Kukogho Iruesiri Samson: How Poetry Provided A Way Out

Kukogho Iruesiri Samson: Poetry Provided A Way Out

Kukogho Iruesiri Samson is a poet, editor, a multimedia journalist and the CEO of Words Rhymes & Rhythms (WRR), a publishing and educational institution based in Abuja, Lagos and Ibadan, Nigeria. He is the author of four (4) poetry collections namely, What Can Words Do, I Said These Words, Words of Eros, and We Who Sowed Hurt & Beaded Pains. He currently resides in Abuja, Nigeria.

I am happy to talk poetry with you, Kukogho. For a start, I’d like us to go into the history of Words Rhymes & Rhythms (WRR). You started this initiative on Facebook in 2012 as an idea to gather and inspire budding writers in Nigeria; right now WRR has grown into a bigger venture, into print publishing and a couple of literary services, plus you host festivals and run poetry workshops. It’s really a wonderful story. How has it been so far?

To be sincere, I never envisaged it to become what it is now, even though I intended from the beginning to make it an enduring venture. You know, at the time we started, not many people had recognized that social media platforms could be veritable platforms for literary interaction and development. I saw the potential and delved into it with contests, a WordPress blog and seemingly insignificant prizes. I happened to strike gold. You could say luck met purpose.

The success is easy to see and admire, but it has been an extremely tough journey. The most expensive capital is time and a lot of it has, justifiably, gone into making WRR what it is…and this is just the beginning.

Amazing, I must say. I’d also like us to talk about those untold stories—the struggles, those unique instances that amounted to disappointment and discouragement. Were you ever at a point where you felt like quitting?

I’ve been a fighter all my life and I apply that to everything I do. This has kept me through the years as I worked on this project. At the onset, I would stay awake most nights editing hundreds of poetry submissions and publishing them. Like I said earlier, the main cost has been time. Time that would have been spent on social activities has been invested into WRR.

And, yes, there have been points when I wanted to end it. Two main ones. There was a time when WRR became so strong a social movement that some sectors of the Nigerian literary space became jealous and raised some dust. But the biggest setbacks came in 2016 when the WRR websites were hacked. We lost four (4) years of content, more than four thousand (4000) poems and graphics. It cost more than a quarter of a million and six months of work to recover a substantial amount of those and get a new website. It has been worth it.

And you juggled writing your own poems and working several jobs as a multimedia journalist while setting up WRR. Would it be wrong to say, Jack of all trades and master of all? ‘Cause you’ve authored two (2) books and a new one is slated for next month or so.

Well, not really master of all, but Jack of many trades in a way. You see, I’ve never lived a life of privilege, so I grew up being self-sufficient, improvising and surviving on skills. This led me to pick up skills, since I could not afford to pay for them. Website design, graphics, social media leveraging, photography, writing…all these were skills garnered as I attempted to make headway in life, long before the WRR idea was born.

Tell me, what got you into poetry? What is a fascinating poem?

I started writing poetry because it was the shortest way to hide my emotions and yet satisfy my urge to talk about them. I had a lot of ‘demons’ and pains that I needed to let out, without undressing myself for public ridicule—poetry provided a way out. And, when people began to laud me for merely expressing myself, poetry became my opium.

For me, a fascinating poem is one that shows you a lot in as few words as possible, casually opinionates without being verbose while being pedestrian enough to interest an ordinary enthusiast. This is why my poetry relies more on images and meanings, rather than grammar.

There is this line in your second book I Said These Words that particularly strikes me, and I wish to take hold of your contemplations. The line says, “i am a lifeless penis.” What induced this line?

This is a masculine metaphor depicting a state of absolute powerlessness. I like images that are apt and undeniable. Imagine a limp penis when a man is about to make love—it takes him to the lowest depths of shame.

In the particular instance of the poem, the lifeless penis is used as an evidence of exhaustion, a state of being spent—a penis newly ejaculated. It tells of a man chaffed by life to surrender.

There is a particular interest your work sparks, especially with love and erossexual love. You new book centers on Eros. Do you ever worry of being in danger of misreading and confrontation especially as open sensuality is almost considered taboo in this part of the world?

I am a semi-non-conformist in many ways than one. I hate repressive social conventions and I am not afraid of being misconstrued for my literary offering. As an individual, I do not write contrary to my lifestyle and beliefs. Only a hypocrite does that. Sex is not a strange topic in our other rooms and private conversations. So why is it tabooed?

Again, I have taken extra care to make my sexual metaphors inoffensive and creative.

I asked you this question because I notice an irony or what some might term hypocrisy. I once had an erotica and I did a social experiment by keeping a copy of that book on my bed in the male dormitory back in school; in less than 24 hours, the book was missing which was my intention actually, so I can trace who and who did the stealing; it shocked me that the book had gone through many hands, boys found the book pleasing, I would guess. My question then was, so why do we dismiss our sexual desires or the creative expressions of this thing that is in all of us? Why?

