Sentinel Poetry #35 – October 2005

Online Magazine Monthly…since December 2002. ISSN 1479-425X






The Unyielding Muse

Interview with Guest Poet Uche Nduka

By Amatoritsero Ede


Amatoritsero Ede: Uche Nduka, your name rings a loud bell in Nigerian and certain European poetic scenes. You have won the Association of Nigerian Authors Prize for Poetry—with Chiaroscuro, yet it is not easy to find your books in circulation. What is happening?


Uche Nduka: How weird! I cannot adequately answer you. Perhaps my publishers ought to answer the question as I am not directly involved in the distribution of my books. However I know that the books can be ordered in bookshops and in I am also aware that those deeply interested in poetry have found ways to track down the books.


A.E.: One would have expected you to be signed by a major publisher by now. Do you think perhaps you should pander to the publishers' whims and write a crime thriller?


U.N.: I honestly don't give a fuck whether I am published by a "major" publisher or a "minor" publisher. It is important that the poetry is secured against loss. I find it more fruitful to be able to write the poems. To allow what wants to come out through me to do so. I am beholden to the scripting of lines, refrains, choruses, chants, mantras etc than to any other thing. I will regard it as a betrayal of my calling if I heed a publisher's voice rather than the inner voice in me. I will feel I have sold out if I let the outside - be it publishers, literary coteries, critics, peers, friends, enemies dictate the content or form of my writings. So the issue of pandering to publishers' demands is out.


A.E.: You lived in Germany for a while and then in Amsterdam and back to Germany now. What do these frenetic movements do to your writing? I do not want to ask the obvious questions on exile!


U.N.: The movements you referred to have made certain things about myself and the world clearer. For instance: I hate melancholic resignation. I hate expressions that verge on the extreme, on the fanatical, on the dogmatic. I hate religious and artistic and political fatalisms. I have no absolute faith regarding utopia, so-called free market, idealism, post-colonialism, postmodernism, artistic magic. The stuffy and the staid have never attracted me-in life and art. Disillusionment is not emblematic of my life and thought. I find provincialism odious. Each book and style charts my growth, my searches, and my experience and contacts. I can no longer abstract my writing from my life. Most times they fuse. My doubt witnesses the clarity of my faith. My faith affirms the valiance of my doubt. In the present phase of my work I treasure generic inventiveness. I try to battle the commoditization of literature. I struggle to record the core of living in whichever way it touches and moves me and those close to me wherever I happen to be: Nigeria, Germany, South Africa, Holland, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland. I don't have a talent for writing sociological, anthropological and nationalist tracts. Right from the beginning of my literary involvement it has been so. As at now perhaps my usage of English has taken unexpected creative directions as a result of my living in a non-English speaking environment.


A.E.: What is funding like for foreign writers in Germany; is it possible to live just as a poet? Or do you need a bank job like T.S Eliot-some day job that will rob your writing time?


U.N.: I am not aware of any funding for foreign writers in Germany. They have writer-in-residence programs one of which I was a beneficiary ten years ago. This is the Heinrich Böll Haus Residency. I was there for seven months and had time to finish two books. Afterwards I taught African Literature part-time for five years at the University of Bremen. Since I left that job four years ago I've worked as a lecturer in contemporary African Art, Consultant to Environmental Activist groups, Nude Model, Conference Speaker, and percussionist. I think poets should stop whining and try and find any job just like other people that will sustain them. They should stop expecting to be treated specially. Too much Grants for poets neutralize their fire. Too much shoulder-rubbing with powerful politicians water down their dissidence. Poets should aim to survive all pressures, flatterings, oppositions. They should remain implacable. As for me I don't think I can be bribed with comfort or praise. After all, conflicts and crises (communal and individual) that militate against my incessant desire for harmony are the catalysts of my art.


A.E.: How do you feel in the prevailing atmosphere of increased xenophobia in Germany? Do you think poetry can make a difference?


U.N..: Why not? As long as the poetry is not written along party lines. As long as the poetry comes from the deepest part of humanity. As long as it is not a poetry of hatred. But hoisting poetry up as a weapon of defence is not enough. An unsentimental education of consciousness is needed to stem the present tide of xenophobia here in Germany. The same antidote is also necessary to stop ethnic sniping in Nigeria. With regard to Germany I think the writings of people like Paul Celan, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Nelly Sachs, Rose Auslander should be nationally taught in schools to wean the German youths off the path of incipient fascism. Almost every year we witness the racist murders of Africans, Gypsies, Turkish people, etc. I wholeheartedly condemn these ongoing crimes against humanity in Germany and other European countries like France, Britain, Denmark, Switzerland. How a place like Europe that make so much noise about being exponents of the highest civilization can continually degenerate to bestiality beats my imagination. And the global aggression of the US? Is it a hidden fact? Yes poetry has to be cognisant of xenophobia and has to treat it in its own way. For me I intend to dedicate my life more and more to contributing to an understanding between my part of Africa and every other part of the world I happen to find myself; to an understanding between Africa and the West; to an understanding between Africa and the East; between Africa and the Occident; between Africa and the Orient.


A.E.: ‘Brothers Keepers’, a coalition of Afro-German Hip-hop artists in Germany are fighting racism with their music. I believe you have worked with them on some levels. Is there any concerted literary equivalent to the musical odyssey of ‘Brothers' Keepers’?


U.N.: Not yet. But plans are underway for such a collective. Some writers are presently meeting to work out the logistics for such an umbrella group. Yes: I occasionally work with members of the Brothers Keepers-in strategising, in street protests, in media info releases.


A.E.: You were in Nigeria recently for a visit after almost a decade away. What is happening to Nigerian poetry?


U.N.: A three-week visit home is not enough time for me to be able to do an appraisal of the poetry being written nationally but the works-the majority of the works I saw on display at the Association of Nigerian Authors Conference in Lokoja - are shoddy, half-baked, visionless, gutless, anaemic, mediocre. Though there are more books of poetry published in Nigeria today than ever before, the themes they explore and the way they are explored, to my mind, are halting and cowardly. To me, political ineptitude and economic depression are no excuses for bad and sterile poetry. There is no risk taking in most of the works I saw. They all seem to fall into a kind of linguistic pigeon-holing and stasis. Except for the writings of people like Chiedu Ezeanah, Nengi ILagha, Toyin Adewale, Chijioke Amu-nnadi, Joe Ushie, David Diai, Maxim Uzoatu and a few others, home-based workers in the vineyard of poetry are thorough disappointments.


A.E.: Is there the kind of literary ferment typical of the 1980s? If so, are these efforts getting published?


U.N.: Like I said earlier, publishing doesn't seem to be the problem in Nigeria now. Lots of the branches of the Association of Nigerian Authors publish their own anthologies. More literary Prizes proliferate. So there are literary activities going on. It is just that what is being produced-in the main-is abysmal. Yet I see promise in the works of (before I forget) Toni Kan, Ebereonwu, Perpetual Ekwunefule, Tolu Ogunlesi.


A.E.: .Do Nigerian publishers still hate poetry; must the poet pay to publish himself/herself?


U.N.: Yes vanity publishing is widespread. And running from poetry is not restricted to Nigerian publishers as you know yourself. But how I wish that current Nigerian poetry will question itself instead of praising its stasis. How I wish we won't go on forgetting that actuality + Invention + discovery = Poetry.


A.E.: Do we expect any new work from you soon?


U.N.: A new volume titled Heart's Field shall be out in Germany before the end of this year. In Spring next year I expect another volume titled Eel on Reef to be out in the US.


A.E.: Uche, thank you for your time.



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