Dike Chukwumerije – Nothing like humiliation to make a good poet

Dike Chukwumerije – Nothing like humiliation to make a good poet

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Lets meet you; Name, Nationality, Family background, Educational background etc
My name is Dike Chukwumerije. I read Law at the University of Abuja and graduated in 2001.

Is formal education a necessity for the development of a poet? How has education influenced your poetry?
It is not a necessity because I don’t think Poetry is wholly an academic discipline. However, formal education is a tool which can be used to enhance any natural ability. This was what happened in my case. There are 2 points to be made here. First, there is formal education in Poetry writing itself, which could be of some benefit. However, I didn’t have much of this, beyond what anyone who studied Literature in Secondary School would learn. An advanced study of Poetry in this regard may better prepare one to become a Poetry Critic than a Poet, I think. Then there is formal education in general, which could help deepen the Poet’s intellectual grasp of the topics he or she deals with intuitively. This can be of great benefit because it gives the Poet the ability to speak credibly to the mind as well as the heart of his or her audience.

Why do you consider yourself a Poet? What were your early influences that inspired you to become a Poet?
I consider myself a Poet because I write what I consider to be Poetry. My early influences were my big brother, Che, and a mutual friend of ours called Onesi. They were both avid readers and writers of poetry and I simply copied them. Che was a lover of the writings of Khalil Gibran and Onesi was into the classical English poets. So, I guess I was indirectly influenced by these sources as well.

What do you like about poetry and at what age did you first perform your poem? Where did you first perform poetry, and what made you feel the need to express yourself in this way?
I am an introvert. So, as a pastime, writing suits me just fine. But I am also something of a minimalist, the sort of person who is mostly concerned with what is most essential or fundamental about any experience. So, Poetry, being in a sense the art of seeing and expressing the essence of a matter also suits me just fine in this regard. I was 30 when I performed my first poem. And by this I mean it was the first time I recited one of my poems off-head. Before this, I typically read my poems. However, as being invited to read my poetry at public events became more regular, it just seemed a more natural and effective means of communication to speak to the audience, rather than read to them.

You have written and published several books – how has been the reception of people to your books in terms of readership and sales? What has been your driving force in publishing?
For a self-published author, I think the reception and sales has been encouraging. However, I will tell you this, I went a whole year after publishing my first poetry collection without selling a single copy. So, clearly, my driving force in publishing has been passion – the belief that you generally shouldn’t let someone else tell you what you can and cannot do in life. We all have stories, and every story has its audience. The important thing is to find your audience. And sometimes you may have to do this all by yourself. But that’s okay as well. Dike 1

You regularly host and organise poetry events in Abuja, please tell us about poetry platforms, poets and life in Abuja and what the Abuja community/ society means to you?
Abuja is a thriving community for poets, I think. I am personally involved with the Abuja Literary Society (ALS), which hosts an open mic twice a month where amateur poets can introduce themselves to the public. ALS also organizes a quarterly Poetry Slam that attracts real talent from around the country. I also host a bi-annual Spoken Word event – Night of the Spoken Word (AbujaNSW) – targeted purely at the non-literary market. There are other places where a poet can ply his or her trade in Abuja, for instance there is Freedom Hall (which recently moved into Abuja from Lagos), the Abuja Writers Forum, and the Abuja Branch of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). It’s also becoming increasingly the case in Abuja to include spoken word poets in the entertainment for most events, so poets are invited these days to perform at all sorts of places. Interesting collaborations between spoken word poets and other artists like Visual Artists, Musicians, Dancers, Dramatists etc are also springing up all over the city. I think Abuja is the kind of place that allows things like this to happen, mostly because of its character as a virgin city, or a blank page just itching to be written on. I think in spaces like Abuja we artists have a chance of creating novel socio-cultural templates for the rest of the country.

Tell us about your events in Abuja i.e. the featured poets, the atmosphere, the audience and the reaction to the performances. What is the average number of people that attend your events? What is your perception of poetry in Lagos (as compared to Abuja)?
The typical ALS Open Mic draws a mix of poets – first timers, amateurs and pros. ALS organizes other literary events (book clubs and guest author reading sessions) but the Open Mics are our most popular events with an average of 70 -100 people showing up every time. It’s usually a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. But things get quite charged and heated at the Poetry Slams, with very vigorous audience participation in every thing from judging to time-keeping. At the Night of the Spoken Word, I’ve seen audience numbers climb from about 150 to close to 700 since 2013 when I started organizing it. Lagos-based Poets tend to be more driven, I think, particularly towards winning slams. But I think a bit more goes on in Abuja in terms of finding more and more ways of communicating poetry to a wider audience.

As an award winning slam poetry champion, please give us tips on how to win a slam poetry competition.
Start with a really good poem, but not your best. Good enough to get you into the next round. And make sure you only get better from that one, so that you peak at the finals and not before. Rehearse until you can recite your poems in your sleep so that even if you freeze muscle memory will keep your lips forming the right words. Select poems that can engage with an audience, a bit of humor goes a long way; a slam competition is not the place for anything too esoteric. Finally, speak in your natural voice.

We know you are a family man, can we get a lil personal and ask about your family, i.e. wife and kids? How do they cope with your poetry events? Are they also actively into arts? What role does poetry plays in their lives? Is your wife also a poet? and is any of your children taking after you?
I’ve been married 7 years and have 2 children. My wife, Anesi, is one of my most important muses and also (unfortunately for her) my main sounding board for new ideas or poems. She’s really good, I must confess, in terms of patiently sitting through my rambles. As for my kids, let me simply say that they do not think it strange to find their father in a corner muttering to himself. They have been around my poetry since they were born and just take it as a given. My wife is not a poet, which is really good for me, because I mostly write for non-poets, so it’s an advantage to have one in the house who can listen quietly to my earth moving declamations and say, “Bros, I don’t understand anything you’re saying”. Nothing like humiliation to make a good poet, trust me. dike - audience

Your late Dad was a well known politician, do you plan to follow in his steps sometime in the future? What is the role of poetry in politics? and what is the role of a poet in politics?
My father left many footprints in many directions, and I am following the ones that are consistent with my personality and calling in life. Progressive Politics depends on Poetry. If we continue to develop in the right direction, I think that would be the next stage of our political development, when people will follow people not for the money in their pockets, or for the fact that they share they same tribe or religion, but for the character, quality and force of the words they speak. For our democracy to thrive, Politics must become ideological and for that to happen the Politician must develop his capacity to articulate ideas through words in a way that draws respect and followership.

You did a poetry video celebrating the late Chinua Achebe which went viral, what inspired you to do the video and how has it helped your poetry career?
The Achebe Video was inspired by the reception the Achebe poem got every time I performed it. I just felt that I had to document that poem in a more permanent and easily accessible form. At the time, I had also been thinking a lot about other ways of communicating Poetry, and had started toying with the idea of a Poetry Video i.e not just a video of someone reciting a poem, but a video that in its very cinematography expressed, and was part of, the poem as well. Whenever you’re pioneering anything you never know what you’ll find when you break through a wall. But the reception to the Achebe Video was, and still is, very encouraging. It helped in no small way to introduce me, and the genre, to a lot of people.

Have you ever performed outside Nigeria? If yes, please tell us where and describe the experience and the response you got.
Yes, I have. The first time I think was at an event that was held in London sometime in 2007 to remember Chima Ubani. A memorable one was at an event held at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) to mark Ghana’s 50th Anniversary. It was in London as well and the same year. I got a terrible reception when I got on stage because I told the audience (an auditorium full of under-grads) that I couldn’t rap, or dance, or do spoken word, but just had a piece of paper I was going to read from. But the boos died down eventually, and my poetry must have gotten across because I got a standing ovation.

As one of the most sought after poet in Nigeria, how do you cope with fans, especially the female ones?
You are trying to flatter me, right? But I’ll tell you this, as a rule of thumb, if a woman smiles at me, I will smile back.

If you were given the opportunity to perform anywhere you wanted, what cities or countries would definitely be on your poetry tour? and which poets would you take along?
To be honest, I’m happy with Abuja, or Lagos, or Enugu, or Port-Harcourt. What I want is to write and perform poetry that my own people like to read and listen to. I want an organic sort of success, one that grows from the ground up, from the inside to the outside. I don’t want to conquer anywhere else, if I can’t conquer here. If I begin to list the poets I would take on tour with me, the list would be too long. Storyteller, LadyInspirologos, AP, Dami, Victoria Aliyu, Shallom Sunday, Moses Audu, Bash Amuneni, Michael Ogah, Eketi Ette, Atilola, Donna K, Titi Sonuga, Wana Udobang, Efe Paul Azino, Paul Word, Yaasky, Tonton, Graciano, Floetry, Poetic Samurai, Kemistree, Omoawe, Ibukun Ajagbe, and of course you yourself Olulu. Honestly? If I could, I would carry everyone with me. dike - family