You must have heard the phrase “sex sells”. This is absolutely true. You should see the traffic of websites with sexual content compared to those without. The truth is that people are hypocritical, and often just to be seen as conformist.

I have since realized that, sometimes, topics are tabooed, more for the manner of expression than for the mere fact of expressing them. So I express creatively.

I really love this poem of yours, ‘One with the sky’. It’s one I recite time to time.

“i am one

with the sky

sometimes it shines

sometimes it weeps

sometimes i smile

sometimes i cry

i am one

with the sky”

The poem comes as an all-encompassing portrait of life and living; it is sometimes good, other times hard.

That poem is a summary of the average life (my life most certainly). It is never an unpunctuated sentence of bliss. Life is punctuated like a sentence—commas, full stops, exclamation marks etc.

Back to WRR: the books and anthologies you publish, the annual festival which is now in its third edition, the monthly poetry awards, the annual Green Authors Prize for poets under the age of twenty-four (24), how do you fund all this?

My answer to this might sound corny, but the truth is that I just want to do more with my life than just exist. WRR started because I noticed that young writers (poets mainly) were not given opportunities in the literary space. Publishing in particular is like a pipe dream to many, who just want someone to appreciate their works. This birthed our multi-genre sharing platform. Again, young writers hardly get a chance to win the few literary prizes, so I started a few. You may want to note that the Green Author Prize is now for writers of all genre beginning with the 2017 edition which will publish 10 new authors.

The financial outlay for all the initiatives I run through WRR is well over a million naira annually and it is 95% self-funded, with no regrets.

My best cover and production from WRR is Orange Taste, and I should add that I love the new cover designs you’re bringing; in my opinion, this is a great departure from the dull covers of poetry books I’ve observed in Nigerian poetry. Kudos. Tell me, what informs your design decisions? Do you have any core ideas that underlie your covers and print generally?

As a publisher with an artistic background, I work with the conviction that the cover of a book is art, vocal. It should tell whoever picks it up a lot about the book itself. From a distance, I want the cover to say, ‘come get me’.  Simply put, our covers (and titles) are illustrative and interpretative.

Having worked with young Nigerian writers this closely, what is your testament to the current wave of poetry in Nigeria? A fellow publisher, Wale Owoade, said he believes “this generation of writers is the best Nigeria has ever had”. I see young folks breaking new grounds and reaching wider audiences against traditional setbacks of publishing and canonization. What is your testament?

Wale, a fine writer himself, is not wrong. This generation shames the generations past in terms of output, quality and diversity. We could attribute this to the emergence of new platforms for connecting and sharing…but we would be doing disservice to individuals who are helping to make this explosion burn brighter through WRR-like initiatives. Poets In Nigeria, War of Words, Hilltop Art Cente, Ebedi Residency and a host of others should get credit.

For those interested in publishing with WRR, what is your word to them?

Talk to us and get a personalized publishing experience. We are not profit motivated. As a matter of fact, 100% of our profits go back into literary development. I have never spent a kobo on personal items from the proceeds of WRR activities.

What are your writing rituals? Is morning the best time? Do you sip milk like I do while writing? Or you do another drink.

Writing is not a task for me. The last time I wrote with a time table was in 2010 when my forthcoming novel Devil’s Pawn came to me. I write anytime and every time. My favorite drinks are water, fresh squeezed fruit juice and non-alcoholic grape wine (chilled).

Do you write in notebooks or stick with your phone and laptop?

I stopped writing in books many many many years ago. I don’t even write on my laptop per se. I write directly on Google docs. I started doing this when my laptop crashed in 2013. I’ve never lost a piece of writing since then.

And yes, sorry about your laptop that was recently stolen; I read your post on Facebook. It’s really sad, the many documents all gone now; it feels like losing one’s children all in a crash. I hope this doesn’t sound silly, ‘cause I mean it in all sense of care. How do you manage losses?

Interestingly, I lost more graphics and clients manuscripts than mine. My most precious possession lost in that incident was my phone which had some pictures of development stages of my unborn child—lost forever!. Every other thing is largely replaceable.

My number one philosophy of life is ‘move on.’ I don’t dwell on losses. Once it happens, begin to plan the solution and/or alternative. I am a very optimistic and happy person.

You seem like a foodie to me. What’s your usual plate made of? [laughs]

Foodie? Well, maybe. I just love home cooking and local delicacies. My favorite meal is white rice and veggie sauce (stir fry). Other than that, give me swallow (Eba, Semo, Pounded yam, Fufu etc) and soup (Egusi, Gbegiri, Edikanikong, Onugbo, Starch etc).