Interview with 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize Shortlisted Poet, Saddiq Dzukogi

SaddiqBrief Biography:

Saddiq Dzukogi studied at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. He has poems featured or forthcoming in literary publications such as: New Orleans Review, African American Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Juked, The Poetry Mail, Chiron Review, Vinyl Poetry, ELSEWHERE LIT’s anthology of contemporary African poetry, The Volta, Construction, Welter, among numerous others. He was a guest at the 2015 Writivism Festival in Uganda as well as at the Nigeria-Korea Poetry Feast in the same year. Saddiq is the Poetry Editor of the online journal, Expound and a three times a finalist in The Association of Nigerian Author’s Poetry Prize. Saddiq lives in Minna, Nigeria. He can be found @saddiqdzukogi.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you, in the first place, venture into poetry?

Saddiq Dzukogi: This of course wasn’t the plan, in fact I had said to my Dad as a young teenager that I would never write poetry. At that time, I was betrothed to short story writing. Until one day there was a power cut that stretched for more than a week or so. I re-counted it in the dairy mother gifted me. Wait, I hope it is ok to put it here:

”Nepa took light on Thursday

Brother Salisu left for Abuja on Thursday

Brother Salisu came back on Friday

Nepa didn’t come back on Friday”

 NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) is the defunct name of the Nigerian power company. Somehow my dad saw this lamentation. He called me to his room that night and teased me that I have either way fallen into the trap of the muse, and that I have produced my very first poem. I didn’t become a poet by accident, but the trigger transpired by accident. After years of bad power supply, I am here still writing the poems not because of that anymore but because only a corpse does not have a voice and I don’t want to be a corpse. Poetry affords me the right voice I need. I want to keep speaking to the world long after I cease to exist in this corporeal demesne, poetry promises that, it gives me the countenance of the universe, and I am constantly learning to master these meanings it allows me to stomach. Basically, it isn’t more than this. I have gained the senses that will not get missing in the complexity of silence, once I am no more.

Geosi Gyasi: Help me understand this: do you make a living from the poems you write?

Saddiq Dzukogi: Geosi this is amazingly mischievous. We all know that the poetry industry isn’t all that financially profitable, but it still pays in another currency, happiness and enlightenment, that is a sort of currency I get paid in. Poetry has opened up my body in such manner that I understand the world better, because the world is sitting inside my mind and it gives me the meaning of all things, the metaphor for all things, for which I am now a poet who understands the rhymes and lines of this world. But let me be more direct to this question. All the good things that have come to me is because of poetry, my partner Mirah fell in love with me, because of the poems, so, by extension, poetry gave me my two lovely children, Bahra and Rayhan. The largest some of fund that has ever sat in my bank account is because of poetry. My first job, was because of poetry. So yes, Geosi, I make a living from the poems, whether they pay me by cash or by kindness both of which are currencies that carry me on, through life. There has been abundance of kindness that have arrived at my doorsteps in the name of the poems. Poetry doesn’t pay, but it has found a way to be paying me… hahaha!

Geosi Gyasi: How did you become part of the Expound family, serving as their poetry editor?

Saddiq Dzukogi: Expound is now my child, our child. The Founder and Managing Editor, Wale Owoade called me one night over a long telephone conversation. He wanted me to serve as poetry editor, I accepted. It’s been a wonderful experience and a sort of learning curve. Today, Expound is part of the Nigerian literary conversation, it is part of African literary conversation that have published and collaborated with so many wonderful writers and folks. We are proud of the child we are nurturing.

All the good things that have come to me is because of poetry, my partner Mirah fell in love with me, because of the poems, so, by extension, poetry gave me my two lovely children, Bahra and Rayhan. The largest some of fund that has ever sat in my bank account is because of poetry. My first job, was because of poetry.

Geosi Gyasi: Does one need any qualification to become a poetry editor of any literary magazine?

Saddiq Dzukogi: Basically I think the only thing is that you must be a lover of poetry with the eyes for poems. I just trust what appeals to me and hope our audience will also recognize the beauty that I have identify so that when a work is finally published, the editors, contributors and readers would all be happy. You do not need a certificate for that, you do not even need to go to a school for that and certainly, you must not even need to be a good poet yourself. What you need is eyes for the poems, the ones that rips apart the skin of readers reaching beyond their bones to touch souls, feeding them new understanding.

Geosi Gyasi: Having written and published a number of poems, what sort of technique did you use to select the ten poems for the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize?

