrate a legend” segment of Kreative Diadem. Our very first guest is no other person than the winner of Africa’s biggest literature prize, 2013 Nigeria Prize for Literature ($100,000 sponsored by NLNG) and the current President of PEN Nigeria, Tade Ipadeola.
The interview sheds lucidity on his journey in the world of poetry, the uniqueness of the award-winning, Sahara Testaments and his advice to the emerging generation of young poets and writers.
Enjoy the educative interview as Tade Ipadeola opens up on his sojourn.
- Who is Tade Ipadeola?
Answer: Tade Ipadeola is a human being who learnt to write and who enjoys the art of writing perhaps more than any other thing on earth. Along the way, I also studied to become a lawyer, a librarian and a small press publisher. I don’t suppose that the definition of my identity is anywhere near complete, but, midlife now, I can hazard a guess that who Tade Ipadeola really is, by now, is clear to most people.
- Can you please share about your childhood memories?
Answer: My parents were schoolteachers who really had a love and a passion for education. My mother is alive though very old now but my father died in 2014. I have fond memories of childhood in Fiditi where my grandmother lived with us. There were a lot of cousins and nieces in the house, growing up and a lot of books. My parents invested a fortune in books.
As a child in the seventies, life was simpler. We didn’t have a television in the house until 1977, about the time that FESTAC was on air. I remember tense times too. The Dimka coup, for instance, and how it cast a pall on the country at the time. But, for the most part, childhood was pleasant enough.
- Will you consider yourself as a poet or a lawyer?
Answer: I am both a poet and a lawyer. It is a mode of life which makes different demands on the mind. I don’t think I can quite tell just how much being a lawyer influences my poetry but lately I have been thinking about it. Being a poet also influences my practice as a lawyer. I tend to seek answers beyond the letter of the law, I want to sound out the spirit of legislation.
- What initiated your entry into the league of poets?
Answer: My earliest influences were my grandmother and my mother. My grandmother, Apinke Ipadeola, had a beautiful facility for language and conversation. She was a great conversationalist in Yoruba. My mother taught me my first nursery rhymes, naturally. She taught them to me in both Yoruba and English but never in Yorubanglish as some people tend to do nowadays. My late father taught literature in English and made me read poets like J.P Clark and Wole Soyinka. It was in university that I discovered poets like Niyi Osundare and later, Odia Ofeimun.
- Which did you start with Yoruba or English poems? Which one is your favorite?
Answer: My first written poems were in English but I have written a couple of poems in Yoruba and I have translated some of my own poems into Yoruba from English.
- In the school of poetry, who are your mentors and role models?
Answer: To list all my influences will take forever. But starting with J.P Clark, Soyinka, Okigbo, Niyi Osundare, Femi Osofisan, Harry Garuba, W.B Yeats, Keats, Pound, Eliot, Muldoon, and Ofeimun, I found exemplars. I have also been reading contemporaries like Ian Duhig and American poets like Auden and Langston Hughes.
- What inspires your writing of poems?
Answer: Feeling one’s way towards substance, emotionally and intellectually, I guess, is the touchstone for poetry.
- What are the things you will advise all poets to keep doing to put their muse intact?
Answer: Read poetry, and essays, and good fiction. Read collections of poetry, novels, the occasional biography and autobiography, short story collections and books of essays all interest me. Presently I am reading J.P Clark’s Still Full Tide, his collected works. A phenomenal collection for range and an example of what a committed poet should aim at accomplishing within a lifetime. I find myself wondering how he found the time to also write the plays. I read drama too but I’d rather go to the theatre for that than read the book. If the playwright is long dead and the play isn’t part of the repertoire of any theatre company around, then I’d read the play in a book. Say Aeschylus for example, or Sophocles. I wrestle with scholarly books from time to time, I’ve been reading Akin Adesokan’s Post Colonial Artists and Global Aesthetics recently, it is a rare accomplishment and I think every serious writer should engage the ideas in the book.
- How were you able to balance your poetry engagements and work?
Answer: I don’t think I have ever made that kind of distinction in my conscious or unconscious life. Poetry is work. Very hard work, and lawyering is work as well. It would be absurd for me to see either as play. I take pleasure in my work.
10 Amidst your published works, which one do you consider to be the best? And why?
Answer: This is like asking a parent to choose a favourite among his children. I do think my work deserves equal affection from me.
- Asides poetry, which other genre of literature appeals to you?
Answer: I like the essay form, then fiction, then plays. I think I like them in that order.
- Can you share the memories of your most memorable day as a poet?
Answer: I have had many memorable days, with poetry. But the one I cannot ever forget was the day when I wrote, in chalk, a poem on the wall of my father’s house. As he was returning from the orchard at the backyard, he saw the poem. And then he asked me if I had written it. I told him it was my original composition. I thought I saw the shadow of a smile on his face then. This is perhaps one of those private moments I really enjoyed, my father was very good at telling good work from bad work.
- Majority believe that poets and generally writers are not appreciated in Nigeria, what is your take on this?
Answer: All over the world, poets are in danger of being taken for granted. In Nigeria, this is especially true. It is a mistake for any culture not to appreciate the poets because poets keep the language in vigorous health.
- Can you tell us about the uniqueness of the award-winning; “Sahara Testaments”?
Answer: It is my longest volume of poetry so far. It really tasked me. I think it tasks the audience too. I hope the audience is challenged in a good way.
- What is your main drive as a poet?
Answer: I want to keep saying the kinds of things that provoke thought and reflection in my readers. I want to create beauty and grace on the page and off the page.
- What is your advice to young poets?
Answer: Try to read as widely as you can. Make a list. Then, try to read these authors: J.P Clark, Soyinka, Okigbo, Amos Tutuola, Franz Fanon, Oswald Mtshali, Jared Angira, Ousmane Sembene, Ayi Kwei Armah, Femi Osofisan, Odia Ofeimun, Tony Marinho, Afam Akeh, Harry Garuba, Akin Adesokan, Daniel Fagunwa, Akinwumi Isola, Ebenezar Obadare, Kgositsile, Marquez, Kunene, Lisa Combrinck, Andre Brink, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Sefi Atta, Wale Adebanwi, Ogaga Ifowodo, Niran Okewole, Emmanuel Iduma, Olubunmi Familoni, Chuma Nwokolo, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, Benson Eluma, Rotimi Babatunde, Molara Wood, Ike Okonta, Amatoritsero Ede, Jumoke Verissimo, Toyin Adewale-Gabriel, Chika Unigwe, Uche Nduka, Rethabile Masilo, Yomi Ogunsanya and Sam Ogabidu. Yes, read Leopold Sedar Senghor especially. From around the world: Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Czeslaw Milosz, Jose Saramago, Pablo Neruda, W.H Auden, Paul Muldoon, Le Clezio, C.L.R James, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Primo Levi, Michael Ondaatje, Rohinton Mistry, George Elliot Clarke, Alice Munro, George Lamming, Kamau Brathwaite, Kenzaburo Oe, Tomas Transtromer, Aravind Adiga, Ibsen, Joel Toledo, Gen Asenjo, Ankur Betageri and a really exciting young writer called Joel Dicker. I don’t think it is possible to make a list of every author who has ever moved me profoundly. Several essayists I really like are not on this list but it doesn’t mean their works are not deep. I like works that challenge the intellect and the imagination. These should fire up a young writer.
- What do you think about KREATIVE Diadem? And do you have any word for our readers?
Answer: I hope that one day, this medium will grow and become as original and essential as The Paris Review, for example. Keep giving your readers unique stuff and they will support you to the ends of the earth.