“POETS SHOULDN’T WRITE TO WIN PRIZES” - Echezonachukwu Nduka



Echezonachukwu Nduka is an academic, writer, pianist an award-winning poet. His creative works have been published in reputable literary journals and anthologies. On World Poetry Day, he emerged Winner of the Korea-Nigeria Poetry Feast Prize. Eche’ also has two poetry films to his credit. He is an alumnus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Kingston University London. He is currently a member of board, School of Arts, Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, Nigeria.

EGC media had a chat with him some days ago and we felt you could pick one or two things from it. Below is the excerpt:

EGC: You are a musician and poet, what other creative genres do you do?
Eche’ Nduka: In addition to music and poetry, I write fiction and non-fiction. My short stories have been published in literary journals and e-zines, the most recent one being a story titled “The Journey” which was published on 'Afridiaspora' a few days ago. My non-fiction works include my short essays which can be found on Tracks & Pages column of Praxis Magazine for Arts & Literature, and of course, a few research essays published in academic journals. Currently, I am beginning to uncover and explore my talent as an actor. I believe I’d make a good actor if I pay more attention to acting and possibly audition for roles.

EGC: Do you wish to explore more on new creative genres?
Eche’ Nduka: No, not yet. I think I need to pay more attention to my current creative genres. While I believe in finding new mediums for creative and artistic expressions, I like to think that artists who pay attention to their conscience and discipline know when a particular genre is for them and when it’s not. Art is too piquant and pristine to be forced. Unfortunately, my job as an academic sometimes hardly permits me to get too involved with my creative works. However, I still find time to create because I have no option. Creating a new work of art not only leaves me with a sense of fulfillment but also makes me feel as though my lifespan has been increased by five years or even more. It is both magical and transcendental, this feeling. Every new work comes with a sense of reassurance that I am still alive, and that my existence will not be a waste knowing well that some of these works will outlive me.

EGC: You recently won the Korea-Nigeria Poetry Feast 2016, what do you think helped you to win?
Eche’ Nduka: Sadly, I don’t know how to answer this because I was not one of the judges. I simply sent in a submission and that was it. However, it is very pertinent to note that literary competitions of that nature are often subjective in the sense that the judges might be looking for something in particular. And, of course, considering the complex and philosophical nature of poetry where there are schools of thought and diverse traditions; where what is good poetry to one might be absolute gibberish to another; how does one adjudge a poem to be of merit for a prize in a sea of submissions? Consider the fact that you could do a simultaneous submission to different poetry journals of almost the same standard and one would decline your submission while the other would accept the same work on their journal. It underscores the complexity of poetry as art; readers, editors, and judges all have a subjective and independent sense of judgment. That said any poem considered to be brilliant and thematically relevant could win. For me, what matters most is that any award-winning poem should truly deserve the award even if it is examined by all standards. The 2016 Korea-Nigeria Poetry Feast was even more complex and thrilling considering the fact that the poems could be of any style and of any theme. There was no thematic preference in the call for entries. My poem probably won because of its thematic multiplicity. The work, to an extent, demonstrates how a poem can be about many things. The poem starts with a fictional narrative and tilts towards addressing fundamental and critical issues that affect humanity. Perhaps, that was why it took the prize. In addition, I must admit that I was patient with that poem. When I started writing it, I was not thinking about any competition and I didn’t even know I would send it in for a competition much later. An earlier version of the poem was performed during the Palm wine/Poetry evening at Ake Arts & Book Festival in 2015 and I also performed an extended version of the same poem at the 3rd Anambra Book & Creativity Festival held in Awka. For the competition, each poet was asked to send in five poems and I was surprised when I saw my shortlisted work because I thought it was not even the best on the list of poems I submitted. But like I mentioned earlier, people who judge literary competitions know what they want and they go for it. 




EGC: What advice do you have for anyone who hopes to win the next edition?
Eche’ Nduka: Write and edit the poems for submission. Then read and strictly adhere to the theme and submission guidelines. Literary prize judges are kingmakers, in a sense. They read all submissions and declare the next winner. To write with the hope of winning a literary prize is a writer’s way of dying young. That writing becomes the writer’s suicide note. The writer not only dies, his art dies too. Literary prizes can be misleading. There are poets who haven’t won a single literary prize but their works are extremely brilliant. What’s in a prize? So we can attach award-winning whatever? That’s claptrap. Poets shouldn’t write to win prizes. First, write a poem you would be proud of. It is a creative work. It will be great to have it win a prize. But if it doesn’t, the poem becomes a prize and a garland for the poet. Every good poem is a prize worth its weight in gold.

EGC: On a general note, there are subtle references to music and the use of musical terms in most of your works. Could this be as a result of your career as a musician?
Eche’ Nduka: Yes, I think so. Poetry grants us the freedom of imagination in our quest to interrogate and understand humanity and even supernatural beings. I draw from this freedom to explore and create while making allusions to music, sometimes using musical terms. In a sense, they serve as very clear symbols and metaphors considering their relevance and usefulness in our everyday lives. As a musician and scholar of music, I think it is only natural to have a few musical terms in my poetry. It is not limited to me alone. Music enthusiasts do that too. For instance, I don’t know about any contemporary Nigerian poet who has made more references to Highlife music in poetry than Dami Ajayi. He is a medical doctor and is also inclined to write poems with clinical themes, but you cannot take music away from his poetry. If there should be an essay on the poetics of Dami Ajayi, and there’s no mention of Highlife music, then it is most likely that the essayist will not be taken seriously. In my own case, some of my poems even have musical terms as titles. One of my poems titled ‘Where Music Lives’ is an argument to ascertain the ontology of music. I wrote the poem as my response to the ongoing argument on the ontology of music after a successful completion of the Philosophy of Music module in graduate school. For now, that trait or tendency is something I cannot avoid.

EGC: Recently you released a poetry film and a short film, can you tell us what inspired the works and what you hope to achieve with them?
Eche’ Nduka: First, the poetry film was inspired by the poem itself. The idea also came after showing my first poetry film titled ‘We Wear Purple Robes’ to a small audience in Kingston University London. I felt I could do better than what I had and I decided to shoot another one much later. After my last live performance of the poem ‘Listen’ at the 3rd Anambra Book & Creativity Festival, I decided to record the poem and shoot a film for the work. The more I listened to the recorded audio, the more I felt the urge to shoot a film and it happened. It is my wish that people would watch the poetry film and appreciate it, and also think about those critical issues which the work seeks to address. For the short film, after the making of my first poetry film, my course mate and Caribbean filmmaker brought the idea of shooting a short film and I told him I was ready. I went back to my room that same night and did a little research on how to write screenplays. I wrote the script, sent it to him, and he liked it. Then, I contacted my friend, a French singer, pianist, and actress who starred in the short film with me. The short film is a personal platform for me to showcase my acting skills. I can now tell anyone “Hey! I think I can make a good actor. Seen my short film yet? Here’s the YouTube link!” Of course, there are endless possibilities, but there’s always a starting point.

EGC: You were in the UK as a graduate scholar; tell us the difference between how we do our poetry and how they do theirs.
Eche’ Nduka: Like music, poetry is a universal language. Spoken Word events and Poetry Slams hold in lounges in London and also in Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, etc. If there’s any difference, perhaps it could be in the appreciation and the depth of involvement of audiences. In London, for instance, poetry events are too many that one cannot attend all. If I had tried to attend most of the poetry events in South-West London or Central London alone, perhaps I wouldn’t have graduated or even completed my dissertation. The reason for this is the audience whose support is tremendous. Poetry suffers where there’s no audience for it. Although there are credible and successful platforms like ‘Be Blessed’ in Ibadan, ‘Word-Up’ in Lagos, ‘Night of Spoken Word’ in Abuja, etc., Nigerians are still too hungry and distracted by  stressful daily living, bad leadership, thieving politicians, unemployment, lack of electricity, insecurity, and all other failures to care for poetry.

EGC: How would you describe yourself, an up-and-coming poet or an established poet? And why?
Eche’ Nduka: This is a tricky one. To choose a definite answer from your option would mean to put a full stop where I should put a question mark. I only have a problem with the term ‘established poet’. What does it mean to be an established poet? Are there parameters for measuring established poets? If there are, what are they? I would argue that all poets are up-and-coming, for no poet goes to poetry as a master with pride and contentment. Poetry, for me, is a huge institution and all poets who go therein are learners in their own rights. Does owning a collection or number of collections make one established? Does publishing in journals and anthologies make one established? Does winning a poetry prize make one an established poet? What would be the fate of unpublished old poets whose poems are brilliant and have inspired a long generation of published and known poets? Would this categorization be kind to them? First and foremost, I am a poet because I write and perform poetry. That is what matters to me as all other tags are secondary. While I would not argue against any poet who is regarded as established by other poets, I would doubt and query the genuineness of any self-acclaimed ‘established’ poet.






EGC: Who are your mentors?
Eche’ Nduka: I don’t know about mentors.

EGC: Who are the poets you hope to work with in the future?
Eche’ Nduka: Dike Chukwumerije, Soonest Nathaniel, Titilope Sonuga, Jumoke Verissimo, Dami Ajayi, Efe Paul Azino, Ehi’zogie Iyeomoan. 

EGC: What do you think Nigerian poets can do to help establish poetry as a mainstream entertainment in Nigeria?
Eche’ Nduka: In addition to live stage performances, poets should consider shooting more poetry films and having them screened and sent to TV stations and other media platforms. That way, the art will gain more visibility. Imagine what would have become of the music and comedy industry if they didn’t start making videos to promote their works. If poetry must get into the mainstream, then the poet must stop being incognito. It is not enough to hear the voice of the poet or read his/her works, the poet deserves to be seen too.

EGC: What advice do you have for up-and-coming poets?
Eche’ Nduka: Read as many poets as possible. Then write. I think it is embarrassing to claim not to read other poets for any reason whatsoever. I have maintained that a writer who does not read is like a musician who does not listen to music—and I don’t know how that works. Read, read, read, and then write your own. The poet should pay attention to his/her conscience and be patient with a poem.

EGC: What else should we be expecting from you soon?
Eche’ Nduka: More poetry films. And hopefully, my debut collection of poems.

EGC: Thank you for your time
Eche’ Nduka: You are welcome.




 
Be Blessed 13 (Poetry event) holds in UI Zoo on 23rd April 2016, from 12:00 Noon. 
Entry is 100% Free... Have you heard?
 




Comments

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  2. Simply brilliant. Your choice of words are out of this planet. They are like a stream devoid of rocks. Hoping to hear more.

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