Adedayo Agarau’s poetry is the product and mix of influences from the poets he has read from Leopold Sedar Senghor, J.P Clark, Niyi Osundare, to Warsan Shire, Safia Elhillo, and D.M Aderibigbe…
By Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera
It was in a 2go chat room that Adedayo Agarau’s love for poetry found wings. He was, at the time, fresh out of secondary school and seeking admission into the university. Like every other young person of that time, he often busied himself with the viral chat app. One day, he joined the poetry chat room out of curiosity, and found the members of the room throwing jabs at each other with ‘poetic words.’
Their words were mostly in Shakespearean English, full of thous, thees, and verbs ending with the -eth suffix. Amidst the gleeful chaos of people engaging in a duel of words in what they understood to be poetry, Agarau found two whose writings stood out for him. He quickly began chatting with them, and became friends with them.
These new friends turned out to be Madu Chisom who would go on to win the Eriata Oribhabor Poetry Prize in 2013, and Rasaq Malik Gbolahan who was later shortlisted for the Brunel International Poetry Prize in 2017 and is currently an author of two chapbooks.
Beyond 2go, he became friends with them on Facebook, and Rasaq began to encourage him to write poems.
On Facebook, Adedayo Agarau met a community of creatives who wrote and shared their works with one another and even published their works in literary journals. “Before that time, I didn’t even know there was anything like that; that there was a community of people somewhere writing poetry and sharing with each other,” Adedayo said. Meeting the online creative community inspired Agarau to begin writing his own poems and sharing them on Facebook. Soon after, he met Kukogho Samson Iruesiri, a known Nigerian poet who was already, at the time, an online publisher in a platform known as Words Rhymes and Rhythm (WRR/Authorpedia).
Their meeting sparked the fire of a friendship that would see Samson become Adedayo’s poetry editor and teacher. And like Iruesiri has done for many poets from Nigeria including Aremu Adams Adebisi, Ayoola Goodness Olanrewaju, over the last decade, he became the first person who published Adedayo’s poetry online in WRR. Agarau was unable to hold back on his excitement after his first ever online publication. “I was so happy that I ran to meet my father in the sitting room, to show him that I had been published!”
In the past five years, Adedayo Agarau has published three chapbooks of poems: For Boys who Went (Authorpedia 2017), The Arrival of Rain (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press 2020) and The Origin of Name (New Generation African Poets, APBF Akashic Books, 2020). Recently, he has completed a new body of poems with the working title, The Morning the Bird Died.
Adedayo Agarau’s poetry is the product and mix of influences from the poets he has read from Leopold Sedar Senghor, J.P Clark, Niyi Osundare, to Warsan Shire, Safia Elhillo, and D.M Aderibigbe. In similar fashion, Agarau’s poetry has evolved from treating topics ranging from social consciousness, societal depravity mostly handled by the earlier generation, to memory, grief, trauma, love, etc.
His newly completed work, The Morning the Bird Died completes a trilogy of works which explores the extremes of human emotions through the vantage of memory and imagination. It begins from “The Arrival of the Rain” which explores self-discovery over an expanse of torment, heartbreak, empathy, loneliness, and grief—all with a tinge of spirituality, under the shelter of love that keeps trying despite being knocked out.
It continued in “The Origin of Rain” which takes on the topic on an even deeper level as it explores rain as various metaphors, including childbirth (“Aubade for a Child with His Umbilical Cord Tied Around His Neck”), and embodies it as the coming of adolescence in a female, even when the word “rain” does not appear in the poem (“A Portrait of my Sister as Talabi”). The chapbook also takes on Yoruba mythology and examines the preoccupations of deities like Sango, Orunmila, and Ogun as they concern rain.
The work attempts to bridge the wisdom of ancient mythologies, as they relate to the poet’s experiences. In this, Agarau shares kinship with Wole Soyinka who is deeply inspired by Yoruba lores and is a devotee of Ogun, and also J.P Clark who shared a very close relationship with the river and was deeply inspired by Olokun for whom he wrote one of his most famous poems, “Olokun” titled after the goddess.
Adedayo Agarau is perhaps the most enterprising poet of his generation, as his passionate strides and initiatives have influenced young poets from the stage to the page. From 2014 to 2017, Agarau was part of a group of poets who, enthusiastically, organised poetry events which saw many young poets gather to recite and perform their poetry. Events like these were partly responsible for the Renaissance of poetry across Southwestern Nigeria which ignited interest for poetry in many young people. On Facebook, too, Agarau was one of the popular poets among the likes of Aremu Adams Adebisi, Romeo Oriogun, Ayoola Goodness Olarenwaju, etc. And even then, his presence had a guiding flair to them.
