Brunel International African Poetry Prize Shortlist: A Dialogue With Saddiq Dzukogi
Saddiq Dzukogi studied at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. He has poems featured or forthcoming in literary publications such as: New Orleans Review, African American Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Juked, The Poetry Mail, Chiron Review, Vinyl Poetry, ELSEWHERE LIT’s anthology of contemporary African poetry, The Volta, Construction, Welter, among numerous others. He was a guest at the 2015 Writivism Festival in Uganda as well as at the Nigeria-Korea Poetry Feast in the same year. Saddiq is the Poetry Editor of the online journal, Expound and a three times a finalist in The Association of Nigerian Author’s Poetry Prize. Saddiq lives in Minna, Nigeria. He can be found @saddiqdzukogi.
This conversation took place in the cold, sweetspot of Gaborone, Botswana and the calm, city of Minna, Nigeria by Email.
Gaamangwe: Saddiq, congratulations on being shortlisted for Brunel International African Poetry Prize. What does it mean to you to be shortlisted?
Saddiq: Thank you for your kindness Gaamangwe, for asking time to talk to me. This is huge, any effort channeled towards informing you that what you do is important is huge. So being among the shortlisted poets in the running for the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize is an incredible dream achieved, that my body is still struggling to come to terms with. When I received the email notifying me of my inclusion I was only able to muster a small voice to whisper to my lover, Mirah, my whole being still stuck in disbelieve. I said “Mirah they say I made it to the shortlist” of course she had a loaded voice that filled up the sitting room. This is really, really huge, it means the little poems I write in the little corner of my room are speaking with the right voice. It means they are alive in the world.
Gaamangwe: I am excited for you. I want to speak about the voices of your poems. What do they speak of and for?
These are voices rising from the silence a body has been chained to. It is like the voices seek to break the body loose from this. The poems seek to say all the things I have not been allowed to say. Some of my poems are autobiographical and sometimes fictional, but most times these poems speak about the lives of those living close to me, speak about what I hear the street say. So basically you could say the poems try to speak for the voiceless, this include the poet himself.
Gaamangwe: What are the specific things that you and your speakers, have not been allowed to say?
Saddiq: Here especially in Nigeria, people think they’ve got a saying in your life, in the way you do things, how you should and shouldn’t live, there is this perceived moral net where everyone is expected to live within. This is predominate in the Nigerian society especially up north, where the older folks think guys as young as myself cannot hold their own destinies in their own hands. As a young person in Nigeria the society doesn’t listen to you, you are small to be listened to, the society thinks there is nothing positive the young adult can contribute. This is a society that wants to determine everything for you. How you should eat, how you should talk, who you should be, who you should love.
It is especially disappointing that even in the literary space this is true. Just a few days ago another conversation began raging, and it is what issue the writer is expected to engage with. Then “Poverty porn”, “Poverty porn”. People expect a writer to engage the environment in a way that the literary materials produced must discuss issues that are politically relevant to the society. People expect the African text to be about struggles. Some do not think so, some think some writers exploit the yearnings for African sad stories by the west to exaggerate the plight of the African. I take all this to be bullshit, no one has got the exclusivity of prescribing what should be written. Personally I get sickened by this spectacular cases of corruption, mob actions on people who seek to express their sexuality the only way they know how. There are a lot of documentation that is needed about Africa, there is a lot the world doesn’t know about Africa, and I expect the African gatekeepers and critics to know that it’s ok to want to engage with another hue of Africa that the world is yet to interact with, it is okay for a writer to write about the colors, the laughter that have been able to rise from the ash of what we all have allowed to burn. It is okay for a writer to engage in what is of fascination to them, it is a free world and even if you are a religious person, God has given ‘free will’, why do men like taking that away?
Gaamangwe: I saw that conversation as well. It’s really getting old. All stories are valid and serve different purposes to different people. The only role of the writer is to write whatever comes through them. For you, what are the worlds that fascinate you, and the ones you want to engage in with your writing?
Saddiq: Yes, yes you are right, let whatever that wants to come, come! I am just there floating and letting the worlds come through my eyes and live inside my body. I do not consciously try to engage a specific issue, I am so obedient to the muse, as I let my mind fondle with the knob of anything that fascinates me until the door opens to me and to the world. But unconsciously family tales have been a reoccurring issue in my writing, I talk more and more about family now, in addition to the environment. I love to pay mind to the things that are there but are seemingly too insignificant to the world of big significant things. The little things we take for granted are enormous, and those are the things I want the world to notice when it interacts with my writing.
Gaamangwe: I am often fascinated by individual realities, within their immediate environment too. I was moved by your poem “Father’s demise”, I wonder if it inspired by real events, and what meanings were important for you to explore in this poem?
Saddiq: Everybody wants to know if that story is real. Well, it was inspired by a real event, a friend’s reality. He told me the story while I was at the NYSC orientation camp in Iseyin, the home town of Rasaq who’s also on the shortlist. When I got that story it was frightening. This friend personally requested that I write about it. I was reluctant at first as I tried to encourage him to write it himself. But at the end, I internalized the story and made it mine. I wrote the poem keeping the flavor of the story and fictionalizing the content within the frame already drawn. In the poem I wanted to explore the pretence that family love is unconditional, most times this is not completely true, because we lose claim to some degree of the familial love when we are not as family wants us to be.
Gaamangwe: That’s a sad story Saddiq, but as you said, far more common than we realize. Many families exists on the continuum of both love and pain, a lot of traumas and grieves too. You explored a different love with “When the Clock Said”. Can you tell me about this poem, and your thoughts about love in general?
Saddiq: This particular poem was basically about a love that has been lost and lamentations for the lack of it. Talking about love seem to be a lot more fun than it is now. As a teenager I indulge in writing of a lot of sentimental poems. Yes I agree with you that love comes with a lot of grief and traumas, especially the love of home; Nigeria. I find it funny how much I am grateful to Nigeria for messing us up this much. I am grateful because through the poems I am always able to make some sort of art from the pain, from the misery this home allows to batter my body. I have been thinking of late, that what would happen to me if I have the best conditions here, no wars, no killings, no lynching of innocent boys and girls, no hatred but the abundance of love. I am thinking what that may mean to the part of me that I cherish the most, the parts that respond to these things via art. I will readily give up this love for art to have a saner society here.
I love to think I am a lover. My father taught me that only love can save the world. The most complicated of problems the world faces could go away the next minute if everyone could just embody genuine love for the world we live in and uphold a sort of commitment to nullify hate, wherever we find it. I feel love is the strongest weapon, a lot of people think it makes you vulnerable to love, but that’s not true, love makes you invincible because when you go into a supposed battle, you go in there with all your loved ones in your heart. They give you the strength to overcome anything that seems insurmountable.
Gaamangwe: This speaks to me. The only weapon we truly have against the darkness of the world is love. Light comes and multiplies in love! Thank you Saddiq, and all the best of luck with Brunel International African Poetry Prize and your poetry.
NB: This interview is part of a collective book project with all the incredible and talented shortlisted poets for the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize.
Download the full book HERE: Conversations with Brunel Poetry Prize Shortlist