Check the final PPA ’20 results here…
- Tell us about yourself.
Thanks for having me. My name is Abdulafeez Olaitan. I write from Lagos, Nigeria. I am currently undergoing my undergraduate studies at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. I am a media contributor to The Press Club, UNILAG and The Lens Media and I double as a feature writer for GABI magazine. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking out concepts of astrophotography.
- When did you start writing and what do you think attracted you to poetry?
I started writing when I was 16 but looking back now, I really can’t consider the pieces I wrote then as poetry. What first piqued my interest in poetry was its elevated style of presentation in such a short form. That really got me attracted to poetry as a genre of literature. I remember vividly how I tried to experiment with few words to breathe life to the art.
- How does a poem begin for you, with an idea, a form or an image?
I have come to note that many of my poems began either as an idea or a form. I appreciate the stylistic way of writing poetry so much and so, a shape or a cloud pattern in the sky could easily spark a thought in my head and intense writing commences from there.
- Do you believe rhyming is necessary to give rhythm to a poem
I must say that rhyming is not necessarily the only ingredient to give rhythm to a poem. I am glad to be acquainted with different poetic forms but I do not advocate the constraints exercised by those forms, so I encourage free writing and with or without rhymes, the rhythm can still be complemented if the line metres and syllables are not compromised.
- Does the length of a poem matter in terms of giving out the essence of a poem?
I have seen an award-winning octet thrive amongst its lengthy counterparts. This is testamental to the fact that content quality matters so much in poetry in contrast to content volume.
- What’s the basic theme upon which your poetries are based? I mean to say though we write poetries on different topics, there are certain themes or emotions that always get reflected in each and every poem of a poet. What’s that for you?
People answered that question for me even I did not notice it myself during the early periods of my writing. My writings have been labelled “sombre” but I won’t especially consider myself a dark poet, I’m afraid that is a big burden to take. It is safe to say that most of my writings revolve around the said theme.
- How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer over the years?
My writings have often received praises for their minimalism and sensory elements. I must admit that I didn’t achieve that by merely putting down the thoughts that flashed through my mind, if not I would be a “poetaster.” I have had help from like minds and their influence can never be overemphasized. I joined many poetry workshops, seminars and masterclasses to actualise my desire of writing deep and strong poetry that will linger in the minds of the readers for long. I read many articles describing different poetic styles and forms and read poems adhering to those styles, even I might not necessarily write in that style. I am of the opinion that it is an obligation for all creatives to have a grasp of a considerable amount of flexible knowledge in their field even if they won’t explore it deeply. It took so long before I could send my works to social media or even digital magazines or online journals because I knew I had to learn and grasp as much information as possible.
- One area many struggles within their poetry is editing their work. Could you tell me a bit about your own editing/rewriting process and do you have any advice?
The editing process is one that could take a longer duration than the actual writing process. It shouldn’t, however, be seen as a challenge. The first draft is usually an awkward piece, that is not to say that one cannot achieve an excellent output at first try but as the popular writing saying goes: “Never submit the first draft.” In the past, I have had to delete an entire stanza of 14 lines out of a poem when I was sceptical about its coherence with the storyline of the poem. That is the level of discipline poets should exhibit. My advice is not to be so consumed by a particular line which lacks connection with other elements of the poem. Take time to write and rewrite and edit and proofread and allow your work to be evaluated from other’s perspective. In the words of Helon Habila: “Be patient. Writing is hard; writing well is harder.”
- The poem you submitted for the PPA was an interesting one. How did you come about that poem and theme explored in the poem? What message were you putting out there?
During the latter days of December 2019, I read a thing or two about Afrofuturism and how the black culture seeps through various walks of life; interesting! However, on top of that is a considerable amount of discriminatory remarks shown to black people all around the world. I thought I should speak on this, hence the theme of racism I wrote about. The PPA deadline fast approached since I received the callout for submission late, so I finished the poem in one try but it underwent a lot of editing and proofreading.
- Do you think poetry has a purpose? Is there something particular that good poetry ought to do?
Poetry, is a native and a stranger; is peace and war; is sweet and bitter; is harsh and friendly; poetry is one million things and more. As much as poetry strives to connect with all individuals, some believe they have a high inclination towards it than others. In all, good poetry fascinates, it could be extreme or otherwise. Also, poetry corrects the ills of society. Writers are often labelled “rebels,” and even the pacifists among them are not hesitant to fight wars with their pens when societal situations arise. Notice the striking contrast between Wole Soyinka’s and J.P. Clark’s “Abiku.” That is what good poetry aims to achieve—a semblance with ingenuity.
- Which poets or poems most inspire you? Whose work would you recommend with regard to contemporary poetry? What are you reading at the moment?
I read and love many poems from classical and pioneering, emerging and established poets though most of my earliest poems were inspired by Emily Dickinson. I highly recommend Saddiq Dzukogi’s works regards to contemporary poetry. At the moment, I am studying “The Poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko.”
- How was it like when you were submitting your entry for PPA 20 and how do you feel now that you’ve seen your name among the winners?
I have to be honest, getting to know that I was shortlisted at all was an exceptional feeling considering that I just wanted a chance to get my work out. For me, submitting for PPA ’20 was not just about winning but an avenue to better my craft of poetry writing by allowing a set of respectable jury members evaluate it.
- Can you give any advice to someone wants to write and publish poetry?
I am very glad that I was a reader for many years before eventually deciding to write—and I still am. My advice to contemporary creatives of any genre is to get exposed to a wealth of resources peculiar to their niche thereby building a strong mind in sharpening their craft. To write and publish poetry, It is quite imperative to read poetry from chapbooks, digital magazine publications and online literary journals. In all, write!
Find him on social media: