Author Questions & Answers Session With Ojo Olumide Emmanuel

Zakiyyah: Good evening: Olumide and welcome! Thank you for accepting this invitation. We are super honoured to have you in our space, and our members are so excited to learn and hear from you.

I have ten questions for you today, Mr. Olumide. I hope you are excited because we are all happy to have you here today.

Olumide:  My belly is bubbling with excitement. Plunge me in!

Zakiyyah: Great!!!☺️

The thoughts and ideas in your poetry are captivating. Can you share with us the processes involved in writing your poems? How do you come up with such thought-provoking poems?

Olumide: Thought-provoking? Well, poetry is quite distinct from every form of art in that it draws you into a dark cave, and as you scurry it on and on, you suddenly find light, and if you keep fastening your gaze on the morning, the more it grows brighter and you’d begin to find treasures. These treasures are called poems. 

So, how do I do this? Saddiq Dzukogi said, “Poetry is the science of the soul. “

I pay attention to my soul (intelligent mind), interact with solitude, and patiently wait as words drop like dews,  gradually into a drizzle and then an avalanche. 

We should always remember that the journey of writing, especially poetry, is enduring. You may not strike that chord of rhythms on your first attempt, but as you keep at it, you’ll achieve a symphony that will get you many thumbs up.

Zakiyyah: Interesting👏

As an artist, how do you manage moments of self-doubt or creative block, and what strategies help you overcome them?

Olumide: Good question. Self-doubt is a valid reflection of our humanity, but we must not let it weigh us down, considering that there is so much in every one of us that we are yet to discover. And as I have realised, we know ourselves (personality) more and more daily. Often, I encourage myself. I look at my track record, where I started, and how far I have achieved. This encourages me. 

And for those who are just starting, be patient with yourself. Nobody became a prolific writer overnight. It took years of consistency and patient labour to arrive at any depth of creativity, artistry and craft any writer you admire typifies. 

Talking about creative block, there are months I do not write a single piece (Poetry or Non-fiction), yet I am always reading. Reading helps me a lot in this period because subconsciously, I am digesting new ideas that would be useful when I am set to write. So, I read a lot and stay conscious of my environment. I draw inspiration from these experiences when interacting with my writing tools as I set to work.

Zakiyyah: One thing I’ve noticed with our guests is their emphasis on the art of reading; I love that.

Olumide: Thank you.

Zakiyyah: How do you see the relationship between art and empathy, and how does it manifest in your creative process?

Olumide: Empathy is the soul of humanity. This is the best description every human should get. Many times, as writers, we do so unconsciously. You are trying to write about someone else’s pain, and to understand the palpability of what they are going through,  you need the mechanism of empathy. You need to feel them inside you. That becomes the compass guiding the pen of your oeuvre. 

To achieve this, I become that person in my work. Doing this helps me to test whatever they are going through with myself. If it grieves me,  it means that an individual experiences such. And when I write, I can get the right words to express that emotion. Words often fail us to express certain emotions properly, but poetry has helped us see that we express ourselves less.

Zakiyyah: I can’t agree less. How do you maintain focus and connect with your inner thoughts while writing in a distracted world?

Olumide: The greater we attain in life, the more distracted we become. To be candid, I do most of my writing in the dark of the night. This is because I enjoy quietness at such times and because most people are asleep, it gives me the serenity to delve into my inner being. Talking about focus it is an intentional thing for me. Whoever is not focused can only achieve a little in life. 

Therefore, I shut myself out of the noise of the world around me to gather enough attention for the world inside me. I also ensure I am joyful whenever I want to write. Joy has a way of giving your pen a soiree that only your heart can explain. And so, I write happily; I focus on my inner being and allow it to guide the many things I don’t know it wants to express.

Zakiyyah: ❤️❤️

Could you describe a specific poem or writing unique to you and explain why?

Olumide: This poem is on page 4 of my first poetry collection, Supplication for Years in Sands. The title is “The Strands of Hair in Papa’s Shaving Stick.”

One day, we were cleaning the house, and as we did, I found my dad’s old shaving stick container and his tiny mirror inside with an old blade and the shaving stick all in good shape. That was about 18 years since he had not used it. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw my beard, too. I realised I just inherited a shaving stick. That was what birthed the poem. 

What is the inspiration here? Poetry caters for the mundane. The small things we do daily help us relive memories through words. You can spend yesterday, and the future like a currency yet relive every one of those moments using the tool of poetry.

Zakiyyah: Poetry helps us tell our stories and save our memories.

Olumide: Great thought there!

Zakiyyah: Your book, Supplication for Years in sand, brings your thoughts to life. How do you approach conveying the emotions and intentions of your poetry to your audience?

Olumide: Tough question! 

When I wrote Supplication for Years in Sands, I had no audience in mind. I wanted to create art. I wanted to let out the many things inside my heart. So, the book was a therapy for me. Healing to my heart and a raft to ferry the many rumblings locked up in my mind for years. 

So, it is up to my audience to discover my emotions and intentions for them. I didn’t have any. I only sought a medium of expression, and that book became the bodily manifestation of the things in my mind.

Zakiyyah: Indeed. Could you share a personal journey or experience that significantly influenced one of the poems from your book?

Olumide: Good question. About 60% of the poems in the book were written when I was completing my SprinNG Writing Fellowship. I was working with Adedayo Agarau as my mentor at that time. Through his guidance, I realised I did not have to use highfalutin words to achieve a good poem. I began understanding the simplicity of paying attention to everyday words and altering/fashioning them into interesting poetic lines.

Within that period, I always went back and forth to read Odu Ode’s Calligraphy of Demon and many other exciting poets.

The titular work “Supplication for Years in Sands” is a poem of gratefulness to everyone who saw the faint moon in me and prayed it until it bloomed with a light/a bulb for the universe.

Those last words were an excerpt from the poem.

Zakiyyah: I appreciate your insightful responses.

With your involvement in various anthologies, how do you approach contributing to different themes while maintaining your unique voice?

Olumide: I research a lot. As poets, we often assume everything is about gathering words into lines/stanzas, but if we do it properly, we must research. 

When I see a theme, I often go to the internet to search for articles or poems on that theme. This helps me to get my perspective and approach to the work. It also allows me to gather certain dictions relevant to the discourse of the theme I am about to tackle. The easiest way to get into an anthology is to research the theme and present your work cleverly so that your research and creativity are intermarried in a symphony of artistic brilliance.

Zakiyyah: What role do poetry and art play in advocating social change and awareness?

Olumide: Artivism is a part of every artist, even though many tend to deny it. There is a utopia in the artist’s mind that he seeks to achieve, and poetry is a medium to achieve such. 

Someone said, “Writing may not change the world, but it bears record of all the ills in the world. “

And so, poetry is necessary for social change and awareness. If poetry is therapeutic. I know countries where poetry is regarded as one of the therapies for mental health. If poetry can do this, poetry is also helpful in advocating social change and creating awareness. We do so with every new poem we write and publish in an International magazine. We tell the world our stories and draw our attention to ourselves.

Zakiyyah: What goals do you have for your creative career, and what are your plans towards achieving them?

Olumide: My biggest dream is to teach poetry at Oxford University. To qualify for this, I must earn a PhD in Creative Writing and continue improving my writing craft. At the moment, I am in the process of applying for an MFA in Creative Writing. 

I just finished the SprinNG Advancement Fellowship and have been moved to an MFA Academy to be mentored for two weeks to understand what is required of me to secure admission. And so, I’m making a concerted effort daily to push my dream as God helps me. I am also reading and writing. Everything will fall into place in its time. 

No dream is too big to be dreamt. Just dream it, pursue it, and you’ll catch it.

Zakiyyah: I pray that your dream comes true, amen!

Questions and contributions can come from the members…

Zakiyyah: Just recently, something happened on Twitter.

A particular mag wasn’t or has not been publishing black people, and they’re constantly seeking works from everyone. Then some Nigerian writers dragged the magazine on Twitter and questioned why they don’t publish us. Do you think it was wrong?

My second question.

You’ve also encountered the Ernest tornado in the criticism industry. What can you say about Ernest and his wild speculations and essays?

Third and final question. 

Would you instead read old (maybe dead poets) or current youngsters, and why?

Olumide: Okay. Let me answer the questions one after the other.

Well. I do not support attacking a magazine because it is not publishing black people. People have the right to determine what they want to publish or not. Just the way at TNR and LITVO, we have our philosophies that guide our operations. 

So, the power of CHOICE is still a right that everyone is at liberty to decide. There are other platforms. Why not send their work there? 

We are just seeking attention. That’s what I term it to be.

I do not consider Earnest’s criticism as a tornado. He only expressed his thoughts on what Nigerian poetry should be, and he needs to be more correct. 

People can express themselves as they wish if it serves them well and their audience is in tune with it. 

He is simply trying to make every Nigerian poet sound the same. And by so doing, we’d lose our uniqueness.

Well. I read everybody because everyone has a unique idea they are communicating, and I need to learn from them. 

I read dead poets (old) to understand the past. I read contemporary poets to understand the present. I become the equilibrium because their experiences shape my work and improve it.

Zakiyyah: Hehehe, your answers are consciously calculated. ❤️

Thank you. ❤️

Olumide: Aya 🙈

Amen. Thank you!

Zakiyyah: Do you fear Nigerian literature is dying?

Olumide: Nigerian literature is not dying. We are just starting. In the next 20 years, we will have more scholarly writers (we will have gotten MFAs and PhDs in creative writing), and these new crops will take world literature by storm. Many of you here are part of that emergence. So, nothing is dying—those who are afraid of the emergence and those who like to police writers’ oeuvres.

Zakiyyah: I was talking to a friend who’s abroad. He said he wouldn’t advise me to go for an MFA, that MFA’s make people write using a particular method. 

Do you know anything about this? Because I was so lost in the conversation when it got to that part

Olumide: I only need the knowledge and the certificate to pursue more significant opportunities. After I complete my MFA, I’d decide what and how I want to write.

Zakiyyah: Omoooo

Olumide: So, don’t bother about what anybody thinks. No knowledge is a waste. Get their ability, certificate and money, and pursue your dream.

Zakiyyah: I know what I want now!!❤️

Thank you so much; it has to be my favourite reply

BMD: All your answers are great; MFA materials already. I am unreservedly proud.

Olumide: Thank you, Sir.

Zakiyyah: You talked about writing simply, not using highfaluting words to achieve a good poem.

Sir, can you explain this a bit more?

Olumide: When I began writing, I was always under pressure to memorize “big words” and infuse them in my poems. You could pick out 20-30 adjectives in one poem, but as I learned further, I realised that these everyday words are enough if only we can present them uniquely. Do I use “big words”? Yes! But only when necessary. 

Audiences nowadays need more patience to seek the dictionary like in the past.

Zakiyyah: Sir, do you think poetry is getting softer or more advanced today? In the sense that anyone who wants to write a poem in the older days must sit, think, and calculate before writing. But currently, we write down poetry much easier. So, is contemporary poetry an advancement or is poetry itself getting softer?

Olumide: You need to sample contemporary writers to know if poetry is becoming “too simplified” as you intended. 

You must realise that white writers influenced the older generation before because we never had a literary tradition. 

In this current age, many things are changing, and we should roll with it. 

If you have mastered your craft, it will always stand out, and that’s important.

Zakiyyah: We’ve come to the end of today’s session. Thank you so much, Olumide; I enjoyed conversing with you. I look forward to watching you break boundaries and working to make your goals and aspirations real. Thank you once again.

Ojo Olumide Emmanuel is a Nigerian Poet, Educationist and Book Editor. He is the author of the Poetry Chapbook “Supplication For Years in Sands” (Polarsphere Books, 2021) and “How Flowers Pollinate Before the Arrival of Butterflies (Authorpaedia, 2022). He won the WeNaija Literary Contest (Non-Fiction, 2023) and was first runner-up for the Abubakar Gimba Prize for Non-fiction.
His works have appeared and are forthcoming at Shallowtales Review, Ake Review, Feral, Quills, Poemify, Melbourne-Culture, TNR, and elsewhere. He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Nigerian Review (TNR).
He is a Senior Mentor at the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation and a Mentor of the SprinNG Writing Fellowship.