Adepoju Isaiah Gbenga is the winner of Pengician Poetry Chapbook Prize second edition, 2021. Here, with Chisom Kingslem Orji, he talks about poetry, writing, and other notable issues.
Kingslem: Please can you give us a brief introduction about yourself?
Isaiah Gbenga: Isaiah is an eighteen-year old semi-atheist from Osun State, a writer too. The last of a family of four. A student (fresher) of Literature in English at Obafemi Awolowo University.
Kingslem: It’s nice meeting you sir. Please can you tell us what literary success looks like to you?
Isaiah Gbenga: Perhaps literary success could’ve been an escape to rest from the turmoil of obsessing over a particular poem, or story, or play, or any particular work of it, it would’ve been greatly sought after, greatly in demand than presently. Albeit I find literary success tricky and delicate, one minute the artist may relent; it’s very tricky for an artist to relent, living the best life with the prize won. Because it becomes so obscene, that the demarcation between artistry and gain begins to blur and, perhaps, if it’s an artist whose work keeps getting recognized and rejection does less in granting the pristine solitude we desire to create the most perfect or palatable art, getting back to the table to write — whether to protest or enlighten — it obviously becomes harder, becomes even herculean, as a single rejection could send the art spiralling down the drain, and the artist may see themselves as potatoes in a shitbag. So yes, literary success is delicate, but delightful. Like power. Like coffee!
Kingslem: Wow! This is really deep. What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Isaiah Gbenga: I think the most apposite question should be what work I hated but grew into. That must be Stars of the New Curfew by Ben Okri. Generally, anything Ben Okri’s, I disliked whatever narrativity in it, but the eloquence of language naturally drew me back. I remember reading The Famished Road and Landscape Within and saying to myself, “O this is beautiful prose work. I can copy it. Hang it somewhere. Or place it on my table.” I read The Famished Road while working at Stanbic Bank, for a month, and, I think, it took less than that to rule the book out of my favorites, and perhaps longer than that to say thus of the book, “O this book has more language than narrativity.” Perhaps Ben Okri wanted me to like and fall in love with language and rhythm and the sine qua non of them all for the most perfect work; perhaps he didn’t. What remained constant was I read his books from arm’s length, especially Incidents at the Shrine. Ben Okri is special. His artistic expression too. Albeit I think I can always give him the benefit of the doubt, since he brought up Azaro, a character I admired too much.
Kingslem: I lack words but this is amazing.
Isaiah Gbenga: (Laughs) Okri? Or, Azaro? ‘Cause I very much see them as the same.
Kingslem: I haven’t actually read his book but I’d be on the lookout someday. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Isaiah Gbenga: I’d been searching over my chats at APNET (All Poets Network) to quote Professor Al-Bishak’s comment on my poem for the weekly poetry week or so. Though futile, I get his message very clear. Meaning, he implied. Simplicity, clarity, he added. And ALAGEMO was my first step at trying those things that exhumed contemporariness; though not fully, because when I started writing in ‘18, the few notable poets I read were only Christopher Okigbo and Leopold Senghor. These two poets were my first attempt at critical reading or impulsive writing. Especially Okigbo, with, as Prof Ali Mazrui said, ‘unintelligible’ poetry lines — though the meaning of Okigbo’s poems is embedded in individual lines and not derivative, or both, from the final reading. In ALAGEMO, I tried that too. I wanted individual poems in a poem. I don’t know if I got it. Beforehand, the experimentation was private, until it got out, and I felt even exposed to ‘contemporary’ poetry. Contemporary poetry felt so easy, though delicate. I can write, “my mother’s body is the belly of the ocean” and write it in an alluring, convincing, rhythmic way. But that isn’t me. I got fooled though. I wrote many poems like that, though some got accepted, some got me into Adroit Journal and Patchwork Magazine both in the US as readers, still it felt empty. Writing that sort of ‘contemporary poetry’ was empty. Perhaps I’m still new to poetry. Perhaps not. Publishing ALAGEMO gave me a vantage point to look at poetry differently, that my poem is my poem and even if you’re master at it and you advise me, I can say, “well, I didn’t write for you. I wrote the poem because I liked vocabulary.” And that was all it was. That is it. I want a real personal poetry life; even if I don’t get published on Facebook for it.
Recommended Read: Download Adepoju’s “Alagemo”, a collection of poems
Kingslem: Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Isaiah Gbenga: There are no parameters to being a writer, no qualifications, nothing at all. Just that you are. Whether you feel emotions strongly is a progression —note I do not say it’s a progress; moreover, everybody feels, we just repress it differently.
Kingslem: Wow! You’re right. Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
Isaiah Gbenga: Voila! ’cause it is. Very— even. Its spirituality is only guessed at, only, a hint at what a frequent —or infrequent— transposition should be; artistry, we began to call it. Do note that writing is like painting—sometimes, you get the full picture, sometimes it’s just wandering. The latter is best, definitely!
Kingslem: Can you tell us the best way to market your book?
