Saddiq Dzukogi

Poems by Saddiq Dzukogi and an interview with Phillip B. Williams

Saddiq DzukogSaddiq Dzukogi is a Nigerian poet with three poetry collections. He was a guest at the Nigerian-Korean Poetry Feast and also at the Writivism Festival in Kampala. A Pushcart nominee, his work has appeared or forthcoming in publications such as: Afridiapora, Ofi Press, Helicon, The Poetry Mail, Off the Coast, Grey Sparrow, The Bombay Review, Deep Water Literary Journal among several others. He is the Poetry Editor at Expound.  Saddiq is currently working on his manuscript; Obscene Letters & Other Contradictions.


In Passing
              “chewing footsteps too many”
                                               Linda Ashok

we have let a long time pass
coming off a miracle —eyes
are the pompous clouds

I have been there
as you were last night
at the beach to see
if the sea has returned
our footprints

we have let a long time pass
groggy like pythons
whose daily bread is bigger
than their mouths put together
but tinier than each breadbasket


I am going with the City

the city was built inside
the shadow of a mountain

and I am housed in the
smell of oak
whose branches
                        lean into the periphery
of what is as silent as a lake

everything I ever wanted
is silkscreened
      on what carries the burgh
and oak leaves
in their birthday suits

I asked this of the wind:
why are you obsessed
with moving
                  like a ghostly speed-train
without a station

I thronged through the landscape
before I squeezed into the backwoods
and emerged on a mountain: the goliath-snake
quiescent in a body-length
that knows the circumference
of the city now in my eyes


Delivery Man

The wind is a Delivery Man
we receive telegrams—
white envelopes
sailing down on its arms
—ice letters It says “the sky sent them”
the pane reads the permafrost
out loud
the air reads it to us in silence
if we are unwilling to hear the message
at a fireplace
we breathe it out— like puffs
after sucking on Cuban cigars
we too become messengers
and the night hears us
with goose bumps
as voices become hailstone


An Interview with Saddiq Dzukogi by Phillip B. Williams

Phillip: I will begin with my first question, which is really a greeting. How are you? Also, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me. I am truly in love with your work.

Saddiq: I am fine, Phillip. I trust you’re doing well too. And thank you for extending your kindness, spending your time here with me is such a kind gesture. For a reader to to be in love with my work is truly an amazing blessing. I am still showing those poems gratitude for this blessing.

P: You are far too kind. Speaking of these poems, I would like to begin with how each of them have a strong sense of haunting about them. There are footsteps that water may return to the sand, landscapes that breathe and speak via wind and trees, and silence itself embodying absence with such force that it makes of a voice “hailstones.  I am thinking of the stanza in your poem “I am going with the City”:

I asked this of the wind:
why are you obsessed
with moving
like a ghostly speed-train
without a station

Please speak to how you picture mankind’s interaction with nature and how these poems occupy that space of elegy and living all at once.

S: Nature embody metaphors for everything, scientists would say forces and a certain energy holds the universe together, but in real science especially the poetic sciences, the universe is bounded by lines and rhymes. (The world becomes a dummy without communication, verbal communication spill into literary communication; the soul of all forms of communication).

The blending of the human mental processes and body is the device that enables this interaction, once it is unlocked, you do not need a telescope to see a star when it is right there inside your mind. There are a lot of images and occurrences around us which vary with geography, for example the wind, in certain times comes cold, dry, wet, like its a vessel and we label its different comings with a name to signify what passenger it carries. It activates great understanding wherever you are on earth arising from environmental and cultural definitions, social operations, believes which bundles into total picture to enhance diverse interactions among humans on earth. I believe a poet has the capacity to summon all these pictures far and near, without a step outside his domain to appropriate human behaviour into a unitary goal of living.

P: So the science of poetry is also a science of the soul it seems. This sounds to me like if we pay attention, which is out work as writers, that we have at hand many keys to unlock many ways of understanding the world in which we live. We take so much for granted that we end up losing this intrinsic connection we have with the many elements revealed to us through natural occurrences.

In your poem “Delivery Man” you write:

The wind is a Delivery Man
we receive telegrams—
white envelopes
sailing down on its arms
— ice letters It says “the sky sent them”

I’m taken by how nature is first translate into something we do understand: a delivery man, telegrams, and white envelopes. Even with ice “letters” the weather itself must first be changed into a language that we can grasp. How did you get to these lines and really the entire poem? What acts as a “delivery man” so to speak when you find yourself inspired to write a poem?

S:  yes, I think you put it succinctly, “the science of poetry is also a science of the soul”, that is why the poet’s subconscious mind is more intelligent than the conscious one. With close observation, you begin to understand and take note of what the elements are trying to say; you draw forth meaning from the deep dish of abstraction, alluding it to the physical world, such that people who haven’t attained the Poet’s level of awareness can also penetrate this meaning using the poem as anchor.

