‘I cannot find any obstacle to the progress of PIN’ – Chinatu Orji | PIN Literary Interviews

Chinatu Orji is the moderator of PIN Connect Centres. She is Semilore Kilaso’s guest in this edition of PIN Literary Interviews. She shares her journey as a poet and her experience working with PIN in this poetry-driven conversation.

Blessed Chinatu Cyril Orji is a poet, writer, storyteller, on-air presenter, lover of people with special abilities, and author of Naija Waka stories, via which she promotes Naija Pidgin and the immediate past Lead representative of Poets in Nigeria Initiative, University of Cross River State Connect Center. She is the Moderator of PIN Connect Centres. Blessed enjoys listening to reggae and reading poetry written by others and believes that we can do more by doing a little more.

PIN LITERARY INTERVIEWS: Hello, Blessed Chinatu Orji. It’s a great pleasure having you on PIN Literary Interviews. Tell us more about yourself.

 Blessed Chinatu Orji: Hello! Semilore, it is such a delight to be interviewed by you, thank you so much. I am a graduate of the University of Cross River State (UNICROSS), formerly Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH), where I bagged a B.Sc. in Mass Communication. I work as a broadcast journalist at Radio Nigeria Canaan City FM and I’m also the Public Relations Officer of SofaDonDo Advocacy Group. I also write; I enjoy documenting my experiences living in Nigeria via #Mynaijawaka in English and Naija Pidgin. Oh! I count myself a poet even though I don’t write as much as I see other poets do; I’ll change, amen. My works have appeared in Loana Press Magazine, Macosa Digest, and I made the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize 2021 longlist, among other things. My devotion to the promotion of Poetry has seen me go from a Co-Representative of a Connect Centre to a Lead-Representative and most recently, appointed the Moderator of Poets in Nigeria Connect Centres, where I create, coordinate and promote poetry writing, discourse, reading, and performance in higher institutions in Nigeria where PIN exists.

Another thing you should know about me is that I love volunteering. Using my skill, time, resources, and knowledge to fix a challenge makes me glad. I currently volunteer for SOFADONDO Advocacy Group, The Nigerian Red Cross Society, Brencare Foundation, and The Bridge Leadership Foundation. I can’t tell you about myself without mentioning how passionate I am about the plight of street kids in our country. As often as possible, in conjunction with well-meaning persons, I reach out to them via the umbrella of Hope For Street Kids Outreach. On most days, if you don’t catch me sharing a smile, it’ll be me listening to Lucky Dube. He is my all-time superstar; Jah rests his soul.

PLI: Can you recall the first poem you wrote? Tell us about it and how you landed into poetry writing.

BCO: Ahhh, the first poem I wrote! Now that I think about it, I’m trying to hold back the laughter because what was my pen spilling on that paper? The title was “The Power in You”, it was inspired by a contest. My Literature teacher in secondary school, Mr Patrick Utabu, is responsible for my poetry enthusiasm. Back then, he’ll point out some lines from a novel and tell us they were poetic; He’ll further instruct that we cram them to school the next day as an assignment. We had to do it or face the music. As time went on, he selected a few of us to represent the school in a talent contest. While other schools showcased dancing and singing, he said we’ll do poetry.

I started shaking because I saw a long full scape paper filled with words beyond me. His stance was we must do it; hence he cajoled us into rehearsals upon rehearsals before the main contest. During one of the rehearsals, I went back home filled with thoughts of the amazing prizes to be won. The prizes became an extra motivation. I began reading and cramming, and before things hit the wire, I was fit to run with a few corrections from my teacher. On the D-day of the competition, my school came fourth, we got a consolation prize. I went back home with eyes swollen from tears and frustration because I was the team lead, the prizes I expected didn’t come, and I messed things up. I forgot to mention the title of our poem and the author. These were the points the judges pointed out that made me lag behind.

I stayed two days away from school, hoping the tension would go down before I returned. On my return, Mr Patrick summoned me to the staff room and built up my spirit, then gave me the assignment to write a poem with a title and author’s name and submit it the next day. I went home and did as instructed; I repeated the process over and over until adding titles to my work became part of me. That exercise gave birth to “The Power in You” There! That’s how I landed myself in poetry. Currently, nobody needs to coax me into writing; it has become a thing of the heart. With its manifold nature, I can share with the world anything.

