In this edition of PIN Literary Interviews, Semilore Kilaso engages the Moderator of Glassdoor Initiative, Naseeba Babale in a delightful conversation touching on poetry, Glassdoor Initiative, Poetically Written Prose, On-the-Spot Poetry Writing Contest, PIN, NSPP and other relevant topics.
Naseeba Babale is a poet, literary administrator and medical laboratory scientist with the Department of Chemical Pathology and Immunology Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. She is a member of Association of Nigerian Authors (Kano State Branch), the Secretary of Poetic Wednesdays Initiative and moderator for Glass door Initiative’s Poetically Written Prose contest 2019 and 2020. A graduate of Bayero University, Kano, Naseeba is a lover of arts and columnist for Konya Shams Rumi. She hails from Kano State.
- It’s a pleasure having to interview you. Please can we meet you?
I was born and brought up in Kano. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Medical Laboratory Science from Bayero University Kano and works with Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. I am the secretary of Poetic Wednesdays, and a member of ANA Kano state branch and For The Love of Poetry. I am also the moderator of Glassdoor Initiative which is an initiative of Poets in Nigeria. I was co-organizer of TEDxAminuKanoWay and 2nd runner up of the 2018 edition of The Poetically Written Prose writing competition of The Glassdoor Initiative. I love to read, write, eat good food and travel.
- When was the first time you heard about PIN? When did you begin to appreciate it as a literary body you won’t mind volunteering for?
I first heard about PIN in January 2017 when they hosted a poetry reading in Kano. My friend, Maryam Gatawa was part of PIN then and she invited me. After that, I started following their activities both online and offline. When the call for submissions for poetically written prose writing competition was made I submitted my entry and emerged as the second runner up. I have been volunteering for PIN since then.
- How has it been working from the comfort of your home during this unfortunate Covid-19 Lockdown? Has it in any way affected your creativity
Well, I haven’t really been working from home. My job does not give room for that. The only difference was at the beginning of the lockdown, we were running less frequent shifts, which meant I spent more time at home. I do not think the lockdown has affected my creativity, I have not been the type that writes frequently. Besides, I have written quite some prose in form of letters I tagged “Letters In The Times of Corona”. Surprisingly, I have not written a single poem about the pandemic.
- You are the Secretary of Poetic Wednesday. What is Poetic Wednesday? How do you manage Volunteering in both Poetic Wednesday and PIN?
Poetic Wednesdays Initiative is an online poetry promoting organization that started with a fraternity of friends making poetry submissions every Wednesday. Later on, a Facebook page was created and themes are announced every week for members to make submission on Wednesdays. It has been four years now, and we are glad that we now have a website, full CAC registration, and have held various online and offline workshops (for secondary school students), book chats, open mics sessions and numerous online poetry competitions.
Well, volunteering for the two platforms has not been easy, coupled with my job. The only thing that keeps me going is the passion I have for anything that has to do with poetry. It is particularly challenging when both of them have activities at the same time. Both of them are like family to me, and you know there is nothing more fulfilling than serving family.
- There is no doubt you are a busy one who is a source of inspiration to many. Can you tell us about GlassDoor Initiative that you moderate?
The Glassdoor Initiative is one of the initiatives of PIN. It was invented as some sort of platform where writers will actually showcase their talents through an impromptu poetry writing competition. It was initiated in 2016. It was aimed at making sure that people that have the actual talent are the ones that win the competition. The Poetically written prose contest was originally made such that participants write in a setting that is similar to an examination. That is why we came up with The on-the-spot poetry writing competition earlier in order to simulate that transparency; just like the glass door is, transparent; see-through.
- PIN is aptly described as an Initiative of Initiatives. Won’t you want Glassdoor to be a flagship brand of PIN? If yes, what would you be doing in this regard in the coming months?
Well I think The Glassdoor Initiative is already on its way to becoming a flagship of PIN. It has become a very active initiative, creating several contests in order to ensure the promotion of poetry in Nigeria. Besides, I do not think the different initiatives of PIN are there to compete with each other, more of to complement each other. We are looking forward to having an on-the-spot poetry writing competition offline in all the geopolitical zones of the country. It is going to be a huge event; I do not want to give spoiler alerts (chuckles). Apart from that, we also want to focus on collating and publishing our shortlisted entries for Poetically Written Prose for the years 2019 and 2020, possibly 2018 too.
- GlassDoor Initiative made history organising the second edition of On-the-Spot Poetry Writing Contest on ZOOM. What was the outcome? What plans for the future?
