Poet Of The Week

Uche Nduka

     November 27–December 3, 2017

Uche Nduka is a Nigerian-American poet. Author of eleven volumes of poetry, the latest of which are eel on reef, Ijele, Nine East and Sageberry 1, he is regarded as Nigeria’s most erotic poet. His writing has been translated into numerous languages including German, Romanian, Serbo-Croat and Finnish. His forthcoming volume of poems is titled Living in Public. “Every Secret” appears in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, released this past spring.

Every Secret

sharing every secret
of my suite

knowing i can never
pay back what you’ve given

you are more than
                           a reflection of America

the car somewhere waits
for the sweetest of frostbites

arbitrariness was the imprint
                                       of your love

because there are roads
on the way to everything

you take chances—
you and the sleeping sidewalk

heart with sails
wherever you go

if the sun lies
whatever takes you through
                          the airless zone

unimpeachable implacable
much more than protecting
or perfecting

fishing for something vicious

—Originally published in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, Brooklyn Arts Press & Brooklyn Poets, 2017.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

Its making entails an improvisatory romanticism in structure and themes. The poem strives to embody the pristine fluidity of social, artistic and political ideals. This particular poem sees what I have been and what I am and what I can be. Working on this poem revealed to me how a poem speaks to the passage of time. Perhaps the poem also shows my natural affinity with hilarity while writing it. I am a sucker for incongruities.

What are you working on right now?

I am writing a new volume of poems tentatively titled Facing You. I am also working on a prose book and a scrapbook.

What’s a good day for you?

Any day that I am able to write with concentration and also spend quality time with my family is good. Moments of splendor; shifting iterations; evolving iterations. Normal life as art-making.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

To make room for variation in communal and self-study. I came to Brooklyn to think my own thoughts without interference or distraction. I arrived here to live my own life as a discoverer, riddler and explorer. Brooklyn as a physical space sharpens me. The message of the vine is only the beginning of an unapologetic life.

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

At the moment I live in Bed-Stuy. I have lived here now for one year. It is a bustling neighborhood with spaces for solitude and serenity. There are good gardens and cafés and Haitian stores. I run into a lot of poets, photographers, painters, musicians on the streets. This neighborhood is gradually becoming multiracial. I like it very much but it is not averse to gentrification. In comparison to other places I have lived in, Bed-Stuy is a very creative environment where I have found international soulmates and artistic adventurers.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

I once forgot my Metrocard at home and a complete stranger I met at the subway generously paid my fare without my asking because she noticed me frantically searching my pockets. I live in the midst of kind and attentive people here.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

I consider those whose primary activities are writing, reading, publishing poems, discussing poems and poets past midnight as members of my community. Yes, I have found them here. These are people who do not see poetry as ceaseless critique. They know that there are pearls and broken bottles inside poems. They celebrate ethereality and harmony and dissonance in poems and life. It is hard right now to write in America. Are we going to stop? No! We came to Brooklyn to hang out with infinity. Though I belong to the global Republic of Poetry, I hope my writings will speak across America’s divisions.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Akilah Oliver, Kimiko Hahn, Bernadette Mayer, John High, Arthur Russell, Charles Bernstein, Nick Flynn, Lynne DeSilva-Johnson and others. These are poets who do not succumb to thematic and stylistic compromise. Their poems dip in and out of their time zones. In most instances, their poems do not condone stupidity.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

As a poet I am an impurist. I welcome changes. I welcome different ways of writing and thinking about poetry. I know that the same thing that aggravates you may bless you later with ecstasy. As for process—for me, there is always something deeper than just wanting to write a poem. I have not come full circle. I am still artistically and spiritually restless. And these are the qualities and characteristics I found in the works and lives of some of the poets that influenced me—June Jordan, Erich Fried, Ntozake Shange, Arthur Nortje, Anna Akhmatova, Lenore Kandel, Joanne Kyger, Breyten Breytenbach, Kofi Awoonor, Paul Celan, Sappho, Mina Loy, Zbigniew Herbert, Pentti Saarikoski, Stevie Smith, Barbara Guest, Elke Erb, Christopher Okigbo, Dambudzo Marechera, Bob Kaufman, Amiri Baraka.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I recently finished reading Wanda Coleman’s volume of poems titled Bathwater Wine. The poems in the book stood out to me because they do not poke fun at self-questioning. The poems say: Find out what the city (Los Angeles) is saying to you, and respond. Let the moment explode. There is a backstory to this riot. These poems show the ways that poetry can address the upsurge of political hooliganism in the United States of America and elsewhere.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Lyn Hejinian’s The Book of a Thousand Eyes; César Vallejo’s The Complete Posthumous Poetry; Richard Hell’s Hot and Cold; Bill Berkson’s Blue Is the Hero; Michael McClure’s Three Poems; Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary; Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

I am not a systematic reader. I read randomly and intuitively. So I dip in and out of several books. I tend to hear the call of books that need me (because of enlightenment or pleasure) to read them in bookshops, libraries, my bookshelves. I like both physical books and digital texts. I am a note-taker.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I would like to write a sequence of poems all in capital letters.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I like writing in concert halls during indie rock performances. I also like to read and write in cafés.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I enjoy hanging out in Prospect Park. I like the Billie Holiday Theatre. Those spaces are not at odds with poetry’s cultural capital. In these spaces, poetry is more of a carnival than a solemn get-together/elitist coterie thing.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate shambolic artistry
And what I drink you shall also drink
For every song falling for me as good yields to you.

Why Brooklyn?

Brooklyn helps me risk myself on the page and out of the page. It does not offer me a false sense of security. Essential to my existence is my spirit of revolt and Brooklyn affirms it. The borough is conversant with the poet as a clamorous conduit.