Interview. Continued from previous page
AE: Would you say the demands of poetry are contradictory to your other calling as a man of God? Remember Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit Priest, and used poetry to praise God, for example in such a poem as “Pied Beauty”.
AA: I think that this question is already succinctly answered above. I will add that since God or faith is such a crucial part of the human experience of so many people, I regard the intellectual conceit that wants to deny literary _expression to that experience farcical. If you will claim the literary freedom to explore the dark side of experience no matter how dark, why is it considered abnormal to engage with the other side of darkness, since that is what God claims to be? But let’s not even go as far back as Gerard Hopkins to look for examples because it was quite easy in his time to subscribe to some kind or degree of faith as an intellectual. Let’s come closer home. Wole Soyinka may not have taken his exploration of faith beyond the literary but it is important to note that his enquiry on traditional mythologies and belief systems was quite positive and provided important motifs for his life and work as an artist, as it did indeed for his Greek literary models. I understand the Western intellectual suspicion of religion, which may be traced to historical information on Galileo, Darwin, Descartes, the whole experience of rationalism and the enlightenment, and even to more recent names like Nietzsche, Freud and the logician Bertrand Russell. For the African intellectual there is the added burden of the colonial project and our reading of Christianity’s role in it, although there may be the need for a more accurate, less prejudicial reading of that role by us. But I do believe it is time to move on from these intellectual suspicions. Many academics in the West from which we copy our sense of doubt regarding faith are quite happy these days to acknowledge their faith or are at least willing to allow the faithful their room. Faith exists not to hinder intellectual enquiry but to moderate it, to remind it of its moral and social duties of care. Faith provides a window through which we can look beyond ourselves and achieve some understanding that we are part of continuum that began before us and extends far beyond what we can reasonably imagine, offering us the possibility of experience other than what we are humanly accustomed to. A humbling indication of individual insignificance is seemingly contradicted by the affirmation of individual responsibility and influence in the continuum. Is there some kind of contradiction between faith and intellection? No. Is there any creative tension between the sense of independence and faith in oneself as a maker and dependence on some other as the ultimate source of making and the made? No. Both can work together. In older, traditional times, both worked together.
AE: Do you have any pending collection? In other words are you a ‘practicing’ poet again. Since the publication of Stolen Moments, your first collection, in 1988 or was it 1987?
AA: Stolen Moments, my first collection, was published by the Association of Nigerian Authors and Update Publishers, along with entry collections from poets like Uche Nduka, Emman Shehu, Esiaba Irobi and Idzia Ahmad. There are many reasons for the delay in doing a second collection, but I have continued to write poetry for all the years I have lived in England. I was going to put a second collection together for the 2005 ANA conference and its poetry prizes but after such a long absence I am willing to wait further, perhaps towards the end of the year to ensure I release only work I am happy with.
AE: Do or did you experience any tensions between being a poet and a pastor?
AA: I am not a practicing pastor now, and regarding faith and poetry I believe the question is already answered above. It has taken some years after coming out of active Christian ministry to adjust to secular life and interests. I have taken difficult but helpful steps in adjusting again to what used to be the familiar life of writing. Situations have changed, new people are all over the place and most of those I used to know have moved on. So, if you consider leaving Christian ministry a wrenching operation my life has had to undergo you may say I am still in recovery.
SENTINEL POETRY (ONLINE) #30, MAY 2005. ISSN 1479-425X