‘Being a poet influences my everyday decisions’ – Jaachi Anyatonwu | PIN Literary Interviews

Jaachi Anyatonwu is the founder of ‘Poemify’. Here, with Semilore Kilaso, he talks about poetry, poetry promotion, managing ‘Poemify’, Nigerian poetry community, funding literary activities and other notable issues.

Jaachi Anyatonwu is a poet, editor, and publisher living in the suburbs of Aba. He is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks and collections, and the Editor-In-Chief of Poemify Publishing Inc. Jaachi is passionate about discovering new voices and mentoring emerging poets. He is also a fierce advocate for the boy child and sexually molested. Author of many poems and non-fiction books: Diary Of A Broken Poet, Sweetness, Scriptophobia, Creating Lead Generating eBooks, Self Publishing Successfully and Poemify. His publications include anthologies, self-help manuals and creative writing aides. Currently working as an Editor for Libracin Natural Med., Poemify Publishing Inc. and Daachiver Inc. 

1. It’s a pleasure to have you on this session of PIN Literary Interview Jaachi Anyatonwu. Do tell me about yourself and Poemify.

Thank you. I am an unrepentant poet and publisher living in the suburbs of Aba. Also a fierce advocate for the boy child and sexually molested boys. I have authored a handful of poetry chapbooks and creative writing aides: Diary Of A Broken Poet, Sweetness, Humanity is Oblivious of Me, Scriptophobia, Creating Lead Generating eBooks, Self Publishing Successfully and Isms.

In the year 2014, I founded Prose & Poetry Hood as Facebook group for young writers to showcase their creativity. Prose & Poetry Hood will later metamorphose into the literary magazine, self-publishing firm and bookstore that is now Poemify Publishers Inc.

At Poemify, we’re passionate about African writers and story lovers, and have created a platform where they can share and read everything literature. Our Vision is to develop a vibrant online literary platform in Africa where for young African writers can showcase their God-given creative talents to a growing global audeince, to inspire young  writers to strive for excellence using their talents and skills, and also to impact lives, initiate positive change in the African continent and also entertain.

2. Why did you start Poemify?
When did you realise Prose & Poetry Hood needed to evolve beyond a Facebook support group for young creatives?

I had many reasons, which I answered while introducing myself. But these two stand out. Firstly, I observed that most literary magazines/journals where African writers sought credibility and audience are mostly foreign with little or no focus on Africa.

The second reason might come off as funny, but it’s what it is — rejection emails. Rejection hurts, badly, especially when the rejected work is actually of no low standard. In the formative days of Poemify, our slogan was “we accept the rejected”. We wanted to read and publish those rejected creative works.

In 2017, there was need to establish a blog for posts shared on Prose & Poetry Hood Facebook group. In same year, Prose & Poetry Hood was rebranded and taken beyond the blue confines of Facebook.

3.  Although, I personally think everything becomes poetry if you look long enough. I would like to know why you chose the  name “Poemify” given that the organisation is not solely focused on poetry.

That sentiment is mutual, I must say. Being a poet influences my everyday decisions and actions, and I believe this was the case when I thought a more encompassing name was more appropriate and renamed it Poemify in 2017.

Poemify is a fusion of two words: Poem + Amplify. The aim is to amplify African poetry through our various channels and activities. Although the initial goal was to take African poets from the shadows and place them in the spotlight, we’ve since expanded our coverage to include everything art.

The name Poemify has been a limiting factor over the years, I must confess. Non-poet writers naturally avoid our call for submissions because ‘Poemify’, while poets flood us with their poems. Notwithstanding, Poemify has come to stay, and we shall continue to amplify African literature irrespective of the genre.

4. What’s your experience promoting poetry?

According to Robert Frost, “poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words”. Such a beautiful statement but unfortunately it ignores the reality that promoting poetry is not easy.

Promoting poetry can feel uncomfortable, daunting or even impossible. With so many writers working to be seen or have their work published, it can feel like there isn’t room for young poets in today’s market. Also, lack of funds to fuel contents can be demotivating. But, I can say with a purposeful, intentional and communal approach to promoting poetry, it has been more encouragingly productive. We’ve successfully published young poets at no costs, sponsored poetry events, powered contests and rewarded poets for their art. Not a rosy adventure but worth everything.

5. Evidently, running a website and literary press requires funding, and as compared to other sections of the creative industry in Nigeria, there is almost zero funding for literary art. How has Poemify managed to stay afloat amidst this?

