Abdulrazaq Salihu, TPC I, is a Nigerian poet and member of the Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation. He won the Splendors of Down poetry contest, BPKW poetry contest, Poetry Archive poetry contest, Masks Literary Magazine Poetry Award, Nigerian Prize for Teen Authors (poetry), Hilltop Creative Writing Award, and others. He has his works published/forthcoming in Bracken, Poetry Quarter(ly), Rogue, B*K, Jupiter Review, black moon magazine, Angime, Grub Street mag, and elsewhere.
Maryam Shehu: Poetry has been termed as a therapy by some of its gods, while some termed it as the blood or oxygen they need to live… So, what’s poetry to you?
Abdulrazaq Salihu: Poetry has been my “God help me survive every day without regret”. By this I mean, that when I prayed tenderly for this, God gave me poetry, poetry has been my saving Grace, I can only say Alhamdulillah, it’s been more than a talent, it’s a lifesaver.
Well, a lot of children or their parents desire to see their wards studying a popular profession at the University. So, now was it poetry or just a desire that made you study English? And how much have you struggled to convince your parents?
Hehehe. This is a nice question, but sorry to disappoint you, I’m not and have never been an art student, I’ve been a full-time science student all my life, and currently, I’m studying biotechnology at Mewar International University. Poetry came to me as a rush of talent, it came at the right time because I was then exposed to the right amount of people and motivation (The Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation) where my talent was nurtured and channeled. I’ve not for once felt the need to study English for my undergraduate degree because I don’t feel there’s much it’d do to my poetic craft especially in Nigeria even though I’d love to chase an MFA after my undergraduate, so I told myself why not learn poetry informally and then have a formal science degree that way, whatever phase life throws you into, there’s always something you can fall back to.
People (including family) underestimate writing as a job, some even fear that their children won’t have a future except roaming around papers… How can you explain this to the understanding of a layman?
Well, to be very brutally honest, there’s as much money in writing as there is not. The difference between having a paying job and being a writer is that when you have a paying job, you’re 100% certain that you’ll get paid over an agreed period, but as a writer, you’re never sure when writing would provide for you as well as when it’s not.
You can get rejected by all the magazines you submit to for a year and then boom when one magazine or publisher accepts you, your life would change drastically. So I’d say the disadvantage of holding onto writing as your finance source is that it would fail you 99 times in 100 chances. So I’d say, writing should not be your primary source of income unless, of course, you’re into ghostwriting, freelancing, copywriting, and the rest.
We all have a role or roles to play in changing the narratives of our societies. Can poetry be a reason for that change? If yes, how can a poet utilize it?
Of course, poetry can, poetry can do everything.
I’d give you this practical example, a friend of mine, Younglan Talyoung who’s a poet and spoken word artiste always writes about a city in Jos, Tudun Wada, because he’s from there. It got to a point that anywhere he went to perform, immediately he was on stage, the crowd would be found chanting “Tudun WADA” and trust me, more than half of these people used to know nothing about a city in Jos called Tudun Wada. Also, I write about my mother’s hometown “Sarkin Pawa” because when I searched one time for it on the internet, I found nothing, but today with some of my published poems having Sarkin Pawa in them, at least the name has been immortalized. So that’s how it’s done, write about the kind of change you want and show it to the world.
Apart from poetry, what other genre of literature do you enjoy writing projects on?
Hahaha, I cannot be the best writer just yet, especially not now, because there are so many poets whose works inspire me, and whose tutelage I’m still under.
Secondly, I don’t think there’s any writer in the world whose works hardly get rejected, in slang language they’d say, “The rejections choke”. I get rejected a lot of times; I believe that for every 100 rejections, there is 1 acceptance. I won’t say always on the lookout for rejections, but I’d say I’m always trying not to expect an acceptance, so I don’t get my expectations crushed. I get rejected a lot, just this month I’ve had close to or more than 20 rejections already but the fact that I know an acceptance would come, I’d say I’m good, and my rejections understand sometimes so maybe that’s the secret.
They said: “A writer must be a reader” and I have no doubt you are one of those readers… And yeah, I know the best books you read are related to poetry. Who is your best author, and what’s your favorite book?
I have several favorite authors across several genres of literature. For poetry, I enjoy Romeo Oriogun, Chinua Ezenwa, Sylvia Plath, Mahmoud Darwish, and the rest.
For prose, I love Paulo Coelho, Agatha Christie, and A little pinch of Danielle Steele. My favorite books are Burnt Men, A River Dies of Thirst, The Alchemist, and Ariel.
It’s been 3 or 4 years since you started your published writing journey, have you tried putting any collection together?
Oh yes I have, I compiled a poetry chapbook, Constellations which won the 2022 Nigerian prize for teen authors and I also compiled a collection of short stories which was first runner-up in the prose category of the same prize in 2022. I’d be officially unveiling and launching them on the 30th of September 2023 in Minna, Niger state.
Wow, publishing and launching two books at a time isn’t easy… Congratulations… And a brief description of the books?
Thank you so much, Constellations is a poetry chapbook that sought to epitomize my take on a lot of themes and prompts. Hiccups, I’d say, is a social collection of short stories that explore societal issues in Africa.
Can’t wait to have them on our desks. Every developing person has someone he looks up to, in your case I know it’s also not different. Who is your role model?
Well, my number one role model is my family (special shoutout to sketches, my sister Fatima Salihu), my poetry family too, The poetic collective, Hauwa Shaffi Nuhu, Amrah Aliyu, Salim Yunusa, and countless others.
As a young man who is always reviving and making ways to possibilities… Which words can you give to a beginner and someone who’s yet to start the trip?
I’d say, writing is for everyone as much as it’s only for writers. Everyone else knows there’ll be tough times, but we also know there’ll be sometimes just enjoying both phases and reading and writing passionately as life depends on it, because it does.
Oh, Thank you Mr. Abdulrazak for your precious time and educational words.
Thank you so much for having me, it was awesome doing this with you