Servio, thanks for agreeing to this. You have initiated important literary spaces for Nigerian writers and young writers on the continent like WriteHouse Collective and Sankofa Initiative, offering publishing opportunities, alongside the monthly Artmosphere, that hosts writers. What are some of the major changes your spaces have created?
Notably the discovery of new talents. It is encouraging to see what league of brilliance and significance such spaces could inspire. We are facilitating knowledge exchange, mentorship, networking and development between established writers, artists and emerging cultural practitioners. We are leading the revival of a vibrant reading culture and the promotion of creative expressions in literature and the arts amongst Nigeria’s teeming youth. And we are not doing these all by ourselves. There are well-meaning individuals and organisations who believe in and continue to support our work. There are also countless individuals and organisations besides ours involved in a plethora of activities promoting literature, arts and culture round the country. But regardless of all we have collectively achieved, there is still so much more to do. I’m saying there is so much rut to clear, so much to be cultivated, watered and harvested. The key is carving a portion of this seemingly impossible rock for ourselves as individuals and organisations and staying true to it in the face of challenges, opposition, abundance or lack. I have a personal conviction that I’m called to help raise a generation of writers and cultural practitioners who would lead the rebirth and positively impact the future and development of our land. That is my motivation. It is much more than a labour of love, or a love of labour. I’m out on a journey. Now, there are those who build with us and there are those who strive to tear us down. But these are obstacles we’ll face and surmount time and again.
No, not at all. I consider it a great honour for my book to have been deemed worthy of the prize. It is an encouragement for me to further commit to my art. But I’m interested in human stories, in human suffering, in the good and evil we are capable of, in time, in the beauty and ugliness our world provides and how literature and arts sits at the intersection interrogating… and I intend to continue exploring these as I’m inspired and led.
The main theme of the #Babishai2016 Poetry Festival is Abundance: Poetry from Contemporary Africa, how does that speak to you?
Truly, there is an abundance of poetry on the continent and there will continue to be in decades to come. But how much of these is good quality poetry? In fact, what is good quality poetry? Are we not confusing quantity with quality? Are we focusing on and emphasising what poetry was and has been at the expense of what it can be? What are the contemporary trends in poetry across the world and how do these impact our writing? How does our own writing impact the world? There are hundreds and thousands of poets writing today but how many of us will be here or remembered in decades to come? How many have and will be forced to abandon writing and the pursuit of mastery in the quest for survival? I look forward to interesting conversations on these and many more at the #Babishai2016 Poetry Festival. We need to continue building formidable platforms, institutions and networks that will ensure poetry, literature and arts in general thrives in our clime. And we must start by improving the quality and dignity of human life.
When you think of poetry in Uganda, what images come to your mind?
While I must admit that there’s been a gap in my reading of poetry from Uganda, I’m particularly fond of the works of Okotp’Bitek and Taban Lo Liyong. Some friends introduced me to Nick Makoha’s poetry in 2015 and I’m loving it. During the #Babishai2016 Poetry Festival, we will hold a children’s poetry session under the sub-theme of Children’s poetry and its accessibility. How important do you think it is for African children to have poetry created for them? I think it is essential that reading and writing is introduced to children early. There is a saying amongst the Yorubas that roughly translates “a tradition or religion not taught to the youths will gradually vanish”. So you see, the earlier we begin, the better and in both formal and informal learning settings. It will open up their minds, give them a richer understanding of the world and how it works and help them discover their place in it. But, it is not merely enough to have poetry created for them. We also have to be supportive in creating an environment conducive for them to create their own poetry, their own stories and share same with the world. That way, the question of accessibility will be more than answered.
And what diet would you recommend for poets?
Be omnivorous. Read any and everything so long you are convinced it’s good for you. Life is a journey and so is poetry. We have to keep on learning and unlearning as we go along. Patience and tenacity are virtues I hold dear. Sometimes we will win, sometimes we will learn. But the fear of failure should never deter us from daring to live and pen our conviction.
Servio Gbadamosi is a seasoned Culture and Development practitioner based in Ibadan, Nigeria. Through the Sankofa Initiative for Culture and Development, he works with emerging writers, artists and culture practitioners across the country providing multiple development and promotional platforms. In April, 2012, he cofounded, WriteHouse Collective, a fast-growing independent publishing and book distribution firm that houses some of the finest writers emerging in Nigeria today. For more festival information, Email email@example.com or follow us on Twitter @BNPoetryAward.