1. Please introduce yourself: name, sex, age, family background, educational background, religion etc.
My name is REZthaPoet Afolabi. Male and of Muslim background. Married with kids.
2. What does “being a poet” mean to you? Please define poetry in your own words.
I see being a poet as being a media of expression of all that is related to human existence in feelings, experiences, history, perceptions and reality.
I see my poetry as a peep into human expressions and experiences in relation to one’s/a people’s sense of self and identity (which can be cultural or geographical).
Poetry is Oxygen, life that is. Recognizing that not all expressions are poetic, there are rules or principles that give the expressions themselves their qualification, as poetry. But central to this are the figures of speech as used in writing and shown in expression as well as the accompanying emotions that can convey an experience.
3. What brought you to poetry, and what has sustained your relationship with poetry? When did you write your first poem? When and where was your first ever poetry performance? How did it go?
Reading brought me to Poetry. I read “Things fall Apart” as a 9 year old and I fell in love with writing as a form of expression thereon.
I was captivated by the power of capturing an experience in words, with the benefit of hindsight;
I’d say it was fascinating (felt powerful) to feel like I can trap time using words to express reality, experiences or at least imaginations – that was the catch.
I started practicing my letter writing from there and that morphed to Poetry by the time I had my first crush on a girl as a 14 year old.
Poetry has let me express my existence in a very personal way all through the years, then came the consciousness to be a better rounded writer so I read more.
I can’t remember when exactly I wrote my first poem but my first stage poetry performance was around 2006/2007, a bit hazy in memory as with most things in that period of my life then.
From 2004 to 2010, was a tough period of my life and Poetry was my diary and the channel to let off, which helped me see the period through.
4. Can you describe the time when you first realised that poetry was something you love to do?
I was in senior secondary and I was trying to woo a friend. I ended up writing a whole book (which should be a collection then) documenting my feelings and experiences in interacting with her everyday as I expressed my feelings for her.
The beautiful part is that she knew of the book and she or a close friend of her’s will come to take the book at midday (from me) to return in the evening so I can write more poems before the next day.
So I spoke very few words in wooing her but wrote more in the book. It was a weird way to engage and woo but she kept it going for almost a year (always reading and discussing with me) and ended up not dating me still.
I eventually lost the book about 3 years after I left secondary school, but not after some of my friends had successfully wooed other ladies with poems I wrote for a woman who was the center of attraction to me in a very personal way.
5. Do you get nervous when you are about to perform your poem? What ritual/ habit do you engage in before you perform?
The only thing that makes me nervous is when I’m not fully convinced that I have fully mastered the words of a poem (especially when it’s still new) or I haven’t rehearsed it in a while.
I avoid this by not performing poems/pieces until when I’m comfortable with reciting the words from memory. The only ritual I perform before stage performances is to do a final/mental practice whilst in the shower on the D-day (of the performance) by mentally picturing the crowd, imagining the worst outcome of the performance as well as the best possible outcome whilst practicing wordings, cadence and vocal inflexions as well as gesticulations which can get a bit awkward.
6. Do you feel education influenced your development as a poet? If yes, how? if no, why?
Yes. Education did. I was a science student back in school and science was able to fire my imaginations. I learnt concepts in science that aided my expressions in Literature.
The most important element of my development was reading – to learn of experiences, stories and realities from far and wide way before I got the privilege to travel.
Reading and travel fuels imagination and as I’d explained previously, also encouraged writing which in parallel helped my development.
7. How has your life and/or your relationship with poetry changed since you started performing? What now inspires your poems?
The only change is in my state of mind when I’m writing for performance as against writing for the page.
The phase of life that I’m in also contributes to how/what I write now and how I see Poetry. A la inspirations for my poems, It’s easy to say life; but I’m conscious of an on-going evolution in my way of receiving inspirations and the kind of things I want to write about or act on first instead of writing immediately.
