By Sam Akpe
Looking back, this was supposed to be a mere interaction. My initial mission was to simply chat up the poet, and be informed about who I was reading. But before we could go far, an instinct prompted me to make sense of her responses —a revealingly friendly chat.
From the very deep questions already discussed, I asked her what should have been the initial question. When did you start to write? When did the interest in writing emerge?
She looks at me straight in the eyes, lifts her face, and within a split second seems to have suddenly recalled.
Her response: “From youth, quite early in life, I found myself fascinated with words. My parents instilled and nurtured in me the need to read —guided teaching.
“I loved reading the newspapers in my father’s office. I loved the excitement of waiting for the crossword puzzle on the back page of the Vanguard newspaper. I lived in pleasant expectation for the weekend visits to the library”
It was another way of saying that the passion for writing came along with her interest in reading. She was always scribbling. She had papers littered around her space: the little bedside table, stuck in between pages of her textbooks, and inside her school uniform pockets.
In her words, “In High School, I did what most teenagers did —I wrote love notes, expressed self, poured out emotions. I could look at an object, a piece of clothing, a structure, and weave a storyline about it.
“I wrote about anything and everything. I lived in a world of imagination. I had good teachers. I wanted to learn.”
As was the fashion in those days, Uboho loved novels —Mills and Boons, James Hardley Chase, Agatha Christie, The Pacesetters, John Grisham, etc. Intrigued by words and phonetics, she ventured into encyclopedias and dictionaries. The poet in her was being nurtured.
Here is the secret: “I attempted to write my own stories after reading novels. This jolted my thinking that I could one day venture to write a book. I had two exercise books transformed into my idea of poems —books that remained under my pillow no matter what.
“As with all things in life, this phase faded out of my mind when I entered the university. Writing had become only a hobby. I had no thought that it could take me anywhere in the life I had mapped out for myself.
“Of all the admired professions, no one would have listed “A Writer” amongst the first five. Everyone wanted to be a doctor, an engineer, a pilot, an architect, or a scientist. I wasn’t in any way different from the other children.”
As disclosed in the earlier parts of this discourse, she found herself drawn effortlessly into the literary world. What she has become today did not come without challenges.
With excellent weave of hair-raising metaphors and complicated imageries, Uboho is walking me through the short corridors of her life. She speaks as a poet —hiding a lot behind choice words. I refuse to pursue further, because she is making it sound like there is a privacy that must not be advertised.
Her words: “My journey of discovery that I could put down in words has helped me in life. It became magnified after I was trapped in silence for years in a relationship that made me question my existence —who I was.
“Writing was a buried gift I unearthed, long interred under the vicissitudes and challenges of becoming a wife and a mother. It was most difficult, at the time to believe in myself, my abilities, or my worth.”
“Writing forced me to put myself under scrutiny. Sharing my writings seemed to me as if a microscope was trained on my life like a specimen in the laboratory. Would people want to debate my motives? Would they judge and find me wanting, lacking in excellence?
“Writing came out of the void of enforced silence. It was like a fountain that burst forth from rusty, creaky pipes, after decades of abandonment. The flow was not confident. It came in spurts and wheezes, meandering through rattling pipes, shuddering, and stuttering in its feeble attempt at expression.
“The years had done its best. The challenges were quite peculiar to my circumstances. Now, all I had was the relentless urge to pour out my pain on paper.
“Writing was the vent opened to me from the dungeon of gross darkness. It was the beacon that called me back to harbour like a ship lost at sea. I welcomed the joy and tears that came with the remembrance. I did not think it was a pretty sight.
“All my vulnerabilities, I wrote them down. This was me —writing what I was too scared to say. No cloaks to hide beneath; no masks to hide behind; no fake smile to disguise my pain.”
I am deliberately in silence as she talks. Then I find myself asking, before what looks like tears start to fall. Advise someone on how to overcome fears —using yourself as an example. I’m seeing a smile, as she opened up again.
“You come to terms that you have lost it all, everything that matters, except this gift of writing. That’s all you have left. It is your one chance of redemption—to make something out of yourself. You say to yourself: “If I perish, I perish.”
“And so, I comforted myself with the logic that we can only hear the stories when it is told, and when it is read. I told myself, ‘Uboho, be courageous enough to say: I can begin again. Be bold enough to say: I will never give up.
“This second opportunity that life bestows makes me deaf to doubts, and blind to fears. It is this attitude that enables me respond to criticisms from people who do not connect with my writings in a healthy way.
“I absolve them of all responsibility and burden, just as I am open to constructive criticisms and feedbacks. They do not have to applaud, or understand my story.”
So, like a plant brought out from the shade, under the brightness of light, she started to bloom. People read what she wrote and were impressed. She even wrote birthday poems for her friends. They got excited.
But then, “The damage to my psyche had taken a huge chunk out of my confidence. It is hard to believe when you have been repeatedly told you have no substance in your brain.
“It is difficult to find hope when it has been crushed for so long. It is even more traumatic when you think you have missed out on all the opportunities life could have given you to become someone.
“There I was, having been told that I couldn’t be anything other than a common housewife. There I was, age not on my side, watching young people accomplish great things, set up businesses, and make money of their own.
“These people, my small audience on social media, helped restore my self-esteem and worth with their edifying words. I was no longer under the perpetual influence of someone who diminished and reduced me to nothingness.
“My writing —I have come to realize, and accept, is not really for everyone. It is for me —first of all. It is a passion flowing from my heart. It may wash over some people, by igniting a chord.
“It may flow over others —striking a rhythm. It may just glide by others, with no impact. But the most important aspect is that writing healed me. It may heal another hurting soul, somewhere, I hope.
“I have overcome my fears, because I found a way to prevail. I have overcome my hesitations in thinking about who my story might hurt, or call to question their actions. I have overcome, knowing that if I had given up, I would have had no story to tell today.
“I have overcome, seeing how it resonates with some people. I love the occasional compliments. I love knowing that I can serve people with this gift. Most importantly, I am mindful that it is all for God’s glory —as I serve humanity.
Enough of the tear-generating recount. How does it feel to be a poet? She did not disappoint. Her response rhymes with my belief. Here she goes again!
“I count myself really blessed to be one of the people who can think, be able to express their thoughts and feelings in words. Perhaps my empathetic nature calls me to deeply connect, intuitively to people and situations around my environment.
“The poet attempts to accomplish through the words of verse what the painter intends with color in a work of art, or a fashion designer through a piece of fabric.
“Poets are wordsmiths, always trying to pack in as much meaning as possible with every word they use in a poem. Being a poet is like being placed on the path of the rising sun.
“It sheds light on the vulnerabilities we are so desperate to keep hidden, out of view of a society who we imagine not so kind or lenient with our failures, our delays, our mistakes, and the things that limit us.
“I feel energies, I feel rhythms, I feel nuances. Sometimes, the depth of feeling makes me shed tears, or propels me into awe and wonder. Poetry pulls me into the very vortex of emotions. It enables me to express myself better and deeper in compelling urgency.
“Words excite me. A simple word or phrase can conjure up several images in my mind. My imagination is actively connected, attuned, and synced to the play of words – to nature, to people, to feelings and emotions. I do not only see injustices, but I also feel them. I am immersed in the rushing flow of life.
“Being a poet means I have a voice, and I cannot be silenced. It means I can speak my truth and own my story. It means I can speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
“Being a poet confers on me the strength and power to rewrite my past and recreate new chapters for my future. Being a poet is what makes me want to lift people higher than they could lift themselves.
“Being a poet makes me want to make people see better, have a loftier view of issues, have the veil removed. It makes me want to uncover the darkness that weighs heavily on the psyche of the hopeless and the voiceless.
“Poetry empowers me to look at the failed social services in our nation and see them for what they are —an assault on our collective conscience as citizens.
“Being a poet has taught me that perseverance is not just a choice, it is a way of life —that one day, soon, I will tell my story about how I overcame what I went through, and it will become someone else’s survival guide.
“Being a poet keeps me humbled. There is so much excellence in published works of great poets that I find myself falling short of such brilliance. I stay teachable, humble.” This conversation ends tomorrow.
Akpe, a communication consultant, lives in Abuja