Aremu Adams Adebisi is a writer, teacher, and economist. In 2019, he was nominated for the Best of the Net by Barren Magazine, the Pushcart Prize by Lucent Dreaming, and his poem “Demystification of the Hereafter” for the Fringe Play Festival by Thimblelit Magazine. He has works published in Storyscape Journal, RIGOROUS, Rockvale Review, Newfound Magazine, Third Wednesday Magazine, and elsewhere. Aremu is currently a content editor and strategist for ARTmosterrific. His first chapbook “Transcendence” was published by WRR in 2018, and his second is seeking a press home.
- It’s a great pleasure having to interview you. Please can we meet you?
Okay. I think the majority already know what my name is—I am Aremu Adams Adebisi. I’ve been called an Antagonist all my life because, usually, I hold a contrarian opinion, and I do not tread the paths many would expect me to. I see things in the good lights, albeit heterodox. I feel, many times, that light is the antagonist of darkness and not the other way round.
- Your love for poetry is unquestionable. Why poetry?
I should say poetry just happens. Poetry is existential. It doesn’t ask to be written. It doesn’t wait that we make it happen. It just happens.
Poetry is the natural state of humans. With the right blend of emotions and thoughts, poetry is triggered, and just happens. And you know poetry is not inborn. It is not hereditary and cannot be inherited. It does not flow in the gene or trait of any god-poet, assumed or established. So it gets easy to be indulged. It also does not compel writers nor does it dictate the frequency of their thoughts. It is as fluid as its meaning and components, as liquid as its concepts and patterns. It can be taught, learned, created and recreated. It is life with a breath. Fire with a flame. Magic with a spell.
Exactly why not 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.
Poetry has always been there. Somewhere in our mind. Usually untapped, unnoticed. When you ask some writers, they tell you they got to write poetry because their hearts were broken. And true that. Poetry begins from grief—usually. From not being enough. From solitude. From perceived loneliness. From the death of any of our loved ones. From deep reflection and contemplation. But for me, poetry didn’t start that way. I did not begin poetry with grief. Instead, I started from imitation. The poems I read, albeit being classical poetry — poems from Walter De La Mare, John Buyan, Niyi Osundare, Imam Gazaali, Rumi, etc — I tried to recreate through imitation. My poems therefore were heavy with rhymes. I was writing for pleasure, until I was running pleasure into passion. I joined a community then—Allpoetry. What we did was that we held poetry contests and rewarded winners with dummy medals. I think it’s still being done there. My first poem was ‘Pen Mightiness’. I was prophesizing. Lol. It still amazes me how I started from there, to here. It serves as my little memento. When I get lost in between words and context, I just go back to the poem as a reminder of where I’m from, where I am, and where I still long to be.
- As poets, some of us tend to look at stylistics. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style?
My kind of poetry does not really have to do with a particular style. I think the concept of stylistics in poetry is to make for peculiarity. Poetry does not dictate, does not compel. Poetry is too dynamic to be narrowed down to a certain style. I have had to experiment with different styles over the years. I was once known as this writer with an eye for lyrics. In fact, I became a WRR Poet of the Month in 2015 with a punned lyrical poem titled Miss Pell (which actually stands for the verb Mis-spell). I then proceeded to writing another poem titled ‘Miss Anne Thrope’, which was punned for a misanthrope. I have also written traditional African love poetry, epic poems that had warriors like Moremi Ajasoro in them, Ogedengbe Agbogungboro, Afonja Ilu Ilorin, and others. A doctor once approached me concerning my poem on Sango published in African Poetry. He wanted to use it in one of his plays on Afonja. This same poem has been shared so many times. Styles, really, are the attendant dictations of our emotions, not of poetry. Poetry never says you should be a formalist or a non-formalist. That you should be a confessionalist or a lyricist. We decide that with our own words and our own emotions. It is done as we deemed fit. While stylistics calls for a concentration, I honestly find it confining and worrying. It is the reason why today’s poetry reads almost the same way, because they all appear to be the same style, or from the same style.
- How do conclude that you are writing a poem and how you develop from a word into lines?
This is how I do mine. I start writing a poem with a rough draft. We all know a poem is fundamentally an exercise of the various parts of speech. Except now these parts of speech would mean something else. I try to picture my parts of speech living, existing in the same world as I am. When I start cutting away the plain adjectives, I keep in mind that they are like the crimes I don’t want in my city. So I try to curb them by substitution. I replace them with rhetorics— metaphor, personification, and all. The result is that where I’d want to use beautiful, I’d be using something comparative and symbolic— for example, ‘golden star’ can easily substitute for ‘beautiful’. Adverbs are like raindrops. Sometimes they’re wanted, sometimes they’re not. Nouns and pronouns are like food. I need a lot of them. Conjunctions and propositions are the transport to the promised land. Interjections can take a new form and they could mean shelter. Things and stuff like that. Each part of speech takes a new existential function other than what it was already known, from a word formation to another word formation until there is a poem.
And a poem can be anything, everything or nothing. I once tried to define a poem, what it entails, but I ended up defining nothing. Generally, a poem can be hidden or open, personal or shared, soft or congeal, explosive or not, submitted or kept, original, stolen, or imitated from excesses. I know I have written a poem when my second eye says ‘okay, this is a poem’.
- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing never exhausts me. I had once been writing a poem like that on an empty stomach and I wasn’t even realizing it. I wrote so many times in hunger while in school. Truth is, I think my personality is weird because I hardly write when I’ve eaten; I am most productive when I’m hungry. I don’t know if it’s me or it happens to others, too. My concentration goes beyond the physical realm, my soliloquy increases, when I write. And I tend to move from this place to that place just so clarity can be birthed. It’s a lot of work, I tell you, but it never exhausts me.
- You studied Religion and Economics. Does it have an influence on your poetry?
Definitely. There was a time I wrote about God in a negative way and I was worried. When I have to write about other religions, too, I remind myself to be very careful. Poetry, as much as we want to make it happen and enforce our feelings, should also be considerate. It’s the first attempt at humanity. In addition to this, my poems were first largely inspired by early Arabic poetry. In fact, I began poetry by imitating many of them. I still go back to them when I’m lost. The tone, the mood it gives me, the nostalgia, I find all of these refreshing.
- Have you ever entered for the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP) or any poetry contest organised by Poets in Nigeria Initiative?
Yes. I think about 7 times or so. The Eriata Oribhabor Food Poetry Prize twice— where I came third in one. The Nigerian Students Poetry Prize thrice — where I made the shortlist and the longlist in two of those three. The Poetically Written Prose Prize once— where I didn’t make the count at all.
- What Nigerian poet or poets do you love to read?
My reads fluctuate. But poets like Ayoola Goodness, Saddiq Dzukogi, Ojo Taiye, Kolawole Adebayo, Chisom Okafor, Nome Patrick, are writing great poems.
Adedayo Agarau, Mesioye Johnson, Wale Ayinla, Michael Akuchie, Tukur Loba Ridwan, Michael Ace, Jide Badmus, Francis Salako, Ogwiji Ehi, Omipidan, Aswagaawy— all are doing wonders.
My reads fluctuate, really. I read from here and there. There are many poets now than there were in the past. There are young poets that I could have added to this list, doing incredibly well. I know and read them, and they know I know and read them.
- What in your opinion is the place of poetry as a genre of literature in our Nigeria? What future? What opportunities for Poets?
Poetry in Nigeria has a lot of potentials. One only needs to read ‘Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poets’ to be familiar with these potentials.
Although, we are losing some of these poets to economic downturns, yet there are still many young writers coming through.
It’s a gradual process. Poetry is not where we want it to be yet, but it’s, at least, not stagnant. The world being a globalized village, there are opportunities now than there were in the past, and Nigerians are really tapping into them with dexterity. Then, there is exposure, one which the earlier poets never enjoyed.
- What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in our country?
A wonderful job being done so far. The grassroots connectedness with poetry with PIN branches almost everywhere, the contests, and idea of integrating Nigerian poets into one unique family— all these and more make for a wonderful job. PIN has pushed beyond boundaries that hitherto have been left unexplored.
- How would you want to round off this interview?
The word ‘Poet’ is not all encompassing. It is not inclusive of all dynamics of life without segregation. We should see it as a field with concepts and terminologies. We should see it as a society with different obligations to be taken up by humans. Poetry is not an exclusive mystery with a single concentrated intent. Poetry does not mean we all are to write poetry as literal as it seems. Since we are not familiar with this, we might have been unconsciously misplacing our priorities for a while. Being a poet means we are either a god-poet or a poet-god. Not all poets are to write, some are to create. Not all poets are to participate in a competition, some are to organise this very competition.
- If we give you an opportunity of saying something about Poets in Nigeria, what would you say?
P- Protrusive I- Integrative N- Narrative
Protrusive, integrative narratives!
Either way you want, it works just fine.
- Please would you mind leaving us with few lines of poetry (max 10 lines)
We know it will go round
— this happiness,
this soldiership of hope,
this new family for writers,
with laughter kissing a hundred
cheeks, hugging total strangers,
& thanking them for their gifts.