Nnorom Azuonye: My E-conversation with Emman Usman Shehu
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EUS: "Open Sesame" should have been out by now but I have convinced my publishers not to hurry it for some reasons. First, I intend to push the book when it becomes available by doing some kind of reading tour in selected venues around the country. This is important for me because poetry does not have the kind of patronage that prose has, and I think it is possible to change the perception that is responsible for such a situation. I saw it happen at the Anthill in Nsukka.
Then there is the issue of logistics involved in such a project. My publishers cannot fund the project, even though the idea appeals to them. So I have to find a way of getting financial backing for the project. The situation is also made a little bit more difficult by the fact that I am having to do a full-time job to survive. This means I must find a way to do the project without jeopardising the job, possibly travelling at weekends to perform.
The third delay came quite unexpectedly. Harry Garuba, who is doing the foreword, decided to do an in-depth write-up on my poetry at some point. I agreed with his approach and encouraged him to take his time. Open Sesame is coming fifteen years after "Questions for Big Brother", and if it has taken this long to get published then it should be worthwhile in every way possible.
As for the lucidity and accessibility you have noted in the manuscript, those are fundamental to my writing - be it poetry, drama or prose. Given the many distractions that the reader faces on a daily basis, I want to reward him for making the effort to read my work. I assume he comes to my work, giving me the benefit of doubt to be able to hold his attention. Lucidity and accessibility then become part of my strategy of getting him hooked, despite the distractions of cable television, the bills he has to pay, and all other pressures of life.
I deploy the same strategy too in handling what you term "complex emotional experiences". I started out with a different concept for Open Sesame. I had done drafts of what would be a collection of performance poems and got stuck in the process because I could not get some references that were vital to the work. But I did not want to lose the momentum that I had built up, so I started writing a whole different set of poems that have found their way into Open Sesame. I usually don't like putting poems in obvious sections, but would rather have them flow into each other. But I also did not want it to have the same structure with QFBB and its immediate follow-up - "Train of Tyranny" which has remained unpublished.
As the basic poems emerged, I realised I could structure the initial section to look like a relationship evolving, maturing and then affected by some kind of crisis. So when you mention that aspect of the "loving partner" that is part of the tenor of the entire collection.
Like most writers I am angry about a lot of things concerning Nigeria, but I guess my attitude is not about okay, let the country break-up. This is not to say that the country cannot break-up, but I have my doubts about the viability of the different components. We are all afflicted by the same weaknesses, wrong values and self-serving attitudes, despite the enormous potential that we have individually and collectively. My perception is that those in privileged positions exploit these weaknesses to sustain themselves at the expense of the larger society. These privileged people don't cry that they are being victimised or marginalized until they lose out in a particular situation. Then they play the ethnic or religious card. This hoodwinking of the ordinary people has gone on for quite a long time in our various communities long before independence - it is called divide and rule and it did not start with Lugard. Take for instance my own part of the country, the so-called 1804 Jihad was made possible because the ordinary folks were promised a better life and they joined forces with the jihadists. But when victory came they found themselves in a worse form of bondage that has adversely affected that part of the country since then. All kinds of atrocities have been committed in the name of the people. All kinds of oppression are taking place in the name of protecting the culture of the people, but the real culture of the people including their indigenous religion got obliterated immediately after the jihad.