David Ishaya Osu is the assistant poetry editor at the UK-based travel magazine, Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel. He is a fellow of the Ebedi International Writers Residency, and was selected for the 2016 USA Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop at Brown University. In this chat with IBRAHIM RAMALAN, this finest Nigerian poet bares his mind on his poetry.
Who is David Ishaya Osu?
I am an Afo native from Nasarawa State that was born in the 90s. I read and write poetry and have been widely published in journals and anthologies, including: Acumen (UK), Ake Review (Nigeria) The Nottingham Review (UK), The Bombay Review (India), Transition (US), Eureka Street (Australia), Atlas Poetica 20: A Journal of World Tanka (US), Poets Live (France), Maintenant 10: A Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing and Art (US), A Thousand Voices Rising: An Anthology of Contemporary African Poetry (Uganda). I was poetry editor for The James Franco Review.
What is the main import of your writing generally?
The import of my writing is freedom. It is to me expression same as breathing.
Who are your target audience?
My audience is whoever (and whatever) encounters my poetry.
Do you have mentors or role models in poetry?
Mentorship is an overused term, and I have a distrust for sayings, a distrust for the manner in which folks use mentors and mentees. I would rather call it teaching. And by teaching, I am not limiting it to classroom professions. To me, teaching is the practise of listening and learning, listening to children, to older folks, listening to birds, to water, flowers and fruits, and learning their grace and beauty.
It is a meeting, to inspire and be inspired. Neither respect nor character is abused. In my case, I have learnt and still learning from just everybody, from friends to strangers to the authors I converse with or study.
What names do readily come to your mind immediately mentors are mentioned?
I should go ahead and mention names: Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Kim Hyesoon, Emman Shehu, Emily Dickinson, Uche Nduka, Unoma Azuah, Lidia Yuknavitch, Michael Ondaatje, Francine j. Harris, Laura M. Kaminski, Rainer Maria Rilke, Michael Echeruo, and the list continue.
At the time when I was without books, providence connected me with Gimba Kakanda, whose house I kept visiting to read and discuss literature and eat; Paul Liam was around, too. Currently, I cherish the company of Shammah Nelson, Halima Aliyu, Saddiq Dzukogi, Linda Ashok, Okwudili Nebeolisa, TJ Benson, Amy Glynn, Kelly Thompson, and Nurdin Busari’s big bookstore, AMAB Bookshop.
And there is this poet I adore, Amrah Aliyu. Not only does her poetry excite me, she is a poet I believe the world must encounter. I think you should check her works out.
Do you think there are distinct differences between spoken word and performance poetry?
Water is water. Poetry is poetry.
Do you write other genres apart from poetry?
Oh, yes. I write creative nonfiction as well.
What do you think is the role of poetry in promoting human mind?
I’m quite wary of the notion of role always attached to poetry; poetry is not the only trade on earth. For living sake, there is swimming, too. Whether poetry or soccer, everything is promoting a tradition or two or more.
Ordinarily, the human mind is a road of rituals and experiences; so the trace of people’s perspectives in their practices becomes inevitable. Every practice carries a bulk of perceptions and traditions. Now you can imagine how many customs we inherit and pass on.
For people who see poetry as meditation, meditation is embedded in their poetics; for those who see government as a medium of embezzlement, embezzlement becomes central to their pursuits. So there!
How often do you read poems by other poets?
I read every poetry book that comes my way. Every. I say this because, reading is the essential performance to be made by anybody who writes or learns from books; it is a form of interaction—not only is wisdom (and even entertainment) encountered, there is a chance to cross-examine ideas.
What does it feel like to be on stage with your poem and having an audience listen to you?
I’ve read in many places, both in private and public; what strikes me is the willingness people exhibit—people are ready to connect to whatever poetry is to be offered. Forget the fabrication that poetry is dead, forget the fabrication that poetry is hard. Humans, at whatever level or age, are ready for grace and goodness and creativity, be it from the arts or any other endeavor.
My excitement to share poetry with or read to people centers on the trust these people put on the poetry that has to come. It is pure trust to wait for a poem to come, to touch you. Waiting for a poem is both surrender to and acceptance of insights to be born. So I take it heartily when I am given space to read poetry to a child, to flowing water, the open air, or even to myself.
Poetry moves and stills the mind. Poetry has its ways of bringing silence and solace, and there you are lifted to where rainbows live.
What about a word for writers who may want to be as successful as yourself in poetry?
No two fingerprints are the same; so it will be chaotic to define or advise another person based on my perceptions. What we rather share is compassion. So I don’t believe in success or failure. One dangerous implication of the success-and-failure sermon, as I’ve seen, is that it fuels the impression that some people are superior to others, the impression that some people are not important; this creates a culture of envy and jealousy, with bitterness and theft and killing as results.
My understanding is that humanity must keep creating the wonders that she wants to live with now and in time to come. While I making poetry in my little corner, a boy is cooking foods that will satisfy and nourish people, a woman is crafting some machines and airplanes, another woman is saving the ecosystem, a man is designing dresses, some others are playing beautiful songs for everyone, and so on.
We are hugging and helping ourselves, sharing kindnesses. This then, we live as free as birds and as flexible as water, smiling and going on. The word here is unity: the world is for all of us: poets, singers, architects, nurses, chefs, athletes, engineers, drivers, plumbers, politicians, painters, lawyers, all of us.
What are you working on now?
I am working seriously on my debut poetry book.