‘Poetry is a sacred calling’ – 78th Psalmist | PIN Literary Interviews

In this edition of PIN Literary Interviews, The 78th Psalmist, who recently won the LaCasera Spoken Wars, shares his thoughts on poetry, poetry performance and literary competitions with Semilore Kilaso.

David Osaodion Odiase, also known as “The 78th psalmist”, is a storyteller and history enthusiast who tells conscious African stories through poetry, performance art, film, docu-poetry, and experimental art forms et al., with the intent of promoting historical and cultural literacy. The Edo State indigene was a top-ten entrant of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize in 2016, recipient of the Ekonke African Storytellers prize in 2020, a contributor to the West-Africa to west Oakland poetry exchange in 2021, 1st runner-up GoNigeria Poetry Challenge in 2022 and amongst others, emerged winner of the National Poetry slam competition – Spoken Wars, 2022.

PIN Literary Interviews: Hi David. Congratulations on winning the LaCasera Spoken Wars. It’s a pleasure to have you on this session of PIN LITERARY INTERVIEWS. Tell us something interesting about yourself besides what is in your bio.

78th psalmist: For a spoken word poet, I do not enjoy talking that much. Off stage, I am more of an introvert and try as much as I can to protect my personal space. This is why I like that most people know me as the 78th psalmist and not as David. It affords me the advantage of switching between both personalities when the need arises. The Creatives mustn’t lose themselves to the snapping jaws of the spotlight.

PLI: How long have you been doing poetry? How did you find your niche as a spoken-word poet?

78th psalmist:  I have been doing poetry since about the age of 6 or 7 years. Although at the time, I did not know what I was scribbling down was poetry. It wasn’t until my junior secondary school days that my teacher taught me that it was poetry.

On finding my niche, it wasn’t so clear-cut. I like to say that on the path toward finding one’s passion, we often do not have any idea of what we are even looking for. I knew the most important thing of all, and it was that I wanted to do poetry, the question of which niche took a lot of stumbles, trials, failures, risks, blind faith, and what have you.

I would like to add that when you find your life’s work, you feel it in your heart. An inner peace settles inside you.

PLI: Can you recall your first main spoken-word poetry performance and how you felt? What would you say contributed greatly to your growth as a poet?

78th psalmist: My first poetry performance went bad. I recall I had to do a drama presentation before that, and my trousers had torn, and I delivered my poem in pretty much an awkward pose. It was my first time. If I recall clearly before that time, I looked up videos of spoken word poets such as Kemistree, Graciano, Efe Paul Azino, Dolapo Ogunwale, lots of those poets I watched from afar back then and who today I am humbled to learn from up close.

The above contributed immensely to my growth because growth has to be intentional.  A poet should learn from three things: People, Art (books, films, etc.), and, most importantly, himself.

PLI: As poets, some of us tend to look at stylistics. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style? Would you say performance poetry follows a different style from page poetry, or is it just embodying page poetry?

78th psalmist: As one who evolved from the noble confines of the page to the stage, I would say that to define creativity is to limit it. Hence, I do not think there is a need to draw a line on where and where not; performance poetry permeates into page poetry and vice versa. Because the artist I am is an evolving and versatile persona, ascribing a particular style to myself would be paradoxical. That said, there is a major concession that performance or spoken word poetry should have an abundance of sound devices that makes easy the mnemonics of on-the-spot assimilation by a listening audience.

PLI: What is the writing process like for you? How do you conclude that a poem you have written should be performed on stage or read on page?

78th psalmist: This may sound cliche, but it is hard. It’s very hard to write the way I do. My writing incurs the discipline of fully understanding my subject matter, and this often involves months and years of slow build, research work, “book store raids to buy relevant books,” documentary analysis, emails, and emails to experts in that field to build a rich and concrete narrative as well as an output that can sit on a page, be performed as a piece or adapted into poetry films as a majority of my works are.