PLI: What is the writing process like for you? How do you conclude that you are writing a poem, and how do you develop a word into lines? Do you have any interesting writing habits, such as how and when you write?

BCO: One thing I’m certain about is that I don’t have to train my mind to get into any “writing mood” My poetry is borne out of my existence bearing witness to life and everything in-between. Hence, my writing process is pretty simple and random. I could be at a bus stop, and words come. It could be while listening to a song or hearing people talk. I just try as much as possible to always have something to write on; you know what they say about short pencils yeah? In situations where there is no short pencil, I always record. Trust me, all these pieces come together to create magic!

PLI: You were the Lead Rep. PIN UNICROSS and now the moderator of PIN Connect Centres. How has it been volunteering your time and services to Poets in Nigeria?

BCO: Woah! One of the best things that have happened to me is realising how valuable my services are for promoting PIN activities. I came in contact with PIN in 2017 as a very shy person who didn’t have a hold on leadership. Ofem Ubi, the pioneer Lead Rep, and I would attend readings and meetings organised by UNICAL connect Centre; we kept attending until our commitment attracted other students from our school (UNICROSS). When the numbers started increasing, we saw the need to create our own connect centre, with the guidance of a former UNICAL Lead Representative, Veralyn Chineye, and the support we got from PIN Central, Ofem Ubi was appointed the Lead Representative of the connect centre in 2017 while I was a Co-Representative. This position lasted us through 2019, when Ofem graduated. I took over from him as the Lead Representative from then and handed the baton to Michael Esukpa in 2021. Today that connect centre that started with less than seven persons has a membership strength of over 30 members and is now fully registered as a literary hub on UNICROSS Campus. All these years of my transition have not been a roller coaster. It’s been so much learning. How did I go from avoiding contact with people to being in their DM reminding them about readings on Friday? I have learnt a lot about people management, team building, Communication, and good Listenership.

PLI: Give us a brief on the Connect Centre’s initiatives, projects implemented, and plans. What challenges does the initiative face?

BCO: I resumed office as the moderator of PIN Connect Centres in February 2022. Five months down, with the level of commitment, I’m getting from most of our connect centre representatives, I must say bigger things are indeed ahead. Notwithstanding how the ongoing ASUU strike has tried to halt most of our activities on campus, we’ve had events take place. Some of which include: Monthly readings, whether on or offline, have become an integral part of our connect centres so much that WhatsApp groups and zoom have become a common meeting ground. All connect centres successfully marked world poetry day on 21st March this year.

PIN Bayero University Kano connect centre organised a poetry writing contest. Members from our connect centres actively participated in the Providus Bank Poetry Cafe workshop/contest with Prof Wole Soyinka as the grand host. PIN UNICROSS marked its first anniversary as a registered literary hub on Campus. In the pipeline, we have two new PIN Connect Centres coming to Al-Istiqama University Sumaila, Kano State and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, formerly known as Anambra State University.

Let me also let this cat out of the bag; from this month, you’ll begin to see new features from our Connect Centres, such as PIN personality of the month, Poem of the month, book recommendations and so on. Just follow our social media handles and website to stay updated.

PLI: As an OAP, you interact with diverse people; how has it influenced your art?

BCO: Being an on-air personality creates a path to see things through people’s eyes. I am afforded the luxury of peeping into the soul of others. Frequently, I interact with occasioned and random people from different walks of life; it gets intriguing how vast our minds can be. I put all of these together, fit them into different shoes and bring dots and dots to bear. Having access to all this knowledge gives more life to my work because it’s almost like from one spot, I have been in different places. When I am on the radio, I do not necessarily need to travel physically to gain knowledge, it’s just a matter of “Hey there! What is happening at your end?”

PLI: What niche do you hope to create for PIN Connect Centres?

