He is known as an outspoken poet. And you may bet he’d let out as much as he can, from his heart, in other to make this interview worth the while. The extra-ordinary man seizes every question in this interview to educate, enlighten, and remind us of the past in this interview. To wrap it up, he delivered one of his newest poems... Meet one of the highly revered poets in Nigeria, Aj Dagga Tolar:
EGC: PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF.
AJ: I have responded to this question so often that any attempt not to fall into the mode of repetition is sure to fail, I cannot there not help but be creative. This does not require inventing what was not, but necessarily trying to say the same thing in more ways than one. So let me begin by saying that my genetic make-up comes Bosede and Benjamin Atulute Ajayi, their union gave me life. Mother had to midwife herself at home in Sidi street Ajegunle, (unable to provide a flask and other birth delivery items, she was outrightly turned out of the Apapa Maternity Hospital) nearly bleeding herself to death. Somehow she survived and I also. Of course my father was not consciously absent from the birth, he was locked in a mortal battle for his own life, giving everything during the civil war on the federal side to ‘Go On With One Nigeria’. This is the unfortunate nature of historiography of the civil war, which reduces all of the accounts and chronicles to Gowon and Ojukwu, ignoring all of the foot soldiers on both sides whose sacrifices, death, injuries, loses and effort accounts for the real history of the civil war, both in its making and end. Unborn as I was in 1968, I was a casualty, J.P. Clark as given to history a poem of the same title that makes this point better, than anyone else can attempt.
Given the circumstances of my birth, I could not escape ending up in the hospital at Broad street and there I commenced and won a struggle to live.
My schooling originally should have started at Lad-Lak, Apapa, where I got my first admission but with my father procuring residential lodging at Camp 2 in Ojo cantonment, moved my first schooling to Army Children School, Ojo, next was Zumratul Islamiyyah High School, Yaba. University education made me a graduate of History.
My formative years were influenced largely by father’s natural distaste for injustice, he was loud to a fault on all instances of it, himself having been a victim of nepotism in the military, imagine being promoted thrice to the rank of Sergeant, once he had even celebrated with his friends at the Cantonment, only to return to the office the next day and his name was ‘missing on the promotion’s list’, for someone who risk all during the civil war, to be so treated “for not knowing someone who knows someone” or for literally refusing to grease anybody’s palm for what was legitimately his right, he remained on the same rank of Couple for over 9years of his 13years in the Nigerian Army. His vocal outburst on issues naturally had to rub off on me.
Of course university education broaden my horizon ultimately prepared me to finally meet with my lifelong philosophy; Marxism and dialectic Materialism. I am me, Aj. Dagga Tolar, no more no less. To state my name and leave it at that is not enough in my own instance it will be misleading, if for example I say I am Olusegun Ajayi, what conclusions will you draw from that, one’s name does not only serve as an instrument of introducing and identifying the self, it is used by others to attempt to zero in on who one is, where someone comes from, his/her root, religion, in some cases political affiliation, as well as social class status. To all of these assigned tasks from a name, I respond that being born in Ajegunle, exacted a great influence in shaping me and the ideas that finally helped defined my poetry, politic and my lost of religion.
EGC: TELL US ABOUT WHAT YOU DO APART FROM POETRY.
AJ: Apart from poetry, what do I do, am a socialist activist, a Trotskite for that is what it is to be a Marxist today. And this is full expressed with my membership of the Democratic Socialist Movement, which is currently locked in a legal dispute with INEC over its refusal to register the Socialist Party of Nigeria as an electoral platform, even when its entire undemocratic requirement for registration a of political party has been met. I try to make myself available and be involved in as many struggles of the working people both in workplaces and in the communities. Currently we are in involved in the ‘No Payment for Darkness’ Campaign against the exploitative crazy billings of the IKEJADC and EKEDC. For 24 hrs electricity supply, the cancellation of the compulsory N750 charge fee and the VAT charges. And for non-payment on the part of consumers who have since September 1 2013 takeover by the GENCO and DISCOs been paying for services not rendered. Nigerians have therefore already prepaid the DISCOs and should therefore join in the campaign for non-payment for at least the next one year. But one is not deceived; Buhari and Co cannot fundamentally provide Nigerians with 24hrs electricity supply if they do not break with neoliberal capitalism and renationalize power supply under democratic control and management of the working people and consumers, massively injecting public funds into set things right.
