Ifunanya Juliet Ottih was recently appointed moderator of PIN 10-Day Poetry Challenge. Seated with Semilore Kilaso of PIN Literary Interviews, she talks about writing competitions, PIN and her plans for PIN 10-Day Poetry Challenge.
Ifunanya Juliet Ottih is a talented creative writer, poet, content creator, copywriter, public speaker and researcher. An undergraduate of the University of Calabar, she has her work published in the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP) 2020 anthology and other notable publications.
- Congratulations on your new position as moderator for PIN 10-DAY POETRY CHALLENGE. Do tell us about yourself and what your position entails.
Thank you, Semilore.
My name is Ifunanya Juliet Ottih, a final year student of the Department of Linguistics and Communication Studies, University of Calabar. I am a creative writer who enjoys exploring all genres of literature. But today is about poetry, So I promise we will talk about just poetry (laughs).
Besides writing, I enjoy reading and research. I am very passionate about problem-solving and this passion has over time ignited in me the burning desire to study more about history and other controversial topics like politics, economics, technology, law, the military, and human behaviors towards their environment.
I am presently the Co-Moderator of the PIN 10-DAY POETRY CHALLENGE. As a moderator, I am saddled with the responsibility of serving humanity through poetry. I set the context that drives the submissions of entrants within the month of the challenge and also help run the success of the expected results. Generally, I ensure that the 10-DAY POETRY CHALLENGE INITIATIVE is alive and active.
- What is the PIN 10-DAY POETRY CHALLENGE about? What does it intend to achieve as an initiative of PIN?
PIN 10-DAY POETRY CHALLENGE started up as an initiative in 2016, geared towards promoting poetry and connecting poets in Nigeria and across the globe. It is a monthly poetry writing contest that pushes freedom through creativity. It is open to every living person from all corners of the world.
This challenge helps keep poets effective, consistent, and dedicated to crafting what sets their soul on fire.
- Do you agree that competitions are important and healthy in the creative space?
Yes, I do. Competitions are very beneficial in the creative space. I believe that competitions help shape the artist’s mindset. While you submit your entries and keep getting rejection letters, you are more challenged and spurred to do more, to keep improving on yourself so that you can get at least one acceptance letter. This act further helps enhance your creative skills. Rejection letters do not and shouldn’t invalidate one, but only give one the confidence and more reason to validate oneself. So many writers have built their archives through competitions too. And beyond the growth you establish through competitions, you also get the chance to network with like minds. I certainly met you today because of competition. It makes you take up unimaginable responsibilities that can mold you into a great leader. So yes, as creatives we do need competitions to thrive.
- As a moderator of PIN 10-DAY POETRY CHALLENGE. What style and quality would you look out for in entries?
I look out for originality, thematic relevance, well-incorporated poetic devices, and the aptness of language.
As for style, I don’t have any expectations. I believe that everyone is unique in their own way and so is their style. Your style is yours and yours alone.
- As poets, some of us tend to look at stylistics. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style?
I don’t think I have a particular style. I am very dynamic when it comes to writing poetry. I allow the words flow and do the work in between the lines of my stanzas. Though I often find my self scribbling free verses, sometimes the rhymes find their way into my chords (smiles). I can choose my style depending on the topic I want to address. I can write a very long poem and I can also write it short. As I said earlier, your style is what makes you unique. When you know what works for you and how it works for you, then you have just one duty which is to develop that which is yours.
- Can you vividly recall the title of the first poem you ever wrote? Tell us about it and how you landed into poetry writing.
I can’t really remember the title of the poem but I know it is a poem that sought to address the university strike system. I remember vividly the strike that struck me when I experienced my first strike as a student of a Nigerian university. And how most people’s language was different from mine. I saw everything wrong with the system but it seemed bizarre because I barely found someone who felt the same. The universal language of students was that which sees the strike system as a customary thing and that it poses as their natural holiday. I found that narrative problematic, so I wrote the poem. I never knew what I had until those emotions exploded into ink and ink into words that satirized and ridiculed. After that day, I wrote poems occasionally until it became a part of my being.
- You study Linguistics and Mass Communication. What influence does it have on your poetry?
Linguistics and mass communication has helped shape my poetry into a larger notion and conception. Linguistics which deals with language structures has helped strengthen my grammatical accuracy and bewieldness toward its good command while Mass communication, on the other hand, has helped provide me with more information, knowledge, and most importantly, enhanced my thematic prowess.
- What niche do you intend to create as a moderator of PIN 10-DAY POETRY CHALLENGE? Are you taking strategic steps towards achieving it?
Wow, I wasn’t expecting that question of yours, but I am happy it hits me real hard. It just reactivated that part of my brain which must have been too busy doing just what is expected of me.
I believe that through compassion, selflessness, and will, I can genuinely show us how much art “poetry” can do for that larger part of the society whose hope lies in the spectrum of change. Yes, I will definitely take strategic steps toward ensuring this.
- Which Nigerian poet(s) do you read?
I don’t have a preference when it comes to reading poetry. I read every good poem that comes my way. But I remember I enjoyed reading Late Christopher Okigbo’s poem in 2016. I know I am madly in love with Wole Soyinka’s collection of poems. I also enjoy reading the beautifully crafted words of Victor Igiri. And most currently, the amazing pictures Sir, Eriata Oribhabor’s “That Beautiful Picture” has painted in my head, the now the realities I am encountering.
- Poetry appreciation is gaining grounds in Nigeria. What in your opinion is the place of poetry as a genre of literature in Nigeria? What future? What opportunities for Poets?
Beyond giving us a hand that helps us appreciate the world around us, poetry is like a window to painting our truth without any physical or emotional consequences from anyone, group, or system. This genre of literature is currently the password to too many events that hold in town, ranging from innovative, religious, social, political, economic, and intellectual gatherings.
If you watch your T.V regularly, you will understand what I am saying. The unique language of poetry has nudged advertisers in Nigeria to sell their product, brand, or body through poets speaking poetry. This is a good feeling because it doesn’t make us belong anymore but rather, it makes us a part of that story called relevance. I won’t be surprised If a career poet emerges as the President of Nigeria in the Post COVID-19 era.
- What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in Nigeria?
Before I became a moderator, I had once said to people that Poets In Nigeria Initiative is the most prestigious poetry body that currently lives in Nigeria. This is no cliche. PIN is breaking boundaries every single minute in Nigeria and across the world. It is a home that welcomes everyone whether you are its own or not. Even the lovers of poetry themselves have found solace in this home. Everyone, every race, every group, every tribe, and descent today seeks liberation and emancipation from all sorts of rifts and societal restrictions toward them. And because this is exactly what poets in Nigeria promotes through creativity, It is easy for these set of persons to be largely integrated into its whole. I remember how poets in Nigeria indirectly caressed my life in 2018 before I knew it was a body and then knew it was actually an initiative.
So to me, It’s not an opinion but a reality that PIN is, in fact, the vanguard of the poetry renaissance in Nigeria.
12. Thank you for your time. Please leave us with few lines of a poem you have written. (max 10 lines).
If wishes were horses,
I will travel back to a time,
When my sanctity was intact
And my body undefiled
Like a melody, I was the piece of chastity
Until you listened and stole my rhythms
If wishes were horses,
I will find my self in a race with no regrets
Whirling every wound to heal
And scars to flee