Isaiah Gbenga: Easing the purchase quite up; if it’s possible, it should be made free. I want to be open to opinions, ideas, what people think about the craft, etc., etc. Perhaps if I find any who want to create a discussion around it, suffice to say, anything, it would be great. Right?
Kingslem: Sure, this is beautiful. How many hours a day do you write?
Isaiah Gbenga: Easy-peasy. I write every hour, except when I’m reading a new book, or loitering on the road to sell drinks, or to sleep. My Mum knows me. She allows me to read and write every time, when customers aren’t much. But imagine that I write 4/5 percent every day.
Kingslem: That means you’re always with a pen and Jotter on the go. Do you believe in writer’s block?
Isaiah Gbenga: No, I don’t. I just believe that I don’t always write in a specific genre. When I’m having problems with fiction, I write an essay, or a poem, or a very short play, or engage in intellectual verbal fisticuffs with a virtual friend.
Kingslem: I love how you’re able to find your way around things. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Isaiah Gbenga: I don’t know, perhaps I’d tell him to read unknown, yet dexterous authors. Perhaps, he would make things better and easier for me now.
Kingslem: What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
Isaiah Gbenga: Childhood, I realize, resonates more. So I write about it, even in this novel I’m working on. Childhood is significant because I lived at the heart of sharia Zamfara State, Gusau, in a C&S Church Compound, with the name Isaiah Adepoju— meaning, I’m a Christian, and a Yoruba— and it’s beautiful that I’ve never suffered any tribal, or religious hate, until I grew out of that childhood and when I apply for anything in a Hausa-dominated space, the first question would be, “are you Hausa?” or “are you Muslim?” (funny because today, Dec 7th, my Mum was fuzing about not bearing Ibrahim for my State of Origin procurement, lol). So yes, my childhood is the innocent, ideal Nigeria that I will always write about.
Kingslem: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Isaiah Gbenga: Well, only read about a few— Soyinka and Ogun, Okorafor and Periwinkle, etc., etc. — but I haven’t given it a long, deep thought. Perhaps in the future, I will choose a room full of the latest disaster— I don’t know if that makes sense, but I don’t like writing much about happy things, if it is happy, other writers should do it, if it is not, then I shall do it.
Kingslem: You’re unique in your own way.
Isaiah Gbenga: Oh thank you, very much.
Kingslem: What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
ALAGEMO interrogates abstract symbols through metaphors, allusions, a temporal rentage of the metaphysic or how the latter affects the empirical with mystic artefacts: loss, recrimination, spiritual incoherence, morbidity, and all that accrues to aesthetic hallucinogene, which, akin to Yoruba interpretation of Agemo (chameleon), means frequent denial of present situation and grieving, however subdued. Click here to download Seashells.
Isaiah Gbenga: Perhaps the popular ones or any palatable one they can find, but they must always submit to Brittle Paper. I’d realized after receiving a rejection from Brittle Paper for the umpteenth time that I’m more inclined to being a part of the magazine than seeing my work there. So yes, Brittle Paper is one fine mag. And, there are too many brilliant magazines to name here, especially the small, trying ones. They, the latter, deserve more accolades!
Kingslem: What can you say about writing, does it energize or exhaust you?
Isaiah Gbenga: It exhausts me, but I can’t stop the process. I lamented last week Sunday about it: everything everybody does just stuck in my head, like glue: the Alfa blowing catarrh, the news of a girl fucking other boys, a beggar snorting, a construction worker cursing God, a customer with bad cologne, etc. Everything just damn stuck. That’s why I’m self-pressured to read books— that way, I can give them expression and make the process less painful. So yes, writing for me is exhausting, torturing even, but do I have a choice?
Kingslem: What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Isaiah Gbenga: Reaction and Dialogue. I believe both are mutually inclusive; for example, how do an African woman react to a European man beating another African woman? — from the feminist, or the anti-racist spectacle? How do a Muslim woman— who has undergone patriachal severity— react to a feminist, a male, from Asia? These are complex for me, and are hard to always come to common ground. How do I create a dialogue between them, over female matters especially, when I’m masculine and my point of view sometimes intrudes?
Kingslem: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Isaiah Gbenga: It must be on novel writing; my past three incomplete novels exhausted, and destabilized me— financially, mentally, etc., — and the extant one, now, is commandeering: I’ve been learning about Pop Culture, Mbari dance in Zimbabwe, reading Ferdinand Month’s Mind The Gap, Vladimir Lenin’s to understand racism; I’ve gone through Chimamanda’s Americanah, additionally two times, whilst studying it, and now I’m reading up to five books at the same— including Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox, and now The Opposite House. That’s my best investment— not money, because I don’t have— and I’m even sure studying Literature will allow me to frequently gulp on other, immediate books.
Kingslem: You’re the real definition of “A Bookworm.” I love that you invest your time and efforts in books. Keep the good work up sir Thank you so much for your time. We look forward to having you here some other time.