‘Poetry and I met at crossroads’ – Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom | PIN Literary Interviews

The first edition of PIN Talks held on Instagram Live two weeks ago, with Semilore Kilaso as anchor and the Executive Secretary of PIN, Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom as guest. The transcript of the delightful talk is shared here as a variant of PIN Literary Interviews.

Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom, a graduate of Communication & Language Arts from the University of Ibadan, is the Executive Secretary of Poets in Nigeria (PIN) and Chief Operating Officer of Words Rhymes & Rhythm Limited. A poet, editor, publisher and digital media strategist, Kolade is the moderator of some PIN programmes including the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP) and PIN Chapbook Series. His works have appeared in ANA Review (2015 & 2016), Twist of Fate, The Year of the Poet (2015 & 2018), Female First, Praxis Magazine, AFAS Review, Image Magazine, The Guardian Newspaper, Pulse NG and elsewhere. He has co-edited some poetry anthologies including The Sun Will Rise Again, Mixed History, Deep Dreams, Micah and For You, Dear Home.

1. It’s a great pleasure having to talk with you Mr. Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom on the maiden edition of PIN Talks. Can you tell us more about yourself?

Thank you, Semilore. I feel very honoured to be in the spotlight of PIN Literary Interviews.

I was born as the last of five children in Osogbo, and lived there till 1999 when we relocated to Lagos. I had my primary and junior secondary education in Lagos. In 2009, I proceeded to Federal Government College, Ikirun for senior secondary education. Afterwards, I dedicated time to developing my talents and amassing skills that would make who I am today – a writer, poet, editor, publisher, digital media strategist and literary administrator. Studying Communication & Language Arts at the University of Ibadan also helped hone some of these skills. To the lighthearted things, I sometimes spend ample time watching movies and listening to music. I like football, with Chelsea and Jose Mourinho as my favourite football club and manager respectively. Amala and abula excites my tongue, and Malt is a must-drink.

  1. You are more like a son to Sir Eriata Oribhabor. Can you remember the first time you met him? How has it been working with him?
Sir Eriata Oribhabor & KOF

I once summed the personality of Sir Eriata Oribhabor with these words – a father, literary icon and humanitarian. As one who consolidates genuineness with unconventional thinking, I see family as the smallest indivisible unit of humanity. And this is the bedrock upon which my “father-son” relationship with Sir Eriata is founded. He has a heart beating nonstop for humanity. And I have, at multiple times, benefited from his humanness, which is also ingrained in my being. We connected on an astounding level of selflessness, and every other thing fell in place, to the extent that there are times we word each other’s thoughts.

Although I connected with him online in 2013, I didn’t meet with him until 2014 when he invited me to his office in Lagos having told him I would love to present my poetry collection “The Light Bearer” to him. That visit remains etched into my memory, as it made me see every reason to remain associated with him. I was his “brother” to everyone he introduced me to, while asking them to also pick up a copy of the book. Do I have to mention that he is extremely and restlessly hospitable?

Our awareness of each other is high, leading to a seamless working relationship. I don’t think I have had a union that has been more complementary than the one I have with him. Unity of purpose lies between us. And that is surprising if you are to take the age-gap between us into consideration. We straighten, twirl and remain together. Our personalities admit each other, giving rise to absolute cohesion.

  1. When was PIN founded? What is PIN’s philosophy of Poetry for Service? Speak about this philosophy and how far it has been embraced by poets in Nigeria and the diaspora.
At the launch of PIN Initiative | October, 2015

Poets in Nigeria (PIN) emerged as an idea in January, 2015, but was formally launched on October 24, 2015 alongside PIN Quarterly Journal during the second edition of the ArtHub. PIN’s philosophy revolves around utilizing poetry for societal uplift. It means deploying the forces of poetry to the aid of humanity.

It’s the mantra that binds all members of PIN together irrespective of location. It’s like oil flowing from the head to the heels. All members of PIN are committed to this philosophy, thereby making every one of us an agent of change in our respective communities.

  1. Does PIN have a formal structure? Viewers would like to have an insight.

Yes, as a functional organization, there is hierarchical discharge of duties. You have the PIN Board of Trustees to include the President, Sir Eriata Oribhabor, the Executive Secretary, Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom and other distinguished members – Miss Awodiya Funke, Mrs. Chinemerem Mary Anyi, Mr. Theophilus Chigudu Tanko, Mr. Adelaja Ridwan and Mr. Khalid Imam.

Like the executive arm of a company, you have the PIN Central Network to include the President, Executive Secretary, Media Assistants and Moderators.

Descending from the PIN Central Network, you have the PIN Connect Centres managed by Lead Reps. and PIN Student Ambassadors.

Fourthly, you have regular membership comprising those who registered with us online, and participate in our activities from time-to-time.

Finally, you have Associate membership to include non-regular and honorary members who have worked assiduously for the growth of literature.

