Damian Jam is a poet and social critic. He was shortlisted for the Association of Nigerian Authors’ National Prize for Poetry (2014) with his debut collection, Sounds of a Metal Gong (SEVHAGE 2014). He is also the author of Convictions (a novel) and is currently an assistant to the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University, Dutsin-Ma, Katsina State.
SVA: What inspired your collection, Sounds of a Metal Gong and what was the writing experience like?
DJ: The collection was primarily inspired by the general political misfortunes of my home country, Nigeria. I am a Nigerian who is politically astute, and I believe that the literary artist must make conscious efforts to influence the direction of change. The writing experience was very wonderful. Each day took me deeper with poetic thoughts, as the country kept showing darker signs from political miscalculations, missing billions, the insecurity problem, failure of the government to tackle insurgency and the 14th of April Nyanya bomb blast which was also the same day, the Chibok girls were kidnapped. My indifference turned to anger and I felt so empty with a staggering self-serving act of contempt.
SVA: The collection was shortlisted for the Association of Nigerian Authors prize for poetry 2014. What did it feel like?
DJ: That was good news for me. You know, a writer’s joy is that he is being read, and that people appreciate his work. With the collection on the poetry prize category for the 2014 ANA Prize for Literature, it shows that, the poems were not only good but quite timely too.
SVA: Well, you have stated it subtly, let’s reiterate that most of your poems are contemporary themed with some talking about politics, the insecurity in the country, and a few tributes. What really, is the general thrust of your book and what did you hope to achieve when writing and later, publishing it?
DJ: The main thrust of my poetry collection is a general attempt to inculcate right conduct. I do not believe in arts for art’s sake. I believe that the artist must do all he can to transform the society. I recently wrote an article for the African Review titled ‘Poetic approach in the Implementation of School Curriculum for Social Change: A Socialist Reading of Mtshali and Osundare’s Poetry.’ In that article, part of the reasons why this collection was published is vividly explained. What I hope to achieve is a start or rather, contribute to a process where in the end people will begin to think positively and also make efforts to contribute towards the success of Nigeria as a nation.
SVA: The critic, Uwuave Terese, mentions brevity as one of your key poetic strengths. The poems in the collection attest to this brevity with no poem longer than a page. What informs this brevity?
DJ: This [the brevity style] has been with me for a long time. It is both a strength and a weakness. I first noticed it as a weakness when I was writing feature stories for a university magazine where I work. The Editor-In-Chief, kept insisting that I need to write more, that what I have written is only a good summary of the main story, which could serve best as press release, but not as a feature story for the magazine. I think I write what I’d like to read. I enjoy saying a lot in few words, and J.P. Clark’s short poems have always been an inspiration to me. My brevity has been with me as long as I can remember. My father would always insist I read the editorial of The Concord Newspaper and submit to him a summary of it, a responsibility that was a daily exercise especially in my last year in elementary school. Today I can say that he is responsible for my writing skills and also this brevity.
SVA: So, what’s your take on poetry in general?
DJ: I see poetry as really interesting. It is to me the language of emotions and a medium for articulating feelings, opinions, ideas, thoughts and beliefs. My high school teacher, Mr. Hanaze, gave us a definition of literature as “the imaginative and creative work of art, which is expressive of meaningful human experience.” When I look at poetry as a genre of literature, this definition can rightly be said of it. Poetry generally, to me, is much more than an artistic pastime; it is the spiritual repository of human dreams which originate from the depths of the subconscious.
SVA: What do you think of the fourth generation of writers in Nigeria, one to which you belong?
DJ: The fourth generation of Nigerian writers will surely make Nigeria proud. This, I think is possible if all writers of this generation will hone the writing skills by not only reading the works of established writers but also dig into the folkloric environment to gain mastery.
SVA: On a different note now, but still in light of our generation of writers, there seems to be a dearth of criticism among the current generation of writers. It seems there are far more writers and lesser critics. What’s your take on this and what are you doing, as a writer and critic about the situation?
DJ: It is true that we are now in a generation of more writers and less critics. I have been writing book reviews, and most of them were published in newspapers. They have been more of literary appreciations, and they never had the required criticism enough to educate a writer. I strongly feel that criticism improves the quality of a people’s literature, and therefore I recently took a decision to start writing critical essays on literary works.
SVA: You have a published novel, Convictions. What’s the story of that novel and how has it fared so far.
DJ: I had the privilege to publish as an undergraduate, and I must say Convictions came at a time I had deep feelings that we need that kind of book. It is a biting story on human cupidity, but it also has salient messages on our polity. Just recently, writerslouge.com published the story online. I had explored basically the extremity of Nigerian leaders through the eyes of a young girl, Sewuese. Even though the novel has characters of older personalities, it is through Sewuese’s eyes that we see the lessons inside the story.
SVA: Which genre do you prefer writing … and yes, reading…?
DJ: I read more poetry than prose. Why? Because, it communicates to me more appropriately. I like it when much is said, in little words, maybe because, I was exposed to summary at a tender age. And of course, I write more poetry too, for most times, the words come tumbling out, and often times I would need to look for a piece of paper and put down something, even when doing something else. This has been happening to me for a long time.
SVA: Do you have a strict writing schedule that you adhere to?
DJ: Not really, but I create time to write often, sometimes I rewrite what I’ve written before, just to make it more polished. What I am sure I do every day is reading. I learnt this from Mr. Emmanuel Shom. I noticed he could read everything, so I followed his footsteps and instead of selecting what to read, I also try to read all materials I can find. This has helped me to know so many words, and today I hardly see a word I have not come across before.
SVA: Are you working on any new project at the moment?
DJ: The answer is yes, but I would really not want to talk about it now.
SVA: Any words in parting…?
DJ: I want to say that I remain an optimist and a realist. I want to be seen as an optimist who sees without any tinted glasses the fate of a nation rising from abject poverty and bloodshed to a bright future for all Nigerians.