Interview. Continued from previous page
AE: Is poetry sin because it is secular? And if so, how do you reconcile the poet, Okigbo’s ironic comments, “life without sin/without life…”
AA: Okigbo was right about the intrinsic corruption of our quotidian experience. But the fact that we live in sin does not mean we have to, or live to, sin. Poetry is not always secular, but even secular poetry is only corrupting to the extent that it is a celebration of corruption. And even that would be subject to what is considered corrupting by the individual or by society. Poetry is often the means by which law and morality attempt to guide us away from our corrupting and selfish tendencies. Notice how much poetry was employed by socialist regimes in there propaganda publications aimed at directing the thought processes of their citizens. Poetry in the holy books, especially in the Christian Bible, goes further, shifting the source of perfection from the human to the divine. Faith is interested in adding grace to the mundane, assisting the human struggle, by the agency of a connection with the divine.
AE: What inspires you to write?
AA: Anything, anyone, anywhere, any time.
AE: Is there any theoretical background to your writing?
AA: I am generally suspicious of theory. The idea that you can reduce understanding of the human to scientific precision is alien to my own experience of the human. Imperfection and imprecision are inalienable experiences in the ordering of the human. Ever since the mid 1980s, when the Nigerian critic Harry Garuba began to speak what was then a new metalanguage in our circle of writers at the University of Ibadan, I have been wary of these grand ideas after which we are all supposed to model our lives and thinking. But I am not one to ignore intellectual fashions so I have faithfully read up my Jakobson, Lacan, Barthes, Derrida, Althusser and Foucault – not to forget Claude Levi-Strauss. I am confident with my binaries, signs and structures. I will even sit with feminist gynocritics to ponder over the heterosexual matrix and the hidden structures of the patriarchal discourse. I do think that the feminist discourse was almost hijacked by the gay agenda and became too readily conflated with it. Now, of course, we have queer theory but I think that, depending on the teacher, gender studies still suffers from an over indulgence in matters of sexual practice. Reading the East from the perspective of the West, reading the world from an Afrocentric perspective, or the American perspective, these are some of the realities Said’s Orientalism brought to my notice. As a former graduate student of Modern and Contemporary Poetry - a program of studies I was forced to quit for family reasons – I could not even avoid theory. But I am never consciously theoretical in my creative work, in the sense of following exclusively a particular perspective. I am able to separate the historical Fanon from the theoretical Fanon. I think the historical Fanon a timely intervention in our understanding of the post-colony and its people. But I find quite unhelpful those interpretations of the Fanonian canon which seek to denigrate other perspectives on the post-colony, employing classical Fanonian binary oppositions of black against white in doctrinaire interpretations of contemporary African realities. I am impressed by afrocentric discourses as evident in the earlier work of Henry Louis Gates and in Chinweizu. But as far as minority studies are concerned, I am an even greater admirer of Ali Mazrui. Not that I agree with all he has to say, for instance about the supposed triple heritage of the African or about his discourses on internationalism or globalism. It is the refreshing individuality and passable objectivity of Mazrui’s voice in Africana studies I find interesting. I read wide but really mostly allow experience to inform my writing.
AE: Would you say you belong to any schools of poetry?
AA: No. I am eclectic in my choices.
SENTINEL POETRY (ONLINE) #30, MAY 2005. ISSN 1479-425X