Yemi Atanda, a poet and lecturer in the Department of Performing Arts at Olabisi Onabanjo University, recounts ENENAITE BLESSING on his academic career and his love for poetry
What influenced your decision to be a poet?
Creativity is an innate gift. I don’t write poetry alone; I also write other literary genres like prose and drama. It is a natural endowment that could be influenced by the muse, “the god of creativity”. A poet has such an innate emotional talent for evoking images and symbols, and has a (good) quality of language to use literary devices appropriately.
As a literature student in high school, I met many African and European poets, who greatly influenced me when I was a science student. However, it was when I entered university that I started writing poetry. As I said earlier, a writer’s emotional awareness of their surroundings would make a big mark that can influence their writing. Additionally, cultural leanings, politics, and history have all sparked my interest in writing in general, and poetry in particular. I have the desire and the will to be part of the history of my people, to contribute to the advancement of culture through folklore, myths, music and epic tales.
What inspired you to write the book “Alluring Noon Poems”?
This is my first poetry book. The poems address various issues including politics, governance and development, folklores, myths, history and culture. I do not forget the role of the socially conscious artist who teaches, entertains and writes to right wrongs, especially in an endemically corrupt and politically dysfunctional state like Nigeria.
A writer may have many burning issues triggered from within and without, which stem from the experience of the individual, so poetry becomes a means of expressing such emotions. Many writers, such as Samuel Coleridge, TS Eliot, William Wordsworth, and William Blake, have written about the essence of the hermeneutics of emotion in poetry. In this sense, the inspiration can come from his immediate environment, from reading or from paying attention to the experiences of people in his social space. In my case, I am greatly inspired by the intuitive essence – the metaphysical and mystical allures/understandings of interpretative dreams. From the outside, I am very aware of the face of history and the politically dysfunctional situations in Nigeria and Africa, so I place the reason for this sordid and absurd reality squarely at the doorstep of the ruling elite in different African countries who supplanted the colonialists in the 1950s and 1960s.
Poetry is not a well-appreciated art in Nigeria. How has your book been received?
We have to differentiate between poetry as folk art like oral poetry, Yoruba songs of esa pipe, ijala and a host of others. Panegyrics and court poems are highly valued, compared to the great arts. As for the form of Western-influenced poetry that I write, its audience is the educated elites who have been exposed to Western education, at least up to the high school level.
Music, dance, festivals and other social paraphernalia are part of the aesthetics of my poetry. In this regard, I strongly believe that the targeted audience or reader would surely appreciate it. I occasionally post my poems on social media and the response has been very encouraging. The feedback I receive indicates that Nigerians, regardless of background, are able to appreciate not only the folk arts, but the scholarly arts as well.
In terms of encouraging people to read my books, then we’re in a troubled pocket. The reading culture in Africa since I grew up in the 70s has been considered poor. Should writers then stop writing? No, we can’t. We just have to keep writing good quality literary works. Another way is to ensure that our work finds a place on the curriculum list in related departments.
How do you reconcile your careers as a lecturer and a poet?
I manage my time. I strive to write at least one sentence a day, or at worst, one word. If I can’t write in a day, I find a way to proofread what I’ve written. Working and managing your time is the solution. As taught to me by my former teachers, such as the late Professor Ola Rotimi, Professor Segun Adekoya, the late Professor Wole Ogundele and Mr. Uko Atai, a writer should always walk with his notepads and pen, plan his tasks and learn to work. through the days and nights.
What do you find most difficult between being a speaker and a poet?
Both, I must say. They are very difficult, given the many variables involved. Living in Nigeria is very difficult, especially as a teacher. What are we working with? Take, for example, teaching without modern facilities and working in demoralizing conditions; the rest can be imagined. Not only that. What is the nature and mentality of a large number of students? In the age of the “education is a scam” mentality, where you may not see a student in class until the exam period, that student would still want to succeed. Teachers in Nigeria face many challenges.
When it comes to writing, it takes courage to dream of being a writer in Nigeria. It is only when we consider it as a vocation that we can do it well. Just connect with your readers, then keep dreaming and writing.
OWhat are your other areas of interest?
I have published a few plays, including Vomitand A rope in time. I also have other manuscripts awaiting publication. I also have a collection of short stories and am currently working on a novel. I am interested in all literary genres.
In what ways do you think poets can be better encouraged in Nigeria?
There are many ways to encourage writers to keep writing, just as musicians are encouraged by digital marketing and international relations. Remember that the Nigerian Authors Association has instituted annual award categories, and the NLNG Award for Literature Award is there too. These are some of the ways writers are encouraged.
Moreover, by posting online through various channels, such as social media, one can encourage a flow of fans and followers. In this way, one can encourage reading through his works online. Another great way to encourage writers is to ensure that the cost of editing is drastically reduced.
Right now we’re dealing with a struggling economy, and where writers end up is extremely debilitating, because we’re struggling with an epileptic power supply. In fact, we are still groping in the dark.
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