Brigitte Poirson, a former teacher and university lecturer in languages in Franche-Comté (Fr) and England (High Wycombe, Plymouth and Exeter universities), is a multiple award-winning writer. She has published eight books, mostly in poetry. She published two anthologies to promote budding poets, Via Grapevine I and II, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. For the past six years, with Words Rhymes & Rhythm, a Nigerian Publisher in Abuja, she has organized poetry contests (BPPC) leading to monthly awards and culminating with the publication of a paper anthology in December.
LitVo: “Painting can be considered as literature” since it documents too. Do you agree with this and why? Do you think painting can do without real literature and literature without painting? Do you agree that painting is a pictorial form of poetry?
Brigitte: Indeed, you cannot disagree with the concept that painting is a pictorial form of poetry; conversely there is a pictorial quality in poetry. Actually, all our senses are on alert when we write poetry. All artistic activities stem from emotions and visions and aim at communicating them in a personal way. There exists a fabulous poetic dimension in the intensity of the symbol: creation, in the sculpture by A. Rodin entitled “The Couple in God’s Hand”, for example. It can be labelled visual poetry. We can see the link between poetry and music too; lyrics are often considered the modern form of poetry, but it is my conviction they differ because lyrics are encased in a melody that sustains them, while poetry produces its music, the music of words. French poets have explored the correlations between various forms of art and expressed them in trail-blazing ways through poetry. About a century ago, Paul Eluard evidenced the link between a pictorial way of representing the world and sheer poetry in his famous line: The earth is blue like an orange which implies poetry combines all the effects that our senses can absorb in the world. The proverbial “Verb” of the creation was and remains first. The interactions between eyes, ears, our mental visions, our emotions and the music of words altogether create a kind of ‘alphabet’ of poetry.
There is an exhibition in France right now whose object is to demonstrate that paintings and the spectators’ eyes enter in very strong reciprocity. The organisers explain that a painting stares at the spectator as much as the spectator stares at the painting. The work “watches the spectator”; is a mutual contemplation. Works of art have a life unto themselves. And watching them implies you meet the artist and his vision. In poetry, you meet the author through the nearly dematerialized action of graphs called words. Hence it is my own belief that poetry encompasses and surpasses all the arts.
LitVo: French Literature and Nigerian literature are different and similar. How can you justify this?
Brigitte: Yes, they can be said to be different and similar. In fact, they both explore the human soul, but from different angles. Their backgrounds are different. The French somehow like to intellectualize their creations and/ or are engaged in addressing societal problems in a so-called democracy. They like to represent and reflect on the flaws of society; they want to explore the different ways we can deal with present-day challenges. I personally think that African literature in general and Nigerian literature, in particular, are much more involved in creativity, in exploring the infinite resources of the English lexical fields and delving into the deepest aspects of life to get a bigger vision of existence, because their experience is so vast and they have suffered so much in the past, and still do today, that their senses are more acute, more attuned to words than other peoples to express their sufferings and the aftermath of pain. They can also avail themselves of the tremendous advantage of being multilingual. They live in a multicultural sphere that enlarges their minds and implies the possibility to share problems and perspectives. French literature is more concerned with reaching French-speaking countries. Nigerian literature is encompassed in the global family of the Commonwealth, fifty-four nations united by one lingua franca and an impressive palette of African languages too. The writers can compare or vie with other internal and external nationalities in a more global common context. In any case, they have a sense of belonging, coupled with a sharp interest in their own specific complex cultures, all of which enriches, enhances creativity. The organizers of the Commonwealth short story prize believe in “the transformative power of creative expression in all its forms”. Literature in that respect acts as a catharsis. And the context has a catalytic effect towards creating very original artistic forms of literature. It is a channel and a chance for writers to make their countries and communities exist. By contrast, the backdrop is more national in France – a kind of monolithic. The opportunities for publication are more restricted as well. I remember that, as a child, being monolingual felt like a strait jacket that stifled me. In France, poetry is encouraged at the school level, but on the whole, it is not considered publishable stuff. French authors seldom write and publish short stories either. Writers and readership are keener on novels. While about two-thirds of the world are buttressed by common interests and an incredible mixture of cultures, French literature is mostly rich in history, philosophy, politics or social challenges. I feel Nigerian literature is globally imbued with spirituality, while French literature is generally more oriented towards the stakes of life in society and intellectual challenges.
LitVo: You promote Nigerian writers. What pushes you into doing this? What specific support have you rendered to Nigerian literature? Why do you think Nigerian poetry is one of the best in the world?
Brigitte: I have promoted African writers for about ten years now. I started in South Africa, where I published two poetry anthologies, Via Grapevine 1 and 2, in collaboration with a young, gifted poet in Bloemfontein. We collected the poems of several promising young artists. This is within this context I got acquainted with Samson Iruesiri Kukogho, a Nigerian publisher who makes a point of promoting budding writers, so we came to work together. We started my monthly poetry contest in 2015.
I promote young Nigerians in many ways: I support their initiatives from a literary viewpoint, by editing their work or offering counselling. I encourage them and of course, support them financially with my contest. I feel an urgent need to reward their most creative and deepest poems. They truly deserve it. Generally speaking, they are involved in expressing originality in meaningful poems, thus creating unique emotions. Why do I love it so much, why am I so much involved in it? First, they are hypersensitive and productive. Their inspiration is breathtaking. They generally prove quite mature and deep. Their experience of life is astounding and their poetic visions are immense. I like to promote African languages too because there are extremely rich; they reach a wide range of cultures which in a final analysis prove the unicity of mankind. They point to the nature of the best treasure of Africa: human wealth. It is incredibly and astoundingly present in a general context of corruption, violence and misery. It is as if the stark contrasts between spirituality and brutality exasperated and enhanced their talents. The number of rewards they garner also proves that they are extremely talented and really have a lot to say, to give to the world. I have supported quite many poetry and prose writers in Africa over the years; some produce short stories, others novels, and I have in mind quite a few authors I shouldered and/or supported who, in the past few years, either won numerous contests, or finally got published, or were long-listed in the Commonwealth contest and published in Britain. I think they deserve to be given visibility, to be supported and pushed to the fore. I do it very modestly because I am just one of them, but when I can help, I do, and perhaps I owe them more than I give them. Actually, I believe I receive more than I give, truly, in mutual human enrichment!
LitVo: What generation of Nigerian writers do you prefer and why?
Brigitte: Definitely the present one! Of course, I love the renowned ones, the seniors like Chinua Achebe, or Wole Soyinka whose work manifests “poetic overtones”, and the more recent authors that have won international recognition like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Isn’t it true they are engaged in novels that ring as fables or show poetic visions of life that are really very special and exhilarating, in a nutshell, universal?
But the upcoming generation remains the best to me. They are so creative, and also so active in promoting literature. I cannot name them all, but let me call to your attention extremely talented poets and prose writers such as Chukwuebeka Ibeh, Adedayo Adeyemi Agarau, Blessing Omeiza Ojo, Darlington Chibueze, Eugenia Adaku Abarakwe among myriad others. Allow me to mention young stars like Micheal Ace with his ACEworld publishing activities and Aremu Adams Adebisi, who has created a poetry master class called Transcendence, among others. They are involved in various online activities which offer endless possibilities. There is of course PIN in Nigeria created by Sir Eriata Oribhabor who has federated an incredible number of poets and who regularly initiates some of the most prestigious poetry contests in Nigeria. I cannot omit to mention Samson Iruesiri Kukogho, the excellent poet who has recently published an award-winning novel. He attaches great importance to promoting young writers especially thanks to his publishing house, WRR, and is the one I work with. I have come into contact with thousands of extremely gifted and dynamic young people over the years. They are the flesh and blood of Nigeria’s future.
LitVo: You taught in British Universities. Tell us about your experiences as a lecturer of that part of the world?
