- Let’s meet you; Name, Nationality, Family background, Educational background etc.
Nathaniel Soonest Iheanyi, Nigerian, First of a family of four. Both parents are medical personnel. I studied mathematics and computer science at the Federal University of Technology in Owerri.
- Tell us about your poetry journey – how it started? Where and when? What were your early poetry influences? And what lead you into spoken word poetry?
Well it began very long ago; I have always been in love with words and have been fascinated as to the way words can be woven to evoke different types of emotions. My poetry started way back in my late primary school period and early secondary school period when one had to express certain feelings beyond what the lips can convey.
As a lad, my poetry influences were the likes of Soyinka, Pepper Clark and other African poets of the era, not forgetting Gabriel Okara and Senghor. Of course, it’s a sing to forget Okigbo.
Regarding spoken word, there was a time when they said many Africans (Nigerians precisely) do not read, so one had to look for some other way to pass the message across. So taking the poems from the page to the stage became essential. Good enough, recitations in church which had to do with memorizing verses, laid the foundation to be able to take the crowd dauntlessly with charisma and poise.
- Which emotion greatly influences your poetry? How and why do you channel it into poetry?
In all honesty, that of anger, sadness and pain, especially regarding some ills within the society. I channel it into poetry because I believe that in that form people can relate to it, people can understand better what is amiss.
- Are a published poet/ writer? What are your plans for publishing? Why is it important for you to be published?
I am a published poet, but not with a collection of my own yet. Regarding the acceptability of the published work, its fair enough, poetry unlike fiction does not have all that commercial value. However many who have come across my publications, give very positive feedback.
I have not published a book of my own simply because, I do not want to self-publish. There great joy and honour, when a publishing firm sees your work and decides that yours is a voice that must be immortalized. So I am in talks with some notable publishing houses that operate the traditional publishing system, hopefully something good will come soonest.
On why it is important to be published, it is about one of the few ways to live forever. One must leave something for posterity, tomorrow’s people must drink of the gourds of yesterday, and if we don’t publish, how will they know of us, who will be there to tell our story? We must publish that our voices may be heard, that someone, somewhere unknown may be reached perhaps, just before it’s too late.
- Do you sometimes get frustrated when you are writing? Do you get nervous when you are about to perform your poem? What ritual/ habit do you engage in before you perform?
Writing can be quite frustrating sometimes, especially when the words won’t just come. So at that point I study a bit more and soon enough the right verbs come dancing on my fingertips.
In the early stages of my career as a performer, I couldn’t help getting nervous, but these days it’s not as intense. So when I get nervous then I just listen to some of my favorite songs, most alternate rock songs and drink some water. I try not to practice at the venue, lol.
Usually before any performance, I would have practiced quite a lot and that includes me locking myself in a room and staring into the mirror as I perform to a crowd that I alone can see. Sometimes I record as I speak and listen to it over and over, nothing really extraordinary.
- What does poetry mean to you? Define it in your own words. Which one of your poem is special to you and what led you to write it?
I have this saying that poetry is a religion and as such I see myself as a prophet. To me, poetry is knitting words to clothe the naked, forging words into swords to defend the weak, concocting verbs into herbs for the healing of souls.
Every poem of mine is special, and this is because I try to ensure that my next poem is better than my last, that way, I find something special in each of them; I call them my children. There was a time I would say that those poems which won me accolades were my best, however, I noticed that they were deemed best by the judges, but in my own opinion were not necessarily my best. I have come to love them all and treat them equally so long as it is born from the womb of my brain, then it is dear to me; though there are some which I have had to slaughter at the altar of perfection.
- You have performed poetry over the years. What was your most memorable poetry performance and why? What are the benefits you have derived from poetry over the years?
My most memorable performance would be the inaugural WORD UP spoken word and soul music event. I chose this above so many others because it was like the first of its kind ever; the appreciation was really on the high. It was like the people had just struck gold. It was like the dawn of a new era for spoken word in Nigeria, the concept was genius. WORD UP sort of made it easy for many wordsmiths to creep out of their shells and holes. I loved fever in the arena for that inaugural show, it’s really memorable.
- What is the role of poetry in relationships, in the society, and in business? How can Spoken Word Poetry help individuals, brands, society and Government?
