This interview was conducted in June 2020
“I’m largely a nomad, more fluent in the arts than anything else.”Shittu Fowora
Ayamba: Let’s get to know you.
Shittu Fowora: I’ll say I’m largely a nomad, more fluent in the arts than anything else. I’m fascinated by nature and the interstice of language; by everyday interaction of man and the elements of nature; by time and the latitudes it affords us. I’m part tech-junkie, part painter, an academic hobo. Just sprinkle knowledge on grass and you’ll find me grazing over it.
Ayamba: How did you start writing? Did you choose the path, or is it an innate skill?
Shittu Fowora: As mentioned earlier, I have an inordinate appetite for learning. Although I have always been science-oriented, experimental and interested in the lives of innovators, I found out early in life that the arts and artistry were enlivening and enlightening in ways that the pursuit of science didn’t offer.
I love painting, relish murals and hand-painted crafts. I am self-taught. I sculpted a lot in my teenage days, and took nature seriously. I got more invested in creative writing after some of my works got published in Japan, and some national dailies.
To answer your question, I will say I learnt to connect my innate skills with the things I was most passionate about.
Ayamba: Interesting. How does poetry come to you? Is it a well-thought out thing or does it come in form of a revelation?
Shittu Fowora: For me, there’s poetry everywhere – in geometry, imaginations, thoughts behind faces, mystery around leaves, across sceneries, landscapes, architecture and the likes. I grew up to the native lullabies and natal chants of my mother. It had layers of interesting messages woven through names and ancestry – the traditional Oriki. It comes to me from observation and paying attention to nature and social interactions.
Ayamba: Why poetry? I never knew you could paint or carve. Why haven’t we seen your art composition yet?
Shittu Fowora: The society we live in subsists in contradictions. You turn around daily to find annoying and logic-defying things. Oftentimes, annoyance is my muse. When everything in your toolbox is unable to offer you solace, you turn to other dimensions of reasoning –calligraphy, painting and quilling.
However, learning new things can be a lonely adventure. You absorb alone. You deepen your understanding in ways others may not be interested in. Consequently, you find yourself late at night, reading and laughing your ribs out or sketching and giggling in mischief; mapping your thoughts, knowing that you’re hiding a secret code between the lines; knowing that you’re hatching those lines as a way to ‘unforgetting’ series and sequence of events.
Why Poetry? It feels more fluent to me in the ways I can return to or carry around without being noticed.
If you carry a beautiful piece of painting, you may attract strange or furtive eyes. If you have beautiful verses in your head or heart or funny bone, only you will know. I mean no one would have a clue unless you put it out there.
But other forms of expression are so visible. The moment a pastel goes on the sheet, it becomes evident. The moment you pick the microphone to sing, you catch attention. Most times however, I love dwelling in the nooks of my imaginations.
And even when we decide to dwell in the secret of our imaginings, we must always understand the interconnectedness of the arts. That art feeds art. Music could inspire painting. Poetry could feed a short story. A beautiful shot may become the springboard for a novella. A stage play or recital may be inspired by a dance. I write because that’s how I think. I reduce my complex musings into some arithmetic of words.
Ayamba: You have been on several judging panels. What do you look out for when you are discharging such duties?
Shittu Fowora: Firstly, I feel honoured to evaluate creative pieces (and masterpieces if you like). I am always interested in otherness. Literary panels allow us to test ideas and broaden our scopes. Fiction should have powerful plots, discernible goal and conflict, characterisation, diction, setting, point of view and all that. Every story is unique, so, I evaluate them on their own merits. I love interesting phrasing and deployment of diction.
In poetry, I want to see words dance. I want to see how the form and style and narrative flow are captured in freshly minted poetic devices. I look out for the range of the work–that attentiveness to the secret life of words; how the writer punctuates and spells out his thoughts. Essentially, I scout for works that would stand through time with tenacity and purpose. So, insert originality, harmony of words and its relevance to the theme under consideration.
Ayamba: That’s quite interesting. What relationship do you keep with younger and upcoming writers?
Shittu Fowora: Thank you. I am always looking to learn. I love listening to young minds fledging in imaginative re-creation. I offer direction and support to those who come seeking. I also reach out to younger writers once in a while to mentor them, especially those ones who are less keen on fame and attention, but more interested in mastering the craft and honing their voices. I’ve held workshops, literary evenings, readings and offered editing assistance where need be. I also see a lot of rising artists struggle to strike a balance between improving their skills and making ends meet. It is good to allow for a steady source of income while one pursues his/her craft. You cannot write all day and not reward yourself or keep yourself going. A professional writer must understand how to balance passion for the arts, the need to keep afloat and proper use of their time.
Ayamba: True. Here we say man must not live by words alone. Lol. Now, which writers or poets do you think shaped the way you think and write your poems?
Shittu Fowora: This is a difficult one, because the list expands to fit the ideas I’m working on at a given time; from Homer to Virgil, William Blake to William B. Yeats, Philip Larkin, Walt Whitman and Robert Frost. I find poets of language most fascinating. In recent times, many have worn multiple badges as teachers, thinkers, and philosophers who also capture the essence of life beautifully. So we may have a few more like Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Rainer M. Rilke, Tanure Ojaide, Gertrude Stein, Michael Ondaatje, Masimba Musodza, Mazisi Kunene, Paulo Coelho, Tolu Akinyemi, Jason Silva, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Samuel Becket, Louise Gluck, Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sharon Olds, Wislawa Szymborska, Ocean Vuong, Desmond Kon, Tjawangwa Dema, Jenny Zhang, Ladan Osman, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Sarah Kay, Suheir Hammad among others.
Ayamba: Wow. This list is impressive. I’m familiar with Homer. He is one of the ancestors of poetry, writing and geography.
Shittu Fowora: You get it. As I’ve always been fascinated by people, places and geographies; he was very instrumental to some of my early exposures.
Ayamba: You have appeared in different blogs, magazines and anthologies. When the name Shittu Fowora is googled, a lot comes up. Why haven’t you released a collection yet?
Shittu Fowora: (Laughs) I get asked often. I’ve been on it for a while now. Expect something soon.
Ayamba: Okay. We’ll keep our fingers crossed. With all that the world is facing, could you drop a line of hope for our readers?
Shittu Fowora: The world has changed forever – maybe for the better. Our greatest asset remains our mind-set –do not fall under the gassy rhetoric of small thinkers. Introspect regularly. Make memories and be grateful for the gifts of nature.
Ayamba: How do you say ‘I love you’ in your language.
Shittu Fowora: In Yoruba we say: Mo nife re.
Ayamba: I know this. I have used it a couple of times. Lol. Thank you so much for your time.
Shittu Fowora: I appreciate you for reaching out to me. It is my pleasure.
Shittu Fowora, is a story-teller, writer and editor. His works have appeared or forthcoming in: Inlandia, John Hopkins University Library Network, Sibling Rivalry Press, Arc-24, Helen Literary Magazine, Interviewing the Caribbean (IC), Cha, Monkey Star Press, Oracle Fine Arts Review, and a few other places. He was on the long list for the Erbacce-Prize 2014 and a finalist for the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets 2016. Shittu is currently the Research Lead for a Pan African Broadcast station.