Friday, 17 November 2017


Congratulations for being the latest NLNG Laureate. Now tell me about the award-winning book

The book, The Heresiad, is an epic. It is in an adaptation of heroic couplets I call lyrical pentameters.

I also call it operatic poetry because it is primed for adoption or adaptation for the operatic stage considering its being also a musical and dramatic work.

It is also a song, a long art song in fact:  every of its lines can be sung and set to music as some are in the current publication.

Divided into four cantos, I also consider it a literary symphony in four movements. In the poem, Reason intervenes to save an author condemned to death for writing a book, accused of heresy by the powerful religious figure who condemns him.

And being therefore the hero of the story, the poem is subtitled Song of Reason. I coined the term “heresiad” from heresy, the offence of which the author is accused.

Did you ever think the book had the power to win this competition?

Yes. I was confident in the quality of my entry and believed the entry rule that the entries would be judged on the basis of merit. With both, I thought I had a very high chance of winning and was not surprised when I was announced winner. But I was also anxious given the subjectivity of literary taste and not knowing what the judges would prefer compared to the works of the other poets on the shortlist.

You were listed with two other poets, what do you think about their work?

Highly. So highly that I once read a work by one of them Tanure Ojaide’s “The Fate Vultures” in 1991 and responded same year with a poem entitled “Apologia”

The murderous eagle earns a worthy name.
The vulture eats the dead and dies in blame.

Good old patient vulture waiting:
Still waiting to feed from the hand of death.
The smirching of your name is not abating.
And none will sing your praise upon the earth.

The bloody eagle tears his murdered prey.
And he’s a “noble” bird.

And you – whose ration comes from death’s decay –
Are “infamous” and “weird.”

“He’s deemed the better who must hunt to eat,” 
You brood and wonder why,
“With talons dripping with another’s meat:
Earth’s monarch of the sky.”

“They call him worthy for his show of strength,
If strength is kill the weak,”
But will not reckon with your endless length
Of patience none can break.

How our minds oppress with prejudice!
How shallow when we judge!
And that you long to live with less of this:
Our unwarranted grudge!

How did you receive the news of the shortlist and how did you find out that you eventually won?
You broke the news of the shortlist to me. As for how I found out I won; I was at home, in my study, working and simultaneously monitoring feeds on social media when the news popped up on Facebook.

You have done a number of works. Please can you list them for me?
Where I was Born (2003), Salutes without Guns (2009), In the Wings of Waiting (2012), Song of Success (2013), The Lion and the Monkey (2014), The Tortoise and the Princess (2015), A Treasury of African Folktales (comp. and ed. 2016)

Many people think writers are queer and simple people, how true is this?
I think different writers tend to have different personality traits.

How do you feel about this award?
Delighted. Grateful. Humbled

How do you intend to spend the money?
Till I get it.

Any advice for other writers hoping to win this award?
I write “for the joy of it,” a la Seamus Heaney. I didn’t write to win the award and so do not know a winning formula for those who may wish to write to win it.

Last word for your readers?
Love what you do with all your heart. Put all you have in what you do. The result might surprise you – pleasantly

Ikeogu Oke’s poems, short fiction and other writings have been published in the United States, the United Kingdom, Nigeria and India since 1988 – in a variety of journals, anthologies and other publications. These include Unity Magazine, published by the Unity School of Christianity, Kansas City, Missouri; DISCOVERY, published in Braille by the John Milton Society for the Blind, New York; Prosopisia, ‘the official journal of A.R.A.W.LII…(Academy of raite*(s) And World Literati’, Ajmer, India; and Happiness: The Delight-Tree (2015), ‘An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry in honor of the International Day of Happiness’, published by the United Nations SRC Society of Writers, New York.
He has performed my poems at various fora in the United States, Nigeria and South Africa. He featured as a special performance-poet guest of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, during the 2014 Chinua Achebe Colloquium.
He was educated at the University of Calabar and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, graduating with a BA in English and Literary Studies and an MA in Literature respectively. He is the Founder and Founding Editor of the African Story Time Series, which seeks to revive interest in African folktales as a medium for the entertainment, education and edification of young people globally. In 2016 the Ford Foundation awarded his a grant to compile, edit and publish adaptations of African folktales under the series, resulting in the publication of the inaugural anthology in the series entitled A Treasury of African Folktales (Volume 1).
In 2010 Nadine Gordimer, the winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, selected Salutes without Guns (2009), Oke’s second collection of poems, as one of her two Books of the Year for The Times Literary Supplement (TLS), her other choice being Point Omega by Don DeLillo, and wrote of Oke in her comment published alongside the choices in the TLS: ‘Here is a writer who finds the metaphor for what has happened and continues, evolves, not often the way we want, in our lives in Africa and the world. He does so timelessly and tellingly, as perhaps only a poet can.’

No comments: