Monday, April 13, 2015

An Interview with D.M. Aderibigbe

By Emily Tuttle
As part of National Poetry Month, Poet Lore’s editorial assistant Emily Tuttle conducted an interview with poet D.M. Aderibigbe, whose poem “City Boy” (below) appears in the Spring/Summer issue of Poet Lore.

Aderibigbe is an emerging poet—born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1989—whose poems have been published in such journals as African American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Notre Dame Review, and Stand. He is co-editor of the anthology More Than a Number: Poems and Prose for Baga, forthcoming from Unbound Content, and his manuscript received a special mention in the 2015 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. Poet Lore is honored to present “City Boy”—and these words on his poetry and process.
ET: The personal tone of “City Boy” creates a tragic and entrancing world, and the poem’s narrative voice seems so grounded, so able to convey story that it might go on following this boy and his father for years. Is the narrative voice of “City Boy” a reoccurring one in your work?

DMA: “City Boy” is actually one of the very few poems I've written for my father. True, my family features prominently in my writing, and there are a lot of poems in my first manuscript that have my father in them, but he's always the villain given that my poems are deeply autobiographical, and I try to make them as accurate as my memory permits. As such, those poems aren't for him, but for my mother and sisters. So “City Boy” is a departure from the recurring themes of my poetry as it is a chronicle of how my father left his rustic hometown of Ile-Ogbo in Osun state to Lagos in search of a greener pasture, and how he struggled to survive with two kids—my sister and I—as a 20-something. The poem is a tribute to him. To go back to your question of the voice of “City Boy” being a recurrent one, it's a NO (at least for now). I don't know about the future, the voice might become a very pig-headed one that refuses to stop ringing in my head.

ET: “City Boy” compels overwhelming emotion with a spare word surface. Yet in other poems of yours, more verbose language drives the piece. How do you negotiate form and tone? Is the tone of a poem co-occurring with the original idea for it, or can a poem undergo several tonal shifts as you edit?

DMA: In my poems, you will observe that I seldom experiment with form as I feel the themes I currently explore are too serious for such. This is because I see the form of a poem as the foundation and pillars of the poem. For example, if the foundation and pillars of a house are well-built, such a house would withstand any amount of wind, but if they aren't well-built, the reverse would be the case. Such is the case in poetry. No matter how good the content of a poem is, you need an accompanying form to strike an impeccable balance. Take "City Boy" for example, I decided to break it into stanzas so as to ease the high tempo which the content of the poem has generated. I knew if I made it a strophe, the reader could get lost in their emotion and the poem would have finished before it reaches the end, but the chasms between stanzas would provide the transient respite required to get the poem to its end.

As for tonal shifts, I doubt if any of those occur in my creative process, and even if any shift occurs, that will be unconsciously, because unlike form, I don't write poems with any tonal motive; the tones are their own gods—creating themselves. Perhaps this is because I want my poetry to be more factual than fictional. I should state, however, that the tone of a poem determines the form for me, hence, instead of the tone to change, the form changes.

ET: Where do you typically find your inspiration? Who are your first readers—family, friends, other poets?

DMA: You know it always sounds strange to me when I hear writers say they have a particular spot for writing. As for me, I write anywhere—be it in the toilet, be it in the classroom, or even in the restaurant. I actually do think a more important question about inspiration should be the source of my inspiration. Which, as a spiritual being, I have found to be God, and as a physical being, I have found to be my desire to keep the dead in my life alive. The desire to keep in touch with my past and to reflect the lives of the quotidian people often neglected in poetry, such as the hairdressers, the taxi drivers, fish mongers and so on, because it was from these people my story began.

About my first readers, until recently I was an isolated tree in a large forest. So I used to write alone, edit alone, without anyone to show anything to. Well, it hasn't changed much, though, as I still keep about 80 to 90 percent of my poems to myself while the remaining 20 to 10 percent I send to some friends over the internet. So, technically, I'm pretty alone in this journey, and I'm not whining about my marriage to my loneliness.

ET: We were grateful to have your poems reach us—how did you find out about Poet Lore?

DMA: This question is funny to me. I feel everybody in the poetry world knows Poet Lore. It is the oldest [continuously published] poetry journal in the English-speaking world if I'm not wrong and one of the biggest journals out there. So naturally, I stumbled upon Poet Lore around 2012, a few months [after] I began writing seriously, after seeing it (Poet Lore) in Natasha Trethewey's bio. But I couldn't send poems for one reason: I felt my little poems were not up to Poet Lore's standard and any other big journal's, so I didn't bother until recently when I decided to give it a trial. Honestly, being in Poet Lore feels really, really great. Thanks for having my poetry.

ET: You’ve published widely and in journals around the world. How does publication change your relationship to a poem or how does it help place you in conversation with other poets?

DMA: Really, I try as much as possible not to make the success I’ve had in publishing affect my relationship with my poetry. In anything I do, I stay in constant with my mother's favorite maxim "when you walk even if you have the safest pair of shoes, walk like you have no shoes on and that way, you will never fall." So whenever I take my seat to write, I prepare my mind for a private conversation with the poem, devoid of external interference such as the thought of publishing or achievements.

On another note, if I were to be honest with you, I've become a better poet because of the publications I've had. For one, it increased my friendship base, bringing me in contact with many amazing poets and people. We became friends and I started learning the technicalities of poetry through these poets who introduced me to the works of great poets I never would have known at that particular time. We also share ideas which help to sharpen my writing further. Similarly, I became friends with a number of editors of  journals I published with, from these editors I received (I still do) moral support and encouragement, which an emerging poet like me really needs. I’ll use this medium to say a big thank you to all of you. God bless you all.

By D.M. Aderibigbe
My father tagged onto the back
Of a bus from his village
Into prosperity—a pregnant sack
Hanging to his back like a camel's hump.
The laces of his only footwear
Never loosened, my father searched
Through job vacancy signboards in Lagos.
The boy outgrew his past—my mother
Would tell his story, days our plates
Were untouched: if the belly
Goes empty, should the brain follow?
On nights we filled our stomachs,
We waited for my father, his shirts
Soaked with the day's stress. Sitting
In his armchair, my sister on his left
Leg, I on his right—aware, those legs
Would continue walking
When the sun rose again.
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