Saturday, October 03, 2009

13 Questions with Henry Ajumeze, a Nigerian Poet

Henry Ajumeze is a Nigerian poet and a proud citizen of Anioma. He was born in he Delta State of Nigeria and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Arts from the University of Calabar. His poems have been published in art pages of most Nigerian newspapers and international literary journals and in anthologies such as 'For Ken, For Nigeria', an anthology that was edited by award-winning novelist E.C. Osondu.  Last month his collection of poetry titled Dimples on the Sand was published and has been reviewed on this blog.

Can you tell us something about yourself; your background both in literature and out of it...where you went to school and all that?
I was born in Ibusa, a town in Anioma region in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. I am enamoured of the history of my ancestors who fought the British and Royal Niger Company in the Ekumeku war for over 12 years. I am impelled to celebrate my ancestors, their chivalry in the Ekumeku Movement, my land--from the farm groove of Ngbotupke where I was born during the Biafran war to the cadence of Oboshi and the River Niger--in the face of our current marginalisation and injustice in the Nigerian State. This poetic bonding with my land has little to do with my study as a dramatist. It has everything to do with my Aniomaness--please let me use that word, the unique and deft manifestation of my people and our culture which I seek to celebrate. The Aniomas speak Igbo but with mellifluous dialect. It is Igbo language with rhythm. No wonder it has produced great griots and singers like Ugbogu Okonji, Nwalama, Agility and many others.

Are any of your parents in the literary circles or in an employment remotely related to what you are presently doing?
My late father was a flutist and oral performer. He was involved in all forms of 'griotry' with his akpele in oral performances like Okanga, Ogbu and other Anioma indigenous oratories. My father played Akpele with so much finesse, so much dexterity and passion that I regret my inability to receive that art. So I only console myself to say that my poetry is like adding written words to his repertoire.

Do you write any other genre in addition to poetry? Any publication (electronic or hardcopy) apart from your book 'Dimples on the Sand'?
I also write plays and have unpublished manuscripts which have been staged at some points. My poems first appeared in For ken For Nigeria, an anthology of contemporary Nigeria writing edited by E. C. Osondu, winner of the 2009 Caine Prize for African writing. I have also been published in Potomac, Journal of Poetry and Politics; Ibhuku, South Africa Literature News; Outsiders writers Collective and

Your poems sound serious (if there is anything like sounding serious), are very political, yet there are a lot of humour in them. Do you set out do write this way?
I think the humour in me subconsciously creeps into my writing. It is nothing deliberate. Otherwise I think I take my writing seriously on the things I feel strongly about. The humour element may be no more than a satire fortuitously injected through my creative process.
What do you intend to achieve with your poetry or writings? Do you intend to cause a revolution, change society's psyche, inform society, admonish people (including presidents), or just state your opinion?
While some of my poems are driven by a desire and urge to pen down my emotions, I seek mostly to preserve our time-threatened folklores, proverbs, fables, chants and other ritual arts of my Anioma ethnicity. If this can bring about the much sought after revolution, I would be glad.

Literary writers have always had bad encounters with politicians. It happened to Soyinka and then to the late Ken Saro-Wiwa and Fela Kuti. What is the problem here and do you foresee a time when this tension or enmity would cease?
From the context of your question, and indeed generally speaking, our country has had a very unfair share of military government. We have also blazed the trail in transiting past military dictators into democracies. For the biggest nation in Africa, this is ugly, and can only incubate literature of agitation. And like Soyinka himself asserted, the man died in him who keeps silent in the face of oppression.

As I read your book I realised a whole part of the book is dedicated to Ken Saro-Wiwa (that's my observation, anyway), any ties? Why this?
I am greatly inspired by the works of Ken Saro-Wiwa, his poetry and his drama, more so the punching satire replete in his writing. After his execution by the government of General Sanni Abacha, I felt honoured to be part of the poets whose works were published in an anthology planned and edited by E C Osondu in his memory. That was when I wrote those poems.

'Dance softly, Baba' is one poem that cracked my spine, what inspired you to write? In general, what inspires you to write?
"Dance softly, Baba" came about during the third-term imbroglio of General Obansanjo’s administration in my country. It is a harmless advice to a power-possessed president.

I find you prominently in your poems. Is it because the poems are about you or is it because you identify yourself with the people you write about?
Indeed I have ‘stolen’ extensively from my life to feed my literature. And with regard to my Anioma works, there is a symbiotic relationship between my work and my land, in which I am equally a persona, not over-looking, as you have observed the bonding between me and my land. Yes, I am in most of my poems, and I also think it will be wrong to assume so at all times.

Which books did you read whilst growing up and even as an adult, and which are your favourite (if there is any) or have influenced your writings?
I have just mentioned Ken Saro-Wiwa, others are Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, Niyi Osundare, too many writers of that generation have shaped and defined my writing. While growing up I enjoyed reading the metaphysical poets, and today I celebrate fine writers of my generation that my country has produced like Nduka Otiono, Chiedu Ezeanah, Ogaga Ifowodo, Remi Raji, Esiaba Irobi, Olu Oguibe etc. These people inspire me a lot.

Nigeria has a lot of writers: Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, Imomotime Okara, Niyi Osundare, Buchi Emecheta, Ben Okri, Chimamanda Adichie and many others...why do you think this is so and do you see the trend changing? In effect what is your view on the literary arts in Nigeria?
We are also a very large and great country and writers have fraternized in various literary clubs in the past like Mbari to enhance the development and growth of literature. Unfortunately, such inclinations are non-existent and we are witnessing these days a dearth of challenging literature. I believe arguably, in some quarters, people are still waiting for the next Achebe or Okigbo. There are no publishers willing to forage into a fast-declining reading culture perhaps, so writers are compelled to print their books. The so-called publishers are no more than printing contractors. It’s as bad as that…

Are you working on any new project that we should be aware of?
Presently I am promoting Dimples on the Sand.

Your last word to the literary world
Last word? This is just the beginning!

Thank you Mr. Ajumeze and I hope we would hear from you soon.
Thank you too, Nana

Please take a second to vote for your favourite book of the quarter.


  1. Great job Nana. Keep up the good work.

  2. thanks Ed...just trying to do something for mother Africa...


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