My Writing Philosophy

Why I write how I write

Some years ago, I fell in love with poetry. Not long after, I sadly realised many people do not share this love for poetry. It was even more startling, discovering that a lot of such people were already avid readers. Poetry to them, is often like a restaurant menu item — the one you wrinkle your nose at and skip with your finger as you run it across the page.

Soon, I found a very simple reason for this ‘hatred’ of poetry. These people often find it ostentatious, intimidating, boring, and obscure. This rings truer especially when they struggle to understand or enjoy what is conventionally considered as brilliant poetry.

In 2015, visual artists; Sara Goldschmied and Eleonora Chiari had an exhibition at the Meseion in Bolzano, Italy. It was called ‘Where Shall We Go Dancing Tonight?’. The exhibition later became news. After the event, the museum cleaners went in and got rid of the entire ‘work of art’— but considering the context, I’m sure most people wouldn’t blame the cleaners for throwing the installation away.

What’s the average person’s first, second or even tenth impression, on sighting scattered empty wine bottles and strewn party decorations after an event? It isn’t “Oh! What a beautiful art installation; a recreation of a party aftermath”. Yet, this was expected of the unassuming cleaners.

It wasn’t the first time a cleaner in an art gallery had honestly concluded an installation was rubbish, literally. In 2001, Damien Hirst’s ‘art installation’; a full ash tray, used coffee cup, and empty bottles in a West London gallery was thrown away. Sara and Eleonora weren’t the first to have their art identified as rubbish. They won’t be the last.

“Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.”

–Adrian Mitchell–

To people who ‘hate’ poetry, it’s sometimes like modern art. An ‘expert’ tells you what you have before you is a profound and insightful piece of artistic expression. Sometimes you see it, many times you just can’t— instead, you see an uninspiring blandness or an outright ubiquitous mess. So what do you do? You either bare your mind honestly or suppress your bewilderment—pretending the ‘emperor isn’t naked’.

These people (who ‘hate’ poetry) desire to appreciate and enjoy poetry but on their own terms. They want it to be readily relatable, to speak to them directly, simply, yet profoundly; not through an interpreter or critic, nor through navigating a tedious byzantine literary maze. These are the ones I write for.

The beauty of poetry shouldn’t be in how well the poet hides meaning between the lines. It should be in how easily he makes his readers discover them.  A poem does not have to be difficult to be profound; ‘simple’ and ‘profound’ are not mutually exclusive.

Poetry, like every other form of art is a means of communication and its consumption does not have to be a puzzle-solving chore. It should be a delightful stroll in a beautiful garden, alive with exotic literary flora and fauna. A garden of words in which each turn presents delights that tickle the mind and the eyes.

“Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators.”

– Albert Camus-

Poetry is like a message. The poet, a mere courier, and its glory, a successful delivery. The fanciful words, expressions, and pedantry a message is encased in are worthless if the message is lost. And if the message is lost, the messenger (poet) has failed. And if the messenger fails, the message is in vain.

The poems in my books are written clearly — without the strictures of conformity. They are written with a form and motive to portray poetry as enjoyable — especially to those people who consider poetry intimidating or boring.

I live in England but grew up in Nigeria and its influence is clearly noticeable in my writings. This however, doesn’t prevent non-Africans from enjoying or relating to the poems. As much as I can, I avoid writing on the clichéd themes of typical ‘African poetry’ — corruption, war, western exploitation, poverty, social justice, gender inequality, and others. This isn’t because such issues are unimportant, it’s because a lot already has been written and are still being written about them.

There is a need to balance the African narrative with the less ‘sensational’ experiences of simply being human beings. Every African poet cannot be an ‘angry angst-filled’ African poet.

While there is nothing wrong with being such a poet, it is counter-productive for the African narrative to be defined by its social and economic challenges. We need more poets that will tell more African stories of love and romance, humour, family values, social capital, and even the trivialities and whimsicalities of everyday experiences, observations and relationships. These are the reasons I write how I write.

-Tolu Akinyemi (Poetolu)