It’s starting to feel like expressing is not enough and there are times where action is first required before one can return to attempt writing.
I’m starting to feel like certain experiences or inspirations cannot just be written completely until certain actions have been taken.
The experience and expression are fuller for it. I’m also trying to let life lead me on this.
8. As a family man, is any of your family in poetry or other forms of art? What do your wife think about your poetry performances? Any possible duet in the future?
None at all. I do appraise performances and discuss the direction I’m going with my art with le Wifey as she is my sounding board so she is very much part of the building/creative process before the public gets to experience the art. I don’t see any duet in the future as she is the very shy type – but then, we can never say never.
9. You have a 9 to 5 job that you do, how do you combine it with poetry? Which one do you enjoy the most, your job or poetry?
It’s not easy combining the job with the art especially with the kind of aspiration that I have for my art – it does really require more time which I’m not able to give as much of.
My job is demanding and Poetry (by my aspiration) is demanding too. It is a very difficult balance to achieve and it has been nearly impossible.
I love what I do for a living as much as I love Poetry, I must accept that there are moments when I love one more than the other depending on time and experiences.
They both feed different sides of me – think, the left and right sides of the brain.
10. Compared to when you started performing poetry and now, has there been growth? If yes, what has changed? How can it be further improved on?
It’s been 11 years on stage and I can boldly say that there has been growth. There are more platforms now, there are more young people using poetry as a medium of expression.
It is more exciting and interesting from a participation point of view and as an ecosystem or niche in the art space but I must confess that there isn’t much diversity in style and approach.
The much older guys are pushing the boundaries and the limits especially by experimenting the use of poetry/spokenword alongside other art forms like theater on stage, music (on stage and recorded), visual arts whilst the younger ones are most competitive doing amazing things by applying technology in expressing their poetry. The times are exciting.
I will like more style and lingua diversity in the performances especially.
11. You once said, “the market for poetry is not in Lagos, but the platform for poetry is in Lagos,” can you expatiate on this?
What I meant then was that the Lagos audience (read Market) especially when it relates to lyric arts are more attracted to aesthetics than substance.
It is understandable with the mainstream media and corporate Nigeria presence in Lagos – that is what I meant by the Platforms being in Lagos.
In as much as it’s wrong to generalize, applying the 80-20 rule, Lagos is fast paced and that shows in the music and relative art consumption observed in the city.
Outside Lagos is a bit more slow paced, hence the tendency for people to listen more or take more time to read and comprehend more.
If the poetry is not watered down and it requires too much thinking, I’m afraid it is more difficult to do the numbers in Lagos than else where.
The trick is to try and strike a balance – a difficult but achievable one.
12. If you were in a position to make spoken word poetry become mainstream entertainment thus an income generating industry, what would you do?
I think from a content point of view there is need to have more diversity in the topics spoken word/poetry is addressing.
More ladies are writing and performing pieces that speak to Feminine issues and experiences, in like manner, there is need for other topics to be touched upon.
I see Poetry content for the Christian audience growing too. There is need to use Poetry to touch more on History, myths, our stories.
Dike Chukwumerije and Plumbline seem to be the only ones that I’m aware who write poetry that touches and references history consistently.
Right now, most poets speak more about politics (rightly so), hard economic realities (rightly so) and love – but there is need to expand the content/topic.
With a more diverse content, Spoken word/poetry will reach out to more people and hopefully grow the audience base.
The poets must grow themselves performance wise too, so that the audience will yearn for more. This will sustain the acquired base as well as grow it.
When the numbers are done in terms of lovers of Poetry (spoken word and Poetry), the business angle will pick up.
Already, there is acknowledgement of the poetry movement in corporate and government circles but the investment and grants will only come when we do and show the numbers.
Therefore, the work from my perspective is to work harder to be better performers, offer a more diverse content to grow and sustain our audience base across the country so the business angle can pick up. In my opinion, the business is already waiting for the audience growth especially as the potential has been proven in the last years already.
