SENTINEL POETRY (ONLINE) #15

February 2004   .   ISSN 1479-425X

MY E-CONVERSATION WITH LOLA SHONEYIN
By Nnorom Azuonye


Nnorom Azuonye (NA): With regards to the severally layered womanly experiences and concerns you address in your work, including but not limited to female self-determinative expressions, everyday woman versus the world, abortion and same sex expeditions among other themes, aspects of which we will discuss in the course of this conversation, by telling me how much of these are fictive and how much are confessional, take me on a quick tour of your creative environment?

Lola Shoneyin (LS): I have never denied that a lot of my work is autobiographical. For me, creativity is often a regurgitation of my experiences, a private interpretation of events I have experienced. The use of the word 'experienced' here may however be misleading because I am rather like a child in the way I absorb what goes on in my environment. I am a real sponge and often allow myself to be weighed down by anything that's squirted my way. What I mean is that a lot of women tell me a lot of things. People often share their secrets with me and tell me later that they themselves couldn't understand why they had divulged so much, two minutes after knowing me. For them, they offloaded a heavy burden. For me, I have taken over someone else's demons.

NA: How comfortable can that be?

LS: Secrets leave me very disturbed. This is as a result of the sympathy I feel for the victim or the sheer anger towards the perpetrators. Writing is often the only way I can exorcise the demons. Making my interpretation unrecognisable is always a great challenge; and sometimes I fail hopelessly.

This is not to say however that I do not write about experiences that are directly related to me. I do.
So all the Time I Was Sitting on an Egg, my first collection was quite personal because there were a lot of minor inconveniences in my life at the time that I needed to be free of. Song of a Riverbird was more observational, less personal, more preoccupied with my environment.

Eno said in her days,
men were sweet and sensitive.

I spat in her divorced face
and threw the dead woman
right out of my house.
(excerpt from "In Eno's Days")

NA: Let's talk about your book So All The Time I Was Sitting On An Egg (So All The Time…). You opened this book with 'She Tried' - a poem about a woman undervalued. Then you charged through such anti-man pieces as 'In Eno's Days' and 'Cocktales' before ending the book with 'Divorce'. This book has 'men not included' written all over it. I am upset. You don't really think men are such pigs with ways and attitudes so dated they have got cobwebs on them, do you?

LS: I personally recommend So All the Time… to all men with the hope that it will inspire them to wipe the dust, webs and all manner of inherited chauvinism from their eyes and see what women think about them.

Women are not given the credit they deserve, not in the West and definitely not in Nigeria and by extension Africa. But having said that, 'Cocktales' speaks more to women than to men. I have five brothers, a father that I adore; I am wife to a very supportive husband and mother to a fine young man. Is it really possible for me to do anything which excludes men? I love them. Most of my closest friends are men and I rarely feel any discomfort when I am with them.

>>Continue>>>

"...the day I feel that men are getting the short end of the stick and...polyandry becomes the order of the day, I'll try to start writing poems that are sympathetic to the men folk."
- Shoneyin