By Sam Akpe
Yes, it ends here. What an experience! Writers are extraordinary beings. Poets are more exceptional. In the melodious words Percy Bysshe Shelley, “a poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.”
Poets talk and write with inspirations from certain tangibles and intangibles—from within and without. Some read books and crack into tales. Others are animated by the serenity of nature—friendship, solitude, or silence.
Even a dream, a picture, a word, a simple phrase, an article or people, are sources of inspiration. Most often, people wake up from sleep with words that are insistent and persistent in their subconscious. Ask any writer, especially a poet.
For Uboho, it could be a song on the radio, watching a little child, feeling the grief of others, sharing in people’s joyful moments, injustice, strife, death, the sound of thunderstorm and nature’s elements.
Most times, it is a simple prayer that opens the floodgates of words for a stunning piece. Most writers learn to wait, to yield, and depend totally on the promptings of divine inspiration.
Some writers start off with blank pages before them. Yet, by divine inspiration, the pages get filled up; one after another, until they end up with surplus contents. Uboho belongs to that class.
She told me matter-of-fact: “My hope rises daily with an untamable spirit; with an uncommon resolve. This is the hope that holds me. It is my stronghold of wisdom and knowledge—my great confidence.”
She has been in a conference, writing poems while someone speaks from the podium. One day, she wrote a poem in the middle of a sermon in church, and during an evening with guests, interacting. She loves to create an oasis of solitude within her; unaffected by her surroundings.
Writing poems comes to Uboho effortlessly. She sometimes forgets herself when immersed in writing. Time ceases. The world waits. She could forget to eat. She is so committed and devoted to this passion that burns within her—a passion that consumes her energy and keeps her awake through the night.
A mother of four, she confesses: “there has never been any conflict in my roles as a mother. Women are multitaskers. This is a simple truth of the ability nature has graciously bestowed upon the female gender.”
Was this a difficult question—defining the genre of her poetry? “I honestly have never paused to ask myself this question. I can say my knowledge is limited in this.” Her poetry follows no set of rules. She flows freely; creates patterns unknowingly.”
She could hardly look at this reporter in the face beyond a few seconds; all through the period we chatted. Is she shy? “Yes” comes her shy response. I am not convinced. She explains. Naturally, she looks shy, reserved, and possibly withdrawn.
But that’s a mere façade. Behind that friendly look lurks an unthinkable strong will. Deep inside the poetic heart is a roaring strength of a determined soul; waiting to devour whoever takes her simple, innocent look for granted.
You look reserved, I asked again. “I guess most people feel that way, at least occasionally. Don’t they? I agree that I do feel self-conscious at times, partly because I’ve been told that my appearance or dressing attracts attention.
“I have been wrongly accused of smiling, of dressing to attract men, when such thoughts and intent never crossed my mind, even for a second. Whatever I wear seems to fit me.
“The seeming shy look is a means of protecting myself from unknowingly presenting a false image. But then, I realize that I cannot control people’s impression about who I am and how they choose to interpret my charm.
“The worst prison anyone can live in, is the fear of what someone thinks of them. I know that now, and I have peace. In the midst of people whose friendship I have come to trust, I simply let myself go.
“I can laugh, make and be at the receiving end of jokes, and exult in the wholeness of my identity knowing that I will not be unfairly and untruthfully judged. I guess I can be called an introvert. Authentic and uniquely me.”
Throughout our stay in the car park, I’m enchanted by her choice and command of words. Quite poetic; deep and deliberate. As I listen, I’m reminded of W. H. Auden’s word, that “a poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.”
Poets create words. Don’t quote me. You can quote Charles Baudelaire who once said that, “there exist only three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the soldier, the poet. To know, to kill, to create.” I asked how she developed her language power. Does it flow this way from every writer?
“When it comes to words, I feel empowered and excited by their power all at once. My reticence simply vanishes with words. I believe my prolonged years of enforced silence muzzled me. Now, I can express myself.
“I was told never to talk back or respond. I listened in silence and only acted as directed. I couldn’t air my views or express myself without the fear of disrespecting someone. This put a hesitancy in my speech, but created an avalanche once I started putting words down.
“For me, I can say that words save me. They awaken and enlighten my soul from dark despair. Words give me hope and strength. They give my name its true meaning. Words set me free!
“I believe that being able to finally speak out about my trauma, and my journey has given me the “blast” that you talk about. I have no reservations about using words to interpret the imaginations and the musings in my mind. I simply let go of the inbuilt pressure and it shoots high.”
From that simple question, she instantly composed a poem. I was stunned. I simply listened as she wrote it down for me. It is entitled: Today I Can Say
“You did not shut me up,
You built for me a pulpit.
Every time you silenced me,
New words were birthed inside.
I do not care about your motives –
Whether as a hunter or a scavenger.
Every time you caused me pain,
My destiny was reaping gain.”
Those lines simply burst forth from her without a hint. No, she was not writing about me. Inside those penetrating eyes, I could see her mind travelling back on a terrain only her imagination could reveal. I asked. She gave a hint; for my ears only.
“And I can say there is a past version of me that is so proud of how far I have come. I may not yet be where I want to be, but I am no longer the defeated person of yesterday. Defining who I am, is defining who I will never be again.”
I started this conversation by defining poets as mysterious writers. Their thoughts are hidden. They could be dangerous. They hide behind words to knock, slap and push.
The question is hanging. There is a pause. She is watching the flight path of a bird in the sky above us. The sight seems to captivate her. I’m seeing a bird. But she is seeing poetry in motion—the swerve and the tilt of its frame, the dip and the rise of its wings. It was beautiful!
The question is: are poets born or made? It is the last question. After what seems like never-ending-silence, she speaks: “Just yesterday, I had a discussion with my daughter on what I have taken for granted: the power of imagination and creativity.
“My mind’s eye is potent… I can visualize an outfit I want made, I can see the style, the colours and imagine how it drapes over my body. I can also picture how you would look in a tuxedo (smile).
“It is the same way with words. Sometimes, I see words whilst I sleep and in my subconscious state, I read them out. A glimpse of a word…can open up a floodgate of imagery in my mind. I do not know what this is called, or how I came about it.
When my daughter asked me to look up aphantasia, I was curious. I had asked her to picture me in her mind’s eye, imagine me in a red shirt and jeans. She laughed. “Mummy, I can’t even see your face.”
“She continued, ‘It’s fascinating and interesting to know about your imagination and how words can unravel several images in your mind. I can’t see faces, colors, shapes.’ She concluded. And before you ask, she’s not in any way bothered about it!
“Maybe this gift is innate. Maybe I was born with it, just like the bird I saw was created with the ability to fly in the sky. Don’t we also know a lot more people with an active and colourful imagination? Imagine the artists, painters, the musicians, architects, writers like you too.
“What if I am a repository of all that I was in a previous life; my subconscious, my soul, my spirit, infused into the words I speak? I guess that would make my story authentic and original. Straight from the origin, coming right from the source.”
As I listened, I could see beyond her words. There is her daughter, fascinated by her natural flow for words and rhymes. It is easy for Uboho to portray the sensory images she sees, the unending symphony; and also invite her readers to hear, see, touch, feel and taste same.
She doesn’t have to struggle much to find expression. It is effortless, and she has no problems articulating her thoughts. She may have been a science student, with a degree in microbiology; yet, here she is, comfortable in the niche wherein she has found herself.
As I end this piece today, I believe that poetry is a talent, innate; a skill that cannot be forced or forged. Just as people are blessed with natural inclinations and interests, I believe that you either have it in you, or you don’t.
For the poet, like Uboho (meaning Liberty), her power of perception and creativity is extraordinary; limitless and boundless. She has become an embodiment of those virtues. She walks about with them without creating ripples, except when she picks her pencil and opens her writing pad.
But that does not also absolve my belief, that training, constant practice, investing time, can fine-tune every skill and lift it to the heights of excellence. But I am convinced it will be easier for someone with passion for something, to excel in it far more than someone with no interest at all.
Uboho has the passion. She has that unquenchable drive. I believe with her that whether poets are born or made, it is the role of education to bring out their unique potentials and that peculiar flair for the good of humanity, and the continued prosperity of the mind through literature.
What a day this has been. What an encounter! I could write a book on it. Her latest book—yet to be published—is in the works. She has just sent me the synopsis. How do I end this piece? Let me end it here.
Sam Akpe is a Journalist, writes from Abuja