Improving performance and content diversity are things I will focus on whilst seeking partnerships to make an industry that pays all stakeholders.
13. Which biggest stage have you have performed at before? How was the experience?
Spoken word Paris, in France. It was to a crowd of about 50 people with big actors, writers, students and creatives from different countries.
This and other performances in South Africa showed me just how rich my inclusion of Yoruba language and culture in my poetry is well appreciated and accepted irrespective of Lingua barriers
using English as the main medium ensures the context is not lost. It was an experiment of style that was proven when I toured my Exposit album across 6 Cities across Europe and Africa.
14. You recently headlined a show tagged, Common Ground Concert, with Isaac Geralds, what inspired this? And how was the experience? Also share the experience of the show you held and headlined in South Africa.
Common Ground is a movement spearheaded by Isaac Geralds and Myself where we are trying to find a ‘Common Ground’ between Poetry and Music. It is an expression of words and sound.
It was an amazing experience, as much as it was an experiment.
The greatest feedback was that the crowd got the intent behind it, gave glowing feedback and are now clamouring for the Common Ground EP.
The Spoken word Concert in South Africa was in celebration of the theme of my Spoke word Album (Exposit) which was around Identity and cultural expressions.
The concert pushed the theme further by having poets across the sub-Saharan regions of Africa on the line up with the East, West and South of Africa ably represented.
We couldn’t get representation from the North of Africa but we did have an American Poet to fill the extra cultural slot.
The poetry shared was on stories of identity, identity crisis, self esteem and sense of origin across the region – it was an amazing experience.
15. What made you put out a poetry CD, Exposit? What was your expectation? How has been the acceptance by the general public?
I put out the Poetry CD as the culmination of the first phase of my new evolution as a poet.
It was also an experimental project and I had zero expectation – I was rather waiting for People’s reactions.
I published only 1000 physical copies and it is sold out already. I have people who have paid and are waiting for my next print. That says alot about acceptance.
The release of the album has also given me the privilege to perform and headline at Poetry events which are privileges that stopped for the short interval I was off the scene.
16. Your visibility on the poetry scene is on the rise, what is the root of this awakening? What do you aim to achieve?
There is really no awakening. I have just become more active as I seek more fulfillment to the life I live as well as to contribute my own quota of expressions to the world.
I want to be successful at that, I might just inspire someone to achieve their own dreams too.
Poetry is also my voice and there is a lot I intend to achieve with it in due time. Personal fulfillment and balance in life are my primary goals.
17. Who are some of your favorite poets, both locally and abroad?
Locally – Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, Olarewanju Adepoju, Prof. Niyi Osundare and Yusuf Olatunji.
Abroad – Saul Williams, Profound (South Africa), Amir Suleiman and the Last Poets.
18. 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? Any advice for upcoming poets?
As a ground breaking poet who has led the way in stretching certain boundaries creatively.
I also intend to continue to contribute and be involved in shaping the industry especially as it relates growing the audience.
I see it being more accepted than it is. It is growing rapidly but the numbers are not currently proven. I see at least a Mega Poet in mainstream within the next 5 years.
My advise to upcoming poets is that they should read as much as they write. They should travel if they can, not necessarily internationally, they can travel locally too.
See more of their society and experience more of the culture and social dynamics first hand.
19. Is there any link, blog or site people can go to to read your writings/ poems or even watch your videos?
Blog on my website – www.iamrezthapoet.com
Videos on my Youtube Channel – REZthaPoet.
On my facebook artiste page – @REZthaPoet
Across social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Soundcloud – @REZthaPoet
My spokenword Poetry album (Exposit) can be streamed and bought on all major digital platforms – iTunes, GooglePlay, Deezer, Spotify, Deezer etc.
20. Any other information you would want us to know about, maybe something personal?
I am a twin. My twin brother is a farmer.
Thank you for your time.