I must say too that for years now I have been a teacher which has given me the opportunity in my own little way to impact on a lot of young people, some who are even now acclaimed poets. But unfortunately for all of us education is at the worst ever, the shrinking role of the state in education, today means that must public schools and institution are grossly understaffed. With private schools except for the few high brows and completely unaffordable for a majority of even so call middle class pretenders and are indeed, no more than exploitative centres of milking working people dry providing service no less qualitative than the public schools, when in actual fact staff are mostly underpaid and are not in any way inspired to give their all to the students.
The Labour Movement and unions are essential in this regard. Unfortunately today, the leadership of the unions are extremely comfortable, indeed too comfortable and a majority operate under the philosophy of the Labour Movement must function as social partners with their employers. This is completely wrong and explain why labour leaders are quick to defend their employer and government’s policies even workers are at the receiving end of such policies and programmes. The current automatic check up collection is not helping matters in this regard, since members cannot withdraw their finances even when they so conclude that the unions are not representing their interest. At the branch unit, where I currently function as Chairman of the NUT in Ajegunle, even all of the above mentioned issues are not necessarily resolved in favour of members. It will require a continuous process of building the consciousness of teachers and the working people that unions must be organs of leading the struggle for the emancipation of working people from poverty and the rule of Capitalism and its Bosses. And also provide the leadership for the making of a socialist revolution that will put in place a Workers & Poor Farmers’ government.
So like my poetry, I try in every other thing as well to ensure that Marxism and the need to built revolutionary organization remains the core of my existence.
EGC: TELL US ABOUT HOW YOU DISCOVERED YOU ARE A POET.
AJ: What you first discover is that you enjoy poetry, the sound of it, and this was done for me in school, by poems like ‘Owusu’, ‘My Song Burst’, ‘When a Strainer Takes in Water’. All the three poems then in WACE syllabus (of 1982-84) were all expression of the great African tradition of oral poetry, you cannot begin to imagine what poems like these did to my young mind, in reading them you enjoy the very feel and texture of the lines of the poem on your tongue, the ease with which after leaving the pages of poems your mind is still busy savouring the feel of the words, in an attempt to own them as a part of you. Then crown this up with J.P. Clark –‘Night Rain’, you cannot fail to behold the smooth transition from Oral traditional poem to the written text, without failing any of the demands of Oral poetry. This for me was a vital baptism for me in the then unenvisage march to the Poet I am today. Can you then imagine that after this early encounter with J.P. Clark in words, in wildest of all possible dreams that poetry then make it possible for me to share the same space with him, visit him at home and be treated as a friend by this great mind.
Of course Cyprian Ekwensi had earlier won my heart in class one, with those two books of his, ‘An African Night Entertainment’ and ‘Passport of Mallam Ilia’. These texts drew tears from my eyes, introducing me into the secret powers of how the woven words can draw the heart to directly partake in a story, unmindful of the distance of time, the setting and the clime, and share in the common feeling of excitement, joy and pain. That such empathy and bond can be made possible by words is indeed one of the greatest of educations that helped my becoming a Poet, which was still very much in the future.
George Orwells’ ‘Animal Farm’ came two years later in class three in 1982, the very idea that the animals could take on Mr. Jones and chase him out, was my first contact with the ideas of revolution. Go read the inspiring delivery of Old Major to the other animals and behold how words can sound the chord to move a people to act by freeing themselves of all their fears to be able make and reorder history in their favour by trooping with all their numbers into the arena of struggle, and seize the reign of power.
Then the amazement for me that text ‘Animal Farm’ was an attempt at examining the Russia Revolution of 1917 lead by the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, a decade after my first reading of the folk like set story. And that the Bolsheviks have with their action set for the whole humanity the challenge and the path to “Storm Heaven” successfully, if you allow me to use Marx own words. This for me was my first meeting with Marxism without consciously knowing it; the very idea of organizing the mass of the working people to take their destiny in their own hands.
I must say herein state that reggae music for me was also influential. It introduced me to lyrics to revolutionary songs, to also want to sing and automatically to songwriting. 84 through to 1986 before my university admission I had ample time to experiment at songwriting. My first poem titled “Virginity” happened in 1987, and my collection “Daggering Boots” was completed in 1992 and since then there has been no looking backward.
EGC: WHICH OF YOUR PERFORMANCE IS THE MOST MEMORABLE?
AJ: To have shared a single platform with Mutabaruka at Soyinka at 80 in Lagos and Abeokuta is one memory that I will cherish all through life. I mean to have listened to someone in your formative years over 3 decades ago and meet this kindred soul in flesh and blood… ‘Nothing compares’. The challenge also provided by Poetry Africa was also good to meet the vibrancy of poetry in the whole of the African continent. More interestingly is the fact that all of the poets from the various African countries in relation to themes were not any different from one another.
And this for me further confirms for me the fact that the Poet cannot ignore the state of the nation, to do this is to endanger not only poetry, but life itself.
Let me say every poet will always enjoy evermore to test and share their lines with an audience; first you want to imagine what the reaction will be, and when it meets with approval after any performance, the excitement is indescribable. For a revolutionary poet however there is the follow up step to translate words into action through the means of connecting those minds that hear and agree with your work into becoming part of the mass movement for change.
EGC: YOU WRITE AND PERFORM POETRY. WHICH DO YOU THINK IS MORE EFFECTIVE?
AJ: Before a poem can be performed, first it must be thought out, this is not to deny the fact there are others who on the instant and spontaneously can combine both thought and performance at the same time. But this does not invalidate the old way of starting out with an idea in thinking, or a line and then writing. This is the very process by which a written poem comes to birth.
The writing mode allows the poet to bring all of his working knowledge to the writing table. And the beauty of this is that not just all of the senses are active and tuned to this objective, it provides adequate room for the poet to also gain the advantage of the editor, first through the self, wherein the mind interrogate the written piece and the self, in a bid to answer the question of if what is on paper fulfills the original intention of the idea or the first line. Of course a proper editor also is needed to work on some many other areas, in diction, lines formation and breakage, rhythm and sound and the concord of all of these with the idea expressed.
What you will natural refer to as performance poem, is then what has gone through all of the above and is they thrown out by the medium of performance to engage an audience.
But with Spoken Word the vogue is to have all of this affirmation with the applause/s of an audience… who because of the rapidity of the sound and delivery, and without the immediate benefit of a second reading, sacrifice all of the requirements of quality in any given poem to just the need to hear out the rhythm or sound bite of a single line… and then all of the fingers tapping, the thundering applauses, which in some cases is even arranged ahead of the performance… the poem is done deed and delivered. As far as I am concern there are so many so called poems unworthy of the name poetry, hiding under the trade mark of Spoken Word, that are no more than sound bite for the moment, or offering nothing more than a single line to hold to all of the other surround trash of lines into a whole.
But a poem is a whole piece that must as a matter of duty connect all of itself to every part of itself in its quest for the meaning of its existence. Unlike life, a poem can live on beyond its age, beyond the poet and indeed become the only testament or claim to life by the poet outside of its age and generation. A poem can forever be alive in its ability to connect into people’s mind and strike meaning and purpose for the life and issues they confront, most especially in the quest for meaning and indeed pleasure as well.
Such a poem every time you come to it remains ever fresh, Wole Soyinka’s “Abiku” is one living example for me, every new reading introduces fresh insight even unintended by the Poet, how it defies opposite characterization of J.P. Clark own humane approach to the theme of the unborn spirit child, whose sole goal and joy is to be born and die out as a child and continue the game cycle again. In the very face of the development of modern medicine and prenatal and postal maternal care for every pregnant woman, do we then condemn these two poems to the realm of superstition, or mere products of an unscientific age. When the very concept of Abiku can be transmute into the political terrain to fit the continuous and repeated failure at governance by the ruling elites in Nigeria since 1960, that you can even have acclaimed failed Head of States return back to be become president, 20 years after, 30 years after is a living testament to Soyinka’s richly usage of the concept of Abiku. We at Aj. House of Poetry have given expression to this interpretation in one of our performances.
So a poem in its precise choice of words, even unintended by the poet can offer other meaning in a new light or even to a new generation, but all of these is only possible on account of the depth of the poet in question, because without a depth in reading and understanding what has being before, both in terms of poetry, ideas, and history, a poet cannot truly begin to come or arrive it the very precise choice of words and diction with which to constitute a poem. We must not forget that poetry has also assigned itself with the task of recreating language by giving life to new and hitherto non-existing meaning.
EGC: WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE POETS AND WHY?