BCO: Although I opine that a niche is some sort of a box. I like the “Do it Yourself Niche”. One of the aims and objectives of PIN is to create unlimited opportunities for poets to showcase their talents. There is room for everyone to shine as long as you play by the rules. I would love for Connect Centre representatives and members to be able to think up initiatives that will further strengthen the vision of PIN. By God’s grace, that is already happening. Connect Centres now plan and execute activities lauding poetry. They only come around for guidance and approval; if there is one thing we do at PIN so well, it is supporting commitment. We don’t take people lightly with a full sense of obligation; these are the ones who make the niche visible. Something that makes me glad is seeing the outcomes already. For instance, after I had notified Connect Centre Representatives of the importance of reporting activities, some Reps now send their activity reports without being implored to do so. That’s the mindset I’m talking about, knowing the right things to do and doing them at the appropriate time.

PLI: What is your opinion on using social media to promote literary art?

BCO: Although my first encounter with poetry wasn’t via social media, today, it serves as a vital medium for exchanging meaning. Social platforms have now fuelled the interest of so many young and older people as long as they have access to social platforms. I see young people burn data watching their favourite poets perform, enrol for poetry workshops organised online, buy and subscribe to poetry collections online etc. I marvel at the level of impact social media has recorded so far. The publicity of poets and poetry on social media has gotten to a point where we now witness big events in Nigeria and beyond, having poetry performances as a major attraction. It wasn’t so when I got into the art. Today, if you want to take poetry seriously, the answers are just a few clicks away. Social media now serves as a means of engagement, awareness and a huge promotion tool for poetry enthusiasts. A single comment or criticism can be all the feedback a writer needs to be on track. What’s even more interesting? Its flexibility and reach! You can reach every corner of the world from your small space. Your work can pop on timelines of people you’ve been aching to meet. Many dead or alive poets became popular with social media’s emergence. From the look of things, social media will continually be that link between now and eternity.

PLI: What Nigerian poet(s) do you continually read?

BCO: I can’t afford to take my eyes off poems written by Philip O. Umeh, Niyi Osundare, Eriata Oribhabor, Ken Saro Wiwa, Micah Ogugua, Nnimmo Bassey, Sophia Ekanem, Maryhilda Ibe, Odia Ofeimun, Chinua Achebe, Elijah Aniah, Christopher Okigbo, Ofem Ubi, Nana Asma’u, Gabriel Okara, Divine Mfam, Theresa Lola, Jonathan Oluwatosin, Caleb Femi and Mabel Segun.

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

Take a look around; there is so much awakening happening around poetry. Parents now get poets to tutor their kids on the art; churches use spoken word poetry to convey God’s message to his people. Most Schools now have fully inculcated it into their syllabus. Poetry lovers should not get tired of flying this flag. I may be paraphrasing this now, but I recall how a great poet and promoter of Poetry, Sir Eriata Oribhabor, said at an event that very soon, major gatherings and meetings will be incomplete without poetry. I already see that statement manifesting. Just recently, spoken word poetry became a category in the Grammy Awards. All of these indicate that the efforts of poetry enthusiasts and organisations like Poets in Nigeria are yielding positive results. The future is radiant; I can see it; let’s just take the works we do in our nooks seriously.

PLI: Can you hazard the future of PIN as an organisation dedicated to poetry for service?

BCO: From my perspective, I cannot find any obstacles to the progress of PIN, whether now or in generations to come. My response has nothing to do with my affiliation to PIN; it’s just that, to an extent, I’ve been around the poetry community to know how things play out. PIN is a pragmatic organisation, with humans as structures, thus making it the standard for progress. Her initiatives are all-encompassing; whether you’re just starting in poetry, old, young, or confused, there is a place for you. So with all these, isn’t it obvious that the supposed hazards will be nowhere to be found?

PLI: Much as I appreciate your attention, rounding off this interview without a dose of poetry reading would be a failing on my part. Please leave us with a few lines of a poem you have written. (max 12 lines).

BCO: My absolute pleasure, here you go!


Today I’m making space in my bed for demons,

I hope they don’t destroy me,

Fear has outlived my bones.

The remnants of sanity whisper from afar,

As long as I’m here, everywhere is a grave.

Tell my paymasters to take that bouquet away,

They have buried the sun in a tomb,

scarier but clearer,

They won again.

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