 Saddiq Dzukogi: I am a very spontaneous person, what I did was open my manuscript and trusting ten poems that frightened me. I did not pay special attention to the selection because the poems where already trying to form as a book, so it was easy to assume they could work together.

Geosi Gyasi: You have a unique way of beginning your poems. For instance, in “When the clock said”, you began with,” the day drops its golden statue between us…”. How important is the beginning of a poem to you?

Saddiq Dzukogi: I believe in first impressions. Though I do not make a conscious effort to instigate each poem with a sort of uniqueness. However, I take the beginning of a poem to be a doorway into the poem and not a shut door that stops your entrance at the very initial stage of interaction. Every part of a poem should work in such a way that it wishes to fulfil the objective of the whole. The beginning needs to be a good first step if not, you who have lost your first step may find it hard to recover. It is better for the poem to fail at the middle or at the end, than for it to do so, at the beginning.

Geosi Gyasi: You narrated a touching story on your Facebook wall about how fellow poet, David Ishaya Osu, greatly helped you in entering your poems in this year’s Brunel International African Poetry Prize. Could you recount the full story here?

Saddiq Dzukogi: Yes, I could. This is the post you are referencing: I really do not know what to make of this news. I do not understand the feeling; it is new to me. But you are right, it feels damn good. I feel so lucky to be in the midst of my heroes, friends and siblings.

I recollect that I called David an hour to the deadline and announced to him of my inability to enter for the Prize due to a horrible internet network, Glo picked the wrong day to mess me up. David asked what about my MTN line, he said I should subscribe an internet package and send in my entry. I walked the breadth of Mando, that night and there wasn’t any vendor available. I called David back, and he said “you must enter”. He went out into the Abuja night and got me a recharge card. I loaded it, subscribed to a Data Plan. I submitted my entry exactly five minutes to the deadline, exactly 11:55PM.

Why am I telling you this, because I want to say a special thank you to David, thank you, I love you!!!

Thanks for all the sweet emails and Facebook inbox notes and calls, I feel loved, and thank you to all of you, I really feel loved.

It was really a terrible feeling when I thought I was going to lose the opportunity to enter for the Prize as we have all agreed to. We normally make sure everyone enters for any great opportunity out there, the circle of the new generation of Nigerian poets, so when it became clear I might be unable to do so, enter for the Prize, first because of power cut and secondly because of poor internet. I notified Wale Owoade and David Ishaya; they were both trying to find solutions. Eventually, David came through.

Geosi Gyasi: Is the situation of electricity supply that bad in Nigeria?

Saddiq Dzukogi: The electricity situation is still terrible. We often write using candle light at night when there isn’t power to charge up our computers. This is not ok, but it is fine, because we still produce the poems, ‘’pain is a raw material for art’’, so I try to harness all the depravities to my advantage and work the poems with whatever the environment affords.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you expecting to win this year’s Brunel International African Poetry Prize?

Saddiq Dzukogi: *laughs profusely* I am a winner already, everyone on the shortlist is winner already. I am just trying to relish the moment, that’s all.

Geosi Gyasi: How useful is your study in Mass Communication to your literary career?

Saddiq Dzukogi: I think my literary career is useful to my study of Mass Communication, not the other way round. Each time I am going on air, I read poems to prepare my voice and relax my nerves.

We often write using candle light at night when there isn’t power to charge up our computers. This is not ok, but it is fine, because we still produce the poems, ‘’pain is a raw material for art’’, so I try to harness all the depravities to my advantage and work the poems with whatever the environment affords.

Geosi Gyasi: Which ONE writer/poet do you look up to? 

Saddiq Dzukogi: I look up to the various moods of nature. But yes, I also love the work Ladan Osman is doing.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you introduce to the world, all about Minna, the place you live and write from? 

Saddiq Dzukogi: Minna is a bed-nest of poets and writers. It is quiet and opens up a person’s third eye. Minna is a place that does not care whether you are Hausa or Yoruba or Igbo, we have somehow learnt to live peacefully as one Nigerian, this is a thing that have proven so difficult for other parts of Nigeria. There is a reach literary tradition there and a sort of Mentorship Scheme championed by a group of volunteers at the Hilltopart Foundation, mentoring secondary school students in various forms of creative expression. I came to be through that mentorship scheme as a mentee, and right now I am trying to give back as a mentor, from the little blessings I have gained thus far, in this creative struggle. Minna is a wonderful place to be for the creative. Geosi, you should visit, anytime you are in Nigeria.

END.

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