“New Contemporary Poets are Inventing Structures” A CONVERSATION WITH ADEDAYO ADEYEMI AGARAU
By Ojo Olumide Emmanuel (Literature Voices)
(Adedayo Agarau’s chapbook, Origin of Names, was selected by Chris Abani and Kwame Dawes for New Generation African Poet (African Poetry Book Fund), 2020. He is a human nutritionist, documentary photographer, and author of two chapbooks: For Boys Who Went and The Arrival of Rain. Adedayo was shortlisted for the Babishai Niwe Poetry Prize in 2018, Runner up of the Sehvage Poetry Prize, 2019. Adedayo is an Editor at IceFloe, Assistant Editor at Animal Heart Press, a Contributing Editor for Poetry at Barren Magazine, and a Poetry reader at Feral. His works have appeared or are forthcoming on Agbowo, Glass Poetry, Mineral Lit, Ice Floe, Ghost City, Temz, Linden Avenue, Headway Lit, The Shore Poetry, Giallo, and elsewhere. Adedayo was said to have curated and edited the biggest poetry anthology by Nigerian poets entitled, Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry.)
Ojo: Good day Adedayo, it’s fulfilling to share conversation with you. I also want to congratulate you on the release of your third book Origin of Names, which was selected by Chris Abani and Kwame Dawes for New Generation African Poet (African Poetry Book Fund, 2020). Tell me, what’s the feeling like with this third delivery?
Adedayo: It is a pleasure to be speaking with you about poetry and my work. Thank you so much. It’s my third chapbook and I know there is still so much to say; so many stories to tell. It feels great to finally write stuff. I have always wanted to: to confess, pray, plead, pledge with my poetry. I look forward to doing better as a poet and as a storyteller.
Ojo: Your first book, For Boys who went is touchy, philosophical and a picturesque of our daily living in the society. Your second book, Arrival of Rain, can be viewed from the prisms of reminisces on personal losses, absence, pain of rejection and others. What were you trying to achieve with words in your latest collection, Origin of Names?
Adedayo: Origin of Names is a work of research that is still in the works. It is going to take a lot of shovelling into history and the thermic influence of naming in Yoruba land. In Origin of Names, I attempted to explore the concept of naming, sprinkling loss, grief, and absence which are my dominating themes, over the work. The idea was to interrogate the gods, bring the traditional science of things into an artistic light.
Ojo: Your Biography testified of you as a multifaceted individual, to be specific a human nutritionist and documentary photographer. I’m curious, how does this other aspect of “you” interface with/in your poems?
Adedayo: This seems like a very hard question because I have not actively thought about this sincerely. However, I think the job of a photographer is also the job of a poet which is to re-create moments. I explored poetry as a Nutritionist when I started writing and I won the Eriata Oribhabor Food Poetry Prize in 2016 and was runner up the following year. Either way, I feel like I separate everything I do, and accord each its own time.
Ojo: Robert Frost once said that “writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.” Considering that a sizeable number of your poems are patterned in line with his assertion. Do you consider this lack of restriction as the impetus for the ease and experimentations in your poems?
Adedayo: Easy? Well, the easiest part of writing is writing. But Poetry begins when you start to edit your work. When you begin to transform nouns into verbs, slide a line three lines up, consider the possibilities of imagery. The misconception that writing free verse is easy should be dead in 2020. New contemporary poets are inventing structures we have never seen before and this is only possible because they are not playing by the rules. Poetry has gone beyond the Ten Commandments into an era of innovation.
Ojo: What other aspect of writing do you do?
Adedayo: Well, I have a flash fiction on Ruminate Magazine. I attempt fiction but I am still not very confident about putting them out. I work as a full-time Content Operations Specialist; so yes, my entirety revolves around writing.
Ojo: You once said, “I feel I inherited my artistry from my grandmother although I hardly write about her in my poems.” There is this recurrence of “grandmother” in your poems. What does her portrait trigger in your mind? Or is it just an often-coincidental outlet shrouded with her name?
Adedayo: I am currently writing about her death and the grief that surrounded it. And how this loss affected my mental health. We had a strange bond when she was alive so losing her sincerely met me with so much pain. For three years I couldn’t process that loss until recently that I started to work round it.
Ojo: You often consider poetry as a tool for edification both for the reader and the poet. I also read one of your conversations where you said you cried after a poem you wrote about an underage girl married off came to reality the following day. Do you consider your poems prophetic in any sense?