Poetry can be used as a tool to strengthen relationships, it could serve as a bridge to reach those who are neglected in the society, and it could serve as some glimmer of hope for someone out there.
For individuals, poetry and spoken word can aid improve a person’s intellectual capabilities, it can be a tool by which one remains conscious, poetry and spoken word can help individuals get back their righteous-minds, even in a society that’s gone bunkers.
For brands, supporting poetry and spoken word, would mean giving back to society, helping to right the wrongs within. In doing this the brands in turn will be protecting their business and would have to face less hitches because their support for poetry and spoken word would see to a change in the way the people operate; enlightenment is key to the growth of any community. There could also be more gains in terms of publicity which could lead to more patronage, poetry and spoken word has become serious business even in Nigeria today.
The government has to take poetry and spoken word seriously, there is an emerging industry which could help take youths off the streets, and stop many from indulging in crime. To have the government support poetry and the arts is not something new, however, we keep forgetting in Nigeria how things worked well in the past. Where are the grants? Where are the contests? The government can key into spoken word and poetry, we will not all be politicians, and business men, neither are we all going to do some blue-collar jobs, people can make a living from poetry, many are already doing so.
- Who are your favourite poets, both locally and internationally? Which international stage have you performed on? Which international stage do you look forward to performing on?
In Nigeria, I have quite a number of them, Esiaba Irobi, Niyi Osundare, Dami Ajayi, Peter Akinlabi, Tade Ipadeola, Jumoke Verissimo, Iquo DianaAbasi Eke and a list of young poets with extreme talent.
On the international scene, Bruce Boston, Tomas Transtromer, Clifton Gachagua, Ladan Osman,
For spoken word locally, Obii Ifejika, Donna, Bassey Ikpi, Efe Paul Azino, Plumbline, Dike Chukwumerije, Echezona Nduka, Chika Onwuasanya and of course my Increase. As always I have my list of young talents who I really admire.
Internationally, I love Joshua Bennette, Warsan Shire, Deborah Renee, Germineye, P4CM, Saul Williams, Suli Breaks, Kate Tempest, Mutabaruka and Jefferson Bethke.
- Let’s get a lil personal, why did your parents name you “SOONEST” and your younger brother, “INCREASE?”
Perhaps to announce to the world that we are spectacular and different.
- Are you single and searching or single and attached? Tell us about the lady in your life. Is she also a poet? How long have you guys been together? How supportive is she of your poetry career?
No I ain’t single, I am married to poetry…. Lol!
- When you get married, how many children do you plan to have? Would you influence your children into becoming poets?
Two would be perfect but if the means to raise a football team gets in the bank, then maybe that won’t be a bad idea. Well we could adopt a few kids you know.
- 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?
Next five, I see something glorious, like being a strong voice, one that people will heed.
In 5 years from now, spoken word poetry in Nigeria would have gained proper recognition and would be looked at as something that can be lucrative as comedy and music, however I only hope that there will be standard on which the industry will operate. We must meet and surpass the international standards, quality would sell itself.
- What advice do you have for young people who want to be poets today? What do you think is the best way into a poetic state of mind for people who are new to the craft? Can you give us some suggestions to increase students’ interest in reading, writing and performing Poetry?
It scary that virtually everyone now calls him/herself a poet; however, for me it goes deeper than that. For some it’s the money and fame which they think can be made out of this art. I believe if truly you love poetry and want to be a poet, then you must do the needful. Reading is key; studying is getting a mastery of the genre. You don’t just place “is and was” and believe you have written the best poem in the world. You must do the work; and honestly, you won’t find it any stress, if you are passionate about poetry.
For students, writing workshops, interschool competitions, and mentorship programs will go a long way.
Poetry societies should be formed in schools, with some experienced person overseeing the affairs of the students. Encourage the young ones to read more, try writing more as well and help them submit their works if the opportunities arises, and of course, there are always opportunities.
- Is there any link, blog or site people can go to to read your writings/ poems?
No personal blogs, however, I have my works in many journals online, so it won’t be a problem with a little help from the ‘all knowing Google’.
- Any other information you would want us to know about, maybe something very, very personal?
*Smiles. I am still trying to woo the moon, she is yet to agree.
- Thank you for your time.
Glad we could do this.