Monday, October 22, 2012
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Monday, May 7, 2012
Treachery and cruelty of the highest order
Was displayed in the brutality of El-mina
When I saw how African peoples were
Dehumanized and abused with impunity
They are hot, stuffy and suffocating
Congested in most unhygienic manner
Slave masters are indeed raw brutes
They are horrible monsters and murderers
Should we just lament and complain each day
Or should we demand for reparation?
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Tradition It Is Becoming
When Power Is Snatched From Your Hands
When Your Influence Is Gone
When You No Longer Have A Say
When You Are No Longer Acting On Stage
You Are Accused Of All Wrong Doings
"Past Administration" You Are Labelled
Any Little Mistake Is Yours
Those In Power Think They Are Better
In Fact They Want To Be Seen As Saints
But Saints Are Made By Their Actions
Saints Never Accuse Others To Hide Their Weaknesses
Saints Are Careful Not To Blow Their Trumpets
They Are Judged By Prosperity
Never Define Their Sainthood
Their Good Deeds Tell Who They Are
Those That Now Call Themselves Saints
Will Not Remain As Saints When They Leave Office
Nay They Will Also Be Like Their Predecessor,
With your beautiful unblinking eyes
Its narrative seem to suggest accusation
But I am not a hideous monster
Who breaks people’s heart and am not ungrateful
I did not break your heart my dear
You shouldn’t now look for vengeance
I have given you every chance you know
You refused to open up and I fear
You concealed your deep love for me
Now that I realised you do really love me
I felt not only cheated but also betrayed
So stop looking at me like that
You ruin your chances your self
You also ensure you ruined mine
Let the narrative be reviewed and revised
“Are you going to give up?”
Not yet my dear, but am getting tired
I will hold on for a while longer
Until I make you a rainbow
And give your soul a lift
Comprising everything that stands on my way
So that when I finally give up
You would graciously remember my courage!
Invented writing to keep record
If not for the letters of the alphabets
Nothing could have been written
But for those who draw and design
A circle is as important as ABC
Straight lines, triangles, squares or any shape
Are the building blocks of geometry
Lines are to geometry what letters are to words
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Ismail: How did you start writing?
Yusuf: I started writing very early out of my interest to share stories in written form, stories that I heard from aunties and sisters. Stories that i feel are just good stories to share. But that desire must have been assisted by my father’s habit of asking us to write a report whenever he took us for an excursion. Later, I read a lot of Hausa novels and short stories in addition to the folktales I listen to regularly. I love stories. By the time I was in Primary six, a friend and I wrote a ‘book’ we titled ‘Amina and the Snake’. We illustrated it because we were artists then. I can’t remember what the story is all about, but I always remember the title. By the time I was in form 3, I started writing my own book (Maza Gumbar Dutse) that was on February 13th 1983 and finished it sometimes in September that year. It was an interesting journey indeed.
Ismail: You have written poetry in English, novels and short fiction in Hausa, and you have equally being a literature enthusiast and a cultural activist in the wider sense of the word. Are you more or less at ease in any one form than in others? Or rather do you have a particular liking for one form?
Yusuf: Yes, I write in both Hausa and English. I started writing in Hausa because it is my mother tongue and I am more fluent in it and my early literary influence is in Hausa. I read a lot of stories in Hausa and I was always impressed with the imaginative skills displayed by Hausa writers. It is really amazing to create a story out of imagination. So my earliest writings are all in Hausa and are all fiction. To be frank, I find it easier and more in control writing fiction in Hausa than in English. My interest in writing in English began when I was in form five after being introduced to poetry by our English teacher, a Ghanaian. My first English poem was titled Life. I can only remember one line ‘work and rest’ that’s it. I really find it easier to write poetry in English because English poetry is more flexible than Hausa. I have attempted many a times to compose poems in Hausa and most of the time I failed. I am impatient when it comes to expressing myself. So, rightly, I use two forms. Fiction is mostly in Hausa and Poetry almost entirely in English.
Ismail: Your first collection of poems, Litters is indeed an innovation in publishing in Nigeria. It is printed as a pocket size pamphlet. What promoted that experiment?
Yusuf: I decided to publish a pocket size book because I feel it is handy and costs very small amount of money to publish. The idea was to encourage new poets especially young one to publish while waiting for the big book. In addition to it, I also started poetry card series. I published two of my poems Happiness and Faith just like post cards (actually smaller). The book and the card were popular to readers but I was unable to get any of those targeted to send their manuscripts while the cards I distributed free of charge. I know of a fan who still keeps a copy in the bag.
Ismail: Could it be right to say the poems in Litters: short, epigraphic, and written in a burst of creative frenzy (given the dates appended at the end of the poems); the poems are consciously written to fit the medium in which they are published?
Yusuf: Somehow yes. Most of the poems were written in 1997. It may interest you to note that they were a kind of impulse prompted by Zainab Alkali whom I met and she promised to help me get a book published. My problem at that time was I have no English manuscript at hand and that was what she was referring to. So said to myself, ‘you have some poems especially those you wrote for children, why not try your hands on poetry, may be in a months you can have a collection’
Ismail: You are a Medical Geographer by training, though during your undergraduate days you did some courses in Hausa language and literature. What challenges, if any, did you face switching, so to speak, between different poles, each with its own demands and expectations?
Yusuf: It is an interesting experience. While I was an undergraduate student at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto, I decided to take courses from Sociology and Hausa. I found both Sociology and Hausa very engaging and appealing. Sociology was my best because I enjoy it much and I hardly get less than a B score in the examinations, I nearly transferred to Sociology. As for Hausa, my interest in literature makes it very attractive. I found the courses educative. However, my relationship with Hausa lecturers and students was close. I joined the Kungiyar Hausa and rose to become Secretary General. As for Geography, I always love the discipline since my secondary school days. I was among the best students of Geography in my class. Geography gives me the knowledge of places, the understanding of man’s relationship with his environment and fuels my imagination.
