Martins Deep, a widely anthologized Nigerian poet, is our first guest this year. He responds to questions from Semilore Kilaso on poetry writing, photography, acceptance and rejection, copyright infringement, social media and poetry promotion, Nigerian poetry and others.
Martins Deep is a Nigerian poet, artist, and currently a student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. His works deeply explore the African experience of the boy/girl child. His creative works have appeared, or are forthcoming on FIYAH, The Roadrunner Review, Covert Literary Magazine, Barren Magazine, The Hellebore, Chestnut Review, Mineral Lit Mag, Agbowó Magazine, Surburban Review, IceFloe Press, FERAL, Kalopsia Literary Journal, Libretto Magazine, Kalahari Review, & elsewhere. He loves jazz, adores Bethel Music and fantasizes reincarnating as an owl. He tweets @martinsdeep1.
1. It’s a great pleasure having to interview you, Martins Deep. Please let us meet you?
Thank you for this honor.
I am Martins Deep, and I hail from Delta State, Nigeria. I am a poet, photographer, visual artist and currently an undergraduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
2. When did you start writing and what sparked your interest in poetry?
My writing journey, I very much recall, began in 2009. I was in a tutorial in preparation for Junior WAEC when I held pen to paper in what would unfold into this adventurous journey in creative writing. I remember scribbling a nature poem written after hymns. I showed the piece to three of my classmates and got two thumbs up.
The strongest I remember of my earliest involvement in poetry was when a neighbor brought me West African Verse, a collection of African poems annotated by Donatus Nwoga. The book struck me as magical with my mind exposed to words I’d never seen, or heard. The expressions were beautiful. Prior to my discovering the annotations for each poem in the collection at the last pages of the book, the poems were difficult to comprehend, but I believed there was something about them to enjoy. I read each poem out loud, trying to recite them. It was here I really fell in love, and even deeper in love when a friend gifted me, A Selection of African Poetry, an unforgettable anthology compiled and annotated by Kojo E. Senanu, Theo Vincent. I later went on to savour American poetry I bought from a local bookstore in Kaduna.
This began as the real initiation into the world of creative writing— poetry specifically.
3. As poets, some of us tend to look at stylistics. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style?
I find myself getting worried sometimes how I found my art on the fence between the usage of archaic imageries and the modern. It was the blurb for my poetry chapbook, “A Sheaf of Whispering leaves” by Okwudili Nebeolisa that drew my attention to this. Perhaps I could give an excuse for this as an engulfing nostalgia for the lifestyle of society before my birth. I find myself often drawn by the fascinating experience of life without the sophisticated tools we have today. Some of my contemporaries finds it difficult understand my choice of imageries, the reoccurrence of certain local objects, proverbs and philosophy of life through the lenses of the old. I tend to marry these realities as safely as possible.
4. Do you have any interesting writing habits, such as how and when you write? Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Well, I do have this routine of staring through space, after a notable spark of an idea. This idea mostly begins from just a word, or a stray phrase floats into my head.
The first stage of my poem (as is typical of the genesis of most creations) never looks promising, but I write anyways. I mostly write with relatable imageries as vividly displayed in my mind as possible. The poems often have central theme on which I try to deeply explore. I then clothe them with as much literary devices I find suitable for the poem.
The words of Ernest Hemingway have been an anthem for me: “Write drunk, edit sober”. I try as much as possible to pour out everything into giving life to my poems. I am intentional about every word and often do research to be totally convinced of its accurate usage.
I think writing for me is both energizing and draining. The thought that I have a work I can call mine, complete and fit for publication is beautiful, but the time, effort, and sacrifice used up in its creation is what I may call exhausting. Beautifully exhausting.
5. As a photographer, would you say poetry is related to photography in terms of visual and aesthetic appeal?
Yes. I believe in the mysteriously strong connection between poetry and photography. Being a beginner in photography, I’ll say I’m still exploring their connection in much brighter light. Photography has shaped my poem in ways beyond telling, and vice versa. One could tell it’s the mind of a poet behind the titles of my photos, or the what is portrayed. My poems too have become remarkably graphical in their delivery.
6. You’re famed for writing multiple poems and getting paid acceptances per week. What’s the trick? How many works did you publish in 2020?
I actually started getting my works out for publication in April. This specifically began after my encounter with experimental poetry. Ever since, I started exploring language, form and style in new ways. And this I did consistently to be good at it. I was met with rejections but kept on. And yes, I got impressive with acceptances one of the months at the tail end of 2020. For me, I call this trick consistency and resilience. I kept finding time busy schedules to study, and challenge myself to improve. I kept trying to redefine rejection letters that it wasn’t really a bad thing after all. I think these brought me some admirable strides I am grateful for. I have well over 80 publications, and this is including poetry and artworks.
7. Wow! 80 Publications, that’s very impressive. What about rejections? How do you deal with rejection?
I think what stands out for me worthy of celebration is my resilience. The struggle to redefine rejection as natural for someone desirous of accomplishment. It hurts, of course. Could land you in depression even. The staying power remains the greatest strength poets must arm themselves with.
