An Exclusive Interview with Poet Echezonachukwu Nduka on his poetry life and his new audio poem.
BBR: Can you remember your first poem, and how did you come about it?
EN: Well, to be sincere, I can’t remember the exact title of the very first poem I wrote, but I know it was something about love. It was written when I was a secondary school student, I was in arts class and we studied Literature, Government and some other art related subjects. Being exposed to works of poets like J.P Clark, John Donne, Leopold Sedar Senghor, William Wordsworth, Andrew Marvell, and of course, other poets whose poetry we had to read because their works were in our curriculum, I felt a terrific urge to start expressing my feelings through poetry. I had a crush on a girl who happened to be my classmate in primary school, so I wrote a love poem for her and that was it. I will never forget that the poem was inspired by Andrew Marvell’s "To His Coy Mistress". At that point, poetry didn’t mean much to me. However, the very poem I would regard as my first poem is my poem titled ‘My Homeland’. It was published by Kalahari Review as my very first literary publication and later, it was listed as the most read poem in 2013 in their journal. That, for me, was a sort of breakthrough that got me little attention.
BBR: Your new audio poem is a romance poem. Why did you choose romance instead of others?
EN: Inasmuch as some people would not like to admit, I still insist that anything that is about romance catches the interest of people, especially ladies. Romance is like a fuel that keeps life moving. I actually wrote that poem for someone very special. You can imagine that love is sweet, yet is hurts. It is an enigma. Have you ever thought about how the world would have been without love? I actually needed something people would listen to and play over and over again. The background music sets the mood and is capable of soothing a worried person and even making the listener fall asleep. I chose romance because I know it will make a statement that people would not forget easily. And then, recording it was good because if I had left it just written, some people will NEVER read it. But making it an audio poem is like breathing life into it. People who don’t read poetry can easily plug their earphones and listen to the poem.
BBR: What will you say is the effect of poetry on the society?
EN: First of all, for poetry to have an effect on any society there must be an established acceptance and appreciation, and this can be measured via its readership and performance. If people do not read poetry, how will it affect them? That said, I’ll not subscribe to popular opinion in some quarters that poetry is obsolete and inconsequential. No. This is not true. People still read poetry and those who read are influenced by what they read because poetry gives them something to think about. It gradually affects the way they think. It educates them and makes them see new things in what they thought they had known all their lives. Yes, poetry is that powerful. So, if one person can read poetry and be changed, if several people read poetry, they’ll be influenced by the art and that way, a whole society becomes affected.
BBR: Have someone ever felt an impact from your poetry before? If yes, what’s the story?
EN: I always like to think that as far as poetry as an art is concerned, I have not started. I still have a very long way to go. What has kept me ever since I started writing is that people are actually touched and influenced by some of my poems. Not one. Not two. I have written a poem for a poet-friend who read it and shed tears. Later, he wrote me a poem to celebrate my birthday. There are other stories like that. The feedback I get from my newly released audio poem is enough testimony. The truth is, if my poetry has never made any impact on anyone before now, I would have quitted long ago. I don’t waste my time and energy on trivialities. Life is too short for that.
BBR: What and who inspires your poetry?
EN: I don’t exactly know who inspires my poetry, perhaps, it is divine. Sometimes I sleep and the words come just like that. I wake up to pour them exactly the way they came, and then have them edited later. My poems are inspired by life’s happenstance and sometimes, by reading poetry too. I love Pablo Neruda’s poetry. I read his poems, but I don’t want to agree I sound like him. No. I sound like myself. I listen to music a lot too, that could be an inspiration as well.
BBR: What do you hope for in Nigerian poetry?
