Adedayo Agarau

In Conversation With Adedayo Agarau, A Poet Who Tenderly Couples With Poignant Pasts On-Page

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Adedayo’s poetry is a continuous voyage into memory and the things that make up the fibre of his being. His poems, which are usually multilayered, do not inch far from grief and loss. He approaches his past headlong and makes reconciliation with them by recording them on-page. 

Yet, he does not get too consumed to lose cognizance of the present. He is aware of the systemic failures around him and he dedicates his words to the duty of interrogation and documentation so we do not forget “the ones that limp out of fire.” Agarau is the poet’s poet. 

Whether he is burying his grandmother, or writing an ode to his highly publicised love, his voice remains bold and sharp. And this is the same as when he assumes the Adhan role on social media where he emphasises the importance of community building as a stem for growth among Nigeria’s young poets. 

What does it mean to be a Nigerian Poet? 

The metaphors that make the Nigerian poet surreal well from their place of birth, their city of dwelling, the ones they love, the ones that do not love them, the ones that limp out of fire in Buni Yadi, the ones whose walls are burrowed by bullets. Everything here inspires you to begin, or end, or to stay right there in the static screeching of silence. On the 20th of October, we watched as the military unleashed mayhem on civilians. 

I always wonder about what a poet, who was right there surviving gunshots by an inch, would dream of. Here, we internalize our sufferings and joys. I am in love with someone. But there are writers who are not bold enough to express their love. There are people forbidden to love the way they want to in Nigeria. The Nigerian poet is an unsafe, vulnerable bird. We hide or appear in our poems. There is no overtelling in the work of the Nigerian poet, to be very honest. We are either under-telling the horror that is this small country, or not telling it at all. 

Your poetry borders around subjects like loss, boyhood, godhood and absence. What informs your interest in these themes?

I have answered this question and I am very glad to answer it again. Imagine this: a young boy was picked up from school by a family friend’s daughter. She was about 20 and he was 4. When they got home, she asked him to take off his uniform and led him into the bathroom. She would then turn on the shower, sit him in the tub and begin to kiss him. He was 4. It continued till his family moved out of the neighbourhood. At 17, I was still having dreams where I am calling myself out of the bathtub. 

When I was 11, my friend, Taofeek Oladiran died. He came visiting the evening before, and the next day he was not in school. The day after he was not in school. There were no words from his family. I marched with a couple of friends to his house and his mum met us at the door. She said Taofeek had left us. We thought he traveled. We never saw him again. We didn’t know what happened. 

My family converted from Islam. In both concepts, there is a central God who coordinated creation. I was really invested in the stories of creation as a child. I had questions but I used to stammer. I could barely express myself. I was shy and my esteem, dwarf. 

Everything, every single thing that I can remember and cannot, is what informs my themes. I’d love to write about places, about people, about skies and landscapes. But right now, I am still surviving and burying my past in poems. I am still burying my paternal grandparents. I am writing about my grandmother’s love and my grandfather’s music and photographs. It is aching, energy-sapping but it is what I have committed my life to.

Your book, The Origin of Name, published by the African Poetry Book Fund, is a contemplation of the naming tradition in your native Yoruba culture. How much influence does your background weigh over the kind of work you put on page? 

The Origin of Name is a collection of inquiries. I was very curious to see what my poetry thinks of these names, this concept, this tradition. It was more of a research work than it is a work about tradition. 

Yoruba culture is vast, rich and very detailed. There are gods, deities and there are forefathers. Each of these elements are enough to make up an entire lifework. But then, there are names which are identities, which bounds every of these elements. My aunty is an ibeji. For the Wellcome Foundation, I wrote a body of work in praise of the ibeji. I have witnessed the rites, I have read about Sango and been to one of the festivals. These experiences give my writing the kind of human angle that it needs, the detailing that brings the reader into an experience. I attempt to write poems that the reader can be a part of and I am hoping to get better at that. 

Somewhere on your web page, you have Rumi’s line: ‘When will you begin that long journey into yourself’ written. What does this ‘journey into the self’ mean to you? 

Pelumi, introspection is a tool accessible to everyone, even the poet. There is a portion of the bible that says the name of the lord is a strong tower. In juxtaposing the name, we will find that the name is also the body. And if the holy book argued that we are created in the likelihood of God, and that Christ/Lord and I are one, then it is safe to say that I can run into myself because I am a strong tower. I am my own safeplace, I am my lighthouse and each time I emerge, I bring forth fresh fruits and strength and stories. This is an overview. What I am saying is that I go into myself to bring back my own stories. There is nothing deeper than that. 

Elsewhere, you have said: “I intentionally drift towards capturing hearts and bringing them into a state with me.” Is this the motive of your poetry? 

Yes, like I said earlier, I attempt to bring my reader into the presence carried in my poetry. Each work of art is a mine, the reader should be allowed to find a portion of self in the delivery. 

You openly emphasize on the need for writers to find, or create their own community. What are the possibilities that associations like this can deliver to young poets? 

Young o, old o, emerging o, established o, we all need communities to thrive. If you cannot create a community, find one. Find friendship, build it. Stay in the light and in places where you are first loved as a person, then as an artist. The whole point is that while you figure out this hard art of vulnerability, there is someone who is holding you knowing you’d be there to hold them when they are falling too. 

Pelumi Salako

Pelumi Salako is a freelance journalist and writer interested in the intersection of arts and culture

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