Many of my classmates were not aware that I was majoring in Geography, they all thought I was majoring in Hausa. I feel at home among literary circles as well as Geography’s. After my MSc degree at Ibadan, I became closer to Geography because my stay at Ibadan has widened my understanding of the discipline. When I chose to specialized in Medical Geography, all my energy was turned there. I read widely and tried to establish linkages with physicians. It was easier linking with art scholars than with medical scholars. I faced a lot of challenges blending with the medics. They find it difficult to see a Geographer in their midst especially younger academics.
But i switch naturally when I am with physicians or literary circles. Most at times I forget about my literary self when with medics and vice versa. But the experience is really, really rewarding.
Ismail: Many of your poems, especially those in Litters in a way betray your professional calling, since the question of geography, space and how such are mediated by the imagination are central to your poetry. How much, if at all, is your geographical expertise carried over into your writing?
Yusuf: You are right to some extent, but if you look closely, you will find some poems that are geographic in the collections. Poems like Kano, Ancient Egypt, Plea for mother Earth and so on. However, sometimes when I write, I just write as a human being rather than a geographer. When I chose to write as a geographer, you see the influence clearly. Do not forget my strong background in Sociology.
Ismail: All the poems in Litters are dated; their composition time stamped on them; putting them into a specific temporal setting. Don’t you think that would necessarily consign them into a particular time-frame, and force a reading of them within that time-slot?
Yusuf: That is a good observation. I do date my works initially for my personal record. After reading many biographies of English poets, like Keats, Blake, Auden and so on, I realised the difficulty faced by researchers in putting certain poems in context. Secondly i realised that as a poet we sometimes hold a particular view on a subject and latter change. In addition, my poems are usually influenced by events and experiences, dating the poems will give them timeframe but also remove their timelessness. Some of my poems I think are timeless but many are time bound.
Ismail: Each of your three collections depicts a semiotic pictogram and illustrations on the cover: Litters has a picture of the earth as seen from Apollo 17; Landscapes of Reality has a silhouette of a seemingly rowdy scene, with child-like drawings of what could pass for cars at the bottom; and your latest book, They can Speak English, has two juxtaposed pictures: men pushing bicycles in an arid place, and an inverted shot of skyscrapers. Could you talk about these extra textual messages?
Yusuf: I was an artist and still a photographer. I run a photo blog at the internet (www.hausa.aminus3.com). I always try to tell a story from the illustrations I put on the cover of my books. While in Litters I used Apollo 11 picture of the earth to emphasise my Geographic background and portray the Earth as our common home and destiny as human race, I used a two pictures in Landscapes. On the front is a picture of Motorcyclists portraying them in a petrol station and the back cover is a picture of a beggar. All these pictures try to capture the essence of the poems because of their topicality. The drawings were done by my son. He was trying to draw a long queue at the petrol station he saw. I find the drawings very telling and so used it to show a child’s reality of the Nigerian situation. The last one, They Can Speak English, tells another story. The two pictures (that were transformed) and presented upside down are talking about globalisation. While the one at the top was portraying developing countries and their reality, the other represents developed economies. Their reality and ours are different and it us just not comprehensible how they would insists on us seeing things the way we do. We have different realities.
Ismail: You’re also a photographer: how feasible is it to say you approach the poem not just with the poet’s eyes but also with the photographer’s sensitivity to light, texture, colour, shadows and moods?
Yusuf: I love photography. I started photography very early too. I got my first camera (110) from my uncle at the age of eleven. I like photographs because they freeze our time. When you shoot a picture, the image you get is a snapshot of a particular moment in history. It tells a lot. I can say, my interest in photography may have some influence my poetry because i also see a poem as an account of my mind at a time. That timeframe feature is there. May be that is why I date my poems in addition to other reasons I forwarded.
Ismail: You run a poetry column for some time now on the Sunday Trust literary pages devoted entirely to “Poetry of Place”. Is your sense of place necessarily couched in geographical rather than imaginative terms or vice versa?
Yusuf: I think it is both poetic and geographical at the same time. The idea of poetry of places came after I wrote a number of poems on different places, which were inspired by a visit to the places or experiences from certain places. When I realised that I have written a dozen or so poems about places, it became clear to me that the geographer in me is gaining control of the poet. So I deliberately tried to expand and cover more places within the country and beyond. Before you know it I have a good collection. When I started the column, I received many messages and request from people in other places requesting poems on their towns and villages. I tried to obliged. Truly, the geography is more than the poetry in the poems as I have mentioned in my introduction to the column.
Ismail: Does being a bilingual writer come with any problem? How easy or difficult it is to switch over linguistically and imaginatively between different languages, different genres: each with its own requirements?
Yusuf: Well, for me, it is not difficult to switch linguistically even though I find it easier to write certain genres in one language than another. For example, even though I write fiction in English, I find it easier to write it in Hausa than in English. I write poetry only in English. I find it difficult to write poetry in Hausa because of its strict rules.
Ismail: The title of your third collection, They Can Speak English, is rather bland, even unpoetic. What called for that title?
Yusuf: Yes. It is not normal for poetry collections to have titles like this. I chose the title for the collection after the attention it received from German High School students. I know that it sounds unusual but it has that aura of captivating a reader. Many people are eager to read beyond the cover when they see it. It is an experiment. An experiment always looks awkward and even weird but when it succeeds it becomes acceptable and normal. We shall see what critics would say about the title in the next few years to come, but I like the title very much.
Ismail: Your poetry is often said to be simple: the diction uncluttered, the imageries derived, as it were, from what the reader could easily relate to; yet there is, one could argue, a deceptive ingenuity behind the so-called simplicity. Is this something directly related to your conception of poetry as a public form?
