This is the first in a series of interviews featuring the seven OAU alumni who put together Sandstorms in June. You can download the anthology here.
Damilola Yakubu is a lover of stories and art who takes pleasure in creating them. In 2013, he was a participant at the Farafina Creative Writing Workshop. His work has been published under Kachifo's imprint on Okadabooks.com and in Reflections of Sunshine: An Anthology of Short stories. He came third in Naijastories' 'Give Us Your Best Short' contest in 2013.
|Damilola Yakubu performing a poem from Sanddstorms in June at TEDx Ife 2014|
AA: I understand that you put Sandstorms in June together. How did you decide on this structure and subtitles for each section?
DY: Yes, I put the pieces together and arranged them. We, Dapo Babatunde and I, tried to find 'real' images that were created with words in each poem. So, each poem has an image, or two, portraying the thematic preoccupation of the poem. I broke down the collection into parts signifying the parts a student goes through in Obafemi Awolowo University; the contributors each spent 5 years - Part 1 - 5. The chapbook opens with the 'Debut' which is an image of an old man walking away from a terminal and closes with 'Fin' - an image of a young boy on a beach looking across the ocean into the horizon. This was to signify the antithesis of 'leaving school' - at the beginning of the work we are old men with our school years behind us, and by the end of the work we are young boys with our dreams ahead of us. The title of the chapbook was decided on through a consensus vote. Each contributor suggested a title(s) and we voted for the most appropriate one. Sandstorms in June was suggested by Tomiwa Ilori.
AA: I have to ask, why isn't any woman featured in this anthology?
DY: We wanted to have a woman's work in the anthology, but this work started as an idea pursued by a camaraderie of writers. And by the time we realized that we were all men, it was too late - the work was ready for publication. It was a big oversight and I wish we had realised earlier.
AA: ‘Maximum Shishi’ focuses on the extra judicial beatings that are such an integral part of OAU's student culture. Did a particular incident inspire this poem?
DY: Yes, a particular incident inspired the poem; I have once, in a little way, been at the receiving end of its lash.
AA: What was your reaction the first time you witnessed a shishi session in progress? Did it change over time?
DY: I first witnessed it in my first year. To be honest, I remember feeling excited, then nauseated by the sight of the victim's' gashes. Over the years, I also felt pity and anger. I even remember crying once. Eventually, I became indifferent. I think most students found it easier to look away because they never got close to the victims - were never in their shoes, or close friends with them.
AA: Do you think ‘shishi’ it is a manifestation of deep mistrust in the system?
DY: Yes, perhaps a mistrust in the school's punitive system, in addition to the idea that it is better for the ‘guilty’ person to be beaten than to be expelled from school.
AA: Nevertheless, do you think this is ever the right response? Even if the culprits are caught 'red handed'?
DY: It is absolutely the wrong response. It is barbaric, inhumane and not a sign of intellectual reasoning that the university supposedly cultivates. Yes, they are given a 'fair trial' but it is absolutely wrong to equate every crime to a crude penalty like inflicting injury. I believe in punishment as a mechanism for reform not torture or blind revenge. Maximum shishi does not seek to reform; there are several offenders who just commit the same crime, over and over again.
AA: What is poetry to you?
DY: Poetry is expression - putting into, and in between, words all that can, can't, must and mustn't be said. It is the journey to and from the comprehensible and incomprehensible.
AA: What is OAU to you?
DY: OAU is the crucible in which I lost myself and found myself, the cave in which I shed my skin.
Damilola Yakubu tweets via @DamiYakubu and blogs here.