Monday, July 30, 2018

#BABISHAI2018 SHORTLIST: STEPHEN OGUNFOWORIN

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 Stephen Ogunfoworin is a fourth year Law student in University of Ibadan. His poem, "The Women", won the 2017 Okigbo Inter-university Poetry Prize. When he is not reading or writing poetry, he does public speaking and journalism. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.



Q:  What was the process of writing your particular poem, On Sons Who 
Hate Their Fathers?

Growing up, I had a bit of an apprehensive relationship with my father, who was the embodiment of the typical Yoruba father: strict, uncompromising, and hardly ever reluctant to use the cane. None of that mattered very much back then though, he was my hero. But in my senior years in secondary school, our relationship became a strained one, and I was hardly ever comfortable around him. During this same period, I found out from listening to some of my close friends in boarding school that I wasn't the only young man who didn't know how to act or what to say around his father. I wasn't the only one who could not stay ten minutes in a room with his father without inventing a reason to leave. About three years later, I was in my first year in university and my relationship with my father was completely in the doghouse. I was angry with him. I was very angry. So I barely talked to him, and saw him even less. Some of my anger with him seeped into a few of my other relationships, now that I think about it. And right in the middle of this phase, I started to notice some things that I did almost exactly the same way he did them. I began to catch myself doing some of the things I didn't like that he did. This bothered me a lot. I didn't want to imagine a world where I had a son who would one day be as angry with his father as I was with mine. So, "On Sons Who Hate Their Fathers" was written. It was a bit difficult to write, because I was trying to write a deeply personal poem while trying my hardest to use as little of my own story as possible. I should add that my father and I are now on very good terms.

Q:
    What does poetry mean to you?

I started writing poetry in 2015, after my mother died. It was purely a coping mechanism for me, and almost everything I wrote back then was about grief. Now, I think I may have come some distance from that time. Poetry to me is the purest way for a person to share their emotions, exactly how those emotions are felt. With poetry, you can use your words to share your thoughts in the most accurate ways, and make your reader feel very close to what you're feeling. I don't think there could possibly be a more authentic mode of communication. It is also a vital tool in talking about important issues in the society, and I think every poet has a duty to use this function of poetry. If your work has an audience, you have to use it, at least a little bit, to talk about issues that some of your audience may not be paying enough attention to. It's good to write poetry about love, loss, grief, beauty, and pain. But it's also important to write about inequality, child abuse, drug abuse, and poverty. Lastly, poetry, other than making it easy to share your thoughts with others, makes it even easier to listen to theirs. I think good poets have to be attentive. I think I'm a lot more interested in people, their stories, their emotions, and their actions, because of my poetry.

Q: What are your five year goals with your poetry?

My five year goals. I want my poetry to keep getting recognition. I want to write more, and keep getting better. In five years, I intend to have gotten a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing, I intend have a full-length collection of poems, or two. I hope that in five years, I will have become something of a household name in African Poetry. Honestly, in five years, I just want to have several absolutely beautiful poems I can be proud of.

Q:  African poets are you keen on reading?

Ah. African poets. Definitely Warsan Shire. Sometimes, my friend Chinedu Arinze (who is also a brilliant poet) and I spend hours on the phone, talking about her poems. I think she's brilliant. I don't think there's anything written by Yrsa Daley-Ward that I'm not absolutely in love with. Ijeoma Umebinyuo's poetry is fierce and beautiful. I used Niyi Osundare's poetry collection for a course I took two years ago, and he's a genius. And I find Nayyirah Waheed's poetry soothing. Jane Dennis, my friend, writes beautiful poetry too. 

Q:    What are some of the challenges you face with poetry?

I'm not sure if this is the situation for other African poets, but where I come from, a lot of people still do not take poetry seriously. There are people who think a man has no business writing poetry, and there are people who think poetry is usually just a few fancy words strung together, with no real meaning. Someone I love once told me that they thought it was odd that I wrote poetry, which in their opinion, was a complete waste of my time. I struggled with my poetry for several months afterwards. Personally, I have two challenges with my own poetry: I never think anything I write is any good, ever. I am always editing my poems. And I don't spend as much time as I wish I could on my poetry. I'm working on the latter these days.

Q:     Is there anything of importance you would like to share with 

literature teachers, who are reading this?


I think that it is important for people, literature teachers and learners alike, to understand that literature is dynamic. I have had discussions with a few people who are thoroughly convinced that poetry must be in some exact form, to qualify as poetry. To these people, if your poetry does not follow some rules, then you are not really a poet. I disagree strongly with this line of thinking. My friend, Chimdinma Onwukwe, who has helped me improve my poetry over the years, once told me that the only thing a poem needs to be a poem is that the poet calls it a poem. I think it's okay to let many of the rules that guided poetry in the past change, to let the art form evolve. So, as far as poetry is concerned, I think all anyone should need is that the poet calls their work a poem. That's what makes it a poem. I want literature teachers to know this. 

Q: Any parting remark?
I am immensely grateful to the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation for this opportunity, and the judges for validating my poetry. I did not think that this poem would make the longlist, and I certainly did not think that it would make the shortlist, but I am elated that the judges deemed it worthy both times. I do not take this for granted. Thank you. And to the other poets on the shortlist, I have read your poems, I have even stalked some of you a little on social media, and I cannot stop gawking at the sheer talent in your work. I wish you all success in your journey through poetry, and I hope you never tire of writing the beautiful things that you write. 


The #Babishai2018 shortlisted poems can be read here:

Details about our #Babishai2018 poetry festival are here:


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