Yusuf: Absolutely yes. Poetry is not a popular genre of literature in English because it is shrouded in mystery of its meaning. Students hate poetry because they don’t derive pleasure in what they do not understand. There are many poets that try to hide the joy of their poems behind a difficult word terrain. Some tried to make a forceful use of language in order to display their wordscraftmanship, some use many images as to take away the simplicity of their works. Some write imitating other poets that are successful. One can see how poets force themselves to use language as the primary raw material for poetry. Many see the quality of their writing in the scale of its difficulty. Well, every poet has his choice.
When I started writing poetry, I adapted the same method I use when I write fiction. I give it to someone to read and see if it makes sense. I realised people don’t enjoy poems that are difficult. I made a resolution that I must take my poetry to the street and make it not only enjoyable but also very accessible to everyone. I want to say that I have succeeded in making the street to appreciate poetry at the risk of being dismissed by fellow poets and critics as being too simplistic. I have made it a tradition to present poems at every public gathering I attend. I made poetry presentation at workshops (academic and developmental) conferences, wedding ceremonies, and many more. I have been taking poetry to the public, and I enjoy how people appreciate it. As a poet, I will feel defeated if the reader didn’t understand me because if did not understand me, he/she will not appreciate me. I want to be appreciated by my readers.
Ismail: You have also published books for children; how difficult it is to make a transition between writing for adults; fairly straightforward undertaking compared to the demanding nature of children’s writing?
Yusuf: Writing for children is interesting but challenging. Writing for children requires a lot of patience and skills. One has to put at the back of his mind that he is writing for children and must try to see through their eyes and mind. Whenever I write anything for children, I usually give the draft to kids that I target and ask for their opinions and observations. That is how I understand if I am communicating or not.
Ismail: What can you say about the publishing scene in Nigeria, yourself being a publisher?
Yusuf: It is a difficult terrain. This is so because many Nigerians don’t read and if they don’t read, they won’t buy books. If people don’t buy books publishers can make profit. If publishers can make profit, they can’t stay in business. In the 1970s and 80s when the economy was good and education was sound, government make bulk purchase of books and many people especially students buy books. This kept publishers afloat. When the economy slumps and education was neglected the markets for books declined and that affected the publishing industry. The inability of major publishers especially multi-nationals to publish supplementary books affected creativity in the country. Creative writers found themselves in a difficult situation. One can write as many manuscripts as possible only to find no publisher. Many manuscripts were rejected on the flimsy excuse of being not standard. That gave rise to self publishing, commission publishing and local publishers. Most of us emerged out of these circumstances. We were forced to publish only authors who are able to pay some fees. Those who can’t pay remain unpublished. But the greatest challenge facing local publishers is poor capital base, low capacity, poor marketing system and lack of technical know-how. It is a very rough terrain. But it is encouraging how we use our initiatives to cop up.
Ismail: You are from the North-west: a region that is seen as a literary desert when compared to other regions (even within Northern Nigeria). What do you think account for paucity of cultural production of English expression from the region?
Yusuf: When few published works come out from this region, is not an indication that very little is being done. To the best of my knowledge, there is a great potential for English literary production in this region. There are many promising writers who need a little push to be great. There are many reasons why this don’t happen. Hausa authors have been successful in creating their own market by creating their own loyal readership. Therefore, when a Hausa author loan some money and publish his work, it sells and he/she makes the money back and sometimes get profit. English authors have not been as ingenious. Secondly, the few that are able to publish have not received the right attention from local critics. No matter how good an author is, he needs to be promoted, unless he is promoted, he is no body. This region lagged behind in that aspect and that has contributed in hiding otherwise great talents. There is also the problem of readership which resulted from poor promotion.
Ismail: There is a constant “carrying forward” of many of your poems from one collection to the other; even when each book may have specific larger concern different from the rest. Don’t you think this gives the book the feeling of being interim collections where poems are harvest for the next book (without such being neither a selected nor collected volume)?
Yusuf: Well, I also wonder why poets do that. Sometimes you can’t explain why but, most often, such things happened because the different collections have some common strings. Sometimes it is done because you want such poems to be read by many. So if a reader got one collection and not the other, he still gets to read those poems.
Ismail: If you are asked about the writers who influenced and inspired you, who would those writers be?
Yusuf: Frankly they are largely Hausa Writers, notably Ahmadu Ingawa (Author of Iliya Dan Mai Karfi) Abubakar Imam (Magana Jari Ce).Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Shehu Umar) As for English authors, I also enjoyed the works of Rider Haggart, George Orwell, Jonathan Swift, Ngugi Wa Thiango and they must have fed my imagination in some ways. As for poetry, I want to say I enjoyed the poems of English poets like William Blake, Keats, Auden and many others I cannot remember. For African poets I like Osundare’s poem and many African poets in anthologies, many I cannot remember their names but they really do influence my writings.
Ismail: You are among the most vocal proponent of the new Hausa novel, the so-called Soyayya (romance) pamphlets which are mass produced mainly in Kano (prompting the sobriquet “Kano Market Literature”, similar to Onitsha Market Literature; yet you also dislike and down play the comparison and the market tag given to those books.
Yusuf: Yes. I have said a lot about this and have giving many interviews and even published a couple of academic articles on this. But for the purpose of this interview I want point out the fact that Hausa Popular Literature has been misunderstood by many especially academics and religious critics. First of all, because it is a new phenomena that was under-rated and not given attention. When the literary movement that created it flourish, it was initially dismissed as mere soyayya novels, market literature and many other names. We are against those labels because they are derogatory and unfair. The literary movement saved Hausa literature from dying and gave Hausa literature an enviable position of being the fastest growing literary language in Africa. .
Ismail: You have professed your penchant for the African-American poet, Dollar Brand, even dedicating one of your poems to him. What is African-American poetry like to you?
Yusuf: I read a few of them and I like them very much. Dollar Brand’s poem influenced or inspired me to write They Can Speak English, a poem that is popular especially in Germany because it is a recommended text for High School students. I communicated a lot with German students over their assignments.
Ismail: And you have lived and wrote in the US; what would you say are the major strengths of American poetry and writing generally compared to Nigerian poetry?
Yusuf: American poetry is a public poetry if I may say so. Nigerian poetry is somehow still shackled by difficulty and dogma (if I may say so). Poetry I think is a personal explosion of thoughts and I want to believe that anything explosive is also visible. In the case of Nigerian poetry, we are somehow constraint to believe that only poetry in the image of Okigbo, Soyinka, Clerk etc are good poems. Poems that, are very difficult to decipher, poems that are too technical. I attended some readings in Alabama and I made presentations. I have published poems in American journals and read many. The power of American poetry is lies in its variety, straightforwardness and wide subject matter. The power of Nigerian poetry lies in its complexity, traditional fusion and powerful language. Somehow, I enjoy American poetry.
Ismail: You have tackled the question of language in They Can Speak English. In the Afterword of that collection you implied rather vaguely that you’d rather write in Hausa.
Yusuf: Yes. I can express myself better in Hausa than in English so, when I write in Hausa I say it better. We write in English because of our colonial past, if there was no colonialism we would probably be writing in Hausa language in West Africa or may be in Arabic. But the desire to have wider audience has also contributed to the desire to write in English. Every author would be pleased with a large audience and English language gives that opportunity. I will like to translate my Hausa works into English at least that would give the world what I see as a Hausa speaker from that perspective.
Ismail: There is something enigmatic; disturbingly unsettling about your title, Landscape of Reality. Aren’t landscapes always about the real: portending reality in its manifest, concrete dimension?
Yusuf: Not necessarily so. Reality is relative but it can be shared. The title was used because it the poems in the collection discuss about our reality, about what we know and experience all the time. Reading it is like walking in the landscape of our lives.
Ismail: You have an abiding interest in Egyptology: one of your Hausa short fictions is about the possibility time travelling within the context of ancient Egypt. What is your take about the relationship between literature and history? Is history always best seen through the prism of textuality?
Yusuf: You are right. I have strong interest on ancient Egypt. I was introduced to Egyptology around 1986 by Professor Muhammadu Hambali Junju at the UDUS. He is a linguist and his interest in Egypt is obsessive. He is a follower of Cheikh Anta Diop and he is of the believe that Hausa people originate from ancient Egypt. His theory of Egyptian origin of Hausa people has been controversial among Hausa scholars. Since 1986, I have been reading about ancient Egypt, I even have a copy of the Book of the Dead. So I am really passionate about Egypt. Literature is part of history or rather a source of history. History is usually written by the victor, so sometimes you only get the version of the writer. Literary text however tells a rather wider story. It gives detail information about daily life of a people you may not find in history books just as it tells us more about places that we are not told in Geography text book. However, I don’t want to believe that history is always best seen through the prism of textuality.
Ismail: If you edited Pregnant Skies, your anthology of 50 Nigerian poets, now would the selection or taste differ?
Yusuf: Certainly yes. There emerge many new poets that are equally good today, yet I am happy with the selection as it were that time. I think, it is the most representative of Nigerian poetry at least geographically than any anthology published in the country.
Ismail: In Litters did you find a voice, or you think you have broken a new territory? How do you see the pamphlet now?
Yusuf: Somehow yes, because it was the first collection that launched me into world of poetry at least for adults. It received some critical attention and allows readers and critics to handle a new kind of poetry that is simple and somewhat unconventional. Despite the views expressed by critics that some of the ‘poems’ are too prosaic or not even poems, the depth of their contents was a food for thought. It shows at least there is a new poet who is not afraid to be called prosaic poet, who is largely independent of the orthodox poetry tradition. I am planning to re-issue it in a standard format to see if the reaction would be different.
Ismail: Though you exchange poems between your books, but in what ways do you think your concerns in each book have evolved since you started writing poetry?
Yusuf: Each collection came up independently, but the selection of what poem to include is largely influenced by the tune of the collection. Many times, there is an overlap. This is on the assumption that the reader of a particular collection might not have read the other, so it give the reader opportunity to read from another collection that may not be available.
Ismail: Is the poem, “Global Village” necessarily a poetic censure of globalization; or is it, in a subtle, distant way, an acknowledgement of its seemingly unstoppable match across the globe?
Yusuf: It is in some way. The way Globalization is viewed varies. Some see it as a positive phenomena others see it otherwise. Some see it as an ultimate necessity created by technology, some see it as a systematically orchestrated phenomena aimed at establishing a single global government. I believe information technology has succeeded in making the world flat, the friction of distance has been removed and people find it easier to interact and communicated but also sell their views with a blink of an eye. Yet, it exposes the less economically developed countries to the dangers of cultural domination by the developed countries, who use their socio-cultural scale to measure others. There is a danger in this and that’s what I was trying to point out. Ultimately, world culture is being shaped by information technology and the outcome may not be unilateral.
Ismail: You have had an academic fellowship in the States, you have read, published and wrote many poems there as well; is there an American Yusuf whose poems are influenced by America, American poetry or American culture in any way?
Yusuf: Obviously yes. I was there when the 911 attacks took place and I have seen how the world changed. I wrote many poems while in the US and if you remember they are all presented at the Creative Writer Forum. I am now thinking of publishing the poems in one collection. My Fulbright fellowship in the at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has influenced my subsequent writing. But I like American poetry because it is like mine, it is simple, straight forward and even prosaic as some use to call it.
Ismail: Finally, what would like to be remembered for?
Yusuf: Well, this is a big one. I am something else. But after my demise I would like to be remembered by academic and literary community. I want to remembered, as a scholar who has contributed to the development of knowledge in my country. I also want to be remembered for my contributions to the development of literature in my country. But in the end, I would remembered by what people feel I deserved to be remembered for. Allah knows best.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Now that Libya is fallen
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The eyes of the heartless oppressors
Who think their eyes are purer and sharper
They only see the other in otherness
And see themselves as the Centre of the Universe
If you don't see through their eyes
They labelled you blind!
But who are blind other then those blind to other's views?
Who could not see what the world sees
But what they always want to see.
Monday, August 1, 2011
A peaceful people
And a tragedy!
Cowardice of the highest order
Displayed the human-beast nature
This show of inhumanity is incomprehensible
How on Earth could this happened
In the World’s most peaceful democracy?
Our tears and our sorrow
Our heartfelt sympathy to Norway
To the families who lost loved ones
Whatever bad happens to man
Happens to all mankind!
Friday, June 3, 2011
By Akintayo Abodunrin
Writing for the environment
The lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano, reflects his training as a geographer in his creative works because he "was trained to see things from the point of view of a social scientist and from the point of view of the environment which I believe is a balanced perspective. I also deliberately sometimes write on geographical issues, like the column I maintain in the Sunday Trust called ‘Places'. Each week, I publish a poem about a particular place and the picture of the place - since 2007," Adamu informs.
A former chairman of the Kano State chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Adamu writes in English and Hausa languages. He writes poetry and children's books in English; but his published prose works - ‘Idan So Cuta Ne', Ummul-Khairi' and ‘Maza Gumabr Dutse', are in Hausa. He writes his poetry in English. "It's harder to write poetry in Hausa because there are so many rules and regulations guiding writing poetry in Hausa, unlike English which is liberal," he says.
Although a number of his prose fiction centre on the environment, Adamu says, "They are not specifically about the physical environment; they are about what we call the social environment. My first published work, for instance, is a love story. The second one is about the challenges facing Hausa Muslim women who go to university, and the last is about ancient times."
Worth of literature
Writers are regarded as agents of change and in spite of the fact that the late Abubakar Imam and Uthman Dan Fodio wrote on the themes of conservation, environmental degradation remains an issue in Nigeria. Does Adamu feel that this genre - and literature generally - are effective?
"It is effective in its own right but it is not functioning because people don't read. Literature will only be useful and influential if those who make policies read. But if they don't read, it won't make any difference. During Utman Dan Fodio's time, they used literature for their revolution, they used their religious writings but particularly, they used poetry to mobilise people and that way, Uthman Dan Fodio, his brother Abdulahi Fodio, his son Mohammed Bello and daughter Nana Asmau, all used poetry to actively bring about revolution in Hausaland. They wrote on the environment and on almost all human endeavours. They did it so well [that] they used it to mobilise society and teach and enlighten. Later on, Hausa writings used poetry in mobilisation, politics, and it worked. But the problem we are having now is when your leaders don't read, there is no way you can address them. This, however, doesn't stop you from writing."
Writing for children
Adamu writes for children because "I realised that in Nigeria and Africa, we don't write for children most of the time. We only write for adults because we feel if you write for children, other writers will perceive you as an unserious writer. But writing for children is even more important than writing for adults because writing for children is likely to have more influence on the future of society than writing for adults who are already grown and who have made up their minds.
"That's why I feel it is more important to write for children but in particular teach them about our environment so they know more about it. That's why I wrote ‘Animals in the Neighbourhood'. I did that because some children don't know certain domestic animals when they see them."
Southern writers' dominance of literature
The author of ‘Landscapes of Reality', a poetry collection, has his own take on the dominance of Southern writers in Nigerian literature. "I think it is luck. What is happening is that Nigerian literature in English is dominated by Southerners but if you talk about Nigerian literature, I'm sure there are more published people in the North. More people in the North write in Hausa rather than in English because they find it easier to express themselves in their own language. One interesting thing is that they have a very large market because I can assure you my Hausa books sell more copies than my English books.
When you write English books, people don't read but there is an established market within Nigeria and West Africa, even up to Central Africa, for Hausa books. So, they are making lots of impact. That is the real situation; it's just that there are more Southerners writing in English.
Adamu agrees, though, that Northern writers should be concerned that works from the South are being taken as representative of Nigerian literature when there is also a vibrant literary tradition in the North:
"Well, it should give them concern because it's good to have a representation of Nigeria and I think Northern branches of ANA are now making deliberate efforts to see that they train people. As you can see in the last two, five years, there have been more writers coming out from the North. But I think they are making deliberate efforts to promote writings in English", he says.
Censorship in Kano
The crisis between writers in Kano and the Kano State Censors Board last year generated a lot of controversy. This led Rabo Mohammed, chairman of the board, to explain the government's position to writers during their convention in Zamfara. Adamu, the first person to raise the alarm on the censorship, sets out the current position.
"If anything, we have signed a ceasefire. Things are better now because we now have an understanding with the Censorship Board and they have also changed their tactics. What they intended to do was to suppress us and we showed them that we are not filmmakers; they ridiculed the filmmakers and thought they could do that with writers but I think it is good that we actually showed them that writers are not like other categories of people."
On why the writers resolved to fight the board, Adamu says, "They were being unjust because we are working with what Uthman Dan Fodio said. He said that a society can endure unbelief but it cannot endure injustice and we felt that was injustice. Saying that you are going to censor what we are going to write? In fact, they want us even to get licence! As a writer, I cannot write in Kano until I have a licence to write and when I write I have to take it to them to censor and both the publisher and distributor also have to obtain licences. So we said no, this won't work. That's why we said this time around, we are not going to respect the constituted authority because it had also gone beyond its bounds."
