Okwubi Godwin Adah, an undergraduate at the University of Benin, is an avid reader who writes poetry and short stories. He is the winner of the 2020 Nigerian Students Poetry Prize. He hopes to use his writing to try and understand the human experience.
- Congratulations on winning Nigerian Student Poetry Prize (NSPP) 2020. Can we please meet you?
My name is Okwubi Godwin Adah, an indigene of Ohimini LGA Benue State. I am a Medical student at the University of Benin.
2. How did you learn of Poets in Nigeria and the contest?
I follow the organizers (PIN) on all their social media platforms. That was how I saw the poster asking for submissions for the 5th edition of the NSPP.
3. What gave you the confidence to enter for NSPP 2020?
It was a first for me, submitting my work for a competition. It was more like testing the waters.
4. How long did it take to write the winning poem “The House That Built Me”? What was the writing process like?
It took me like a week to write the poem. It consisted of free writing, just writing the first thing that came to my mind. Then I edited, cross checked spellings and grammar. Afterwards, I sent it out to some friends for their opinions. Then I re-edited based on the response they gave me.
5. If you are asked to hazard why your poem won, what would you say?
The top 60 poems for this year’s edition were really wonderful to read. As I read them I noticed that most of the top 60 poems had a recurring theme of “home”, “parenthood” and “loss”. I think my poem “The House That Built Me” really embodies the whole essence of “Home and responsibility”. That doesn’t mean my poem was necessarily better than other entrants, it just means that maybe it spoke to the judges more. Plus, there is the issue of Grace, the God factor.
6. What’s your take on poetry writing competitions?
It develops a platform where writers can engage in healthy competition. Every writer that partakes will try to put out his or her best work, pushing his or her ability with the pen to the very limits. It really brings out the best because no writer would want to submit a piece that is below par. On the other hand, some writers might put too much value in winning competitions. Winning shouldn’t be the most important thing, but improving your craft.
7. Tell us how you are feeling since the announcement of your win.
I am happy and grateful. Happy that I won and grateful to Poets In Nigeria (PIN) for giving me such an opportunity.
8. Did you foresee winning the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP)?
No, I did not foresee myself winning. I just submitted my poem with hope and belief in my ability.
9. Every win comes with its associated limelight attraction. How do you intend handling it?
Winning the NSPP 2020 has given me the opportunity to meet several people; journalists as well as renowned academics in the literary world. Winning has also opened me to a wider audience. I would like to call it “brand exposure”. Winning this year’s edition has helped me lay the foundation from which I can build my literary career.
10. By this win, you are like the No 1 Ambassador of Poets in Nigeria Initiative. How do you intend to use your position in upping the PIN brand?
PIN is a platform that nurtures young budding poets, and as an Ambassador that is what I hope to do. I will try to create more awareness for this platform so that young writers all over Nigeria can become part of our community.
11. Other than the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP), have you ever entered for any poetry contest organised by Poets in Nigeria Initiative or other platforms?
No, I haven’t entered any other competitions but I plan to do so in the future.
12. Can you vividly recall the title of the first poem you ever wrote? Tell us about it and how you landed into poetry writing.
No, I don’t recall the first poem I ever wrote. To me, it’s like asking me to remember the first time I walked as a toddler. However, I got into poetry writing when I was in Junior Secondary School. Our English teacher back then often gave us assignments to write essays and sometimes poetry. I found myself looking forward to those assignments.
13. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style of writing?
I basically write what I feel at that particular moment. I let my emotions guide my pen. My poems also have a narrative style, I tend to tell short stories with my poetry.
14. As a student of Anatomy, how are you able to balance your academics with your writing?
I try to make out time to read books, both my academic books as well as novels and chapbooks. And whenever I read a novel or poetry collection, I read to learn, be it a new word, a new style, or an idea. I always try to learn something.
15. Do you think poetry has any relation with the sciences?
Yes, I do. Most poems tell a kind of story, and I feel science tells us a story too. For example, Anatomy tells us about the human body. How it is made, what makes it up and so on. I might even say Anatomy is the literature of the human body.
16. In writing your poems, how do you conclude that you are writing a poem?
Sometimes it just comes as an inspiration, the spur of the moment when I hear a line or see something that inspires me. Sometimes I “grind” my mind looking for inspiration and most times, it works.
17. As a writer of poetry, name some Nigerian poets that you read.
I read Niyi Osundare, Wole Soyinka, Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Gabriel Okara amongst many others. In fact, one of my favourite poems is “Piano and Drums” by Gabriel Okara. I read that particular poem when I was in JSS 2.
18. What in your opinion is the place of poetry as a genre of literature in our Nigeria? What future? What opportunities for Poets?
Honestly in Nigeria, literature as a whole isn’t given the attention it commands. A common joke goes “If you want to hide something from a black man put it in a book”. Besides being almost an insult, it is somehow true. There aren’t many government-funded creative workshops or literary clubs and there are even fewer government-sponsored literary competitions. In short, it’s not easy being an aspiring writer in Nigeria.
19. What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in our country?
Poets in Nigeria (PIN) gives young budding writers opportunities to harness their talents, it gives them a wider audience and it connects them with likeminded individuals that can help them further their craft. PIN does this by hosting yearly competitions and poetry festivals. At the end we have a big family of writers all over the country.
20. Please would you mind leaving us with few lines of poetry (max 10 lines)
We left our houses looking for a home.
A place where they did not laugh at the colour of our faces and the roundness of our bellies.
A place where we wore our bald heads and stretch marks with pride.
A place where our age wasn’t just a number.