As with all poets, Dike as he is popularly known in Abuja literary circles, initially, composed poems for emotional purging. Followers of his art form will remember his love poems – the bits of tortured ramblings of a poet. At some point, the poems diversified to include nostalgic pieces for the old Jos, lamentations on the corrupt polity, the mindless wealth of the rich. His recent poem The World, The Bridge Are Only In The Mind addresses how disunity affects the livelihood of Nigerian citizenry. It castigates cases where citizens are disqualified from a job on the ground of non-indigenization. Other works include The Revolution Has No Tribe and Okwesilieze; part of Dike’s successful communication is the soft-spoken use of pidgin that he employs. It begins soft, calm and easy – and ends a tad faster than it started. His message is in-your-face yet not pushy.
Exploring new forms to capture the interest of the common, non-literary audience –His poetry performances are available on YouTube. These include Ramblings of A Poet in Love, Raising Our Voice and the fifth season of Night of A Spoken Word. None of these have made as much impact as his video tribute to Chinua Achebe entitled Nna Anyi. It launched on the ALS platform, and drew more attention to his new media experimentation, attracting young, mobile audience. Nna Anyi was performed by master ObiObasi, a young boy who is making his mark in poetry performance in the F.C.T.
He writes prose and maintains two blogs to boot. His novel Urichindere, draws from his experiences as a teenager while The African American (2012) explores the trado-societal topics. To top that off, he holds a degree in Law and a Masters in Law and Development. When does he find the time to write?
Interview with Performance Poet Dike-Ogu Chukwumerije
When did your love of poetry begin?
I discovered poetry as a young boy. My older brother and his friend wrote poems, and I was inspired by their example to do the same.
As a young boy, you had been tagged different. Is there any major event that stood out for you that made you want to give up poetry even for a while?
Not really. I began writing poetry as a way of expressing, understanding, and archiving my emotions. It was a personal thing. In that sense, other people’s critiques or responses to the things I wrote didn’t really matter to me. Writing poetry was one of the things that helped me adjust to the pressures of growing up, and has always been an integral part of how I process things. But I was, of course, aware of the fact that a lot people had very dim views of poetry, regarding it as ‘boring’ or ‘nerdy’ or ‘sissy’ – things like that, I just wasn’t particularly affected by this. Fortunately, I suppose, my immediate circle was comprised of people who – even if only to encourage me – took great interest in the scribbling of a 13 year old.
When did you determine to take poetry one step further from writing to performance poetry?
The transition from writing to performance poetry came naturally, with invites to come and read my poetry at public events. This started happening maybe 12 years into my writing career, so I had had a long time to mature and find my own comfort zone as a poet. But as I started engaging with public audiences, I would often read alongside spoken word poets. And watching them, I deduced that communication was a lot more effective when the poet could engage directly with the audience, without having to stop and look down at a piece of paper. It was also a question of bringing two different skill sets together. At university, I had already developed a reputation for public speaking. And during these public speaking sessions, even if I had notes, I would typically speak freely without referring much to them. So, I decided to combine my ability to write poetry and my ability to speak publicly into one act.
You have taken to reinvigorating poetry using certain strategies and technologies (head mics, videos) to enhance performances that make your art unique. Where did the inspiration crop from?
I began to do performance poetry some 10 years ago. And since then I’ve been constantly engaging with the challenge of communicating poetry more effectively, particularly to a lay (or non-literary) audience. For this reason, I am constantly experimenting with form and method. Even as a writer of poetry, my objective has always been to reach this type of audience. So my poetry tends to be simple and readily understandable, as a deliberate strategy. My first poetry video was a continuation of that strategy. I also wanted to fix poetry in a modern medium, where it could be easily consumed by young people in the 21st century, most of whom are spending more and more time on-line. My live shows carry the same imprint – the desire to make poetry attractive to everyone.
Your poetry addresses more and more issues of corruption, disunity, and racism amongst Nigerians. Do these subjects come up naturally or are you compelled by current trends?
It is a bit of both. At the earlier stages of my writing career, I was more obsessed with ‘inner’ issues, that is, with my own emotions and what was going on within me. But a time came when I became just as obsessed with what was going on in the society around me. The cross-over moment was my post-graduate studies. I did a Masters in an area called ‘Law and Development’, studying essentially the problems of developing countries. At the end of that program I wrote and published my first collection of poetry, titled ‘The Revolution Has No Tribe’. It took its title from a poem I wrote dealing with issues of identity amongst Africans. So, again, it was a meeting of interests for me – my love for poetry on one hand, and my intellectual interest in development, on the other. This intersection of mind and soul continues to drive my writing currently.
What’s your creative process like? Do you think about your subjects, work with a muse or does a poem come in one magic moment/thought?
I do all three. Sometimes, I think of a subject first and tediously craft poetry around it. Sometimes, someone says something, or I see something, that strikes me, and I write a poem out of it. And sometimes a poem just pours out of me, unplanned and unscheduled.
What role did literary organs like ALS or ANA play in your career path as a poet? Are you a full time poet?
Literary organs like ALS and ANA are vital for local writers and poets, as they provide a critical platform for networking with other writers, and also for being introduced to the local writing community. For me, ALS in particular helped to connect me to the Abuja community of writers and writing enthusiasts. These platforms also act as semi-formal workshops where writers can further develop their talent, either from receiving feedback or inspiration from other writers. No, I am not a full-time poet. I do lots of other things.
How do you encourage young budding poets to become better artistes and to develop the performance poetry?
I help to organize events where young poets can develop further. For one, I work closely with ALS, ensuring its weekly meetings hold, and hosting at least one of those meetings every month. I also organize a spoken word show twice a year called ‘Night of the Spoken Word’, which I think is one of the biggest in terms of attendance in the country. At the show, I always include upcoming poets, as well as other types of literary genres, as a way of showcasing them. I also interact one-on-one with young writers all the time, and offer whatever form of advice and support as I am able to.
What are your other works (publications, new media or traditional media)?
I write in other genres apart from poetry, mostly fiction and creative non-fiction. So, I have published books (2 novels, 3 poetry collections, and 2 works of non-fiction) all available on Amazon and other on-line retailers. I keep two blogs – email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org – where I do mostly creative non-fiction. My poetry videos (3 of them) and other performances are also all available on YouTube. So, I have works both in print form and on-line.
What are your future plans in this genre?
I would like to mainstream performance poetry, and evolve stable forms for presenting the art to the public. So that poetry becomes a staple cultural diet, which ordinary people can access and consume easily.