On younger writers
The author of Pregnant Skies and My First Book of Rhymes is happy with the ascendancy of a new generation of writers in Nigeria. "I'm very happy with it. The only thing I'm not happy with is that the critics are still worshipping the first generation writers. That's my only worry," he says with a laugh.
Women hold the ace in Northern Nigeria literature
Adamu says the Soyaya (romantic story) trend in Hausa literature has been exhausted. "Soyaya is gone. People now mostly write about what I may call family life.
For example women, they are no longer writing about a boy falling in love with a girl. They are focussing on what is happening in the home, how women are treated. What is happening in the family is what people are writing about now in Hausa. And there is no name for it because even the Soyaya is a stereotype. What we feel we should call it is Hausa Popular Fiction."
The men are happy about this trend, he informs. "We have no option; the women have taken over, at least in Hausa literature now. The women have taken over, to be sincere. If a woman writes a book and publishes 5,000 copies, she will be out of stock soon but it's not the same with men. Maybe they write what the readers want."
Adamu agrees that women writers' decision to focus on the family is a reaction against cultural and religious practices in the North.
As for the men, "We are not [angry] because if you are a family man and you read the works, you will see what is true and what is exaggerated. I think women see this as a medium to express themselves and I think it is working because a lot of women are writing.
When you read, you will hear a lot of things which ordinarily you will not know are happening in the family and in the larger society."
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Against the horrors in Libya
So said the prime minister
But is the world only united
When the oppressor is not a Super Power
Or its allies and friends?
Its allies in the Middle East are above the law
Whatever harm they cause or are causing
No matter how many thousands they killed
Or how many UN resolutions they ignore
The world refused to be united
What a shame and cowardice!
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
That’s what Egyptians are saying
But you don’t seem to understand
You can’t be like the sphinx
Whose term is timeless and endless
For like them, you are not a god
Let Egypt be! Please leave
It is time to walk off!
Today we are all Egyptians.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Department of English and French
Bayero University, Kano
NOTE: This is a review of one of my earliest poetry collections Litters.
LITTERS IS A collection of about twenty-seven poems by a Geography lecturer and also a poet from Bayero University, Kano. Most of the poems are written between 1997 and 1999. They are not grouped into any discernible (thematic) parts, as such the collection as a whole reads as short excerpts of a fairly long poem written over a period of time; which assures us that there is a common thread to them all.
The poems are not only short, but are, as it were essentially “epigraphic”, in the sense that they are couched not only with an obvious awareness of `every day speech`, but also in their effort to re-energise the genre of poetry once more as a medium of public utterance that lends immediacy and accessibility to contemporary issues.
And perhaps it is this poetic immediacy that, apart from informing the poems also calls for the innovative way in which the collection is published. The poet- it is important to note- started an exciting experiment: what he called “Card Poetry Series”, whereby some selected (shorter) poems are printed in pocket-size glossy cards; which were later collected and published in the same format; (only that the book is a pocket size `pamphlet`).
The size, however, does not in any way belittle the collection’s bold attempt in giving a comprehensive, new picture of life in present day Nigeria. The political, the personal and the religious are uniquely taken on in a lucid style typical of the poet.
The opening poem “faith” tries to mirror faith in a variety of ways: as both a religious concept, and more importantly as a secularized, albeit psychologically and socially determined state of mind of an individual, and by extension the state of the country whose citizens are somewhat `irreligious`, having lost their faith and its ability to redeem their lives as it ought to do.
To the poet, faith is not necessarily a belief in the conventional context; rather it is the “smoothness of affairs/ freedom from want and worries”. It is no more than the “promises [sic] of the daybreak/ [which] gives us peace of mind”(6). When both the individual and the state reach this level of secular faith, a certain measure of spirituality is also reached, which is a realization: “the conviction that/ god exists/ gives us permanent peace” (ibid). The poem (may) only succeed in piling up images that are unconnected by any process of causality, or rationality; but just an arrangement in space- the page- and not as a successful narrative sequence. But this has benefited the reader in the sense that it forces one to explore it carefully, and in depth rather than just read it off quickly and supposedly gets the message.
Being a Geographer by training, the poet throughout the collection seeks to explore the intrinsic, often neglected relationship between literature and the environment. With verve and vigour, we are made to see what lies beneath this, and what it has to offer towards a fresh understanding of life.
With the rapid internationalization and the attendant globalization in the world there is an ever-increasing distortion and dis-orientation in the people’s (Nigerian) sense of place and/or belonging. One such consequence of this is the question often asked: “to what space/ place do we really belong? Am I a citizen of the world, the nation or the locality?
It is in this that the poem “geography” achieves significance as subsumed in its effort to offer a stable representation or what Edward Said would call maps of meaning with which making sense of the world becomes possible. The poem therefore tries to, in a subtle way, through what can be called `geographical imagination`, as Said would say, captures the dilemma of belonging, by attempting to answer the questions raised, and by so doing extends them. And it does so through the presentation of geography – not as a word which is a natural image of what it may means – but as a somewhat fixed and stable representation that would allow making sense of the world. The poet asks:
what is where?
cities, villages (13).
And later affirms “where shall we be / if there is no geography?” Despite the overt emphasis on the physical and spatial entities, the poet’s imagined geography seeks to underscore the interdependence and intermingling of both people and places. And it is in this that his geography emerges as perhaps `an account` designed to immerse us both in space and time. But it fails to establish the fact often raised under the influence of post-structuralists and post-modern theory that the language we use to represent geography among other has not truthfully, (whatever that may mean) reflects that geography. Here the poet is also a Geographer who attempts to reveal or uncover the truth of the world, without shifting attention to ways in which language is used to construct and constitute the world. In “Geography” the concept and the discipline are after all construction with all the attendants’ rhetorical features.