  1. I hear of the PIN family. Tell us about this family.

The PIN family is a collection of poets and poetry enthusiasts who are connected by the philosophy of poetry for service. Although it isn’t a typical labour union, the motto: “one for all; all for one” holds sway. Of course, the PIN President heads the “one-love” family. One needs to attend any of PIN’s events to see how this family should be a model for traditional families. 

  1. I know PIN has Connect Centres. What are Connect Centres and how do they operate? Talk about their spread. How is PIN funded?

PIN Connect Centres were developed in 2016 to give room for grassroots promotion of poetry. Imagine a tree having branches with stalks for fruits. We want to reach everyone but we can’t do that with a linear flow. We need tentacles to absorb many communities for literary outreach. We achieved that with the Connect Centres present in the following places: Yaba, Isheri-Igando, Bariga, Ijaye-Ojokoro, OOU, UI (Abeokuta-Campus), Warri, Yenagoa, Calabar UNICAL, CRUTECH, other schools, towns and cities.

PIN is dominantly funded by individuals including the president (Sir Eriata Oribhabor), members of PIN and lovers of poetry like Ma Teresa Ameh, Mrs. Dupe Sekoni-McCarthy, Messrs. Sandison Jumbo and Ebikeme Adowei. We have tried at different times to secure the support of the big brands, but such effort hasn’t yielded something significant. We however remain hopeful that they will take special note of the pivotal role art plays in the society, and support the movement.

  1. You are a board of trustee member of PIN as well as the Executive Secretary. What’s your daily routine like?

For the past five years, PIN has consistently featured in my thoughts. But it’s not enough to think, you have to act, and win productivity over. I work closely with the President, Sir Eriata to come up with strategies aimed at engendering more impacts. I also relate consistently with moderators of the various initiatives of PIN, and try to harmonize things. Despite having all these as a routine, the role itself isn’t monotonous since PIN is a kinetic organization. We are always working on offering something new and tangible to the literati.  

  1. Will it be out of place asking how you became the Executive Secretary PIN? Tell us something about this.

Okay. Let’s throw it back. Taking over from Mr. Shittu Fowora, I started as the moderator of Eriata Food Poetry Contest in 2014, and proceeded to administer other initiatives of PIN (from 2015) such as Nigerian Students Poetry Prize, PIN Quarterly Journal, PIN 10-Day Poetry Challenge, Punchy Poetry and PIN Chapbook Series. “Executive Secretary” didn’t pop until 2017 when PIN was registered with Corporate Affairs Commission. I think Sir Eriata was the one who made the title (position) stick as I have always preferred getting things done without fanfare. Now, I see things differently – the position truly reflects my engagements with PIN. The “deeds” and the “title” are in tandem.

  1. PIN prides herself as an Initiative of Initiatives. Can you name few of these initiatives? Why these initiatives? How do they function?

PIN is a very dynamic literary body that tailors its initiatives to meet the needs of the literati.

PIN currently runs 28 novel initiatives including the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP), Festival Poetry Calabar, PIN Chapbook Series, Punchy Poetry, The Arthub, PIN Literary Interviews among others. Some of these initiatives like Storytelling from Yesterday, PIN Photo-Poetry and Steps & Stops utilize the flexibility of the digital media for active engagement. The ArtHub, as an art-pervaded event, takes place in Lagos. It held in Surulere and Isheri-Igando previously. More information about these initiatives could be got on our Facebook Page/Group – POETS IN NIGERIA INITIATIVE.  As many as they are, none is devoid of essence.

  1. An Initiative of PIN called GlassDoor are organisers of both the Poetically Written Prose and On-the-Spot poetry writing contest. Tell us about GlassDoor.

Yeah, GlassDoor. Think of “Glassdoor” as a royal entry for outstanding writers. That was the image Sir Eriata forwarded to my mind as he discussed the initiative with me. Since its conceptualisation, initiatives such as “Poetically Written Prose Contest” and “On-the-Spot Poetry Writing Contest” have been run on the platform. But it isn’t there yet, one day, exceptional writers will literally have the “GlassDoor” to a “Hall of Fame” opened for them.

  1. As the Executive Secretary, PIN you must be a very busy person that still find time to directly moderate the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize popularly addressed as NSPP. Tell us all about the NSPP without forgetting to mention when winners of the 2020 edition would be announced.

The Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP) is an initiative of Poets in Nigeria (PIN) aimed at stimulating literary creativity and encouraging critical thinking among Nigerian undergraduates. Since its inception in 2016 at the University of Ibadan, the prize has received over 3000 entries from students representing over 100 tertiary institutions (including universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, schools of nursing and seminary schools). We have published 400 poems authored by young Nigerian student-poets across four anthologies, viz: The Sun Will Rise Again (2016), Mixed History (2017), Deep Dreams (2018) and Micah (2019).

Results for the 2020 edition of the NSPP will be published on PIN website in early July.

  1. Like the NSPP, PIN Chapbook Series is a popular initiative of Poets in Nigeria. What do you have to say about the Initiative?

We initiated PIN Chapbook Series to engage the upsurge of interest for poetry writing amongst the younger generation. Since its inception, 11 titles, across two editions, have been digitally published under the imprint.