EN: I hope and pray for growth. Let us have more people who read and appreciate poets and their poetry. Let us have more genuine poets who write good poetry. There are some poems you read and you begin to wonder why the person bothered writing the poem at all. Poetry is not an art that you force. It should be allowed to flow on its own. It is a spirit. It is like a deity. If you worship and dedicate yourself to it, it will reveal itself to you. There are extraordinary writers who are currently doing well by providing the platform for new voices to be heard. Toni Kan publishes poets almost every Sunday in SSR page in Sunday Sun. Henry Akubuiro provides the same platform in Saturday Sun as well. In Abuja, there’s Dike Chukwumerije and the Abuja Literary Society (ALS) team, there’s Abubakar Adam Ibrahim who promotes writers and arts via journalism. There’s Eriata Oribhabor who promotes poetry with all the passion in him. Jerry Adesewo and the Korean Cultural Centre try their best too. Their recently published anthology titled ‘From Here to There: A Cross-Cultural Anthology of Korean-Nigerian Poetry’ contains poems by both young and established Nigerian and Korean poets. Kukogho Iruesiri Samson and his Words Rhymes and Rhythms (WRR) are rising with a great speed. In Owerri, there’s the Society of Young Nigerian Writers. There is Nwilo Bura-Bari who manages Poetry Friday in UNN, Dami Ajayi and Emmanuel Iduma of Saraba magazine are all wonderful people. In Port Harcourt, SeaView Poetry Club is grooming young poets. There’s progress. That said, I pray that there will be more Nigerian Publishing houses ready to publish and promote poetry from aspiring and young poets like me. That way, there’ll be continuity and the dynamism of the art will be felt.
BBR: There is this feeling by some Nigerians that poetry is being disregarded with much attention in prose with the belief that prose sells better. What's your take on this ?
EN: There may be several reasons responsible for that, but I'd like to relate it to the fact that most poems are unnecessarily ambiguous. Nobody would want to keep reading something that makes little or no meaning. On the other part, prose sells better because people love stories. Even if the writer employs new vocabularies and all that, once the plot development is fine and the characters are engaging, the story will always be read, but this is not the case with poetry. Once people read your poems and notice you're trying to show off and they don't understand anything, they abandon you and move on.
BBR: Your biography says you are a lecturer in one of Nigeria’s institution, how is your job connected to poetry?
EN: I am an academic musician and my primary job in the institution is to teach music. Music and poetry are very tied to each other and they share some similarities too. Many songs have poems as their lyrics. Right from the romantic era in western music history, composers like Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert and the likes set poems to music. Poetry is also rhythmic just like music. Poetry has forms just like music. Poets who write romantic poetry with rhyme schemes and meters know that their poems can be set to music and performed with just one tune because of the metrical form of the poems. In Christian worship, these hymns we sing in churches are poems. So, you may have like five stanzas or more and you can sing with one hymn tune. Again, even if you find another tune that suits the meter of the poem, you can still sing it with the tune. There are lots of examples like that. However, this is not limited to poems with strict metrical patterns. Free verse poems are set to music and performed too. Such music makes more sense because their lyrical contents are poems and not some gibberish. I like to think that Asa, Nneka, Darey Art Alade are all poets too. Why? You listen to their songs and you have something to think about. Poetry is music and music is poetry.
BBR: Apart from poetry, what else do you write? Drama or Prose?
EN: I write short fiction. I have a couple of them published in Kalahari Review, NigeriansTalk LitMag and ZODML Blog. I have some other unpublished stories in my laptop. I keep writing and storing them. I also write journal articles. I’m one of the contributors for AfricanHadithi.com. Few of my essays are published on their website as well.
BBR: What should we expect from you in the future?
EN: My debut collection of poems. The release has been a bit delayed because of some technical issues. The title is Echoes of Sentiments and it will be officially released by Mangrove House Publishers hopefully by the end of the year. My publisher, Timi Nipre is working very hard to get all Mangrove House titles ready for official public presentation and launch soon. So, keep your fingers crossed.
BBR: What issues do you think need to be fixed in Nigeria?
EN: There are lots of issues to be fixed in Nigeria. I don’t even know where to start. Sometimes, I feel sorry for the President. The man is sitting on a burning sit. First, there is the security issue which is a very big challenge. It has come to a point that the chief security of the federation advises Nigerians to secure themselves. Inasmuch as this is not totally wrong, it is the duty of the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic to ensure the safety of his subjects. In Nigeria, there’s the military, police force, civil defense corps and other paramilitary organizations, yet, people are not very sure if they would sleep and wake up in one piece. It is devastating. When a citizen who is supposed to feel very safe and protected near a policeman now begins to feel very paranoid and insecure, then, the problem is bigger than we all are ready to admit. Again, the electricity challenge is there as well. Although there are efforts being made to improve this system, more work needs to be done. If our economy must improve, Nigeria must get to a stage where there will be no power cuts anymore. That, for me, is the key to all the talks about the rising rate of unemployment and the need for entrepreneurship. A young Nigerian graduate with very little or no capital and no sponsorship is advised to create jobs and stop hunting for jobs in Nigeria, How? Sometimes, I feel like physically fighting people who preach that claptrap. Does this young intending entrepreneur have enough capital to buy diesel and petrol to run generators so as to keep his/her little establishment working? After spending money on diesels, how much will this young entrepreneur make that will enable him pay his few staff and still make profit? I know some people would like to argue that you can be an entrepreneur that needs little or no electricity. Well, we have to consider some statistics and see how plausible it is. The electricity challenge is one of the reasons cost of goods and services are very high in Nigeria. Provide free steady electricity and let more people go into productions. Certainly, there will be lots of competition going on everywhere and costs will drop. So many young vibrant entrepreneurs who have little or no money are frustrated everyday because of the cost of running their firms. Consequently, some of them fold up, become jobless and write all manner of CV’s to get white collar jobs and wait for salaries. That’s pathetic.
Again, the education sector needs to be sanitized thoroughly. A lot of things are happening in Nigerian tertiary institutions. It is no longer news that some lecturers shamelessly ask students to pay certain amounts so as to pass their courses. There are students who I refer to as ‘non-academic students’. These sort of students have no lecture notes, do not know any lecture halls, do not know if there’s an assignment or not and so on. Some of them even travel only to return during the examination week. Surprisingly, such a student might even make an A, while the average hardworking student who insists on not paying any money ends up with an E. I tell you, there’s a very big problem. I say this because there are lots of Nigerian graduates who parade certificates with Second Class Honours Upper Division and they CANNOT write a short memo or a reasonable letter of application. Well, that’s by the way. It’s not new anymore, but I think it’s an issue to be fixed in Nigeria at this time. Also, the allowances paid to politically elected office holders in Nigeria are excessively high! This explains why elections into offices have become a brouhaha. Too many people want to be elected into political offices, not because they have vision and blueprints, but because of benefits attached to the offices. It is only in Nigeria that being a politician is a job and career. If you doubt me, take your time and check Nigerian politicians, a good number of them have nothing else you would say they are doing apart from attending plenary sessions and reading newspapers. And again, what exactly is immunity clause? It encourages corruption. My opinion is that whoever breaks the law should be liable to face judgment and prosecution, whether the person is a Governor, Senator, President or whoever. If we must be honest to ourselves, we must do away with so many policies in the Nigeria’s political sector and sanitize the polity. There are issues on employment and job creation, corruption of public office holders, nepotism, and infrastructural development in some states and so on. There are lots of challenges, but for the purpose of this interview, I’ll stop here. We must not lose hope. In the near future, Nigeria will rise never to fall again.
YOU CAN DOWNLOAD HIS NEW AUDIO POEM HERE http://www.reverbnation.com/playlist/view_playlist/-4?page_object=artist_4448787
Echezonachukwu Nduka holds a degree in Music from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and currently studying a Master of Arts Degree Course in Music in Kingston University, London. He is the Bronze Prize Winner of the 4th Korea-Nigeria Poetry Feast. He is published in several national and international literary journals and anthologies. Till date, Echezonachukwu performs as a pianist, spoken word poet and works as a lecturer in the Department of Music at Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri. He currently lives in the UK.
(Interview was conducted by Chimee Adioha of http://www.blackboyreview.wordpress.com)