From such poems as “ancient egypt”, “history”, “truth” to “litters” (the title poem), “fuel scarcity” and “hope”, the poet restricts himself to the free verse style, as indeed in the rest of the collection for an effect. This is seen in his marked simplicity, which at the same time does not betray his calling as a poet very much conscious of his art and its possible effect.
Litters is not only about geographical meaning mapping, it is also about what I would call excessive poeticism: there is no capitalization throughout the book; not even in the titles of the poems for no clear reason. This practice appears poetic somehow, but apparently it serves no clear function, stylistic or otherwise: it makes no change to the poems other than to make them look different and probably draw attention to themselves.
Yet Litters is surely going to – if not anything- litters the Nigerian literary landscape with new leaves, the blooming of which would perhaps be enough evidence to show the level to which exciting new trends of both poetry writing and publishing are taking shape. It is indeed a compendium of various leaves whose variety and virtuousness call for attention.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Friendship of nations shall be based on knowledge
Bright students and scholars of other nations to America come
Bright American students and scholars to other nations go
Move freely to share your knowledge and ideals
Share the fruits of human learning over the centuries
Thus we found ourselves here in the US
From all nations, cultures, races and creeds
Sharing the Fulbright badge, sharing humanity
We came to Houston and housed friendship
We discussed, listened to one another and learnt
At Rodeo we even produced Cowboys
Knowledge and ideas exchanged
Friendships evolved and matured within hours
New bridges of understanding constructed
Strong pillars of friendship and trusts erected
We are diverse yet united for common good
This Fulbright microcosm epitomized friendship
Symbolizes the best humanity could offer
God bless Fulbright for his visions
God bless Fulbrighters for implementing the vision
God bless us all
March 2 2002
This poem was read by six Fulbrghters at the Houston conference of March 2002,
each from the six inhabited continents, it was a memorable experience I still cherish.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
It was conducted by SEGUN AJAYI
Dr. Yusuf Adamu is a geographer cum writer. According to the immediate past Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Writers (ANA), Kano State Chapter, there exists a strong link between Literature and Geography that cannot be wished away.
The university lecturer is also a culture activist having kick-started his writing career in Hausa language before returning to English. Although the poet realises that it is more lucrative to write in Hausa than English, in Kano, Adamu believes it is time writers of northern extraction are exposed to modern ways of writing.
In his candid assessment of the standard of literature in Kano particularly, the writer reveals that women are having an upper hand because they write in vernacular and in the process turn out larger volumes than their male counterparts. He speaks on the challenges of creative writing in northern Nigeria, his works, publishing and how he once lied that he had writer’s block the day his computer crashed.
I have two identities. My father hails from Zamfara State, while my mother is from Katsina. I was born in Katsina but grew up in Kano. Officially, I claim Zamfara State.
I had my first degree in Geography, in 1990 from Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto. In 1994, I bagged a Masters degree from the University of Ibadan and a PhD from Bayero University, Kano in 2003. I am a medical geographer and I wrote my PhD desertation on maternal mortality. I have been teaching in the Department of Geography at the Bayero University since 1995.
Between Geography and Literature
On account of my interest in writing, I have introduced a course in my department called Cultural Geography which addresses the issue of literature, popular culture, and how they relate to Geography. There are connections between the two subjects. In literature, you write about people, yet the people do not exist in vaccum. There are people in places and in Literature, we write about places.
But, most of the information we gather about places are not even contained in the atlas or regional geography textbooks. Rather they are contained in novels. So that’s how Geography is closely related to Literature.
I had my first contact with Literature when I was in the secondary school. I started writing short stories even when I was in the primary school. Actually, I started serious writing in 1983 when I wrote my first Hausa novel. The book is yet to be published because when I read it over, I realised that I needed to re-write it. Later, I wrote a number of novels like Dukan Ruwa which won the northern Nigerian Literary Prize in 1990. It is the story of a family which endured the normal family and economic problems. Essentially, the story teaches patience and perseverance.
After that, I wrote another novel in Hausa in 1989. It was after that experience that I ventured into writing in English. I’ve written two collection of poems for children. The first one is entitled Butterfly and Other Poems, and My First Book of Rhymes. After that, I published another collection of poems after which I returned to writing in Hausa. I published Ummul Khairi. The book is about the challenges of education. I realised that whether we like it or not, the Hausa muslims have to be educated in the modern way.
However, the book is a kind of compromise between tradition and modernity. The next book I published was an anthology of poems. I ensured that I covered the entire country in my choice of poets. I hope to release another collection which I wrote in 1997 entitled Landscape of Reality, and a collection of political poems. These are the works I hope to release soon. I’m also working on another collection which will be a link between my literary interest and my training as a geographer. It is expected to be a collection of poems about places, towns and cities in Nigeria and other areas of the world. The book will be entitled Places and would be accompanied with photographs and maps.
Why I write in Hausa
I started writing in Hausa because the books that inspired me to write were written in Hausa. A lot of people in the Northern part of the country read Hausa. So it was a good medium to put my messages across.
Normally, I write when something happens. Each poem I wrote has a story behind it.
The most important of my messages is the accessibility of my poems. Considering the fact that poetry is not a popular genre, I have tried to make it accessible. For instance, I have written about happiness, mathematics, globalsation, politics and so on.
When I write
I don’t have a particular time for writing. Even if I am going to write an examination and the inspiration comes, I will write. But when the inspiration is not forthcoming, I will not be able to do it.
Process of writing
It begins with an idea; then the presentation of the idea in the best way. Whenever an idea comes, I’ll put it down on paper.
Challenges of writing
The first challenge is that Nigerians hardly read. When I started writing for children, I was so excited because I was contributing something new. In Northern Nigeria, there are few poets that write in English. So, I told myself that I wanted to write something that will be relevant to the environment. But when I took the books to the education ministry, there ensued a long drama. When I took the works to schools, they would either tell me that the books are too expensive or give me the excuse that the schools were on mid-term break. Eventually, I gave copies of the book free-of-charge to the schools and that gave me some satisfaction.
