Phenomenal poet and essayist, Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu is our guest for this edition of PIN Literary Interviews. She talks to Semilore Kilaso about her writings, Nigerian poets, copyright infringement and literary opportunities.
Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu is a poet and essayist from Nigeria, whose work has appeared on Popula, Ake Review, Lolwe, Arts and Africa, After The Pause journal, Bitter Oleander, 20.35 Africa, Memento, and elsewhere. She is a 2018 fellow of Ebedi Writers Residency and a two-time shortlistee of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize. She has an LLB from Bayero University, Kano, and is currently getting her BL from the Nigerian Law School.
- It’s a great pleasure having to interview you. Please can we meet you?
Thank you for having me. I am, a poet.
- You love poetry; you even use poetic devices in your essays. Why poetry?
I wish I had an answer for this question, haha. I am not sure myself why it had to be poetry for me, but I’ll say this; Poetry has afforded me the language to translate moments personally lived and magic into words. Because in it, I have realized that no emotion no matter how intense is solitary, no human condition no matter how peculiar, is not shared.
In some ways, my life as it is right now —my heightened awareness of my environment and my capacity to parse the discoveries resultant of that awareness, in summary, my capacity to feel — is a product of poetry; I am a product of poetry.
- 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’m not sure my memory serves me well at this moment. But it could very well be a poem of 99 lines which I wrote for a boy. I was 15 and completely sure I was in love. So, I expressed it in the way that came closest to me. It was hilarious, in retrospect. I never even showed it to him. It was my personal thing. I took the poem around for years but I have now lost it.
- As poets, some of us tend to look at stylistics. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style?
Hmmn, I am not a very observant person when it comes to styles. However, I will say that I am drawn to poetry that trusts the moment and therefore presents it as it is. Because it is a very rare thing to pull off, I am more an admirer of that style than a participant.
- What is the writing process like for you?
I begin the writing in my head, sometimes it lasts weeks or months. I carry the ideas with me. And then I begin the writing. This could go anywhere from a day to a few weeks as well.
- How do you conclude that you are writing a poem, and how do you develop from a word into lines?
I usually know from the conceptualizing stage of an idea that it is going to be a poem or an essay. Of course, I am wrong sometimes. When I begin writing it and my vision is not translating, I know I am trying to turn a creative nonfiction piece into a poem. It’s what happened with my most recently published essay “Sister, Sister” on Lolwe. I had started it as a poem but quickly realized that it was not going to work.
- There is not an abundance of female poets in Nigeria. What is your take on this?
There is certainly an abundance of female poets in Nigeria, perhaps our subconscious just naturally goes to the male poets when asked to list poets in Nigeria, and so there’s little amplification for the women. I will take the phrase “female poets in Nigeria” to mean the ones both here and in the diaspora. There is Daisy Odey whose chapbook was published last year in the APBF Boxset Series run by Kwame Dawse and Chris Abani, There is Hauwa Saleh whose book “How to Practice Forgetting” was published last year on OkadaBooks, Opeyemi Rasak-Oyadiran whose poems have been published online and is also forthcoming in this year’s 20.35 anthology, Precious Arinze whose poems have been published online (I think that Precious is nonbinary, but their work is worth mentioning here), there’s Omotata James who was on the Brunel Poetry Prize shortlist years ago and also has a book in the past APBF box set series, Chekwube O. Danladi who co-won the Brunel Poetry Prize in 2016, Itiola Jones who won the BrittlePaper Award for Poetry in 2018. I could go on and on.
- As a student of Law, what is your take on plagiarism, intellectual theft, and copyright infringement? What are the legal implications? Are there legal actions that can be taken as regards these?
All of these are crimes recognized and punishable by law. The fact that they are crimes to intellectual property does not in any way diminish the fact that they are crimes. Where the aggrieved party files an action at the Federal High court, they will be entitled for damages and an injunction barring the person from subsequent violations.
- Have you ever entered for the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP) or any poetry contest organised by Poets in Nigeria Initiative?
Yes, I have entered twice for the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize. I made the shortlist the first time, and the longlist the second time.
- What Nigerian poet or poets do you love to read?
Daisy Odey for her in-depth excavation of fresh perspectives towards everydayness, Gbenga Adesina for his lyric and insistence on approaching the industry of language as a lifelong exercise at reinvention. Precious Arinze for their brilliance and attention to line at a most detailed level, Saddiq Dzukogi for his precision, Hauwa Saleh for her relatability, Opeyemi Rasak-Oyadiran for the freshness of her metaphors and her trust for the moments, Chisom Okafor for his experiments, Tolase Ajibola for his attention to basically everything. Romeo Oriogun for intensity and craft. And a host of many others.
- What, in your opinion is the place of poetry as a genre of literature in Nigeria? What future? What opportunities for Poets?
Yo! The poetry space in Nigeria is at a most wondrous stage at the moment. There is so much happening, so much hard work being put into craft and it is such a joy and privilege to not only be alive at this time, but to exist in the space and language of these poets doing all this work. The future is open and beautiful. While we have initiatives such as Poets in Nigeria, YELF, Open Arts and others, there’s still a shortage of opportunities and platforms for the Nigerian poet. But the future does look promising.
- What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in our country?
Oh, PIN is doing so much work as regards the poetry industry in Nigeria. I can think of no other platform doing as much. From the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize, to the Poetically written Prose competition. It is great work.
- If we give you an opportunity of saying something about Poets in Nigeria, what would you say?
If we had two more platforms doing as much as PIN, the writing industry in Nigeria would thrive more.
- Please would you mind leaving us with few lines of poetry (max ten lines)
I’ll leave you with these lines by Lucille Clifton’s poem titled June 20, which I have been carrying around for years:
“i will be born in one week
to a frowned forehead of a woman
and a man whose fingers will itch
to enter me. she will crochet
a dress for me of silver
and he will carry me in it.
they will do for each other all that they can
but it will not be enough.
none of us know that we will not
smile again for years…”
- How would you want to round off this interview?
Thank you for having me.