PLI: Do you have any interesting habits, such as how and when you master your poems for performance?

78th psalmist: Not really, but early mornings are best for memorizing poems. Also, Titilope Sonuga – a poet I respect, said something about how the more time it takes to write a poem, the easier it is to memorize, but then performance is not just about knowing your words by heart; it furthers into becoming the poem: from voice to breath control, gesticulation, body language, knowing the pace per line and a whole lot more.

PLI: Do you think every poet can be a spoken/performer poet, or does it require special training and talent?

78th psalmist: Nothing is impossible. In fact, the question of what I “think” negates the idea of doing the impossible as also doing the “unthinkable” for anyone willing to be taught, willing to undertake the task, pains, and sacrifice of becoming – ends up becoming. I am a testament of that fact.

PLI: As one who has won poetry slams, you would agree that competitions are healthy and important in the creative space. What influence has competing had on the quality of your poems?

78th psalmist: Beyond the fame and monies that competitions present, it’s the avenue for growth and iron sharpeneth iron. There are people who will say they are not competition poets, who say they do not write to please the audience, and those who venerate themselves as bigger than slams.

My counter-argument against this is that the mind generally functions better when there is something at stake, money aside. Quality slams are really not about who wins or who loses (in my experience, that you win a slam or lose one does not make you a good or bad poet) it affords you the platform and metrics to properly cross-examine your art from a third-party perception against other competitors who are practitioners in your field as well.

PLI: What Nigerian poet(s) do you love to read/ watch their performances?

78th psalmist: I am an erudite when it comes to consuming poetry content. Poets like Efe paul Azino, Dike Chukwumerije, Titilope Sonuga, Dami Ajayi, Graciano Enwerem, Sir Eriata, Tobi Abiodun, Pariolodo, Akinkumbi Lardo, Paul Word Uma, Younglan, Ruddapoet and myself (lol). I listen to myself a lot. I do not think anyone listens to my content as much as I do. I am my greatest critic.

PLI: What advice do you have for aspiring (spoken-word) poets, and what do you think can be done to promote spoken word poetry in Nigeria?

78th psalmist: Be humble, you are not good enough. The day you think you are good enough is the day you die as a creative person. You no longer see the need to grow or to put in more work. Being a poet is a sacred thing. So, undertake it with all dignity and discipline. To be a poet is not to revel in the applause or accolades or to become fascinated by the “chicken change” fame you have garnered in the literary space, or if you are good looking like I am (lol), seek to indulge in proclivities with those you should be mentoring. Poetry is a sacred calling and your words should at all times seek to impact.

In the aspect of poetry promotion, I think adequate funding should be made available by governmental and non-governmental organizations for the Poetry Theatre production industry and the area of Film content creation. There is also a need to educate poets on the business aspect of poetry properly. The business of poetry is very different from doing poetry itself.

PLI: 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?

78th psalmist: Poetry is ever evolving and will continue to be in terms of recognized forms of the craft (page poetry, spoken word poetry, performance poetry) and its derivatives (choreopoem, sign language poetry, sonic poetry, songwriting, experimental poetry, rap, docu-poetry, code poetry- using programming language, etc.). It proves that it will continue to be ubiquitous in contemporary and futuristic artscape and beyond.

PLI: Thank you for your time. Please leave us with a few lines of a poem you have written.  (max 12 lines) and a link to your poetry performance.

78th psalmist:

…our blood has been turning waters red, long before Jesus’ first miracle.
In our version of Christmas story, wise men from the west came bearing gifts in exchange for our children.
Our Negritude – a Coat of many colors covered in blood.
The ocean is a holy book and black people are its middle passage.

When my chemistry teacher talks about Chain Reaction,
I tell him my fathers would understand it better,
That they were shackled in it, compressed like zip files below decks in it,
That its iron corroded deep into their flesh and poisoned their bloodstream in it,
That hot metal burned patterns on their skin in it,
That black people have been the subject of branding long before Public Relations became an industry…

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