Well, the outcome was great. We had more than a 100 people that indicated interest in participating, and about thirty-four of them were present at the meeting and wrote instantly. It was an amazing experience. I got to realize that we have more talent in this country than we think, and that giving the chance, our poets would compete with poets anywhere on the globe. Now the theme was announced on the platform after the meeting had started, and writers were given just not more than 30 minutes to write. And when you take a look at the quality of the entries, you will realize that, truly, we have people that not just write, but command poetry. The winners were announced and their prizes awarded all on that same day. We are hoping that when the world comes back to normal, we would have a similar and more grand events; this time offline, coordinated at the same time in all the geopolitical zones of the country, that is our hope, that is our target.
- GlassDoor Initiative are also the organisers of the Poetically Written Prose Writing Contest and you were once a 2nd Runner up of this contest. Could this be why you were nominated to moderate the contest? Tell us something we don’t know
Yeah, I was the 2nd runner up of the 2018 edition of the competition. When I submitted my entry I never thought something would come out of it. I was not used to sending submissions for contests, so it was more of a let-me-give-it-a-try something for me. And after I emerged the second runner up and then months later, Mr. Eriata called to ask me if I would like to moderate the 2019 edition of the contest, it felt overwhelming. I still do not know why I was chosen, whether it was by virtue of being a runner-up, or just for the passion I have for poetry.
- What unique experiences would you mind sharing moderating the contest? What really do you look out for as a moderator/judge of the contest?
Well moderating the contest is both tedious and amusing. First, I love that I get to read a lot of entries from people I do not even know. I get to read their thoughts, and catch a glimpse of what is in their hearts even though I do not really know them. It is refreshing. The tedious part is that sometimes, I would have to create time to read them out of my own personal time. Time I’d use maybe to sleep, watch a movie or hangout with friends. Judging the entries, reading them with a critical, not a passionate mind, consumes more time and energy than I thought it would. As a moderator, the first thing I look out for in an entry is how poetic it is; after all, it is a poetic prose. So I look out for all the things that make poetry except that I will not consider rhythm and structure. Things like poetic devices, imageries, clarity of language, creativity and originality. I look out for entries that evoke feelings; those that force me to stop and take a break because of how much the weight of their prowess dawned at me; entries that I read and feel everything the writer feels; those kind of entries are what I look out for. Because in the end, it is poetry I look out for, and unless it evokes some feelings, it is not poetry at all.
- Prior being nominated to moderate the GlassDoor Initiative, have you known of any such coinage called Poetically Written Prose? How would you rate the activities of GlassDoor so far?
It was through the initiative that I came across poetically written prose. Though I have heard of prose poetry, or prosaic poetry, but this specific coinage came to my notice courtesy of PIN. Glassdoor has really done a good job. It has served as the glass door through which we see the talents of many young writers. It has given people like myself a platform to showcase ourselves to the world. It has given us a face and a voice; and has brought a new dawn to writing in Nigeria.
- Do you have plans on ways and means of improved funding for GlassDoor that will positively impact on the overall prize money?
Huh, well I am not very good with funds, but I think if we would get more people that would be sympathetic towards the cause of poetry and make donations that would help promote the art, we would be able to award better prizes and give the writers a better motivation.
- Congratulations for your recent appointment as one of the judges for the 2020 edition of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP). Tell us how you feel.
When I saw my name together with the other judges I felt intimidated, and a bit nervous. Like what am I doing amidst established authors, academics and renowned poets. It was an honor for PIN to deem me fit of such task. It is a great experience for me too. I feel good about me being able to contribute to poetry in the little way that I can.
- No doubt as a medical practitioner, you are a busy person. What’s your daily routine like?
I wake up very early in order to prepare for work. Work is the usual tussle of a teaching hospital. You know you deal with patients, their relatives, students; most times you hardly close without coming across things or event that will disturb your life for the rest of the day. There is the frustration that comes with being a public servant in Nigeria, the things you need to do your job that are probably not available; the endless compromises and sacrifices you must do to get the job done. But there is the sense of fulfilment that comes with knowing that you are part of the reason why a person’s life would be saved; part of why someone would feel better, I think that is the best part of the job. I usually close by 4PM. Sometimes I run night shifts, other times I work weekend mornings or nights. And then when I come back home, there will be house chores sometimes; books to read; sometimes things to write; in times like this, entries to judge. I go through every week day between sips of tea, books, and patient samples. On weekends that I am free, I usually prefer staying at home to sleep off the burden of the week, watch some movies, sometimes I go out in the evenings for a hangout with friends and do some overstayed house work.
