Subconsciously, I have been influenced by my experience as a Christian, owing to the use of lyrical and musical images. I have simply sued words that I am familiar with, words that give clarity and liberty to my expressions. All these were highly instrumental in choosing the metaphors around which the collection is woven under the title Hymns and Hymens.
A.E.: With your background as, perhaps, Christian and having grown up in the Moslem north, are the images of womanhood you paint not a very radical one?
V.K.: I don’t think they are because these are everyday images we live and deal with. A mother will someday have to explain to her teen daughter the sacredness of the hymen, or even a father. The fact that a particular sect shies away from such images doesn’t deny their existence. Daily we are faced with the news of rape cases, ritual killings which place a high demand of human genitals, genital mutilation, incest, teen/unwanted pregnancies, prostitution, VVF, etc. Your question may have been informed by my determination to bring out these images from the closet where so many otherwise suppressed women from Northern Nigeria have kept them. As J.P. Clark has said in some interview about language strategy, I also consider myself a letter writer for my people, or if you like a voice for those women. Besides, the society is not as closed as many are forced to assume, with regard to the Moslem/Christian North. Indeed, globalisation and its elements of culture and the Internet have invaded even the most inner recesses of our communities. These communities, I believe, have access to radical trends in western societies, such as dress style, hip-hop music, films, intermarriages, western education and such other exposure, which would make my so-called radical poems rather conservative. Therefore, I do not agree that my poems are radical.
A.E.: Should we then call you feminist? What in your opinion are the similarities between your work and Lola Shoneyin’s?
V.K.: No, emphatically no! I am not a feminist, even though Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo of the University of Lagos has requested for copies of Hymns and Hymens to teach a feminist course. But you will not be wrong to describe me as a womanist. I share the view of the school of thought that projects the ideals of womanhood, without necessarily being anti-men. But even then, I am always suspicious of placing name-tags on intellectuals, because human beings, not excluding me, are far more complex than simple tags often describe them. Only God understands the complexity of human nature, because He made man. As for similarities with Lola Shoneyin’s work, I am not familiar with any of her works, although I have encountered some recurrent comparison of my work with hers. Well, I guess that this serves as a pointer for me to read her.
A.E.: If you are a womanist, are you then simply contesting traditional Nigerian male ideas of female arousal as sinful?
V.K.: Are there really any traditional Nigerian male ideas that describe female arousal as sinful? I am not sure that there are any, so there is little or nothing to contest here. Having established that I am not feminist, I believe that the female body is not a sex object. It is also not something that should be handled as a toy. The same biological explanation for male arousal goes for the female. Hormonal changes do not discriminate between sexes; only some parts of society do. Often times, society’s penalty for men and women who commit the same ‘sin’ is disparagingly unjust. Isn’t what is good for the goose no longer good for the gander?
A.E.: Does the poet-persona in your work sexually collide with the poet at any experiential point?
VK: I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that some of the ideas explored in the poems derive from personal experiences as well as the experiences of others. Sometimes these experiences have also been purely imagined. For instance, “Embattled Hymens” is a typical village scenario – my village, Chori in Jaba Local Government Area, Kaduna State. By my fourth or so visit to my village from the big city, Lagos, I had made a few friends and learned some of the songs they sing when it’s time to dance under the moonlight. By the next visit, I was faced with a great shock. I had lost almost all my friends to either unwanted pregnancies, early/forced marriage or single parenthood, and that reality elicited the poem “Embattled Hymens”. In those days, abortion was uncommon