Black Boy Review

A Poem after My Father Fell Off His Motorcycle – Ukata, Edwardson


I am thrilled to engage in a thought-provoking conversation with the immensely talented Ukata Edwardson, a remarkable queer nonbinary poet from Nigeria. Edwardson’s distinct voice and evocative writing, exemplified in the poignant poem “With My Father, like Scent with a Flower—IV,” published in POETRY Magazine, have left an indelible mark on the literary landscape. Join me as we delve into the inspirations, creative process, and profound themes that shape Edwardson’s poetic journey, offering us a unique perspective on life, identity, and the power of words.

Ukata, Edwardson, is a queer nonbinary writer from Nigeria, finalist for the 2022 Anzaldua Poetry Prize by Newfound, featured on POETRY, Lolwe, FOLIO, Channel, Vastarien, Consequence, Afritondo, Aster Lit, and elsewhere. They tweet @eddiewatson31.

One of your poems has struck us over time, published in Poetry Magazine. We would love to know; what sparked the inspiration for “With My Father, like Scent with a Flower—IV”?

I have been asked a lot of questions about this poem, but frankly, not about what inspired it. A lot of people believe it was the death of my mother, but that is not true. My mother is alive and well, just not in this piece of literature. It sometimes is a question of genuineness and honesty; why would any poet write a fictitious story, isn’t poetry supposed to cut through the deepest truths of reality? Well, the truth is, in all reality, every piece of art and literature performs a little lie. However, lying is not the dangerous thing here, not in this poem, the truth is, and now let me say it. This poem was inspired by multiple events, all which happened over years. But, what sparked me to write it was my father falling off his motorcycle into a nearby bush of ixoras. That’s the truth, and it’s embarrassing. He doesn’t even remember. The embarrassment is the danger, because the underlying reason could have destroyed me, or even now, could still destroy me using people’s eyes and hot opinions. We went out together to see a friend of his, but he has a drinking problem, and that was just it. It always fascinates me, the way he was reduced to beauty; he had gone to be a man with bottled spirits that day, my toxically masculine father, only to return home with little flowers on his face.

Can you walk us through the creative process behind crafting this particular poem?

This poem is the fourth of a four-chaptered piece. That’s why it has the Roman figure “IV” attached to it. Many people have asked me the significance of that, and I always say it just means “four,” and that’s something many people do not accept — ordinariness. In crafting this poem, I can’t say there was a “creative” process. I started the poem on a piece of paper. I was in an Educational Technology class. I wrote the first chapter ignoring my lecturer’s voice. The rest of the poem, including this particular chapter, I completed at home while actively devouring a pack of chips the way a wild rat would attack food if it had been hungry for days. Is that a creative process, just being in an ordinary eating state? I can’t say. I don’t know. I think the term creativity is subject to the nature of our perception. If I slept and woke up with a drool mark on my face, my sleep has been creative. If I ate the last chicken in the house and my friend swears revenge on me, my eating has been creative.

What range of emotions were you aiming to evoke in readers through the lines of this poem?

This question makes me think about the concepts of intentional mastery and talent, and the reason is that, looking back, I was in no way intentional about this poem. When writing this poem, I hadn’t pre-thought the significance of it or its importance at all. There was no underlying mission to make people feel a certain type of way while reading it. There was no systematic structuring, no technical maneuvers or any of the professional stuff. It was just plain writing, but mostly for myself, in a way. This shows how selfish humans can be, whether intentionally or not, consciously or not. I wrote this poem to ease myself. Something had happened and I had witnessed it, something that struck a chain of memories in me and uprooted emotions and traumas I had buried under time. The process was to help me not be enveloped by these feelings, and by writing poetry, I felt cuddled, companioned, and we all do know what science happens when two bodies meet. It’s like a hug between lovers where one suffering shares the warmth of that suffering with the other, and the other carries it as an offering of depth and it deeply affects their life. This makes me understand how, in the truest sense, the poet is a convener, a medium, a fleshed channel. I see it as a miracle, how people felt so many emotions while reading this work. I was feeling many emotions too while writing it, so perhaps this is the true nature of humanity, to be connected without permission.

Did a specific event or personal experience significantly influence the development of this poem?

Yes, specific events and personal experiences significantly influenced the development of this poem, one of which is the biggest source: memories of my first true love. I was in secondary school when I first fell truly in love, just a couple weeks after being serially abused sexually and raped by three senior boys. It was with a National Youth Service ‘Corper’ who had been posted to my school, a Shola, who in the first weeks of his stay, had learned to not mind his business about me. It wasn’t his fault. After the abuse, I became withdrawn from my environment. A couple more unique tragedies had followed it, like my father dismissing my masculinity, my pain, my bruised identity, under the defense of culture and patriarchal indoctrination, like me trying to drown myself and not being able to allow my teenage body die, like the sorrow and silence in my mother’s eyes when the incident arrived my home, like the guilt of not being strong enough to live but also not strong enough to die. These unique and beautiful tragedies bundled my formerly busy body into quietude, and my Corper noticed me being erased. The memories we shared, the truth in the feelings I had for him live long in me even after I heard about his death two years later. My friends know this story. Nobody knows, though, how much this memory had the power to destroy me, a power which is sentient, and occasionally causes an explosion within my spirit. There are many other events, but another big source was my gay friend’s fallout with his father during their mother’s funeral. It all makes me think about how humans are such susceptible animals, and how much power susceptibility gives us. I wrote this poem thinking of the many arguments I had with my father, sometimes about stupid things, many times fueled by the anger I brewed in me. To many children, fathers are a disappointment, as mine is to me. But I love my father very much, and many times I just think it is the fault of kindness. That’s why in this poem I am with him. That’s why over the years, I’m always happy when he reads my works and pride glimmers in his eyes. I love my father very much, and that’s why I choose to stay with him regardless of the grief that broods whenever we’re together, like scent with a flower.

How do you make decisions about the structure and form of your poems, and how did that apply to this piece?

Not until recently have I taken an intentional decision to write in particular forms like the Duplex, Pantoum, etc. I mean, while starting off, like almost all poets, I wandered through traditional writing styles and techniques, but I discovered I have always had a keen connection with my poems that I tend to feel how a poem wants to look, how it wants to present itself, and while writing this piece, it was the same occurrence. Remember I mentioned I started it off on a piece of paper? Well, on the paper, it had no particular form or structure. However, while typing it into my phone, it felt like I could hear the poem say “make me a story,” and that’s how it became a prose poem. I look at my pieces and they tell me what makes them beautiful and comfortable, they tell me what makes them powerful, and I think that’s a true connection, or should be. It’s like the relationship between a mother and a child— the relationship between a person and their creation, a god and their playground. This means everybody is a mother, and the things we create, whether friendships or even enmity, are living entities, and have internally organized needs that we need to listen to, educate, suggest, and make the best out of.

What role does imagery play in conveying the message, and why did you choose the specific images present in the poem?

Imagery, I think, is the most powerful tool to use in passing a message— the gift of sight, of perception— there’s nothing quite like it. Imagery is in itself the inspiration for creation, the astute factor responsible for likely everything; that’s how powerful its role is in poetry writing, in anything at all. For this poem, I chose the specific images present because, like I have mentioned before, I simply wanted to talk about my father and the grief the concept of him embodied. The subliminal image of my mother being absent was also about my father, about him being present but also being absent, being together and also without, and of course, about my friend’s great loss. I chose that image because anyone could relate to losing a family who ideally loved them the most, and this doesn’t mean all mothers are epitomes of such affection, it just means that the idea of being a mother is governed by the idea of being the truest source of affection for your creation. And family does not have to be a congregation of hereditary biology either. Love is a universal mother. Love is the mother of the universe.

Is there a central message or theme you intended to convey through the lines of this poem?

At the time, I wasn’t consciously particular about it, but yes, the central theme I intended to convey was the theme of “grief in argument.” That could mean a lot of things, like the grief of arguments, or the grief in arguments, or the grief about arguments, but then it all boils down to the concept of grief, the school of it, and the perception of it. In this poem, grief is a good place, as much as it is a bad place. In this poem, grief is a place of extravagance as much as it is a place of moderation. In this poem, grief is a place of quiet, as much as it is a place of noise, a place of adventure as much as it is a place of solitude, a place of pride as much as it is a place of loss, a place of unity as much as it is a place of debate. As it is with general life, that there’s no one direction, but always a center, from which is the point both sides can be seen, observed, and balanced.

Do you believe the poem achieved the goals you set out to accomplish when you began writing it?

I didn’t have great expectations for the poem so I was extremely surprised when it got picked up by POETRY Magazine. It was a great first platform for that poem, and a powerful enhancer of the movement I sought to make with that poem. Since its publication, I’ve received many testimonies of connection to it. One day I went online and discovered it was one of somebody’s favorite poems of the month. People lost it over the last line, over the humor in the question, over the delivery. Somebody told my sister he read a poem and cried out his heart, only to show the poem to my sister and it was this, mine. My sister isn’t even really into literature, neither are her friends. But someone out of the circle of everyday poeticism read it and connected to it, and so I think, yes. To a large extent, this poem has achieved the goals I set out to accomplish when sending it out, because, again, when I began writing it, the goals I set out to accomplish were for myself, and even so, the poem has achieved them.

Were there specific challenges you faced during the writing process of this poem?

Well, there was the challenge of not having a good digital device like a laptop, not that I now have one, but at least I have a better phone now. There was also the challenge of not knowing how to start, even though I already had the title. I believe a lot of writers face this challenge of having an idea but not exactly knowing how to begin. I always begin my poems with their titles. I build my poems from the idea guiding their titles. The moment I try to take another route to writing as such, I fail. I come up with something that feels disarranged, and I know this because the works themselves tell me “we have magnitude but we do not have direction.” This is to say that for me to manage any challenges that are not as external as having a laptop or being in the right environment, and are as internal as fighting with poems, I think about the idea, imagine it, put myself into the character of it, and then completely listen to it.

Are there some poets, poetry or general literature you read or came across that might have influenced you when creating this poem?

Not immediately before writing it, I’d say. But of course, I’d read many poets before then, many pieces of literature, and they’d all left something behind in me, something I definitely used in writing this poem, even though I can’t particularly identify them. Poets like Martins Deep, Romeo Oriogun and Jericho Brown were my most interesting poets at the time. Their works did something to me and made me feel things I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was out of these feelings that my wells of memory were disturbed, and this poem birthed. Recently, my most favorite poets include Carl Philips, Jericho Brown, Essex Hemphil, and myself. Yes. I don’t do a lot of reading, but I do read a lot of poets and poetry, and literature in general, at random, whenever I come across them and am in the mood. Whenever I want to write a poem, though, and can’t seem to find the poetic push to do so, I go into my catalog and read old poems, edit some, and before I know it, I’m writing again.

How does the poem reflect your distinctive personal style as a poet?

I remember being told once about how I had found my poetic voice and continued with it. I never fully understood what was meant by that, by poetic voice, but I do understand that my technique is to be tender, even in violence, to say terrible things in light ways, and talk about heavy events in light tones. I’ve discovered it’s easier for me to write like in a conversation with someone I love and know, to write myself like a story meant only for their ears and hearts, like I would give them my body in the softest manner, and be tender for their consumption, even in the toughest of positions. It is like lovemaking and like a one-night stand but with someone who steals your breath away. That is what poetry does to me, it steals my breath away, so I try to make myself a lover worth the while.

If you could make one change to this poem now, what would it be?

I don’t know. Every time I’ve read it since its publication, I’ve read it with the eyes of a proud parent and not with the eyes of a critic. I’ve read it with admiration and love, to learn from it, and to celebrate it. These intentions have not allowed me to see anything wrong or changeable from it, and I do, in fact, think it’s a perfect poem. I console myself with that thought, which as a matter of fact, was inspired in me by its publication. And I know an advice given to writers is to never judge the quality of their works by the platforms that publish them. However, being picked up by POETRY gave me a perception into writing, a perception that has helped me become able to identify work with the potential to be excellent. The POETRY team went through an editorial process with me on the poem to make sure things were perfect and standard. We had to remove a hyphen, and standard-case “death.” I think we also removed a semicolon somewhere and replaced it with a period. It was all to see the creation bloom into the beauty it was meant to be. So, I think even with the opportunity, I wouldn’t alter this poem.

Can you share any insights into future poems or projects, and whether this piece has influenced your upcoming work?

Yes, I have recently completed a full-length manuscript which I have already sent out to two opportunities. One has rejected it, and I’m yet to hear from the other. This poem is the titular poem of the book which has the first (other) three chapters. Likely all the poems in that book are about my fathers and how my fathers have been my mothers, and how my mothers have been my mirrors of self-reflection, and how my self-reflections have been the spark of my defiance, my resilience, and my resistance. The book discusses family, disease, grief, and the politics of africanness. I don’t feel too confident about the work because it’s my first full length, but I have felt that book, and it has told me it is strong enough to go into the world.

This interview was conducted and edited by Chimee Adioha

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