Interview with Remi Raji continued from previous page
A.E.: In Nigeria, which is your base, there is a war on poetry by a vanishing literary patronage system; how has this affected you personally as a poet?
R.R.: I won’t say I understand this perfectly, but I guess you are saying that the tradition of poetry writing is dwindling and asking how this has affected me personally. If my assumptions are right, then let me say that the claim about the “vanishing patronage system” is right only when compared with what we experienced in the recent past, say about two decades ago, in a number of literary circles. It is true that there is a general lack of interest and commitment in things literary, not just poetry, especially in places where one expects an improvement on earlier achievements. Surely the creative activities and interactions are more in the news than in the work, and there is probably no way one can compare the patronage now with what some of us experienced in the 1980s and the early 1990s. You may call this a deep fascination with the living past, but we surely need another wave of literary, creative orientation. There are pockets and signs of optimisms here and there among groups of writers scattered all over the country at present time. The problem is in the general haste to be published, to be heard even when and where a voice has not formed. Sadly, the educational system, with the policies upon which it is grounded, has not put premium on the expressive energies of the creative Nigerian youth. Our achievements have been based on the individual’s capability for self-development, and so it is till today. I see another dimension of “the war on poetry” in the manner every writer wants to write a novel in order to win a prize or to be less jinxed into the oblivion of Poetry. Every one wants to write the sociable text, and in the course of that, Poetry diminishes, whereas it was the crown of all the genres when some of us started writing. But how can a writer who does not have the rigour of composing a poem even with little rhythm master the novel or the expansive play? Newspaper poetry is another sore, for the term and the writing have become soiled by the urgency of the medium. The scenario of lack and loss has affected me personally in terms of a vision for a more robust literary and creative atmosphere. This is not about me as a poet for I have never lacked the patronage, the ability and the chance for writing. It is about the threatened growth of the art of writing with commitment to excellence. In the country now, I know of some considerable works of talent going on which lack the necessary patronage.
A.E.: In your work as PEN Nigeria secretary do you address the problem of a decadent indigenous publishing industry?
R.R.: Not precisely, at present time. PEN Nigeria has not dealt with, and may not be able to deal with the problem because there are outfits and organizations made to confront that. How far they have dealt with it is another matter. And more so because there are other primary projects before PEN that engaging in advocacy against that corporate decadence will amount to either duplication or sheer waste of energies. I know that the decadence in the publishing industry is one of the factors for the invisibility of the Nigerian writer both at home and abroad. But may I ask if there is a real publishing industry in the country now? We can talk of cells of printing magnates working as publishing houses, with a few exceptions. What exists generally now is not publishing, but printing, and there’s an important difference in that. There is indeed a difference between a financier or patron or subsidizer of a publication who claims the work and forgets the author, and a real publisher who markets both the work and the author and gives back what is due to the brain that bears the work. But we can’t foreclose the possibility of advocacy for the return of the Industry depending on other suggestions and activities.