Managing Poemify has been interesting. It’s fulfilling to provide a platform for young African writers and see thousands of visitors read them. It has cost me money and a lot of my time. It has also caused me heartaches. Twice in 2019, Poemify website was a victim of hack attacks. All efforts to regain access and secure files were futile. I lost files, money and even interest. After the second attempt, I almost threw in the towel but for the supports that flooded in. I started all over again, and we moved on. We have made impact and shall continue to do more despite the challenges. Managing Poemify haven’t been easy. Recently, I placed a call for volunteers and the response was massive. The Poemify vision is a huge one and it needs other devoted big minds who are passionate about amplifying African literature.

6. What roles would you say indie press plays in the promotion of literary art in Nigeria?

I think independent press are bringing forth some of the most exciting, groundbreaking new voices and stories in the African literary sphere. They lead the charge in unconventional and nontraditional publishing. They publish the stories that the big conglomerate publishers ignore, the clearly beautiful books written by often unagented, future legends of the literary community at home and abroad. They are keeping alive the unique stories of less priviledged writers, the stories of the unheard, the wild, the rejected, and the impoverished.

I strongly believe indie press springboard new and untapped talent into the larger global conversation, and they’re interested in cultivating a writer’s unique voice, rather than insisting unpublished and young writer fit into a pre-existing mold.

7. Indie presses in the UK, USA, and Canada solicit funds through public donation and crowdfunding. Do you think such can work in Nigeria?

Soliciting funds to run indie presses is a global trend. I have seen such ‘donation’ call to actions on African litarary journal and magazine websites. I may not know how well it works for them, but I believe, from my experience, people are beginning to appreciate art, and shall someday soon be willing to donate to literary blogs and organisations.

8. There is this general perception that poetry is for restricted readers. What in your opinion could be done in encouraging the public in reading of poetry ?

The most striking thing about contemporary poetry is that no one seems quite satisfied with it. Non-poets, who generally don’t read poetry, are only a little less enthusiastic than poets, who do.

I think the reason people feel poetry is for a select few is because most poets do not write relatable pieces. You can’t write like Soyinka and Shakespeare combined and expect the market woman to comprehend.

I’ve raised the issue of the poetry problem. Some common things people say about poetry: it’s old/ dead, it’s nerdy, it’s elitist, snobbish, stuck-up, or exclusive, it’s hard and boring. These objections often turn, somehow, into downright hatred. People sometimes tense up when they hear the word. A true physiological response.

From my experience, I have surmised reasons why people hate poetry. Maybe, just maybe, these reasons have something in common.

One of the reasons is that we beat the dead horse proudly, and with large words. Poetry is not like mathemathics, where you can use rules and operations to pinpoint errors and evaluate answers. Spoken word poetry has gone mainstream. Why so? Spoken words have learned to deploy simplicity. This makes their poetry to be easily understood by the audience.

The perception that poetry is for restricted readers is fast losing its hold. In Aba where I reside, I co-founded a literary hangout for writers and art enthusiasts. If I am not exergarating, 66% of our regular members/participants are not writers of any genre, yet they derive maximum pleasure sipping finely brewed poetry with ears on the last Sunday of every month.

Poems are so crucial to do with the movement of words through a line or a series of lines. If contemporary poets can learn to make words dance on paper, people will embrace poetry with the same passion with which they gulp down their favourite drinks.

9. What Nigerian poet(s) do you continually revisit their works?

Uche Njie’s Whispers & Murmurs’ is my weekly poetry hymnbook.

10. Poetry appreciation is gaining ground in Nigeria. What in your opinion is the place of poetry as a genre of literature in Nigeria? What future? What opportunities for Poets?

 The re-emergence of poetry appreciation and acceptance is amazing, and at the same time shocking, considering how unpopular it was some time ago. More people are learning to read and write poetry, and also willing to pay to attend poetry events. This is a welcome development. I see a future where poetry and poets attain same fame and recognition enjoyed by folks in the entertainment industry. There is a plethora of literary opportunities for poets to seize, ranging from poetry contests, to fellowships, and paying poetry journals.

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

Inarguably, Poets In Nigeria Initiative is the vanguard of poetry renaissance in Nigeria. PIN is advancing the fronts of poetry to unite all Nigerian poets into a single community. PIN has been doing great with putting poetry in the spotlight. PIN’s consistency inspires me greatly.

12. Thank you for your time, Jaachi. Please leave us with few lines of a poem you have written. (max 12 lines).

in the eyes of tonight’s moon
sits stories untold,
feelings unfelt,
longings unsatisfied,
heights unreached,
poems unwritten,
wishes unrealized
and fantasies unimaginable
struggling through a cloud of darkness

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