- Why Poetry?
Why not poetry? I really cannot say whether I made a conscious decision to choose poetry. It is more of me not being able to let go of poetry from the moment I first come into contact with it. Like a lover we can’t seem to get off our minds. And I think I do poetry because it is an avenue I use to let out my feelings in a way I may not be able to otherwise. Poetry is home for wandering souls like mine. There is something otherworldly, ecstatic and amazing about it. It has given me a place to dump all the words running around in my head. I have always thought that I think too much, like my brain is restless, letting out words in lines rid me off that burden. Besides, what is more amazing that saying a lot with just a few?
- Why Poetically Written Prose? What balance?
Poetically Written prose is like a marriage of poetry and prose. It is a way of bringing the uniqueness of the poetic language and the flexibility of prose writing together. It gives writers a unique opportunity to write poetry in prose form, thereby not having to worry about its specific requirements, especially those of rhythm and structure that may force the poet to cut off some parts. I think it is a great avenue for those who want to combine the liberal nature of prose with the imaginative and rich language of poetry.
What’s the place of Poetry and Poets in shaping society’s perspectives for a better world?
I think poets are the keepers of the society. Poets feel, a lot more than other people do. As such, they can see and feel the happenings around them and bring it to the attention of others through their poetry. They help the society to navigate through itself and come to terms with its realities. Poets are merchants of art, they trade our stories, our histories, our heritage. They take our voices round the globe. They give names to the nameless, sanctuary to the lost and hope to broken hearts.
- As poets, some of us tend to look at stylistics. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style?
Well, I am not sure if I have a particular style of writing poetry. Most times, I allow the poems to write themselves however they come. Sometimes they rhyme, most times they don’t; most times short, other times a bit long; it all depends on how the poem decides to write itself. I am usually the car, the poems steer me as they dim fit. The only thing I can say have been some sort of style for me, is the fact that I have been writing free verse in a very simple language. Other than that, I do not have a particular style. Poetry to me does not come in any particular style. I do not really concern myself with all the fancy poetry writing styles out there. I feel to the brim, and then I gush out, that is my style. Yet, I do not think having a style is bad for a poet. It is good to have some sort of signature or identity, but at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with exploring other forms and testing the waters there too.
- 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?
I think poetry is coming back to the limelights. It has been here before, poetry has always been part of the literature in Nigeria, and in the recent times there seems to be more awareness of the arts. More people are coming out to be poets, to appreciate poetry. It is no longer the hated, and out-of-date genre that most people believed it was. I believe the future is bright for poetry in Nigeria, it is gaining grounds. Nigeria is already producing winners and shortlisters in various poetry competitions across the globe. Our voices are being heard, our stories are being told, and the image of our artistic treasures are being painted to the world. And now with social media and various platforms like PIN, poets have got better and easier chances to showcase their works to the world. Every time you come online, you see call for entries everywhere. And I believe that is a good thing.
- Poets in Nigeria has Connect Centres in several locations in Nigeria. How about Kano?
There’s a poetry connect center in Kano. It was through it that I first came to know of the existence of PIN. It has hosted several poetry events and writing competitions both in Hausa and English.
- What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in our country?
I believe Poets in Nigeria has done, and is still doing its very best in promoting the cause of poetry. It has given up-and-coming poets an opportunity to show their talents. It has brought before our eyes the finest of artists whose existence we never knew before. It has taken poetry to our doorsteps, to every household, to every place where art is promoted and given importance. PIN has paid its dues.
- If you ask me, I would love this session to go on end. What parting words do you have for up and coming poets and writers?
That writing is a gift, they should cherish it, nurture it, grow it, use it, if not to make the world a better place, at least to leave it as good as they met it. That poetry is sacred, that it should be handled with care, that it is home, a haven to come back to after our wandering. That you never get too perfect for a mentor, that when the road is rough and the journey is long, you’ll need a guide, a companion, a compass to take you home. That you can never be a good writer if you aint a very good reader. That reading is the root that taps water to feed our in built creativity. That unless we spread our roots far and wide, we would be buried and forgotten in the sands of history.
- As a poet, we will appreciate you leave us with few lines of poetry (max 10 lines). Thank
If they ask you of me
Tell them I had nothing
But words In my soul
And poetry on
The pores of my skin