Grier Martin interviews poet Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Issue #50, on humanity and imagining what is possible.
“Ennui for Scenes Garnered While in Bed” presents a wide variety of images and ideas. Did this poem come to you all at once, or did you put it together slowly, over time? It reads like a stream of consciousness, but at the same time each line seems carefully placed. What was your writing process when crafting this poem?
The poem didn’t come all at once. It was a process. Day after day, my realities are shaped into lines. First, it was my eagerness to assess truths and life that I moved to explore the human in all of us. Are we human enough? And this is evident as I started the poem with “are all of us birds enough?” You see, I feel imprisoned by my conscience when I see things destroying humans and don’t say a thing about it. My country for example fails in many ways to respect human lives and rights. And these things reflect in my works. Waking up in my country is a survival. Living in it is like an imagined hell. So my poems tell about these things and beg for change and betterment. My poems help me re-imagine what’s possible— to rebuild a world that doesn’t just replicate my realities, but asks for developments and innovations. My poems want a better place, a better country and better lives.
In “i wrote this poem while listening to Akon’s Sorry blame it on me and on seeing a notification from my phone about war and deaths,” the constant phone updates demonstrate how information is readily available at our fingertips, even during catastrophes. Do you feel that some of humanity’s downfalls are due to the rise in technology – that we have become fixated on our little computers telling us what is happening in the world? When all it really takes is looking around and relying on our own instincts? Do you feel that the constant flow of information on phones and computers has affected your writing, and if so, how?
I don’t totally feel that some of humanity’s downfalls are due to the rise in technology. Actually, information brings us closer. The peoples of the world are seas apart. We become one and connected via the information made available by technology. The poem actually does two things: awareness and selfishness. By awareness, Twitter brought to notice that a place was burning down, that its country was doing nothing about. By selfishness, which can also go as misuse, people show images of the place burning down via technology as if they were asking for help. But what they were actually doing was asking for more followers and more traffic.
The line “nobody says a thing/ just retweets for traffic” suggests the silence of humankind when we have the ability to speak up or take action. Do you feel that people could be doing more to effect change in the world? And do you feel like writing and sharing poetry can be part of that change?
Yes, I feel that people who have the abilities and resources can do more to effect change in the world. I feel that people should stop stealing and siphoning the resources produced by people who want the world to be better: the Ministers and Governors in my country commit this crime a lot. I feel that writing and sharing poetry is part of that change for betterment of the world. I find the human nature, conditions, solace, inspiration can uplift in the shared beauty of poetry.
In “The Things We Are Not Allowed to Raise” you talk about yourself as a writer, stating “[t]his is the first poem I have written in months.” This is an interesting choice, and I think it is all the more effective because your thoughts about writing do not take over the poem. You make a statement about writing and ask “if it matters” in the middle of the poem, and these thoughts exist alongside memories of your father, images of the moon and the river near your village, and ruminations on loneliness. Do you feel that, in writing this poem, you answered your question about whether writing matters? Or, did it give you a better perspective on how your writing fits into the rest of your life?
In the poem, it was obvious that writing matters and gives me a better perspective on how writing fits into my life. I’m fascinated with the notion of past lives in connection with the present: personalizing memories, borders, nature, place, tears, sexual violence, abandonment and trauma. My artistic aptitudes have come in the form of using these thematic tropes to challenge the political and socio-political issues inherent in my immediate society. And this is what that particular poem has achieved.
“Mother Thinks I Do Not Remember Her” is a wonderful dedication poem filled with memories triggered by specific events. Was this a challenging poem to write? Was it helpful or healing to write it?
The poem was written after I stayed away from my mother and home for months. It was during my 2015 National Youth Service Year. During conversations over the phone, I could tell how much my mother missed me and wanted me to call often. And because I didn’t want to forget, I documented that year as a poem. The poem wasn’t challenging to write. In fact, it was already there and I wrote it down.
Can you give us a taste or an idea of what you are currently working on? What are your goals for future writings?
Actually, I have two manuscripts ready and don’t know exactly how to get them published. I have sent them out to agents, and yet to hear from them. I’m taking my time, I guess, because I want better homes for them. At the moment, I’m working on a third poetry collection and getting my short stories edited. My goal is to have a better world and that my writings contribute to it.