AJ: Favourite Poets… this is a task for life. Every Poet to actually continue to be a poet must and should be in a permanent mode of continuously discovering new ‘Favourite Poets’. For every one favorite poet so labeled there are hundreds out there waiting to be discovered. So what I try to do is to enjoy every read or every poem I hear and try to ask myself why I like a poem and see if I can now go further to internalize those features of likeness into my own constructs. The question of volume in a poem compared to prose does not mean that poets necessarily return back to a favourite poem over and over again, this can happen only when one is yet to have a full grasp of the poem, once you do you go on to something new and fresh.
What will make me read a poem is that it is a poem; this is the only qualification that invites me to it, but then the question of a second reading, and growth to becoming a favourite poem, then the question of style, diction and its usage, theme, whether the mode and tone of delivery matches the theme, content and feelings so conveyed. Political poems are for me the most challenging to compose, for one can easily slip into prose and issuing a treatise that soon becomes banal and bland without the poet conscious of committing injustice to the art of poetry.
What makes poetry ever so young is that it is forever an art that comes out fresh and new, indeed it is the very art of constantly recreating language through the offer of new meaning and insight from existing know words and language without plagiarizing, or offering a load of clichés, and yet not extensively exoteric and mathematically requiring an almighty formula outside of the common understanding of arithmetic meaning of words to any human being.
This is why a poet cannot last or even become a poet who will offer anything lasting to his age or generations to come, without reading up as many known poets from all ages and traditions, from as many climes and background as possible. When it comes to the arts, the question of ‘what is life’, human existence and our quest for progress, no age or generation or particular set of humans can claim monopoly of and for itself alone. This is why it is compulsorily necessary for a poet to read, read up everything, for only when you knowing what has been written before, can you now really commence the process of becoming a poet. For poets must stand on the shoulders of other poets to be able to step up to the next rung on the ladder. It is also important that without a critical mind the Poet cannot fully become, the quest for the future also demands that poets who want to rank themselves in this league must have a square up with history, have a battle with religion for taking humans away from themselves and having them hoping on the self created image of themselves implanted in a non-existing hereafter. And also question this dominant philosophy of the self first, and its resultant neo liberal creed of greed and profit-making for a few.
(as against the wellbeing of the collectivity, which secures the wellbeing of every self therein) and the ruling elites who put forward this creed in the very face of its continuous manufacturing of rot and decadence on us all as the sole philosophy of governance, only then can the poet be in a position to through the art of poetry do the same with others.
EGC: RECENTLY YOUR NAME IS ASSOCIATED TO EITHER AJ. HOUSE OF POETRY OR FREEDOM SPOKE WORDS EVENT; CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE VISION OF THE TWO?
AJ: Both are organs for poetry. Freedom Spoke Words is a platform of Aj. House of Poetry. And it expresses for us the direction we think poetry ought to be heading. Poetry indeed the arts and all of human endeavor owe their existence to freedom. Freedom is therefore not merely the letters spelling the word freedom, for it is freedom itself that gave birth to words and made it possible for words to then be spoken. The freedom that nature in exercising itself gave us all the means to advance in evolving to become human beings.
It is therefore a tragedy for humanity and the whole of nature that some of us on the basis of control of power are monopolizing the entire resources of all for their use alone, endangering the survival of a majority of nature’ genetic code.
So while with Aj. House of Poetry, we commenced a gathering of souls, mentoring and making poets to become, with Freedom Spoke Words, we issue a clarion call to all… that the future is freedom…the whole quest for growth cannot become without freedom… the freedom that leaves the past with no other choice to exit for the future to exist. Yes the freedom to gather all of us to becoming aware and then do the necessary…reorganize society for the benefit of all instead of the current situation of sacrifice the needs of the rest of all of us to meet the unnecessary greed of lords of Capital.
And so far our thanks to Donna Ogunniake, Titilope Shonuga, Akeem Lasisi, Efe Paul Azino, whosever have graced the platform and did not betray our expectation and definition, if anything they fulfilled it beyond expectation unveiling before all a body of works so written and performed in quest for Freedom to truly ‘Spoke Words’. I cannot fail to mention Eriata Orihbabor, Ike Ken, Shekere Jata who have all been supportive, of course the Goethe Institut and all its support staff, Marc Andre, Jerry Ikongio. I must also not fail to mention Uche Uwadinachi and Dare Dan Kolawole, whose work in the background as made possible all of the success and acclaims that Aj. House of Poetry has been able to win for itself, it should clear by myself alone, all of these would not have been possible.
EGC: IS THERE ANY POET(S) YOU CONSIDER TO BE FRIENDS/ALLIES ON THE POETRY SCENE?
AJ: The vision for change is held on to by so many out. And one cannot naturally want to claim all such poets as allies. But like Soyinka will point out ‘there are eggs and eggs’, even Boko Haram puts forward a vision of change as a response to the rot of our collective existence. If you know me well I personally do not subscribe all versions of religious illusions in whatever form or format. All visions of change that look backwards for me or surrender our hope to the sky or some non-existing deity, whether homegrown or foreign, small letters spelt or Capital letter is and only fit for ‘the dust bin of history’.
While it can be a beginning to want ‘Change’, ‘Revolution’ and pronounce it as much as possible in your delivery, this cannot be the end, which is why those who are my true allies must be willing to join the cause of building an alternative political platform for the working masses. Not to transcend words into the boundary of acting out the words, for me demonstrate a failure to rising to the next calling of the very lines of ‘Change’ and ‘Revolution’ so self espoused.
Take 2015 General elections for example, how do you define what should have been the attitude of a poet to join the bandwagon of the APC, for mouthing the slogan ‘change’ or for investing our future and collective destiny in the hands of a single so call self righteous, less corrupt man, unmindful of the system that breeds all of these corruption and poverty, a system that Buhari endorses in full as clearly demonstrated by those he is courting for friends the G7, 10 Downing street…and you cannot but wonder that the very friends of Jonathan are going to be the same friends of Buhari… under his doctrine of ‘I am for everybody…”. With these friends Buhari will prove incapable of fully coming on to the side of the working masses, uniting with them to take on these friends, who indeed are not friends of the working masses. Nor can we expect him to nationalize any key sector of the commanding heights of the economy, the very action that will cut into profits currently going into private pockets and free up resources for improving the living conditions of the working masses, development of infrastructure etc. He will only at best attempt to tinker here and there without ruffling the feathers of the system, which will only mean that fundamentally nothing will change for the working masses.
Some other poets did not only Vote Goodluck but were with flags out there calling out for people to also vote and endorse the rot to go on… on the excuse of stripping Buhari down to ‘a religious bigot’, ‘Northern chauvinist’, they were actually queuing behind Jonathan on the very basis of ethnicity and religion which they were busy accusing Buhari of.
And yet there were poets of the comfort zones who took up the so call civic duty’s position of calling on the masses to exercise their power and vote without recourse to the question of ‘what are you calling people out to vote’. In the same spirit were poets who were out there calling for a peaceful conduct on the path of the masses during the election, this is even a greater insult to the psychic of the working masses, as if they have ever been responsible for any known or recorded electoral violence in the past, except to rising up to resist by all means of displayed attempt to openly rob them of their choice.
These were the categories and flaws with which so many poets out there could be boxed into in the last general elections, and the truth is that for a Marxist and a revolutionary poet I cannot truly take any of these currents as allies.
For me, my poem ‘This heart will not vote’ speaks it. To adopt an attitude of civic duty or for peaceful conduct or even the crazy demand of the right to choose between this Rot must go on, which disgraceful was the stand of some many poets or vote ‘change’ invested in the will of an individual and not necessary the collective resolve of the working masses themselves..
Can only mean that there are indeed very few allies one can soulful and spiritedly claim. But you know we all make do with excuses like ‘if you can’t beat them join them’, for the Poet this is path to perish land and damnation, the poet at all time must hold is art as a flag for the future of humanity, and this demands that at all time he sides with the working masses. My friends and allies are therefore in the light of the above analysis very few, but given the dialectics of nature, which exact all of its features continuously on all living and nonliving things, to extract through an operative of dialectic fusion all of the needed forces from where ever for progress and development in life. Understand this not to make me out as a lonely endangered owl bird, given that in all of the categories of poets enunciated above, exist so many friends and allies who given the reconfiguration of our circumstances will in no way differ from all the conclusion that I have drawn. This is one of the beauties of life… lettered all through on the whole of nature, which explain why we try to act differently, but yet we cannot escape the fact that we act for a common goal which ultimately will unite us… this is the stage wherein the revolution is made, before them the powers that employ all of the means to keep us all divided, and this is a forever task for the art of the poetry to acknowledge the right and freedom for the whole nature to be different for people to eat, believe or not believe, think or even to be ignorant, dress or even chose to be naked (either privately which we all do or even publicly), speak , live, act, etc separately am yet still on account of all of these so many differences we must do not erase from any humans therefore right to their different nature and then deny humanity the bond for a unity of purpose and action for the good of the collective…
EGC: WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL HELP POETRY TO GROW IN NIGERIA?
AJ: As long as poetry remains an elitist venture so much will poetry not grow. For in the end what is poetry, is it not sourced from life and is life outside of the Poet not far richer than whatever life or wealth of experience the Poet might claim to possess. Lenin states that where everyone is a bureaucrat then no one is a bureaucrat, in this sense when everyone becomes an elite then no one is. The question of literacy and education is essential for the growth of poetry in Nigeria, interestingly today’s Nigeria boasts of more illiterates than say in the 1980ties, a fall out of the increasing underfunding of education over the three decades.
Jonathan ‘Bring back the Book Campaign’ was one such waste of resources on all of us, of course we made it clear then that it was only a stunt aimed earning the front pages an attracting votes for the 2011 General elections, no more no less, and indeed unfortunately for us all, this is exactly what happened.
The state of our schools cannot be diffused the state of poetry, Poets must add their voices and demand for the necessary public funding for education at all levels, the country is rich enough to public fund education, if we are serious at combating corruption, what actually need to be done is to plunge the resources to meet the needs of the people as long as we transfer the burden to the private sector, so long will resources be free for looting. This country can afford public funded free education for all at all levels. This is the very future for poetry and all the arts, which is why the duty of the does begin and end with the poem, the needs of life, their production, distribution and availability to mass of the working people is a task the poet cannot ignore, do this and poetry and life itself is endangered.
Look out how my own education, and the syllabus of literature in school exacted much influence on me, then the schools need to be more open, the universities also need to be flexible as much as the teaching of creative art is necessary in schools, it also must be known that poetry, in the indeed the arts is not mechanically only academic, it strives in free space and broken down walls, in more often in slums than in ivory towers.
EGC: YOU WERE ONCE A CHAIRMAN IN ANA. BUT LOOKING AROUND WE NOTICED MANY UPCOMING POETS ARE NOT MEMBERS. TELL US ABOUT WHAT THEY ARE MISSING?
AJ: Flexibility is required when it comes to the question of organisaton. While not denying that poets naturally are and should be members of Association of Nigeria Authours (ANA), the fact remains that Spoken Word and the Poets who engage it, will in truth require a platform of their own to truly be able to articulate and express their own needs. It is medium that needs a space of its own. While agreeing that ANA can and in indeed remains an enclose organ with which Poets can test their art before breaking out…, this is not enough for Poets, after the writing and the testing out, Poets wants to break out and unleash their works on the society, this quest for performance and the space to actually do this as regularly as possible is one reason why ‘Freedom Spoke Words’ came to life.
All of the issues and the conservative nature of the leadership of ANA in the past period in particular relation to all of the issues of governance and why we are in such a state in Nigeria does not lend any effort to the needs of Poets who are active and full of energy to sit on the no do nothing position of the current ANA leadership, outside of just being a host platform for writers.
It is appalling becoming no more than an add up to one’s CV. And this is exactly what happens when you try to shut yourself away from life, poetry, literature, and the whole of the art cannot dare to do this and not suffer, that ANA is a mother organization, yes, we acknowledge this, but children will not forever remain children nor will they forever need to sulk from the breast, this is for the current undoing and explain why ANA is and remains in death-agony state and will continue to remain so, if it does side with the working masses, not only take their side in writing, but physically be with them as a legitimate member of the working class, even the question of minimum wage as remote as we think this is from writing and poetry impacts great on the arts. With what resources will books be bought or performance be paid for, where will friends, well wishers and relatives get the extra to hand out to us to publish our poems in whatever format or organize events, so imagine that workers are in a struggle for a new minimum wage and ANA cannot issue a statement of support for such an action, or even mobilize its members to join in a demo to support this demand. The 2012 national protest against fuel price increase point to me, the action and position of the national leadership of ANA on it, rather it chose the comfort zone of neutrality to keeps it white robe unblemished with dirt waters of opposing government policies to later be able to walk through into the corridors of power to with bowl for crumbs for hosting conventions. This is what ANA is today, and it is a far cry from the ideas of the founding fathers who themselves demonstrated with their writing and activity that the country was greater than any personal interest of the individual or of the writer.