  1. You were originally a science student who switched to the arts with special interest in poetry. What informed your change from science to arts? How did you find poetry or would you say poetry found you?

Poetry and I met at crossroads…

As a science student in Senior Secondary School, I leveraged off artistic abilities to excel. Strangely, the theories and principles, though factually static, experienced some sort of lexical fine-tuning in the exam hall while calculations were oftentimes shunned. After completing secondary education, I realized that it was time for me to be true to myself if I were to find fulfillment or maximize my potentials.  It was clear that my future (career) was tied to letters not tools. So, I orchestrated a switch which included a one-year self-education on art subjects. I found my eyes glued to Comprehensive Literature, and the present was moulded into existence.

  1. Why poetry?

Poetry oozes extraordinary appeal. And for someone like me, who is extremely interested in “how”, and not merely “what”, I can’t help but embrace poetry.  The way poetry processes emotions and feelings into existence is magical. Say you have a gallon of emotions worded and funneled into a 157ml milk tin while still retaining all its vital constituents. Talk of exactness and effectiveness. From the social angle, poetry is the amplifier of muffled voices echoing in desolate places. As a language, poetry boasts of unrivalled allure. I don’t think I want to ever fall off such height. I see poetry as a height, a most-aesthetic (surreal) height of expression.

  1. You have some books to your name as well as anthologies you co-edited with Sir Eriata Oribhabor. Tell us about your books and anthologies referred to.

I published two poetry collections – The Light Bearer and Punctured Silence – in 2014 & 2015 respectively. Yeah, those early days when validation was critical to continuance. Getting those books published then meant a lot to me personally. Much growth has taken place between then and now, and a new poetry collection is seething somewhere.

I have co-edited 6 PIN publications with Sir Eriata Oribhabor, notably, NSPP Anthology Series.

  1. If you have a copy of any of your books, viewers would like to see you read a poem from any of your works.

Let me share a stanza from one of my works (an unpublished collection):

When silence fell off the pinnacle,
It lost its limbs, shattered its face;
and its heart, a cap for a spike,
dripped bloodied emotions…

  1. Poetry appreciation is gaining grounds in our country. What in your opinion is the place of poetry as a genre of literature in Nigeria? What future? What opportunities for Poets?

Hmmm. I pray I do not sound cocksure while declaring the truth. Poetry is the mainstay of Nigerian Literature. Despite the ostentatious nature of prose, you have poetry digging trenches here and there for the firm risings of literary oaks. Talk of the rhymes being recited by kids in primary schools, the poetry-permeated love letters in secondary schools, the NSPP for tertiary education, with no regards to field of study. Poetry seems to be filling every literary developmental gap; hence, the future will have no choice but to applaud many poetic greats.

Remarkably, more poetry-inclined platforms are springing up as contests, journals, residencies and mentorship programmes. There is a boundless sky of opportunities on the overstretched earth of poetry.

  1. Festival Poetry Calabar is an Initiative of PIN. When was it founded and how has it fared so far? What’s the theme for this year’s festival? What date?

Festival Poetry Calabar was initiated in 2015 as a point of convergence for poetry, culture and tourism in the city of Calabar. It is also aimed at offering intellectual entertainment to partakers of the Carnival Calabar and Festival.

Living up to its objectives, the festival has attracted hundreds of poets, writers, artists and lovers of art to the city. And it keeps getting better with every edition. We have had foreign poets request for letters of invitation to enable them process their attendance.

Themed “Bells of Depression: Wells and Windows”, the 6th edition of Festival Poetry Calabar will hold from 16th to 19th of December, 2020.

  1. Do you think PIN is living up to her aims and objectives? What’s PIN’s vision?

If you are to assess PIN based on written and unwritten commitments, PIN has offered more than it promised. The aims and objectives are continually being tweaked or extended to accommodate the dynamism of PIN.

The aims and objectives are pursued in line with the vision – becoming the foremost literary hub driven by poetry.

  1. What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in our country?

Kai! PIN has a very unique approach to the promotion of poetry in the country. PIN hits the core and spreads, absorbing all and sundry – poets and lovers of poetry (literature).

As a literary body, which has for about 5 years, stimulated and engaged interest for poetry reading, writing and performances, PIN can pride itself as frontliner of poetry renaissance in Nigeria.

  1. As one who has been with PIN since inception when you were a first-year student of the University of Ibadan, what message do you have for younger ones?

“Town” and “Gown” should not be at loggerheads. As one who explored (or should I say “exploited”) the union successfully, I can say it’s rewarding to keep your head in “the gown” and your body in “the town” intermittently. Bring the gown to bear on the town and vice versa. It is also important that you keep the mind receptive and your hands diligent. Finally, prioritize integrity in all pursuits.

  1. Going by the numerous activities of PIN, it is practically impossible talking all about the organisation at this Talk session. However, I will like to let you round off this interview your own way. Say something.

May love dwell among us on end.

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