Sentinel Poetry (Online) #58 ISSN 1479-425X
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POETRY & GRAPHICS...since December 2002
Nnorom Azuonye interviews MUNAYEM MAYENIN
Mayenin is probably one of the hardest-working people I have ever met. His dreams for developing and publishing poetry are so big that if I were not a believer in the possibility of poetry’s reach eventually becoming as big as fiction, I might have deemed the very size of his dreams somewhat utopian. It took football and Luciano Pavarotti to make opera something the common man would contemplate spending an evening at, or forking out hard-earned cash to buy a CD. I believe in possibilities and that as time goes by humanity will adjust itself to the necessity of poetry. Poetry will have its day. I talked to Munayem Mayenin about his two passions; Poetry and Philosophy.
I write poetry because of my philosophy that lets me live the life from which the poetry germinates and I write philosophy because I cannot live without thinking from where the philosophy propagates.
- Munayem Mayenin
Nnorom Azuonye (NA): Long before I met you, I came across your name when you wrote an independent review of the very first Sentinel Poetry Quarterly magazine for NHI Review. Do you still write reviews? If yes, what are the must-read poetry collections or magazines you have seen recently?
Munayem Mayenin (MM): Yes, I used to write reviews, but time has become as thin as air as I spread myself thinner than ether! Therefore, cannot write book reviews anymore! However, reviewing offers a window to read more, which I miss. There are lot of good magazines and publications both in print and online. I would like to mention just the latest one that I liked very much and have great hope and expectation of it (edited by Jason King): Delinquent. Brave editorial stance and taste seem to have been radiating from the opening issues. Must read poetry collections..? Well, as an editor I find a closer taste-connection with Bloodaxe Books Editor Neil Astley, whose editorial judgments I admire and respect. I find Bloodaxe to be offering more realistic presentation of today’s poetry (in print that is) than any other publishers. I would like people to read new poets published by Bloodaxe and Carcanet for that matter. There are other newer publishers like Bluechrome, Papal Tree, Heaventree, Waterways, Tall Light House and more like them, who are trying to publish more young and emerging poets.
NA: Tell me about your earliest encounter with the poetic form and why you stayed with it.
MM: Well, to be honest, I fell in love with poetry with the poems: “The Sands of Dee” and Wordsworth’s poem “Lucy” when I was 14 or so. However, my love affairs with words and their magic started with Biology at secondary school where we were learning the scientific names of animals and plants. The scientific name of China rose is Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis. I fell in love with the magic and music of words and thus, poetry, through these three words! And here I am still equally bewitched by them: words carrying the magic wands of life!
NA: When and why did you decide to start Poet's Letter?
MM: Well, I wrote from the age of 18 or so and only published one collection of poetry in 1993. Then I got onto work, marriage and raising a young family and the rest of earning a living. Although I carried on writing regularly I was not making out any time to get my works published. I was getting rather tired of working and not pursuing writing. In 2003 I just packed my job and decided to write and publish. I started my website and at the end of that year I suddenly thought, why not publish an online magazine that I could post on my website! The idea lingered until February the following year and in March 2004 I published the first issue of Poet’s Letter Magazine. However, I did publish a few issues of Poet’s Letter back in late nineties as an A4 Newsletter (That was a bilingual publication in English and Bengali). But I could not carry it on as time became a huge factor. The response that Poet’s Letter received was phenomenal and eventually I realised that Poet’s Letter should acquire its own website a year later. At the same time I wrote full time and published four more poetry collections.
NA: You are in the business as a writer, literary editor and publisher. Is it appropriate for a literary editor to publish his creative work in the magazine he edits?
MM: One cannot publish a magazine unless one is able to write various types of writing particularly if the magazine covers a wide range of issues as Poet’s Letter. We cover Literature to philosophy, Politics to Global warming, and Poetry to Book Reviews. If an editor can write for a magazine why can he/she not publish his/her poetic works as well! An editor does not sign an oath saying that he/she will not publish any of their poetic works in the publication. This is not new. A lot of editors have done that; particular example would be The New York School of Poets. As an editor one puts their editorial judgments to the public and one gets judged by one’s judgments. People should judge me as an editor regarding the quality of contents I have decided to publish, including works of other poets as well as mine. Secondly, as I spend most of my time on the magazine I have no time whatsoever to spend in trying to get my creative works published in other journals. I have only five collections of poetry published yet I have written 23 or so that are still gathering ‘compu-dust’!
NA: In the past year, you added a print magazine to the Poet's Letter portfolio. How is that going? What problems (if any) have you had with production and distribution of the magazine?
MM: Yes, the print magazine was launched at the 2nd London Poetry Festival 2006. We have printed three issues so far and are building it slowly. We are still developing the magazine. However, it is not easy. It is sweat, sweat and more of it! Without having substantial promotional budget it simply is a sheer test of one’s ingenuity and determination to carrying on to defy the market and rely on human spirits and believing in what one does. However, Poet’s Letter has been fortunate (and I feel humbled personally) that hundreds of writes/poets/journalists across London/UK and the world have given their time and written (and still do) for the magazine. This drowns me with great sense of humility! Without their support and contributions the Magazine would not have been where it is today!
NA: You have been running one of the longest poetry reading series at the poetry cafe? How do you keep it going?
MM: Simply absolute hard work, but what I tried to achieve was to create a community of people who love poetry and they form a core of like-minded people who come together and they bring more people. One has to use any and every means to promote the events that do not cost money! Emails, texts and of course the Magazine website does a lot of work too. However, Poet’s Letter enjoys tens of thousands of visitors’ support and a great search engine ranking in a wide variety of search terms giving us an additional advantage. In addition to that I have gone to all venues across London to promote the events and that needs to be done on a regular basis! However, still the poetry audience is not a guaranteed thing. One can never become complacent and stop promoting. I wanted to create a true British Audience that is not fragmented but an integrated audience where all come together and form a space that I would like to call an areal space: space to share our common humanity.
NA: You recently released a book of philosophy Dehumanisation of Humanity. Can you tell me about this book and how its treatment of life differs from what you do with your poetry?
MM: Well, I write poetry because of my philosophy that lets me live the life from which the poetry germinates and I write philosophy because I cannot live without thinking from where the philosophy propagates. Dehumanisation of Humanity is a planned four volumes of philosophical works which takes a look at the world from a post-Marxist perspective (and assumes Karl Marx was wrong and was bound to fail even though he had made wonderful contributions to human history). On this project I have devoted most of my conscious life and first volume sets out the tone and proposition of the whole discourse that is based on the following:
“People are free because they are equal and they are equal because they are free. Without equality in existence liberty cannot exist, and without liberty in existence equality cannot either. This is the rationale, in which a new civilisation must be born to replace this uncivilised, ruthless and brutal system of so called civilisation; that is based on power, rooted in money, owning, winning and pride, that is expressed and exercised in the fiercest of competition and, that is run like an excellent machine, and that tries to put the mask of ration in the ugliest of irrationality and, that waters and nurtures inhumanity and bars all the avenues of human potentials to be – to be free and equal, and to live and deny to accept a state of merely staying alive.”
The work ranges between political philosophy to political economy, sociology to political science as it takes a universal approach to the whole unity of humanity, and the business we get involved in and the relationships we then enter into with ourselves, between ourselves, the wider society and the world (that is a part of the infinite universe). Further to that it explores the problems philosophy faces today. The first volume has just been released as 511-page book with 20 chapters. Some of these chapters have been published in The Philosophy Pathways Journal and presented at ‘Philosophy Born of Struggle Conference’ at The New School University, New York. The treatment of life in this book and in poetry..? Well, philosophy shapes the way one looks at things and then goes about forming relationships and experiences of the world, of life and the universe around them. Therefore, my philosophy offers me means to learn, experience; and to explore and expound on life better. This enhances my poetry in that I try to live life to the best of my abilities.
NA: What do you consider the biggest threat to human dignity?
MM: Biggest threat to human dignity? Three things, the first being Value for Money, which puts money before humanity. The second thing is Democratic Fascism: divides us into majority and minority where majority ferociously imposes itself onto the minority and allows intolerance and dictatorial and fascist mentality in the psyche of humanity. Finally, ignorance and prejudice: kills humanity by poisoning their minds creating hatred!
NA: Let’s return to your publication briefly. Have you noticed any difference if at all in your public's perception of your publications since you re-branded Poet's Letter in a more entrepreneurial way?
MM: I do not think we re-branded Poet’s Letter at all. In fact I overheard a friend telling someone that Poet’s Letter was trying to ‘mainstream’ poetry! All along Poet’s Letter was trying to raise the status of poetry as an art form as valid and as powerful as any other. We remain true to the cause of poetry and will not ever lose that focus. I receive emails from people saying how they find Poet’s Letter and the resources we try to offer on the website. I do not think the perception has changed at all. People write from across the country, across Europe and the globe. At times I feel humbled to receive submissions from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Serbia, India, Malta, Spain, New Zealand, Canada and the wider world! Once, a South African poet (an English professor) wrote to send their poetry collection for review. I receive emails from fellow poets who say encouraging things about Poet’s Letter. Creative writing lecturers, poetry course tutors and journalism lecturers refer people to Poet’s Letter. People write to me saying someone else told them about Poet’s Letter. I remember once a poet sent me a poem (a wonderful poem) not for publication but it was sent out of simply the need to just send something to me! These sorts of things kept me on course carrying on with this project. Most importantly the new voices that we have been able to publish makes it worthwhile!
NA: You 3rd Poetry Festival ran from the 10th through the 13th of August. Tell me more about the festival, especially what you expected it to achieve, and who were the main participants in the event?
MM: I would like to see London Poetry Festival becoming a national annual festival for London creating platform for poetry to be celebrated and offering opportunities to create something bigger than sheer market manipulation. London Poetry Festival should become a landmark festival of London and with this bring communities and people together, get European poetry and world poetry together. Most importantly every year it should offer five new and young poets the platform to become the signature of the festival. London Poetry Festival should celebrates the diversity of London and Britain as well as our common humanity in a sphere where we are one in the multiple and we are multiple in our singularity. Poetry should act as our way of breathing air to de-carbonate ourselves out of the culture of fear, culture of cynicism, culture of us and them and the culture of prejudice and hatred! Poetry (with all other arts) must offer us the way out back into a real society, a real community and a real humanity where we all are connected together! This year the festival took place over four days and there were five poets in residence who read alongside established and new poets. There was a European Poetry Evening (Sunday the 12th) where we had a lot of Spanish poets joining and reading. This year’s festival is grateful for the support of Honourable Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Minister for Transport (Former Minister for London). You can of course find more details on the festival’s website www.londonpoetryfestival.com
NA: Finally, what is going on with the Beowulf Poetry Prize 2007?
MM: Beowulf Poetry Prize was launched in July last year. It is open till 30th of November. It was set out on this premise that the participants pay an entry fee, which should form the total prize fund that would go to 25 poets. It was envisaged that a big prize would raise the status of poetry and we do not have to wait for the generosity of a company or a foundation or a person. Instead, like the national lottery the entrants are taking part in building something good. It is a self-financing project. The money would go to the Prize Fund. If after paying for prizes and administration cost, the prize makes any extra money, it would be taken forward to the following year’s prize fund. It is not a project where Poet’s Letter would make money. Poet’s Letter is not taking a penny out of this fund. However, if sufficient entries are not received the prize could not run in which case the entrants would be refunded their fees in full. The outlook so far is good. The prize is open to any poets writing in English from anywhere in the world. But the works must be written in English (not translation works).
NA: Thanks for you time Munayem.
MM: Thank you for the opportunity and thank you for taking the time you have been giving to poetry and to the promotion of it!
Last updated on 01/10/07 Site copyright Sentinel Poetry Movement. Magazine design & layout by Nnorom Azuonye.
Creative writing & graphics © 2007 The writers and artists. All rights reserved.