The solution to the problem is involving members of our generation in publishing. I run a small publishing outfit and I published my works through that medium.
I suffer from it. In fact, I wrote a poem on that. In ANA, Kano chapter, we hold our monthly readings. On one of such days, my computer crashed and I had all my materials stocked in the system. I then told my fellow writers at the reading that I could not remember any of the poems that I had to present at the reading off-hand. But because I had to present something, I came up with the excuse that I had writer’s block. There is a book that I have almost completed work on, but I am no longer interested in the work. That is another manifestation of writer’s block.
Advice to upcoming writers
As most people advise, upcoming writers should be patient and be willing to get their works criticised by others before rushing to the press. For example, when I write, the first people that will read them are my younger brothers and sisters. After that, I’ll give it to others. Secondly, they should write stories that are relevant to the society. I don’t subscribe to writing-for-writing-sake. People should treat topical issues that will be relevant to the development of the society.
I have published a few poems on the internet and I received responses from people. One of my poems was published in Germany. There is also a book titled Cultures which is a high school English textbook. I posted it on a website called globalisation. Later the book was published and the publisher contacted me and sent me one hundred euros. Unfortunately, the money got stocked in a distressed bank.
Reward for writing
There is no financial reward for writing in this part of the world. For instance, most of my works have been broadcast on radio and I know that they have made great impact. My books in Hausa have sold up to 20,000 copies, but for the English books, I have not sold up to 100 copies.
This can be good if there are good editors. If you take your works to a printer, the printer will reproduce them the way you gave them to him. Whoever must do self-publishing must have good editors. Manuscripts can’t wait for ever at Heineman, Longman, Spectrum and others but the books must be well edited.
Literature in Kano
To do that, you have to consider literature at two levels; Hausa and English. Literature in Hausa has gone far in Kano because of the dominance of writers who write in Hausa. In Kano for instance, there are more literary works being published by women. And it has become a phenomenon. The significance of this is that, women buy more books than men in Kano.
The only problem is that the quality is not as good as we expect it to be. But because we have a monthly writers’ forum in Hausa, and workshops, the quality is improving and the volumes are increasing. People come from far and near to buy Hausa books. But as for English texts, people write more of poetry. However, the major problem we face here is that people are not able to publish their works.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Yusuf Adamu’s third collection of poems, his first since Landscapes of Reality (2008), shows him working on a new territory that extends from the politics of language to the question of geography in poetic imagination. Grand, great, as graceful as they are grounded, these poems seem intent on evincing a take on everything: from the veracity and virtue of English language to geopolitics and gender. At the centre of the book’s concern is a kind of a displaced and subtle “elegy” for Nigeria’s miscarried dream and hope, and that elegiac tone permeates the whole book. As W. H. Auden would say: a born poet always looks absolutely natural.
“Yusuf Adamu is indeed a true poet in the mould of Wordsworth and Walcott. Poem after poem, he has an identifying personal tone, a sort of Muse-tainted uniqueness which, in a way, is almost independent of what it portends. The magnitude of his achievement in this collection appears more stunning. They can Speak English quite easily proves why Yusuf Adamu may well have been the most original poet of his generation. Every discerning reader who reads the poems collected here will be delighted by his linguistic subtleties, for he follows the lead of both Brand and Brutus, dazzling in many of the display of imageries that they partake in”.
Poet, Critic and Lecturer
Department of English and French, Bayero University Kano, Nigeria
As a kid in the years gone by
The nation and we are eager for that day
October first of every year
For our nation is moving forward
Progress is sprawling everywhere
Suddenly the boys stroke and took over
That we move backwards backsliding
Everything in the land made a commodity
Corruption laid sway on the land
Inequality ascends into supremacy
The national purse pauperized by rats
Should my children celebrate October 1st?
Of course yes, I reasoned
It is our nation’s birthday
But looking at where we are today
How our lives are frozen by inaction
How backward we moved over the years
Love for country is questioned
My loyalty too is being questioned
Has my nation done enough…
To deserve my congratulations on its birthday?
September 30, 1999
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
America of the brave and the just
America of the free and the independent
And oh dear! America of the Koran burners
When the ashes of hatred are dusted
The wave of Islamaphobia will drain out
Majority American rather read the Koran
From among them shall raise believers
Who will bring America from darkness
And free it from the shackles of ignorance
There shall be a new community
Who shall discover true Islam
Not the Islam of media ranting
But that practiced by Muhammad (PBUH)
The world shall be watered by love
The true spirit of Islam is descending
On the God’s own country in God’s own time
Islam has come to America
America will accept Islam whole heartedly
America shall read the Qur’an.
September 14 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Which of your humanity are better than mine?
Or which of my humanity is better than yours?
Is the planet you inhabit not same as mine?
Is it the air you breathe different from mine?
Is your sky red or bluer than the sky I watch each morning?
Is your mother star and its satellite not the Sun and the moon?
Which of your humanity is better than mine?
Do you smile and laugh when you are happy just as I do?
Do you sneeze, cough and yawn just as I do?
Do you get angry, shed tears and weep just as I do?
Are you ever hungry?
Are you ever emotional?
Then which of your humanity is superior to mine?
In this sphere called Earth within the Milky Way
From far in the vastness of the universe
Our tiny planet earth is but a speck
All that is in it is our collective humanity
So your humanity is just like my own
My humanity is same as yours
My humanness is the same as yours
For Abubakar Dandogo
Hope drives our wishes with whirl wheels
It keeps human spirit active and alive
It flies our dreams on its wings
Hope keeps us alive despite all odds
It rekindles our heart when its flames are dim
Hope keeps us going when we could have stopped
Hope gives us strength and reason to pursue dreams
Hope keeps us afloat and always anticipating the best.