Brief Biography: Peter Akinlabi was born in Ogbomoso, Western Nigeria. He holds a BA and MA in English and Literary Studies respectively from the universities of Ibadan and Ilorin, Nigeria. His poems have appeared online in Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Sentinel Quarterly, Lit.Mag. of Nigerianstalk.org and Sentinel Nigeria. HIs poem, To a Poet Activist, was runner up in the 2001 Okigbo Poetry Prize, University of Ibadan and in 2009, his poem, Moving, won the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition. Peter Akinlabi lives and works in the city of Ilorin, Nigeria.
Geosi Reads: Let me start with this odd question. Do you have any unfinished poems you look at sporadically?
Akinlabi Peter: Yea: a whole lot of them. In a sense, all poems I have ever written, until they finally appear in a book, are still work-in-progress.
Geosi Reads: Does your poems get completed at a snail’s pace or at full tilt?
Akinlabi Peter: O, I am a snailman in the sense that I really never finish writing a poem; I keep chipping off or adding new elements – syntactic or line realignments , a lot of sculptural reviewing, until the poem is out, after which I become sad again in dissatisfaction
Geosi Reads: Would you say poetry brought you to the limelight as a writer?
Akinlabi Peter: Surely. That’s how you knew me for instance. That’s only thing I do to get some attention otherwise, I was just your regular John Doe.
Geosi Reads: How long are your poems? Have you ever attempted a very long poem?
Akinlabi Peter: I prefer relatively short poems. Long poems can be unwieldy as far as imagery compactness goes, you can easily lose sight of your trajectory in them. But I have written a number of long poems too.
Geosi Reads: Do you remember what your first poem was about?
Akinlabi Peter: Yes. About sunrise over a small river called Nana, which I had to ford daily to go to school.
Geosi Reads: In a country full of talented writers, how do you cope with the challenges of reaching out to readers in Nigeria?
Akinlabi Peter: No challenges of reaching out to readers at all now with this business of the internet and social networking. You just need to post a poem on your Facebook page.
Geosi Reads: What impact did being on the shortlist of the Brunel University African Poetry Prize bring to you?
Akinlabi Peter: More renown, I guess.
Geosi Reads: Do you travel to actual places to write your poems? I am actually thinking of Ouidah, one of your shortlisted poems.
Akinlabi Peter: Yea. I have been working on a series of poems that reflect on the mythologics of place. ‘Quidah’ is one of them. You also have ‘Ijaye’, ‘Oyo’, ‘Takoradi’ and so on. You really need to visit these places to be able to track down the order between map and its mythology.
Geosi Reads: ‘… that men caress like sadness’. That’s a beautiful way to end ‘A Walk on the Plateau’. What led you to write this poem?
Akinlabi Peter: Ah, the next time you see that poem anywhere, it would be titled ‘Barkin Ladi’. It is actually the first of the series that I mentioned just now. I wrote that poem during my service year in a small town called Barkin Ladi, a few kilometers from Jos, where I lived. It was a small, a little rustic, but a home to the Plateau State Airport. I lived in the premises of St. John Vianney junior seminary. But there’s something magical about the name of this town, about the scenery- the rocks, the slender trees and the artificial lakes abandoned by miners years before – and the social behavior, the unremarked actions that blurred a separation of individualities of men and matter… there was something here that enlivened a mythopoeic imagination. I am not sure if such magic could survive for long amidst the daily carnage in and around B-Ladin at present.
Geosi Reads: What kind of audience do you think of when you write?
Akinlabi Peter: Any reader really that enjoys my kind of poetry. You know there are different types, modes if you like, of poetry. I myself don’t enjoy certain kinds.
Geosi Reads: Does it sometimes occur to you to edit a poem you’ve published?
Akinlabi Peter: Yes, until they appear as officially published, all my poems are at the risk of whimsical redaction.
Geosi Reads: Which of your poems would you call a favourite and why?
Akinlabi Peter: Maybe the one you mentioned, that’s now called ‘Barkin Ladi’, simply because it’s my oldest surviving work and the longest suffering patient under my scalpel.