‘There is an uprising on the Nigerian poetry scene and it’s powerful’ – Olúwádáre Pópóọla | PIN Literary Interviews

Olúwádáre Pópóọla was recently shortlisted for the 2021 edition of Brunel International African Poetry Prize. Drawn into a conversation by Semilore Kilaso of PIN Literary Interviews, he talks about influences on his writings, African poetry and other notable issues to Nigerian poetry.

Olúwádáre Pópóọla is a Nigerian poet and Sports Journalist. Raised in Ibadan and Abeokuta where he is studying for a degree in Microbiology, his works have been featured or are forthcoming on Glass, Palette Poetry, The SHORE, Barren Magazine, Jalada Africa, Icefloe, Lumiere Review, angs(t)zine, perhappened, among others and anthologized in the CTC Collective and LUMIN. He is a 2020 Best of Net nominee and while his works explore themes of identity, belonging, detachment, family and country, he is currently working on his first chapbook.

1. Hi Oluwadare, Congratulations for being on the Brunel International African Poetry Prize 2021 shortlist. What does it mean to you to be shortlisted?

Thank you! Truly, it is an honour to have my work recognized and be shortlisted for such a reputable prize. Making this year’s BIAPP shortlist means a lot and I take it as proof, not especially that I can write, but of hard work and patience in working out the beautiful art of poetry.

2. Perhaps, you might be the youngest shortlisted poet, when did you start writing and what sparked your interest in poetry?

I heard so, too. This year’s shortlisted poets are probably the youngest ever in the history of BIAPP which I take as a good sign. I was raised in a home where reading and writing were the day’s order, and mostly by my mother who is a linguist and Doctor of Communication. This means that I was exposed to lots and by that, I mean lots of books early on in life, plus I took quite an interest to reading.

I started off writing with plays and short stories, sometime in Basic School, before poetry in High School. What sparked my interest isn’t very clear right now, but it must have been the need to explore something different from those.

3. What kind of questions are you exploring in your poetry? How would you describe poetry in relation to your style?

In my poems, I explore my country that is Nigeria. I can’t tell if it’s in the good or bad sense, because I think I’m constantly finding hope for her but yet, I tell her stories. I explore detachment, identities which I believe in turn gives way to belonging. I also explore complex relationships with family.

As regards stylistics, poetry is very dynamic, so I don’t box myself up in a corner. I can say I’ve written prosaic poems as much as I have done erasure or even imagistic poems. Something I do discover I love doing is experimenting and allowing the poem define itself. I can start off a poem fully in prosaic form and end up expressing doubts with the use of caesuras or even draw up a contrapuntal in the end. Poetry is art, and art isn’t rigid.

4. There’s this talk in the international literary community on how Africans explore grief, and romanticize suffering. What exactly does African poetry mean to you?

Noor Hindi’s heart-breaking poem in one of the latest issues of Poetry Magazine starts with the line “Colonizers write about flowers.” However, the idea that Africans romanticize suffering in poetry is wrong but I will say that Africans do explore grief in poetry, some which are personal and some, very descriptive. Somehow, the story tells itself and there is enough to grieve, isn’t it?

Despite the diversity in language and evolving trends in poetry, to me, African poetry feels like a communal art, something meant for everyone and not special initiates.

5. How has being a Nigerian living in Nigeria influenced your approach to thematic, and use of language in poetry?

I do find that my use of language tilts towards showing than telling in such a way that my poems are evocative more than they are explicative. Nigeria is a hard place and I want people to see it. This is an unintentional act as I am constantly in doubt and usually end up being in awe of myself each time a poem is done, but still I want people to see.

6. You’re a student of Microbiology, a sport journalist and also a poet, how are you able to balance all of this? 

It’s hard but all of these things make way for themselves. The best poems usually turn out to be those which time itself has worked over, so yes, it’s hard even trying to write poems at all. As for being a sport journalist, I’ve had to travel sometimes to report meets with my colleagues, but they do understand I’m in school and make exceptions for me at times.

7. Does writing energize or exhaust you? Do you have any interesting writing habits, such as how and when you write?

On personal matters, I can say it mostly energizes me, but telling another person’s story is very hard and its dichotomy usually turns out to be even harder because most times it is needed in almost every body of work. I do have funny habits when writing, like how I prefer drafting out my work on a sofa or bed and editing on the floor. I also eat a lot while writing, all you need do is search me well. I am definitely munching something. I do most of my writing at midnight, all on my laptop.

8. What are the advantages of writing communities and engaging social media as a tool for the promotion of literary art?

Even though having your works published on magazines and journals doesn’t define one’s proficiency as a writer, I believe so much in writing communities. Through the eyes of these communities, we are constantly in touch with one another’s works. We support and recognize our works and most of all, learn. I knew nothing of experimental poetry till I joined a community on Twitter.

9. Have you ever entered for the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP) or any poetry contest organised by Poets in Nigeria Initiative?

No, I haven’t. I might enter for NSPP before I round off University.

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

It’s an endless list but I’ll say Chris Abani, Wole Soyinka, Tade Ipadeola, Christopher Okigbo, Nebeolisa Okwudili, Saddiq Dzukogi, Ojo Taiye, Jeremiah Agbaakin, JK Anowe, Nome Emeka Patrick, Logan February, Romeo Oriogun and lots more.

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

Without a doubt, there is an uprising on the Nigerian poetry scene and it’s powerful, almost transcendent what these poets do. Nigerian poets are writing uncertain, yet bold and self-sustaining poems and what could be more liberating?

I hope more opportunities are created for poets in the country because we have little or none. We need fellowships, contests, we need a place for art generally.

12. Thank you for your time Oluwadare, I wish you all the best in your future endeavours. Kindly leave us with few lines of your poem (max of 12 lines)

Thank you!

i have never understood the mighty crafting of wounds

it’s little fire that burns a child

yet i grow & the scars grow with me in cubits unending

drifting out & away from armslength

like the world’s seas

scalp splitting & child, thinning

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