I remember walking into a bookstore in Port-Harcourt City sometime in October, looking through the various book shelves, I saw Dami Ajayi’s book – CLINICAL BLUES! I read few poems from the collection and made a mental note to reach out to DAMI AJAYI. I finally reached out! In this interview, Dami talks about his new poetry collection, his love for Medicine and literature and some of his favourite books and authors.
1) THE AFRO READER: Hello Dr. Dami Ajayi, Thank You for squeezing out time from your very busy schedule to grant us this interview.
In previous interviews you mentioned that you had a soon to be released poetry collection – THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AFFECTION….but Instead you released your sophomore collection with a different title – A WOMAN’S BODY IS NOT A COUNTRY! What happened? Why the latter?
DAMI AJAYI: No title is cast in stone when a book is in manuscript form. This book was in manuscript form for a bit longer than I expected so the tentative title almost stuck. A Woman’s Body adds a few poems to The World According to Affection.
2) How do you feel about your new book – A Woman’s body is a Country? The name of your new poetry collection is quite heavy and it screams – FEMINISM. It sounds like a warning to patriarchy. What does feminism mean to you. And what should we expect in this sophomore collection.
Chuckles. It is a popular saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by the cover. Ditto for a book title. Feminism is a crucial movement that has been evolving for decades now. For me, my position and my aspiration is that self-determination is a right for every woman, every woman should be able to actualise her dream. That is what I will fight for. My book, on the other hand, is a sheaf of poems that dwells on humanity and the nature of our affection.
3) When did you realize poetry was it? Can you describe the first time you felt you could really create beautiful stories and poems? What does poetry mean to you?
I have been writing poems since I was a boy so poetry is as crucial as life itself. I don’t think poetry is limited to the pages of our books–poetry is in every part of our existence. Poetry is found in our daily use of language, in our best movement which is dance. Poetry is in our music. Poetry is in every human culture. So I find poetry everywhere and when I call myself a poet, I am only a collagist collating experiences, both personal and communal, and putting it forward for our communal contemplation.
4) What is the message in your poetry and what are your readers reactions to it?
I am wary of that kind of poetry. My poetry is about bearing witness and the response has been humbling.
5) How has medicine or being a doctor influenced your writing style?
Not sure being a doctor has affected my style of writing. I guess it has opened a repertoire of medical terms to me which often suffers my readers.
6) How has your love for literature affected your career? Are you more aware of your patients, your surroundings…?
Literature has taught me empathy; empathy which is superior to pity and sympathy.
7) How does social acceptance, consideration affect or limit your writing?
I am not sure social acceptance comes to play when I sit at my desk. I just want to write.
8) The general rule is that for you to be a great writer, you must be a greater reader. Growing up, what books did you read? And how did they shape your ability to tell stories?
I read a lot of books as a child. Practically everything in sight: a decent number of Pacesetters, Enid Blyton, African Writer Series, Chukuwuemeka Ike plus my mother’s Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Even the newspaper that wrapped suya.I am not exactly sure how they have impacted my writing but I am sure they led the foundation for whatever I am doing now.
9) How do you read with all these schedules. You are a doctor, you write poetry, you are highly interested in the music industry and publish an online literary magazine. How do you find time to read?
I have 24 hours like everyone else and I sleep as much as I can. I come from a family of multi-taskers. I guess that fluidity is probably genetic.
10) What writers are you friends with and how do they help you become a better writer?
Emmanuel Iduma, Biyi Olusolape, Ayobami Adebayo, Arthur Anyaduba, Ekiko Ita Inyang, Rotimi Babatunde, Yomi Ogunsanya, Benson Eluma., Toni Kan, These are a few of my friends. They read all my unpublished thoughts and decide which ones should see the light of day.
11) Who are some of your favourite authors? Which writer would you most likely want to have a drink with and why? More like, who is your favourite AFRICAN AUTHOR?!
Mbella Sonne Dipoko. Because of the trajectory of his career and life. He was always always different. And he didn’t even have to strive for that.
12) Why do you write? What keeps you motivated during writing slumps?
I write because writing comes naturally to me. I write because I want to bear witness to my time. I write because I can. I don’t have to be motivated. Writing is a compulsion.
13) Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It does both.
14) What are you currently reading?
Dust by Yvonne Owuor.
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo.
Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Selected Poems by Wendell Berry
While I am here, let me quickly tell you about by Aduke Gomez
15) Do you re-read books? If yes, what books have you read more than once?
All the time. Especially poetry. I love to re-read Hansen Ayoola’s She Died Yesterday, Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, Cyprian Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana and Irving’s A Widow for One Year and The Cider House Rules.
16) What is the most liberating thought you have ever had and what did it liberate you from?
Only you can save yourself. That single thought has helped me navigate all the problems of life.
17) If you could go back and whisper in the ear of your 16year old, what would you tell them?
Live your dreams!
18) Are there poets who tremendously influenced your writing style?
I am a confluence of influences. From TS Eliot to Taban Lo Liyong. From Era Pound to Wendell Berry. From William Carlos Williams to Femi Oyebode to Niran Okewole. Musician too like Fela, Lil Wayne, Andre 3000, King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey. My poetics remains impressionable.
19) Tell me about the last literary reading or event you attended?
The third edition of the Lagos International Poetry Festival. It brought poets and spoken word artistes from all over the world to Lagos to share poetry and it indeed was fun.
20) Packing for a journey and allowed to take one book. What will it be?
The book keeps changing. Currently it is Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal.
21) Advice to others and best advice you have gotten?
Be yourself. That is the best advice ever.
22) Recommend 5 books you think every one should read!!!
Poems of Black Africa by Wole Soyinka
No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe
A Widow of One Year by John Irving
At least one James Hadley Chase title
One Day I Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina
23) Describe African literature and what does literature mean to you!
African Literature was described at Makerere in 1962. African Literature is probably the section where my book will exist in an international bookshop. It is a label I am willing to accept.
24) Do you think someone can be a writer if they do not feel emotion strongly?
Sure. A writer of concept and theories best fit for a classroom.
25) Some of the struggles you face when you write?
My major concern is how to ace the next sentence.
26) What was the best money you ever spent as a writer/reader?
I don’t regret any monies I have ever spent buying books.
28) In an interview you talked about how the inspiration for SARABA magazine came as a result of rejections from literary magazines. What do you have to say to young writers who are still looking for homes for their art, their stories…
Be the best you can be. Write hard. Read harder. Live. Submit your work. Doubt those who reject your work. Keep keeping on.
Dami Ajayi finds a way to fuse being a writer into his busy doctor schedule. Known as Jolly Papa (JP for short) by his friends—a sobriquet he took from a song by Rex Lawson—the poet cum doctor cum music critic makes seamless transitions between these orbits around which his life rotates.
His fiction has appeared online as well as in print in several anthologies including Gambit: New African Writing and Songhai 12: New Nigerian Voices. His music reviews, book reviews and journalism have appeared in the Guardian UK, Wawa Review of Books, OlisaTv etc.
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