In better organized society, writers ought to automatically access funding from the state without having to beg for it, and so deny our humanity the need to stand upright and support the course of progress for the society.
EGC: YOUR PERSONALITY & SPOKEN WORD DELIVERY TENDS TOWARDS ‘RASTAFARIANISM’. TELL US WHY IT IS SO?
AJ: Rastafari and Reggae Music exacted so much influence on me from the mid 80ties. Leaving secondary school in 1984 with nothing to do than wait life out seeking for admission into the university, which came in 1986, one was left with all the time in the world to develop my interest in music, and father had set the ball rolling a recorded tape of 2 Bob Marley albums, Survival and Uprising.
The songs in these LPs was my baptism and initiation into the fold. While it will not be scientifically correct to call me a Rastafarian now, the truth is that it was the path to my becoming a Marxist, a Trotskite and an Atheist. Imagine the full import of the song ‘Get up, Stand up’ and all of the revolutionary songs from Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and many others. For life it has left its mark on me and I am in no way ashamed of this, but it is not correct to say that my poetic delivery tends towards Rastafari, this statement lends itself to a poor understanding of what Rastafari both as an idea or movement. Interestingly I wrote my final thesis in the university on this theme, it is a religious movement in terms of creating a deity his crowned name of Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, while some Rastafarians proclaim him as God Almighty, others see him as the manifestation of Jesus Christ in our times, other simply deify him, someone to be reverend and worshipped and respected in his own person. This faith I do not espouse in any of my poems, instead in my poem “Go Tell Them”, my religious indisposition is made clear.
What will be correct to state is that Reggae music and all of its revolutionary songs and fervent for change is a tendency that will permanently be a feature of my poetry.
EGC: WHAT WILL YOU SAY YOU STAND FOR AS A POET?
AJ: For literacy and liberation of the mind, from all of the too many false doctrines we human live by, for without clearing all of these dregs, the making of revolution will continue to be a mere wish.
EGC: AS A POET, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED FOR WHEN YOU LEAVE THE EARTH?
AJ: Death is one thing that we never want to work our minds on, even when everything around us reminds us of the constancy of death, humans have fashion series of falsehood to zero death out of their consciousness, even when we attend funerals, we automatically and unconsciously close ourselves to the very idea of death is already heading our way. And religion in its fantasy of life after death helps in this regard in a very counter-productive manner.
The greatest thing about life is life in the very beauty of living life full. But the truth is that this in itself in so many of us is not possible given the conditions of our existence…instead of then living… we are dying, not in a dialectic sense, but in the mere anti thesis of how society is wrongly organized vie the rule of capital to meet the luxurious life of the Lords of Capital, while the rest of us are condemned to suffer penury to perdition.
I will much like to remember for a Poet whose trust of words were place at the service and needs of the working masses and the making of the revolution. Whose poems can provide insight to the rot that humans had to live in a transformed society that keeps its past as a living ‘Memory of Pain’. Like Okigbo, a poet who lived his words to his last day.
EGC: ANY MESSAGE FOR POETS COMING BEHIND YOU?
AJ: The craft of the art is one thing and anybody with interest and patience enough can develop the craft. What makes a poet a poet in the end is the stuff that is put into the art. And all of these ultimately is determined by what the poet is willing to absorb and understand without falling prey to become a robot of an idea that is in itself a defense for the existing state and conditions that society has found itself, today.
Saying what is in a refreshingly new way is a legitimate function for poetry and the arts. This is however not enough, for under this guise many junks of the dead past are recycled on us.
Poets must refreshingly make language new by their creative piece, yes, but the demands of life go beyond our beyond of communication to the very idea that we are communicating. This country needs poets who knows the needs of humans living inside it and outside, without in anyway for any reason whatsoever ostracizing or Berlin wall some in and others out.
The art of poetry must be used to express all of the aspirations of the underprivileged in a way and manner that even others outside of our on shores and generation can still identify with the art; this is what makes art a universal entity. But the greatest of demand however is the need for foot soldiers, to organize the working masses. Poets cannot and must not think that life only requires from them their thoughts. Their lives and full involvement in the struggle to transform society and make it a better place for all is the greatest of all challenges and callings that Poets cannot for their own good and art ignore. And this is where Okigbo example remains a shining one to be emulated. As Poets we cannot stand out of life, the private moments we indulge to put our art together cannot and should not be the all, this cannot be used to take the place of life or become all the life we want to live.
