Portrait of Water authored by Samuel Adeyemi, a student of Federal University, Lokoja, won the first prize of the 2021 edition of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP). In this brief conversation with Semilore Kilaso, he discusses his winning work and previous participation in the NSPP.
Samuel A. Adeyemi is the author of the chapbook, Heaven is a Metaphor. He is a Poetry Editor at Afro Literary Magazine and a Poetry Reader at Salamander Ink. A Best of the Net Nominee and Pushcart Nominee, he is the winner of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize 2021. His works have appeared—or are forthcoming—in Palette Poetry, Frontier Poetry, 580 Split, Agbowo, Brittle Paper, Jalada, and elsewhere. When he is not writing, he enjoys watching anime and listening to a variety of music. You may reach him on Twitter and Instagram @samuelpoetry
PLI: Hi Samuel. It’s great to have you back on PIN Literary Interviews, this time as the winner of the Nigerian Student Poetry Prize 2021. Congratulations, again. It is interesting to note that your poem A Monochrome Grief was on the last page of NSPP 2020 anthology— The House That Built Me, and now this year’s anthology is named after your poem Portrait of Water. How do you feel about this win?
Samuel A. Adeyemi: Thank you very much, Semilore. It is a pleasure to talk with you again. I noticed that as well—my longlisted poem closing 2020’s NSPP anthology, and my winning poem beginning this year’s. I also noticed I used the word “portrait” in the last stanza of the poem in 2020’s anthology, and the title of this year’s prize-winning poem had the same word. Of course, it is all coincidence, but, like you, I found that quite interesting. I still am surprised by the win, but I feel great and happy I could go that far.
PLI: How did you feel about writing with a theme for NSPP? How did you decide on the theme you were going write on?
Samuel A. Adeyemi: To be honest, I’m not a big fan of writing for magazine issues or contests with themes. I’m not so good at that, adhering to a particular theme. Most times when I submit to themed issues, it’s because I already had a poem written which coincidentally corresponds. It was a little different with NSPP this year, since there were three themes to pick from. I chose “Politics of Retrogression” because it screamed “Nigeria.” During that period, I was writing a lot of protest poems, so writing another one seemed natural.
PLI: How long did it take to write the winning poem?
Samuel A. Adeyemi: I wrote the poem in a day, which was unusual because most of my poems take weeks or months to complete (there’s this stubborn one I’ve been writing since last year).
PLI: Evidently, your win is giving hope to Nigerian contemporary poets. It’s huge to see a familiar name win NSPP. What is your reaction to this
Samuel A. Adeyemi: Well, I think it’s great that there is a little shift. One reason I never imagined winning is that my style of poetry, judging from the previous winners, hasn’t really been favoured. And that’s okay. Taste, you know. Admittedly, I did dream someone would break the trend, and weirdly it was me who did. Maybe I’m just being modest, but I’m not so sure about giving hope to “contemporary” poets—that’s for them to testify, I think. But if it is so, if my win does inspire contemporary poets alike to be drawn to the prize, then that would be beautiful to watch.
Portrait of Water
What is left of a country if it keeps receding
into its shadow? Wherever you stand, gaze at
the sky. There is an abyss swallowing the sun;
my country draped in black, a bride mourning
towards light. Yesterday, a massacre stained
my sight. Today, I am running to the stream
to wash my face, & my eyes begin to pour. The
people say it is proof the wind is still poisoned
by grief. Still, I run towards the stream. I fetch,
& the water is blood. The people say it is proof
the water, too, mourns. So I sit on the stones,
wondering what to do with all this red. I weep
into the water, but my tears cannot cleanse the
poison—each drop rippling gently to its death.
Truly, everything dies here. Even the flower
is returning into its seed. I know nothing
about newness anymore. Will you teach me,
little bird? The river I go to cleanse myself
begs me to cleanse it. In the end, we sit
beside each other, praying for rain.
Read Samuel A. Adeyemi previous interview here: