This is the fourth in a series of interviews featuring the seven OAU alumni who put together Sandstorms in June. You can download the anthology here.
Tomiwa Ilori lives in Nigeria, in the midst of wide spectra of experiences. His interests are constantly informed by the dynamism of his society and how this forms the fabric of our continued survival. He is also a firm believer that words can stitch into form, man's humanity.
AA: What does Poetry mean to you?
TI: Poetry? The question will bring us to how what is created defines its creator. It is a huge challenge affording products the chance to define their raw material. Putting what poetry means into words is allowing the child define the father. It is easier when we don't have to use words to ascribe meaning to poetry. But isn't poetry itself a result of defiance to what is? An innate ability to bring to riot, a multitude of emotions in words? Or when words are on a date with chance? Poetry is a contrast in similarities, when words are allowed to regain their full worth. Poetry to me is a politics of reasoning, an insane manipulation of words to confer artistic logic. Poetry is a lot of things that it is not; it is a treasure of what has been found but is yet to be discovered.
AA: When did you write 'Love'? What inspired it?
TI: The deadline for submission for the chapbook was drawing close and I hadn't been able to come up with any work. Dami Yakubu found it unbelievable but I kept reassuring him and telling him to give me time as the project to me was personal and at the same time overwhelming to grapple with. So, there was this day he prompted me as usual about it and I paused for some seconds and came up with all the three poems within five minutes. It was a cathartic outburst. "Love" is a result of conversations I had with my close friend, Samsudeen Alabi, a long while ago. It is also a show of personal experiences.
AA: 'Sin' explores intersections between sex and religion. Are these subjects that fascinate you especially?
TI: Yes, but particularly, religion has always been a fascinating subject for me. On whether or not the poem intersects between sex and religion, I wouldn't want to encroach on the reader's right to decide what to feel. The central theme which the poem revolves around is religion. I struggle not to see religion within the context of the society's hypocritical doctrines that turn the idea of sin into something that is class based. I have however stopped struggling to see sin as one of the most potent forces that stretches the fringes of stereotypes and religion as it touches on its sycophancy.
AA: I'm curious about 'The Pit', I kept trying to figure out the location. Was this also inspired by OAU?
TI: The poem was also inspired by OAU. The location is notorious enough for those in Ife downtown. It is often spoken of in hushed tones and communicated mostly in Yoruba. I thought and wrote out the three poems in sequence. Love, Sin and The Pit are pieces of a big puzzle that has my poetics confirm that a poet is condemned to feel every thing.
AA: What does OAU mean to you?
TI: OAU is a bag of experiences. It is in the school you discover that life itself is a fleeting poetry from which you can enjoy an expanse of nothing yet a little of everything.
AA: What are you working on at the moment?
TI: I am always working on something. When you have a mind as dry as hay, anything as much as breath torches it at will.
AA: Tell me a bit about your favourite poets/poems.
TI: I don't know how to have favourite works of art. Appreciation of an artwork comes with deposit of exposure. I have poets whose lines challenge what I could have written but never did. Maya Angelou writes poetry from the pit of the soul; raw, crude and unbelievable. Alfred Housman writes verses that feed the mind with questions whose answer can only be found when you can live. Dami Ajayi colours life with words even for the blind. Soyinka's wit makes poetry a worthy madness. Tade Ipadeola writes grand poetry for the poet's poet. These are people whose works have left my mind with a thing or two to wonder about. If that is having favourites, I think that's cool for me.
Tomiwa Ilori blogs here when he is not lazy. He tweets on topical issues via @tomiwa_ilori.