Interview with D.M. Aderibigbe

DMD.M. Aderibigbe was born in 1989 in Lagos, Nigeria. He holds a B.A in History and Strategic Studies from the University of Lagos. He’s the author of In Praise of Our Absent Father, selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for the APBF New Generation African Poets Chapbook Series and is a recipient of 2015 honours from The Dickinson House and the Entrekin Foundation. His poems appear in African American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Normal School, Notre Dame Review, Poet Lore, RATTLE, Spillway, Stand, among others, and have been featured on Verse Daily. His first full-length manuscript, My Mothers’ Songs and Other Similar Songs I Learnt received a special mention in the APBF/Prairie Schooner 2015 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. D.M. is a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. He’s also co-editor of More Than a Number: Poems and Prose for Baga. His essays appear in B O D Y, Blueshift Journal and Rain Taxi. He lives in Boston where he’s studying for his MFA in Creative Writing at Boston University as a BU Fellow.

 

Wale: ‘Poetry is my attempt to keep my pains alive’ ‘I see my poetry as a space to apologize to my past, present and my future’, can you elaborate those statements? I have been following your autobiographical works for a while, what do you think is the connection between poetry and memory?

D.M.: I believe the degree of the self in a poem determines the level of role memory plays in such poem. Say, you set out to write deeply autobiographical poems, for instance, memory should rightly be your primary tool. And if you set out to write a completely impersonal poem in the same vein, memory will hardly be necessary. I must add however, that I’m of the school which believes that even in the most honest poems (writing as a whole), memories are often bent.

Wale: I agree, it is a popular idea that the truth (achieved by bending memories) sometimes transcends the fact.Can you describe such circumstances that require ‘bending’?

D.M.: Well, I can’t speak for others, but for me, I think sometimes memory could be bent for literariness. If you are working on a poem in the traditional sphere, and you get to a point in which you have to choose between stating the event as it is and breaking the rule, sometimes, you just want to go with the rule by making up whatever helps. Even in free verse, facts are coloured or obliterated for literary purposes, e.g. musicality among others.

Wale: In this generation, you are one of Nigeria’s most widely published poets. Your works have appeared in top journals and magazines around the world. How has the journey been so far? Who or what do you owe your publications to?

D.M.:Oh man! Thanks for the compliment. Well, the journey has been sweet all thanks to God Almighty. To respond to your other question, YES!!! I do owe everything to the publications that have allowed me spaces on their pages. I mean, encomiums have been pouring in for me lately and I can emphatically say that this is due to the fact that people get to read my poems on the pages of these wonderful literary outlets.

Wale: I just finished reading your poem ‘The Origin of Kindness‘ on Rattle. I enjoyed the simplicity and the moral of it. Do you set out to teach a moral lesson while writing a poem? Do they just happen? Must poetry teach?

D.M.: I try as much as possible for my poems to make sense (I can’t say how much success I’ve had with this goal). On your other question on if all poems should teach morals, I believe all poems irrespective of what they touch, teach morals. I mean – art, which poetry is – is an imitation of everyday living, as such all arts are moralistic in their rendition.

Wale: What are your thoughts on emerging poets from Africa? Do you think they stand a comparison with the West?

D.M.:I think it’s unfair to compare poets.The poets back home are using all they have to put themselves out there. There are no Ruth Lily Fellowships, there are no NEA Fellowships among others to help channel attention to their works. There is no Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets to help nurture their budding talents. So it is really unfair on poets back home without any help to be placed side by side with Western poets with all the goodies. I should say that all blames should be directed to our irresponsible leaders, though.

Wale: So, what do you think our leaders, literary institutions and organizations can do to support and promote emerging poetry from Africa? From another perspective, can poets, or generally creative artists, complain of lack of ‘goodies’ on creative outpour?

D.M.:Not to be misquoted, by goodies, I am not talking about prize money (of course that is important). I am talking about the attention these prizes bring to a writer’s work.I mean, it’s so sad that the world now practices a culture of celebrity worship, in which prizes now determine what is good. In most cases, only a tiny portion of what is considered good is actually good, and that portion is what I am making a case for here. On the other question, my man, so many people have talked and talked and talked on how our leaders can help improve literature in Africa, and I am seriously not ready to dwell on this topic again. I mean, people who know people in the literary world understand how these things could work, but they will prefer to let it remain like this since it favours them so much. Gbagbe e jare

Wale: I am sure Naomi Shibab Nye is your number one. Apart from her, who else do you have on your favourites list?

D.M.: She’s an important influence on me. Naomi Shihab Nye validated my poetry to be honest with you. Before I came across her poetry, I grew up hearing about Wole Soyinka, JP Clark and even read them in high school. But somehow I couldn’t find that reflection of me in their mirrors—areflection I badly wanted. I didn’t know I was writing poetry until I came across Naomi Shihab Nye. Apart from her, I have also been influenced by highly emotional poets such as Natasha Trethewey, Ilya Kaminsky, Countee Cullen among others. Fiction writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo, Nuruddin Farah, Edwidge Danticat are also important to me for the themes they explore and the emotional punch of their writings.

Boston

Wale: So how is Boston and the MFA? How is the programme shaping your poetics and your approach to poetry?

D.M.:Boston is good jare, eyan mi. It’s just so cold. The MFA has taught me how to be more critical of my work. While it hasn’t affected the way I write or things I write about that much (that is expected), the programme has forced me to spend more time on revising my poems. Also, studying under Robert Pinsky, Karl Kirchwey and Maggie Dietz has its own magic. Also, man, I see Ha Jin and Leslie Epstein every day. This semester, Sigrid Nunez is coming over, that’s magical.

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6 comments

  1. Dee Emm Aderigbe has in a way delved to the morality or amorality of poetry, and I think he is correct in every respect of his position. A lot said in this concise interview…

    Wale, you’re doing a very good job with the interview series.

  2. Good interview. Especially like question and answer on morality in art. Agree–art does not “moralize” but cannot be amoral. There is always an ethic involved, even when the artist tries to eschew one. We are by nature ethical beings.

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