In 2016 when I began to write poetry seriously, and shortly after my publication in the defunct Custodians of African Literature, Agarau had told me, “You should learn to be economical with words. Not every word in the poetry is worth keeping.” That had been my first time receiving such advice on writing poetry. Agarau’s biggest achievement in his collaboration with young African poets is an anthology of African poetry titled Mementoes (Animal Press, 2019) which featured most important poets of the current generation including Gbenga Adesina, D.M Aderibigbe, Nome Patrick Chukwuemeka, Ifeanyi Akuchie, O-Jeremiah Agbaakin, Hauwa Shafii Nuhu, Okwudili Nebeolisa, and many others.
Presently, it is the work which, more than any, samples the wide array of poetic talents in Nigeria and presents, in aggregation, a wider picture of the direction in which poetry is headed in Nigeria.
His collaborative efforts with the poets in this project did not end in the publication of the book, but continued when he came together with some of the poets involved in the collection, including Wale Ayinla, Kolawole Samuel Adebayo, and a host of others to form the Unserious Collective. The idea began first as a group of poets who came together to organise online readings for Memento the compilation of African poetry which they had published. Then, they decided to do a writing challenge in National Poetry Month.
Despite the challenge being completed only by O-Jeremiah Agbaakin and Nome Patrick Emeka, the poets continued to meet and challenge each other — a feat which led to various innovations by members as detailed in the collective’s website.
Currently, Adedayo Agarau serves as co-editor for the Canadian indie press, Icefloe Press and as Editor-in-chief for Agbowo magazine, one of the few paying African markets for young writers. In this capacity, his work as an editor extends beyond poetry to nonfiction and fiction in Agbowo; and to literary criticism in Icefloe Press. It is to these magazines that he devotes much of his time from Thursday to the weekend in Iowa where he is currently studying for an MFA in Poetry.
Agarau’s recent initiative, the Nigerian National Poetry Prize (NNPP), is in the works, and he believes it will fill a void for poets from Nigeria at the national level, the way the Brunel International Poetry Prize has done in the African scene. “Africa’s biggest poetry exports have no prize of their own, and we keep depending on other prizes. We need to have one. Imagine if Nigeria had its own prize, Ghana had its own and many other countries, just like South Africa, could do a lot to promote our poetry,” Agarau says.
In 2017, Adedayo Agarau returned to school to get a higher degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, his scientific field of study. As much as his decision to go back to school was tied to his passion for nutrition and the role it plays in society, it was also tied to his ambition to further his degree with regards to poetry. Adedayo has consistently displayed an admirable intentionality of his vision for his poetry. This intentionality often reflects in his social media posts. From his tweet, affirming his desire to pursue an MFA degree to the other tweet after his acceptance.
Agarau’s passion for poetry is guided by an expansive curiosity which fuels his hunger in digging deep into himself and the works of other poets from the national to the continental scene. Asides creating poems, Agarau is heavily drawn to learning and discussing the works of other poets, more likely held in academic and critical spaces. “I’d love to be in a room discussing people’s works, exploring the possibilities. I also look forward to studying and researching Nigerian Contemporary Poetry in the last decade. I am passionate about promoting Nigerian and African Poetry as a whole, and of course, giving a platform to new voices across Africa,” he confirms.
While Adedayo Agarau has a large appetite for critical discussions around poetry, he has not exactly been in the best of terms with literary critics from Nigeria, some of whom hold the opinion that many poets of the current generation are not writing as well and uniquely as they should. He has had serious arguments with critics like Carl Terver and Paul Liam in the past. Agarau offers some insight, as to how literary criticism should become better in the indigenous scene: “Literary criticism has to evolve at the same pace with creative writing. You do not judge new writing with an old eye. I think this lack of evolution is what is missing in our literary criticism.”
Currently stationed in Coralville, Iowa where he is pursuing his two-year MFA degree in poetry, and barely four months in America, Agarau is still settling in. On the current relationship with his new location and his work, he says, “I am writing more in my mother tongue, while the influence of my current location is scattered everywhere in my writing. It has not fully shown in my writing but I look forward to what happens and what doors I walk into with my poetry in the future.”
Of all the features of Iowa, it is the cold and silence of the place which has gotten to Adedayo Agarau. “One evening, I drove around Iowa City and Coralville, to get a feel of where I’ll be studying for the next two years, and I was stunned by the silence that gripped this place.” This immigration marks the continuation of the poet’s journey and his works. With the introduction of a new place, new time zone, his current experiences are destined to leave their mark on his future work because a poet is the sum-total of how well he articulates his imaginations, personal experiences, and the history he has borne witness to.
Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera is a freelance journalist and editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ChukwuderaEdoozi.