The poem is not the route to anything. It is the route. Endless. So a poem has to be written whether by word or by silence. And I want to be released from the obligations of definition. Somehow a poem must have its way with the poet or else it will grow bored with him/her. A poem demands full immersion; it shows us where to look.

How are they relating to your Nigerian-American poetry?, someone asked me the other week. Look around, go ask them, I answered. The hilarity of darker saddles. I don’t have to disown this harangue; this extrapolation. Or the soul-restorative puns that drive almost everything. The hour adheres to curvaceous stylization. To embroider words and lust loosely: this is the aesthetics of beached homages. But there is nothing I find as annoying as kissing up to the audience. The lines call to another. Does a poet make people a problem to be solved?

My older self farting around my younger self. The uncalibrated tones of despair and delight. To avoid bewilderment is to avoid learning and living. It is not such a nice way to brandish the bloom of amber. After all, it does not seem out of place here to explore the coastlines of poems that are not deprived of travel. This may be the pivot point in the stirring of a stew as evidenced by this passage from Johannes Göransson’s Haute Surveillance:

With every close-up, every fold of skin, every infected ganglia, every contaminated abdomen, every segment, every misfit and in-and-out fit, every in-fit, every in and in and in fit, every drop of blood and every drop of semen every statue glowing every shard glowing, the soundtrack gets louder.

You can’t be creative if you’re not receptive. The questioning gestures of raising consciousness. These hideaways in roadblocks. Historians are once again on call asking about our roles in this era of stupidity. The etching bears witness, but I don’t believe that poetry gives you the right to cruelty. However, navigating a seismic continuum is worth it for its own sake. That’s another way of saying this: stay on the brink of sublimity and ardent subjectivity. Never far from bending a bar is a poem awaking to twinnings, to rapture and rapture’s limits. Breathers jump between rooms as in the lines of Yona Wallach’s poem titled “The Gaze Protected by the Imagination” (Translated by Linda Stern Zisquit):

The gaze is protected by the imagination.
And seeing art as an act
Protects all of life

The tongue is protected with pearls and gems
the finger is protected
with a ring
and the neck with a necklace
(like with amulet everything is protected-a man on
     a woman-
a bird on a nestling
in my turning over what will I protect,
one self-transformation,
while all this is covered with letters and numbers
emerging in the formation of powers).

Vigilance as assignment. Setting off the sirens of refusal. Can we transcend political tattoos and digital pokes? Fig-leafing reminds us of the necessity for opposition: the insurgency of nailing an expected target. I ease into the process; I want to see how deep rough drafts can go. These persuasive hard falls as hallmarks of coming of age?
Duplicity/False benevolence/Hegemonic latitude.
Colonization was not a situation
Africans created for themselves.
Quit dumping industrial wastes on my people.

I can’t claim to understand you, but I would very much like to. You needn’t show off your sycophancy. I may not be generous with my praises. This wooer is also a handwringer. Imply what you like, but my land bears other gifts. I am sure there are other ways to find them. Don’t concern yourself with the goals of pragmatic fickleness. I have reason to believe you are not afraid of delicate topics. The drought still left its mark. Poem: anti-totalitarian. Curves of faith: poem. That’s exactly where Margaret Gardner stood in Boston in 1967 distributing anti-war leaflets.

A live satellite feed of a garden’s expansion. Seeding your ideals; puzzling out a geography of pleasure. Fanning out, letting a solitary space find you. Not purity; strangeness is my springboard. The secret of a poem may be worth bothering with, but I am not particularly loyal to any single tradition in poetry/art. New idiosyncrasies abound because it is hard to ignore the shards of bashfulness in these assignations. It is important, for instance, to amplify your allure. A case of being swayed by the capsules of liberty inside a poem. Inner turmoil or a poet’s music or reinventions of wisdom are part of the amative mode we dare not neglect. The critic Albert Murray wrote: “Art comes out of play based on survival.”

Anyone who is vulnerable enough to become a poet—a practising poet—is going against the grain. Poetry is the main weapon I have against tyranny anywhere in the world. And poetry is magnetic; it pulls practically everything. Now I am left with the responsibility to entertain the hands on my beret. One more drink with a brazen copycat. Unzipped irritation; better pickings ceilingward. Hungering for the kindness of temptresses; swans of reality principle. And the simple disgust that scorches the Daily Specials. The voice in Fred Moten’s poem titled “njeeri wa thiong’o” from his book B Jenkins transmits the situation:

in the world to scream against

the invading encloser, always crossing
past return, an advent. We were here

before the sad absences. We are philosophical

contraband. Our braid flew off the

circle from inside like a pathogenic

bass line. The point of the counterband

was the other ones. Like the prophetess

Amanda Irving praying for the

lost ones, in protest, committing
thy body to the bass line, in

turning reading everything,

it gives me pleasure to ask that you
pray for me before we raise the broken city

to make another world

Someday you may not be dwarfed by these skyscrapers any longer. You may dismantle naturalism in an act of artistic emergency. Growing up in that scene you tried to play nice and failed. You weren’t deferential to those messages flying out of their eyeballs. Those weren’t caricatures of devastation and an era torn apart. As for creative thinking, it was mostly solo flight. AND THAT IS THE ROUTE IN THE GROOVE/GROVE.

It won’t be all nice and tidy. There’s gradual dissembling within empathy, compassion, and beauty as Will Alexander reminds us in his book The Stratospheric Canticles:

as if speaking
in irregular glossological green Dutch

a frenetic seminar on febricity
a reiteration of hendecasyllabic agitation & stinging
a ferocious vacillation
explosive as random “aggregational” nodes
mimed by a black consonantal dissection
its maximal priority
forked at “hypotactic inclusion”
with isochronous internal procedure
with ratios
with phonic penetralia by distortion
primed by anomalous “nuclear accent”
by a cadence composing syllables & compounds

In other words, although a poem is part of history, it also detaches itself from it sometimes. And the subjective truth-telling potentialities of a poem should not be discounted.

I see lots of my poems as intimate love letters. I am no longer furious at being misread in the heather. What my male and female sides do inside a poem is essential to its evolution. Also: an inquisitive craftsmanship that is neither afraid of time nor space. An aspect of a forward drive; a delectation of complexities. A signal for literary insurrection. Therefore, I am antisystem-mongering. I cherish poems that give new meaning to frenzy, excess, nihilism, without cutting ties to humanity.

A poet who is finished with anxiety is finished with poetry. Still, I acknowledge that working on a poem is a temporary gateway to psychic triumph. In track lights, I reject the role of poet as model citizen. Writing poems, I know that I am playing with my life. This is due to the fact that I am not avoiding the vulnerability the process entails. Candor is dangerous. And I do not give much importance to self-defense. I do not resist temptations very easily. Yet, I have not blown up the world.

I prefer my freedom to social status or social prestige. We were perceived through the eyes of the Empire and we rejected that vision and that scrutiny. I am not interested in valorizing the abject. Part of the role of a poet is to be unfashionable.

Sageberry, my latest collection of poems, shall appear in two volumes this year in Nigeria. The poems in the series show the new twists and turns in my work. I found countless ways to have fun on the pages of the book. Through passion, self-revelation, and intellection, this book’s artistry embraces more than my geographical location. Literary living is not a pose. My aspiration is to be a practical visionary.

And elsewhere: an appeal to a postlapsarian inclination. From one pisser to another: more disruption than phalanx. It can be said that part of what is vital in the writing of a poem is permissive rawness. You may want to detour from misconceptions and then backtrack into them. Why do some people make sacrifices to alienation? What about greens and bending shadows? Genuine poetry is sometimes threatening. I have never seen style in poetry as “this” replacing “that.” Nothing aids self-decimation faster than pessimism. My visage cannot help but defy repression. Likewise, the nexus of soft-grassed happenstance.

Originally Published: April 25th, 2017

Uche Nduka was born in Nigeria to a Christian family. Raised bilingual in Igbo and English, he earned his BA from the University of Nigeria and his MFA from Long Island University, Brooklyn. He left Nigeria in 1994 and settled in Germany after winning a fellowship from the Goethe Institute....