Should Spoken Word Poetry be mainstream entertainment? If yes, please give us a step by step plan/process of developing the spoken word poetry industry in Nigeria?
Should it? It’s not a moral imperative. But spoken word poetry can definitely be mainstream entertainment. For me, it’s a one-point agenda – grow the audience. For as long as we’re doing spoken word to ourselves in little rooms of 20 and 30, what we have is a pastime not an industry. But when we begin to attract people who come, not because they have some latent ambition to become spoken word poets themselves, but because they derive some personal benefit (or pleasure) themselves from what we’re offering, then we have true consumers, upon which we can build a market, and subsequently an industry.

Do any of the artists/ poets you listen to inspire your poems? Who are your favourite poets, both locally and internationally?
I am inspired a lot by music, particularly music with strong lyrical content. So Bob Marley or Patty Obasi will get me any day. Storyteller’s 2007 spoken word album is one I listen to a lot. I loved the poem Donna K did, “What Do you Wear?” Atilola is another poet I like to listen to. At the ALS Open Mic I get to hear lots of amazing poets whom no one knows yet, people like Yaasky, Tonton, Bamidele, Michaela Moye and Omoawe. Efe Paul’s “When The Revolution Spoke”, Bash Amuneni’s “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “I Drank From The Benue River”, Ken Ike Okere’s “Spirit Walk”, and so many others.

What are your plans for poetry in this new year 2016, especially as regards growing the art form, upcoming events, local and international collaborations e.t.c?
2016 is about continuity for me – doing more of the same. So, I would like to see ALS maintain its consistency as a literary platform, and I would also like to see AbujaNSW increase its audience base. I’m also thinking of doing more things outside Abuja – Lagos and Enugu in particular are on my mind. 

When and where is your new show? What should we expect at the event? 

My next event, NSW6, is on Sunday, the 14th of Feb 2016 at the Main Auditorium of the National Centre for Women Development, Abuja at 6.45pm. I know you think you know Poetry. But at NSW it’s our job to prove you wrong. So, expect, first of all, to be pleasantly surprised, and then expect to be sucked into the experience and come out at the other end not believing you had so much fun at a Poetry event. There will be dance, drama, music. But above all – weaving it all together – there will be Poetry.

How has been the growth of Poetry/ Spoken Word in Nigeria? Where do you see yourself (as regards Poetry) in the next 5 years? Where do you see Spoken Word Poetry in Nigeria in the next 5 years?
Spoken Word Poetry, I think, has witnessed a remarkable growth in popularity in the last 3 years. If things continue like this, I think we could be a mainstream genre in 5 years with packed out shows at A-Class venues, regular spots on radio and TV, and the first generation of celebrity Poets. It is possible.

What advice do you have for young people who want to be poets today? How would you encourage the youths of Nigeria to feel comfortable writing poetry as a form of creative expression? Can you give us some suggestions to increase students’ interest in reading and writing Poetry?
I think, as in anything in Life, this is really about listening to one’s deep inner feelings. There are lots of people who like Poetry but don’t think it’s serious enough, in the context of the daily hustle, to bother with. Hopefully, seeing people like me who balance both daily hustle and poetry would be some form of encouragement to not sacrifice everything within one’s soul to the singular task of acquiring daily bread. These ‘finer’ arts are as important as roads, bridges and boreholes because, ultimately, a society is a reflection of the mindset of the majority of its people. Generating greater interest in Poetry, I think, places a burden on Poets to be less insular in their writing, and write things that ordinary people can relate with. Sometimes, the tendency to equate mysticism and mind-bending difficulty to good Poetry also contributes to putting people off it, when Poets go out of their way, for not good reason, to be obscure.

Is there any link, blog or site people can go to to read your writings/ poems or even watch your videos?
Yes. You can read my writings on my Facebook Page (Dike Chukwumerije), and also at the following blogs –
(1) www.dikechukwumerije.blogspot.com
(2) www.touchmeintheheart.blogspot.com.
You can also find my Poetry Videos on my YouTube channel (Dike Chukwumerije).

Any other information you would want us to know about, maybe something personal?
No, thanks!

Thank you for your time
Thank you for having me. God bless.

dike - word up

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