Adedayo: The soul is the wisdom seat of man. Sometimes your poetry bears witness with the earth and so it speaks of what is to come. Like the Bible, things are ministered to your subconscious. You write a story out of a dark night and then you are told the story the next day; this is the miracle of the soul. You are always writing someone’s story; however fictitious it is.
Ojo: In your poem “On the Day of Reckoning, I was in a Drowning Room Listening to Music”; apart from its lengthy title, there is also an enormity of thoughts conveyed in the work. You asserted in a portion of the work that “Everyone has a waiting room and for me, it is a poem…” how vast is this room and what does it mean to wait on a poem?
Adedayo: This is actually an amazing question, Ojo. Thank you. In the poem, what I meant was that I wait inside/in the poem as people wait in rooms. The poet is always waiting to say, to speak, to be a prophet, or a seer. Poems often begin without direction. You pour out your streams of subconscious over an empty page, and you fill it with so much light/darkness, and as you go, the poem leads you. For me it’s like waiting for something to come to you in your empty room; waiting for a miracle of light in your dark house. Moving on, poetry is a channel of expression, a conscious journey into what beams, so as I wait in a poem, I look towards the possibilities of what is to come.
Ojo: Many poets seem to be confessional in their “Self Portraits” and it appears they are trying to shed certain parts of themselves. Do you consider ‘Confessionalism’ as prodding enough in letting people witness the inner self of the poet?
Adedayo: ‘Confessionalism’ is the poetic movement of the day. We are a generation that breaks water forth from inside us. We write from within. However, every poetic movement that came, has been or will be, were enough for their dispensations.
Ojo: Do you also consider music or any musical artist playing any influence on your poems?
Adedayo: Of course. I am a heavy streamer. Everything I do is accompanied by music.
Ojo: Ben Okri in an essay published by Brittle paper stated that “African Literature is taking over the world and no mistake should be made about it.” Do you agree with his assertion and do you consider Nigeria in the forefront of this advantageous narrative?
Adedayo: I think there is no point beating the flock out of this. African poetry is doing amazing on the global map. Readers are turning their pages to African writers because whatever comes from Africa comes from the heart. (Laughter)
Ojo: You collected and edited “Memento: A Collection of Contemporary Nigerian Poets.” What beckoned on you to initiate such an enduring legacy and what are your future projections after this one?
Adedayo: Memento was born out of the need to have a single work that will serve as an academic text, and collect the most amazing Nigerian contemporary voices today. That was the entire idea, nothing more, nothing else. Well, for now, we are looking for how to have Memento distributed across Nigeria as paperback.
Ojo: Nigerian Poets share a kind of fraternity and it seems majority of the popular voices including you share a kind of bond with other Nigerian poets. What influence can this wield for the Nigerian Literary scene?
Adedayo: Ojo, it’s friendship o. That should be the bedrock of every community. Know your elder brothers and accord respect to them. Know your friends, build genuine relationships with them – that way, a healthy community will be born naturally. What we are looking for are not gatekeepers, sincerely. What we are looking for is a community of equal opportunities where no one is hiding keys in their pockets for persons loyal to their reign. The Nigerian Literature community have different classes and young people are attempting to do better, create a fecund space for talents whether existing or emerging.
Ojo: You are a mentor at SprinNG, an editor and Reader at other Publishing Houses such as Feral, Barren Magazine and AnimalHeart Press. How do you combine these demanding tasks with your own writing?
Adedayo: Brother, he no easy o. However, work must be done. Experiences must be gathered. Influences and impacts must be made. These are my driving forces.
Ojo: On a lighter note, poets are known with awkward habits like obsession for coffees, turtle-doves and others. What obsession(s) do you have?
Adedayo: (Laughter). I am seriously laughing. I don’t know, sincerely. I don’t think I have any.
Ojo: Thank you greatly for your time.
Ojo Olumide Emmanuel is a Nigerian poet, playwright and book editor. His works have appeared and forthcoming at Boll Man Bridge Review, Writers Egg Magazine, INNSAEI Journal, Feral, Quills, Poets in Nigeria (PIN), WRR, The Nigeria Review (TNR) and elsewhere. He is an Assistant Editor at The Nigerian Review (Teen/interview section). He was a judge for the Splendour of Dawn Poetry Competition (February edition, 2020). He was longlisted for the Poet in Nigeria Student Poetry Prize (2020) and was shortlisted for the Arojah Student Playwriting Prize. He is an Alumnus of the SprinNG Writers Fellowship. Email – firstname.lastname@example.org, Instagram- @emmanuelolumideojo, Facebook- Ojo Olumide Emmanuel, Twitter- @ojoolumideEmma2