Brave New Woman
Amatoritsero Ede: Your collection of poems, Hymns and Hymen, links Christian liturgy with sexual poetic license. Provocative, don’t you think?
Victoria Kankara: Provocative? That depends on your perspective. I didn’t set out to provoke any reactions to my poetry, or rather my personal expressions of my experiences living in Nigeria as a woman. On the notion of linking Christian liturgy to sexual poetic license, I don’t feel condemned in anyway. It might interest you to note that I share the views of a compatriot and poet, Uche Nduka, who, in the course of a private conversation during his 2004 homecoming, canvassed the idea of the inviolability of truth in poetic expressions. As he put it, “one artistic form of expression that must not lie is the poem.” For me, every poem is a dialogue with self and an argument with several points of view. Hence, your identification of elements of Christian liturgy in my poetry is only an affirmation of my faith in God. I have been a Christian for about 25 years and I have been strongly influenced by Christian values from both the Bible and people. I also became a chorister around 1979/80, and I have been singing in large and small choirs ever since. I even tried my hands on a couple of musical instruments, the keyboard and guitar, but I didn’t take it far.
I have had to memorise scriptures way back in Sunday school and during the family morning devotion, where we all take turns to lead. My faith is so precious to me; my whole life revolves around it. What thrills me most are the love lines in Songs of Solomon or Song of Songs: they are so intense and passionate. Imagine a lover’s breasts being described as “…two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies” (S of S 4:5); or the woman’s thought about her lover: “My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him. I arose to open for my lover, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh on the handles of the lock.” (S of S 5:5). If you say my poems are provocative, what would you say about these lines, or even the ones below?
“Your stature is like that of the palm,
and your breasts like clusters of fruits.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree;
I will take hold of its fruits.”
May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine,
the fragrance of your breath like apples,
and your mouth like the best wine.
May the wine go straight to my lover,
flowing gently over lips and teeth.
I belong to my lover
And his desire is for me.
(S of S 7: 7 – 10, New International Version)
I am an emotional person – not a hopeless romantic – and I find solace in the fact that God understands my feelings. Feelings in themselves are neither good nor bad, but what we do with them determines their morality. And because man is always wont to stray, you will also encounter the confessional strain in/of some of the poems. It is natural that man will always gravitate toward his deepest passion – consciously or unconsciously.
By poetic license in your question, I take it to mean my free linguistic, thematic and stylistic strategies in Hymns and Hymens. Hymns are a part of Christian worship, and we worship the object of our desire. Hymns are also sung with musical accompaniments; in Orthodox settings, we have mainly the grand piano. It might also interest you to know that the word ‘hymn’ actually derives from the word ‘hymen’. Strange, isn’t it? Have you ever thought of this: what makes R & B really blue? The lyrics and the musical interpretation of those lyrics. It was Shakespeare who said, “If music be the food of love, let it play on.” And I strongly believe that the very core of love is music.