EGC: THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME.
AJ: Thank you, and I hope I have in no way bored you with my responses, but let me provide a fit ending by a offering a part of new poetic piece:
THIS OFFERING OF CHANGE
Can I hate this country
Enough to hate myself to vote
This Rot can go on
And lock the gate out of freedom
Against the right at repairs
For ‘This heart will not vote’
Already there is jumping of fence
The same greedy longings
To beat me down to meat to go on eating me
They don’t want to see my face
Why then must I be told to watch and wait
When I can count the tale to come
To tell the truth of its own record
The lie is about to happen again anew
History is haunting the ghost of truth
Made false by force from the old lies.
The power of the word to strike the same melody
For a common feeling of victory in the celebration
The mass enjoined to enjoy the word
And lip mouthful of every single letter of change
For after the inauguration
The cancellation out of life begins to continue
Having lived on falsehood for so long
We cannot learn how to cast a single stone
Outside of words
To rock our common life against more and more
Mere words to peter out this living disorder
The value of the currency in his first coming
Then what was it
As we suffer a second coming of another General
Who in “belong[ing] to everybody”
Same friends of the gone regime of rot are free to be friends
And they are crowding and massing together
To make it not possible to pluck anyone out even one crook
Dare to point out one finger and the other three
Are closing up to not open up the books
And behold all these comforting old cooks cooling off
The heat in the camp of the President Mail Box
Strengthening the thumb finger pointing to “Nobody”
To speaks to us the common sufferers of this disorder of rot
To suffer little more of new pains
“To fashion a fresh new direction for the country”
What can be new in a direction of more pains for the poor?
For even in climes where Kings have been beheaded
There is no stopping the resurrection of the dead
In the new birth of change
Not when this General is not far in age
From the quarters of a funeral
How close are we from the booms of the barrels
At another ‘Second Coming’ and the second man
Is not like the no nonsense non smiling coconut oil man
This professor is in the pocket of a Jackal bang’s cabal
Who is no less innocent than the Luck turned banal
Who had a bigger oily Cake for the looting
And the doctrine of the rotation of stealing
To go the round
Can again suffer from not completing the round
This General once was given the boot
By fellow trusted Generals and boys from the inside
Dealing in cokes courier by the Gloria Okons
Only for lesser Mortals
Like Ogedegbe, Owoh, Ojulope… be executed
Those he couldn’t touched torched him out of power
And I wonder if those surrounding him in power
Will not return to the broom in songs against change
20 billion dollars is missing and all around is kissing
This Jona is crowned a hero
For not waiting the result out to the zero
And calling to say congratulations
The sufferings and tribulations
There will be no pay back
The votes he stole is forgotten
For the changeover to be smooth
“About the past we shall be mute”
The darkness too will this be forgiven
He told us …he had no shoes
And we believed him
We were desperate for change
Our thinking that he was one of us… sucked us in full range
For having been one with us once in pain
He will know our need to break us free from these chains of darkness
Only to suffer us with the invention of DISCO to disburse darkness
We wake up in darkness, we return to sleep in darkness
And pay vat and compulsory charge
And still pay crazy bills for Darkness
Shall we not tell this secret …
Our POWER HOLDING was sold out rock bottom
Only to hand over a bail outs
This fuel shortage rehearsal
Is a warning to keep from sending the scam of subsidy to hell
The refineries … tell
What is the cost of building new ones
Publicly owned and managed to end imports
For using what we have in abundance
Of filling tanks with foreign fuel
For usual business to go on
And line jobs for few boys in jerry cans
And cheap free cash of million dollars
For the counted Big boys
As people walk the kilometers
For this horded shortage
I wonder what better use
We can all put our feet
In unison against the boys and their fleet
And I see this needed rehearsal to walk ahead
To fall on to stream the street once again to hold
It against words not deeding change for the mass
And how soon we all we join
Hold your tongue
No matter forever so long
WORDS yes we know on their own
Can make a soul rearing to roar on the town
To scream the heart out on change
But we know life’s needs come in deeds
While others wait to see and change..
And now write new songs
We do not change where we belong
Nor do we change the text and texture of our old poems
In this new offering we do not count words
Greater than the march of our lot on time
Aj. Dagga Tolar