SAY MY NAME: 12 QUESTIONS FOR IQUO EKE (A conversation with Su’eddie Vershima Agema)

IquoHow did you start writing? What’s your writing story and how has the journey been so far?

I started writing as a teenager whose thoughts were too energetic and indignant to be left within the delicate territory of my mind. In essence I began writing for release, and to better explore events as they unfolded before my growing eyes.

Is there a difference between poems you write for performance and those that are for normal reading?

I write poetry as it comes to me. Pictures unfurl and words take shape before me, and I submit myself to their magic. I have no prior plan to pre-mold a piece for paper or for the stage, when I write. However, when I do choose to perform a poem, I reserve the license to embellish the piece with repetition or a few new words to help the performance come alive. This depends on the circumstances prevailing at the time.

What’s your writing schedule like and when do you write?

I find that my most productive periods occur in the small hours of the day. This may not happen everyday of the week, so it’s a major struggle to obey a fixed schedule; my body and muse can be non-conformist in that sense. But then, ideas flit across my mind at odd moments and so I try my best to pen these snatches of would-be verse, or conversation.  It may be the frantic scribbles on a jotter or on a smart device while one is in transit that may eventually metamorphose into a great piece.

You have a published collection of poems, Symphony of Becoming, what’s the story behind the collection and what was the publishing process like?

symphony of becomingSymphony of Becoming is a collection that records a journey towards self discovery, acceptance, and self assertion. In that journey questions arise on the state of the nation, the place of love and duty to motherland and self.

The publishing process was a lot of hard but fulfilling work, especially when it came to working critically on the poems with the editor who my publisher recommended for the collection. As you may well know, poetry is not really seen as the most lucrative business for the big publishers in Nigeria. It’s no surprise to now have a proliferation of self-published books and the flourish of companies that engage in vanity publishing.

This was no deterrent; my collection was long expected and I was determined to ensure that having waited so long, it would not disappoint.

There are forty-nine poems in your collection that are divided into four sections. What informed the selection of the poems that formed the collection? Is there deliberateness to the placing of the sections and the poems under them? In essence, what informs which poems come first in a section and what follows etc etc…

The plan I had was to tell a story of self-discovery with the collection. In doing this, we decided to gather poems which gave off similar tones in corresponding sections. It seemed apt that the journey should begin with the section titled REFLECTIONS.  Hence, ‘I Set Sail’ starts the reader on this voyage. It also seemed appropriate that the section on NATIONHOOD should follow closely with its diverse tensions, then HEARTBEATS with the soulful love and sometimes anxious poems there in. The last section brings the reader to the point of consummation as the ship berthed in ‘Home at Last’.

This was the logic was employed in the arrangement of the collection.

You are regarded in many sectors as a sensual poet and this is also evident in the section, ‘Heart beats’.  What’s your take on this and to what extent or limit do you think sensuality should be placed in creative works?

Well, what can I say? The designation ‘Sensual’ seems a word determined to plague me regardless of my innocence. I suppose someday that affliction shall pass…

The poems in the section called HEARTBEATS explore the various ways in which love can influence and affect people. We see the cries for an absent lover, we see loneliness, some romance , motherhood reflections, and more. Sensuality is only one facet of that section.

I feel that in writing about the love between a man and a woman, it is difficult to completely ignore the physical desires that often can arise. While the extent or limit that is permissible in literature remains a controversial issue, I do think that when the matter of sensuality is tastefully placed in a work of creativity, you come to appreciate it for its beauty and the evocative language used.  Thus, a work could be suggestive, without being repulsive or unnecessarily explicit.

 

Symphony of Becoming was long listed for the NLNG and ANA Poetry Prizes respectively in 2013. Considering it is your first collection, what was the feeling like to be on the lists and has the book come to attention for other prizes?

It was a big and unexpected honour to be recognized alongside the other writers listed for both prizes. I was humbled to be in the midst of other well-known poets, especially as the collection was my first. Though I did not publish the book with any prize in mind, I now look forward to gaining further recognition with the book.

Different writers have their views of awards and prizes in Nigeria, most of them which are controversial. What’s your take on prizes, awards and their mode of administration in Nigeria generally, and yes, in other parts of the world?

 Undoubtedly, awards give recognition and validation for hardwork and creativity. As these prizes are judged by people, they will always be subject to controversy and criticism. But I do hope that there will be more literary prizes/awards in Nigeria, in years to come.

It is also my ardent wish that the central focus of these prizes will be the improvement of literature itself. That prizes will take cognizance of the peculiar terrain of our publishing industry and try to bridge the gap between the books celebrated in that period and the reading public- you know, take active steps to create a buzz around the shortlisted books. We find that there are universities where students of literature have not heard of or seen the award winning book, much less the books that made any award shortlist. A well planned book trek; a series of readings/discussions around the listed books will correct this failing.

Till then, I applaud the present literature prizes within and outside Nigeria, and encourage our writers to keep improving their craft.

 

 What writer organizations do you belong to? What’s your take on writer associations in the country and do you think they are doing enough to promote literature?

Elias Ozikpu, Iquo, Amu Nnadi (in the back), Saddiq Dzukogi, Su'eddie V. Agema, the head of Jennifer Emelife hiding, and Remy Binte ... (ANA International Convention 2014 in Ibadan)

Elias Ozikpu, Iquo, Amu Nnadi (in the back), Saddiq Dzukogi, Su’eddie V. Agema, the head of Jennifer Emelife hiding, and Remy Binte … (ANA International Convention 2014 in Ibadan)

I belong to the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and Women Writers Association of Nigeria (WRITA).  Writers associations are good to the extent that they help to push budding talent in the right direction with helpful criticism and support. Where there is proper organization, this support could include introduction to publishers and editors. A writer’s body can also be used as leverage for promoting the overall good of literature and the writer, before organized government.  Can they do more than they are doing now? Of course.

The politics within these organizations may deter some people, but I must say that politics is inevitable when human beings decide to organize themselves. With the right structures on ground and the commitment of members and leaders, the available writer’s bodies will be a formidable force in promoting literature.

Do you have any writing models that you look up to? What works have inspired you the most?

I enjoy a vast range of literature. It is difficult to point the most inspiring. The list would include Wole Soyinka(for the way his mind works & the infusion of the Yoruba culture into his writing), J.P Clark (for his simple yet profound writing),  Gabriel Garcia Marquez(Such imagination and daring voice!), Toni Morrison (for her muscular narrative), Maya Angelou( for her openness and deep insight), Niyi Osundare (for never letting traditions sleep). And the list goes on…

Okey Ndibe and Iquo Eke at Ake Festival 2014

Okey Ndibe and Iquo Eke at Ake Festival 2014

What are you currently working on and what should we expect from you in the nearest future?

There are poems getting written every now and then, but I am working on a Novel; a psychological thriller. And a collection of short stories.  I suspect that my next published work will be fiction

In parting, which moment would you say is your most memorable in your literary career so far?

I have enjoyed many memorable points in my literary career, including my first book getting longlisted for two awards, my book recommended for an English class in the University of Lagos in 2014, and performing at separate times before Prof J.P Clark, Niyi Osundare, Gabriel Okara,  etc. The Most Memorable…? I guess it’s still on its way.

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