What is wounding is the time spent hunting the opportunities, religiously following the guidelines, selecting my choicest works, and sending. If this is a dream mag, multiply the pain by two. I think I have gotten more than 160 rejection between April and December 2020. As at 7th January, 2021, I have gotten 14 rejections and 1 acceptance.
Many people think it’s that rosy for me. I don’t get acceptances everyday. There are days I wake up to rejections and sleep with rejections. I have gotten six rejections a day and didn’t get an acceptance to console me till a week later.
8. Do you think the art of poetry creation can be learnt or is it an inborn talent that can only be polished through practice?
I think poetry is more of an interest hidden somewhere within us to effectively communicate ourselves. This, of course, gets improved with all the much-needed practice it needs to become a voice.
9. A number of young poets have claimed to stop writing because of their works being plagiarised. As a young creative, what is your opinion on plagiarism, intellectual theft, and copyright infringement, and how can these acts be curtailed?
Although I do not quite relate with my works getting plagiarised, I find it terribly disturbing that someone could boldly take someone else’s work and call it theirs. I think poets involved in this act lack confidence in the originality of their craft. This confidence can be instilled in organized workshops and other literary gatherings.
I do not think there are accurate techniques in curtailing plagiarism and copyright infringement than better educating those in the literary scene the evils and consequence of the act. Also, defaulters should not go unpunished to enforce the need for originality and acknowledgement of someone else’s intellectual property.
10. What are the advantages of writing communities and engaging Social Media as a tool for the promotion of literary art?
I am always grateful to be a part of the age. The limitless possibilities that exist just keeps you in relentlessly pursuing excellence. Thanks to writing communities scattered everywhere, Writers can easily connect, share ideas, opportunities, rub minds, be mentored, and get established in their crafts. I will never forget the audience I found on amazing Facebook, the uplifting comments, and the great extents it gave me a boost at the very start of this literary adventure. I am grateful for my writing community House of Lords and their continual support.
To find writers from different parts of the nation engaging with your works is beautiful in promotion and appreciation of one’s craft. When I hear that some poets in a university in Nigeria discuss my works, I get really excited and fulfilled. That a poet’s work is worthy of engagement is bliss. It is here that poets grow confidence in their art. Social media is a powerful tool for any poet who desires to be heard.
11. Have you ever entered for the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP) or any poetry contest organised by Poets in Nigeria Initiative?
I entered for the last edition of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP), but unfortunately didn’t make it to their longlist as well as their other contests.
12. What Nigerian poet(s) do you continually read?
I do not exactly read select Nigerian poets. I find their works beautiful and savour them. And trust me, works by Nigerian/African poets holds the strongest fascination for me. This is probably because of resonance and how deeply I find them relatable. However, in recent times I have read JK Anowe, Gbenga Adesina, Gbenga Adeoba, Pamilerin Jacobs, Ojo Taiye, Ernest Ogunyemi, Michael Akuchie, amongst others
13. What in your opinion is the place of poetry as a genre of literature in Nigeria? What future? What opportunities are there for Poets?
I am a strong believer in the power of poetry to transform a people and the society they want to live in. It is a weapon of truth, and should maintain a valuable position in educating the mind.
I believe the future is bright for poets and poetry in Nigeria. You get out there and find Nigerian poets doing exploits, engaging international audience with works that give you confidence that our literary fathers have indeed raised worthy sons. From getting paid for accepted pieces, getting published in elite literary platforms, clinching poetry prizes, getting into fellowships and literary workshops, securing MFAs for creative writing courses outside the shores of the country, the opportunities abound. With resilience to thrive in the literary scene, one could sense the brilliance of the future for Nigerian poets.
14. What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in our country?
I think poets in Nigeria has left, and is leaving indelible footprints on the sands of time. Poets everywhere around the country can readily boast of the efforts of PIN. There has been a harvest of voices and it is one of the loveliest sights to behold. The excellence they uphold in poetry, the sacrifices, the enabling environment for poets to meet, and more are worthy of a resounding applause. I hope in the coming years, better strategies are discovered to further the cause of poetry in Nigeria.
15. Thank you for your time. Please leave us with a poem you have written (max of 12 lines)
In that endless season of night,
we never knew how fragile we were— did we?
until the walls we couldn’t surmount
rose like the back of God turned against us.
You recall how— suddenly— everything widened their mouths
under every slippery cliff to swallow every piece of us;
blades of grass whetted into rapiers;
our bloodstreams rushing to fill drinking horns.
Still we trudged on, with necks too stiff to turn back,
and our chapped lips bled aubades, even owls joined
in the dawn chorus of our fallen reincarnated as songbirds.
I bring this broken self to the fireflies in my little brother’s eyes
and name my scars after the failure of everything that tried to kill me.
Mama looks me deep in a wound, and renames me Ogadinma.