Ogugua Michah Okoye, a student of Enugu State University of Science and Technology, won the fourth edition of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize with his poem titled ‘Micah’. He is interviewed by Semilore Kilaso, who asks him questions related to penning the winning poem, his sojourn as a poet, Nigerian poetry and Poets in Nigeria (PIN).
Okoye Micah Ogugua, a Nigerian poet and writer, is an undergraduate at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology. His works have been published in various poetry journals and magazines. He also emerged winner of the 2019 Nigerian Students Poetry Prize. He is a fan of Pablo Neruda and Niyi Osundare. Micah is also a lover of sports, hyperrealism art amongst other things.
- It is a pleasure having you on this session of PIN Literary Interview, Ogugua Micah Okoye winner of the fourth edition, Nigerian Students Poetry Prize. Can we please meet you?
My name is Okoye Micah Ogugua. I am final year student of Enugu State University of Science and Technology. Applied Biochemistry to be precise. I am an indigene of Awka South LGA Anambra State.
- What prompted you to enter for NSPP and why did you choose to submit the exact poem Micah that eventually won the prize in 2019?
I had made the top 10 the previous year. And I felt I could win. I wasn’t certain, but I just knew my work could go the distance.
- If you are asked to hazard why your poem won, what would you say?
I must say that the top 100 poems for 2019 were really exceptional. They were top-notch. If you have read the top 100 poems you will notice that my entry and that of the top three entrants took on a unique theme. I guess our works spoke to the judges. And there’s the God-factor. Grace conquered.
- How long did it take to write the winning poem? What was the writing process like?
I wrote it for an entire night. I did a few retouching days after. But the concrete body that made up the poem was written in one very long night. I had lines in my head for sometime. I spent the night penning them down. They were two poems initially but I kind of merged them to make one piece.
- Do you agree that competitions are important and healthy in the creative space?
Yeah, I do. I mean for every competition I enter, I am forced to push the pen as far as they can, forcing me to get better at my craft. And the feeling that comes with making a shortlist or even winning a competition is very fulfilling. The only downside with competitions is the value most writers attach to them. You could see authors getting depressed or going each day, thinking they are not good enough because their works got rejected. Forgetting that your entry not winning doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. Sometimes it doesn’t speak to the judge. Or maybe they were better entrants. Winning competitions might be a dream but what should really matter to young writers is getting better at their craft. Excellence at competitions should just be a bonus and not the goal itself.
- What opportunities did winning the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP) bring you to?
So many. I have had the opportunity of meeting the most amazing set of people; both in and outside of poetry. I have had the pleasure of sharing ideas with renowned academics in the literary scene. It has also given me a wider audience to peddle my craft. And the book title Micah has helped to blot my name from obscurity.
- Other than the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP), have you ever entered for any poetry contest organised by Poets in Nigeria Initiative?
Yeah. I entered for the poetically written prose earlier this year. I wasn’t so lucky. I will enter for a whole lot of PIN competitions in time to come. I hope I get lucky. As you know most of these entrants are geniuses.
- Can you vividly recall the title of the first poem you ever wrote? Tell us about it and how you landed into poetry writing.
The title of my first poem was Dreams. I wrote it sometime in 2010. My English Language teacher at the time Mrs Fagboro made it compulsory for her students to memorize poems in Niyi Osundare’s ‘Village Voices’. After memorizing the poem ‘Eating with all fingers’, I tried writing a piece on my own and it all fell in place. I have been writing ever since. Although I hid my works for the first few years.
- As poets, some of us tend to look at stylistics. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style?
Well, most of if not all my poems are deeply emotional. I go as deep as I can when I write. I mean I love to narrate a tale and I make sure my reader feels something.
- How do conclude that you are writing a poem and how do you develop from a word into lines?
Most times I write with music. I kind of delve into the emotion I hope to covey in my work through music. I do this even before I pick my pen. At times I write from a rush of inspiration which is quite easier cause I don’t even think, it just flows.
- What Nigerian poet or poets do you love to read?
I read a lot of poems by Nigerian writers both published and unpublished authors. I think the top on my list is Niyi Osundare. I guess that’s because he brings home our African heritage in his works. I am also a fan of Okigbo, Sir Eriata Oribhabor and Salamatu Sule.
- What in your opinion is the place of poetry as a genre of literature in Nigeria? What future? What opportunities for Poets?
I must say in all honesty that poets in this country don’t get the props they deserve. Apart from poetry organizations like PIN, there are very few literary bodies that encourage the field of poetry. Unlike our compatriots in the sciences, I haven’t heard of literary workshop or club funded by the government let alone literary competitions. I mean nothing should stop winners of poetry competitions at the national level from being granted an audience with the minister of education or even the president.
- What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in our country
PIN has been a home for budding poets like me. PIN has really given younger poets like me a world with a place for us. PIN through its poetry readings, poetry festivals, connect centers has given Nigerian poets the avenue to showcase their craft and rub minds with each other. Without PIN there would be no NSPP or the book Micah or even this interview. In time to come, I believe PIN will get the props they deserve. PIN is without no doubt the best thing to happen to this generation of younger Nigerian poets. And PIN is not just some poetry club, it is one big family filled with the most amazing poets you can find in the country.
- Have you ever attended Festival Poetry Calabar?
Yes. I attended the 2019 edition. I met the most amazing people at Calabar. It was a memorable experience. I just hope writers will make it a goal to attend the ones in the coming years.
- Please leave us with few lines of poetry (max 10 lines)
My ink and blood have run dry
I have given all I have to give
And I guess it is my time
My time to say goodbye
My crown and ring shall belong to another
For my share on these grounds is done
Please be fair to my memory little brother
Kiss me goodbye while you may
But don’t forget my name
And how I made you feel