Brigitte: My experience there proved a very positive one and I remain quite enthusiastic about those years when I gave lectures in British polytechnics and at Exeter University. because there is so much freedom you feel in Britain in every field, including education. Here in France, teaching is so strictly submitted to state rules at every level and contradictory ‘reforms’ as well, that it wears people out. Small wonder there is currently a shortage of teachers. While in Britain you are more invited to take initiatives. Here hierarchy is an important characteristic and must be respected. It sometimes makes relationships between colleagues a bit complicated or unfair too. I think in Britain the atmosphere is more relaxed. I had a tremendous experience there. I felt immensely free and I wish I could have stayed for much longer, but French bureaucracy caught up with me…. I hope Nigerians can avail themselves of opportunities in Britain. Many ask me about studying in France but I would advise against it. France now requires English-speaking African visitors or students to speak French as a precondition to granting them visas.
LitVo: ‘Clair-Obscur Encounters’ is an intense book you wrote. Tell us what gave you the push to write the book. How have you been able to touch people with the book?
Brigitte: I published this book of poems a few years ago with an American poet, who also happens to be a famous songwriter, Tony Haynes. We had noticed on the social networks that we tended to deal with very much the same themes, sometimes even using the same terms. But he was rather involved in exploring the bright side of issues and life in general. I was often more engaged in chiselling the dark side of the medal. So we decided to write a book of poetry together because our antinomic visions of reality felt in fact complementary. We asked the publishers to set my poems emblazoning the dark side of life on the left pages of the book, and his poems shedding light on the bright side on the right pages. There was a parallel to be made between our poems. We got a great sense of sharing through this, and a sense of achievement through our united differences. We completed each other, poetically speaking. It was quite an awesome literary experience.
I noticed the readers enjoyed that kind of experience. My British friends in particular said they shared both visions, which make the complexity of life obvious. They have generally found this quite original and enriching.
LitVo: What is your take on feminism and womanism and also their relationship with French and Nigerian literatures?
Brigitte: I tend to distrust and shun the ‘-ism’ words because they denote systems. But I often discuss this subject with male friends and fellow writers of all genders. Feminism, womanism and others are movements, and as such, tend to systematize their just reactions to male brutality or male denial of female human rights, because of the need to shock people to trigger action. This notwithstanding, isn’t it true that women are killed, raped, beaten, castrated, discriminated against in every aspect of their lives, practically everywhere? In this very country, a so-called homeland of human rights, my mum was born in a nation that denied women the right to vote or the right to own a bank account – among other problems …. Imagine one woman marrying several husbands. No, of course, you cannot. You – males and females alike – were formatted from birth to find this unimaginable. The world belongs to the better half of humanity. The other half endeavours to make it livable.
Those movements aim at pointing what goes wrong in an unfair, ill-balanced world. Sometimes they overreact and do not sound flexible enough to be efficient. But men do not always accept to understand that women are men like the others, with just their specificities, and cannot be defined by their genital organs. Women try to save themselves in this man’s world. It is all the more difficult since they are expected to do better than men to prove they are just as good. Concerning these problems, I believe that, once more, education is the key to equality. But these movements are short-cuts to achieving what takes a long time to be established and is never acquired forever… This said, I think women are underrated in poetry, and above all underrepresented, especially in Nigeria. So, I think they need to be particularly promoted. Coincidentally, this is the aim of my poetry contest this month. The theme: ‘breaking the glass ceiling’. Women are subjected to this glass ceiling problem, and I have bumped my head against it on many occasions. France is not an egalitarian society as much as one could imagine. Not in legal texts, of course, but in real life. Women meet some resistance from men, especially in the professional world. In Nigeria, there is a traditional vision of men managing women’s lives. It is fortunate that some ‘-ism’ women act against this form of gender discrimination. Yet once more, teaching girls and boys to respect one another as equal partners in life must come first and foremost to advance this cause.
LitVo: What is your relationship with the world of Art?
Brigitte: When answering question 3, I associated all forms of creative artistic activities together and considered that poetry is by far the highest form of human expression, because words are not, properly speaking, objects like paintings or musical instruments, for instance. Words are directly related to consciousness. Words are immaterial realities. They are the manifestation of the human mind and soul. They are the expression of the human psyche, and are often considered as directly connected to superior entities, what many will call God… ‘The Verb became flesh’, some sacred texts affirm…Outside religion, there still seems to be a direct relationship between the act of creation and words. Other forms of arts need instruments, objects. Naturally, literature enjoys the support of paper, mikes, computers, but it can also satisfy itself with the human voice. Poetry, in particular, produces its own musicality: the musicality of words, its own images: the figures of speech, and provides intangible food for thought, the highest form of human art. But naturally, this is just my own, personal conviction. And I do support painters or musicians or artists in general.
LitVo: The world of core art appears to have a hidden face unlike the lousiness of politics, sports and music. What could be responsible for this?
Brigitte: Is the world of core art less corrupt than the rest? It appears that the process of creation does not get on so well with the sphere of money-making activities or the world of political hubris. Yet, when it comes to publishing, especially as concerns traditional publishers, the commercial side of the situation leaves room for problems and injustice. Publishers make it more difficult to reach them than ever, are less responsive too. They demand that young writers abstain from submitting their manuscripts to other publishers, take months to reply and generally turn them down. Or never bother to answer. Traditional publishers get involved in running a business and so select a restricted number of popular individuals whose writings are liable to please the general public, at the expense of other, often promising young writers. The star system also applies to the world of literature.
It is as difficult as ever for a young person to make a name in literature. Fortunately, today, the internet has come to the rescue. It is both an exceptional means of communication and a tool to get published without resorting to traditional publishers. Most often, new authors are even more intent on providing their possible readership with a means to read their works, than trying to make money out of their books.
LitVo: What can you say to young writers in Nigeria who are increasingly finding it difficult to have their works published?
Brigitte: The experience with publishers can be devastating for young writers. They will be better off if they reach fellow writers and readers on the social networks and make use of self-promoting tools, finding online innovative, dedicated groups, sites and even publishers there. Strong bonds are created there. It is the right way to go. Anyway, the budding authors must also absolutely keep practising the language and their art, and never stop applying for contests or publications, never mind the rejections, which do not go a long way towards proving a lack of talent.
LitVo: Theories from philosophers spark up some sort of energy for literature, painting and creativity. Tell us your favourite theories and what you love about the philosophers.
Brigitte: After studying philosophy at the university level, I felt the need to look for other ways to enrich my mind. When it comes to philosophy, it is my impression that systems of thoughts only give you fragments of information. Now I have recently found myself engulfed in quite a challenging and unexpected field: the realm of quantum physics. You know, this fundamental approach that deals with how matter and energy interact, the interaction between light with matter, the wave-matter duality of objects and living organisms. This is a theory too, and strongly based on mathematics too! But the interaction spreads to reach a confluence between sciences, philosophy, spirituality, ethics and ecology! And literature. A fair number of authors have started to get interested in that, as new research allows us to explore new vistas. And quantum mechanics points to the reality that there is certainly no objective world around us. Everything depends on the vision we have and the viewpoint we choose. It implies we must reconsider the way we envisage our world and ourselves.
The connection between quantum physics and spirituality, beyond any form of religiosity or narrow-minded mysticism, has been underlined by many scientists. Consciousness may belong to the realm of quantum mechanics. Some authors provide new perceptions on realities at work on the earth. Professor David George Haskell, in The Song of Trees, perceives the link between math, ethics, beauty, ecology. What he calls “ecological aesthetics” is “the root of our ethic of belonging” (P149). All the elements of the natural world, including humans, are deeply connected, and the relationships between them “constitute the network of life” …When we are awakened participants within the processes of the network, we can start to hear what is coherent, what is broken, what is beautiful, what is good”. So, we need to change our perception of and perspective on the world and see the interactions. Then, “this understanding becomes manifest in a mature sense of ecological aesthetics, and gives rise to ethical discernments that emerge from life’s network. We transcend…the individuality of our bodies and our species.” In opposition to the materialists and nihilists, D.G. Haskell concludes that the experience of “beauty” leads to an opening, an “unselfing”. (p.150) He follows the path of mathematicians, who “use beauty as a guide. Elegance is one criterion of rightness…Paul Dirac, the founder of quantum physics… spoke of “getting beauty in one’s equations’ as a method of seeking fruitful insights”. He aims at breaking “the barriers between humans and the rest of life’s community”. D.G. Haskell further expounds on these essential basics: “Mathematics provides a precedent for using an aesthetic sense born of a deep relationship as a guidepost to truths that transcend the human mind. We might do the same within the relationships that constitute biological networks. (p.151) “Even Hume might agree”, he hastens to add. To conclude, Pr Haskell offers a philosophical analysis of the role of Nature in our lives. The point is we should focus on realizing it is necessary to combine the acceptance of the material, earthly realities, and adopting a fairly revolutionary dynamic, ethical vision based on our unselfing. In that great connection lies harmony. In his books, Pr. Haskell shows deep philosophical insight and great scientific knowledge in pages of the finest, most lyrical stamp and style.
Some ethologists now offer trail-blazing insight into the world of animals as well, by launching new forms of philosophy concerning what it means to be a flesh and blood creature at all levels. For instance, Pr. Frans de Waal studies the questions of animal cognition and culture, in particular their attitudes and aptitudes to cooperate, feel and express emotions, solve everyday problems, or manifest empathy. The basic question is contained in the title of one of his latest books, which, in his explorations, reads like a novel: ‘Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? ‘He re-centres our vision of the relationships between non-human and human animals and provides answers on the evolutive origins of human morals. People are often steeped in a false vision of Darwinism concerning animals and life in general. But Nature is as much about cooperation and empathy as violence.
On the other hand, I have also been reading French books, particularly one composed by an award-winning novelist, E. E Schmitt: ‘Ulysses from Bagdad’. Following the adventures of the mythical hero of the Odysseus, the book relates the tribulations of a young illegal immigrant from Bagdad to London. It exemplifies the atrocious ordeals immigrants have to go through when they flee their countries to save their lives but is also a reflection on the meaning of life. The action is all the more dramatic, fascinating and enlightening as the author, a doctor of philosophy, associates literature and philosophy to create empathy and shed light on the great stakes of today’s world.
Yes, literature today is more and more infused with philosophy. To me, there is a love affair between philosophy and literature, and this is how to write meaningful prose and poetry. I remember what a talented poet – also a prose writer – Blessing Omeiza Ojo, told me recently: “Poetry is a rope that connects us, humans”. It is also a rope that connects us to the world and enables us to reach hidden realities to better understand and manage our lives.
Thank you so much, Haneefah, for your blessed patience, and for giving me the opportunity to modestly answer your probing questions.
LitVo: Thanks ma.
Haneefah Abdulrahman is a writer, poet, spoken poetry artiste, interviewer and a podcaster. Born in Kaduna, Haneefah is an indigene of Kogi State. She is a fellow of Ebedi International Writers’Residency. She is the Chairperson of Kaduna Branch, Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation, 2020/2021 Financial Secretary and editor of the Creative Writers Club, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria – Nigeria, and an Assistant Editor of Literature Voices (LitVo). Haneefah has been published on Daily Trust, Nigerian Review, Wisprout Project and in many other journals (Both international and national).She was shortlisted as one of the 30 Contemporary Women Poets to read by Poetry Column-NND in Nigerian News Direct. She is YELF ARTIST OF THE MONTH. November Edition 2020. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, IG: neefahwords, Facebook: Haneefah Abdulrahman, Twitter: neefahwords_, Tiktok: neefahwords, Blog: trendyneefah.blogspot.com