It is a science of unraveling impossibility and erasing border lines and pushing the mind toward limitless understanding. The poem Delivery Man started from a pizza box. I was at Ibadan, Nigeria for a reading and there was a pizza shop across the hotel where I was lodged. That was my first time of trying pizza. I got back to the hotel room with a bowl of ice cream, I love ice cream so much (laughs). The television was on, there was a Truck carrying a large banner boldly written; Delivery Man in the Movie playing. That ignited the spark, I was like, what if the wind is a delivery man bringing snow flakes from the sky. The muse started to speak, and I obliged her. Once I was done with the poem, i didn’t want to share it because there is this lingering discourse in the African literary space especially here in Nigeria, that so to say, forbids writers from the use of images and entities which are not obtainable in their environments. But I am fascinated by how technology has reduced the world into my sitting room. I can see the world if I care to look– even the temperature can be regulated. Because of this,  humanity can live shared realities. Plus, if it is ok to write about Heaven and Hell, which are seemingly absent in the physical world, then it is also ok to write about winter or any other thing which is physically present on earth, or can be perceived. Anything that can be imagined should be written. And when I set out to write a poem, I am the delivery man, the voice of the muse.

P:  I am really fascinated by this idea that one cannot write about what s not “obtainable in their environments.” Can you say more about why that is and what that means to you as it concerns the larger literary community in which you dwell? Also, who are some writers who have inspired you along the way? Your way of thinking about poetry and thinking through the imaginative process is so powerful to me.

S: Yes some of the critics want writers to adhere to what they call the “African Imagery”. To them an African who writes must use this as against “Western Imagery”. This argument is made on the backbone of yearning to be independent and the accessibility of poetry to local readers.

Others say that Africa can use all the exposure it can get and that we as writers should portray our indigenous culture, environment and identity via what we write.

But for me, I believe in freedom and global imagery. My argument is that the new world is so small that an individual can be exposed to everything therein in a single life time. And, whatever the muse wants said, let it be written or spoken, using all things possible, whether alien, foreign or indigenous.

There shouldn’t be any compulsion to localized imagery, because once you’re within a particular environment, the environment forces itself into you. These are things which are beyond our control, or it will take a great deal of stress to try and check these influences. From my little experience there is a limit to what you can hide, because to a great extent even our behaviors are being shaped as a result of what we are exposed to. The channels of exposure have multiplied with every advancement the world witnesses. Today an African child listens to Rihanna, Michael Jackson, an African child knows David Beckham, Kim Kardashian and are even exposed to Celebrity lifestyles in far away America and the West. I haven’t seen Phillip’s book, yet nor have I seen Ladan Osman, but I am exposed to both your experiences by way of reading your poems published in numerous online journals. The best of artists are those who are able to carry themselves into their artistic expressions, hence if I read you, can’t that also serve as experiencing your environment?

Writers who have inspired me, well, I am fanatical about the poetry of Tomas Tranströmer, I wish I can have his brain added to mine (hahaha). His way of thinking is spectacular, and he finds a way to bring it into his poetry with ease.  TS Eliot is always close to my heart, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Unoma Azuah. And the beautiful work of Ladan Osman, my favorite contemporary African poet.

P: By staying true to yourself you have found a unique and engaging voice, one that I feel has so much space to breathe and explore. Do you also engage with younger writers? What are some of your thoughts as they concern mentorship in poetry? I’m thinking of how some poets have reached you internationally without you having met them, but we as souls with bodies and a presence may have even more influence when we interact person-to-person with other writers.  

S: I love to speak with a voice that is mine in actuality because using another’s voice is a self oppressing exercise, even outside of poetry. I am happy to realize that I instinctively insist on being true to myself. What is art without the freedom of exploration?

Yes, I engage with writers much younger than I am. I am a product of such engagement myself. My father is a writer, so have had the privilege of meeting writers. since before I started writing the environment has been enabling and supportive. As a teenager, I had already met most of the big names in Nigerian literature including two Nobel literature prize Laureates Of African descent. Sharing space with these folks is a way of mentorship  because you begin to aspire, to dream. mentorship is necessary in poetry and can be direct or indirect, for example as you have pointed out, I have mentors who are not aware of my existence, who I will probably never get to meet because they no longer belong to our world but nonetheless have huge influence on my writing and life as a writer.

I engage with younger writers every Saturday at this art centre my Dad founded in 2004; Hill-Top Arts Centre.

It is a place where secondary school students have the opportunity to explore and hone their artistic potentials at an early age.

It is a unique environment for interdisciplinary collaboration and creativity, where students use various forms of artistic expression to showcase their inherent talents.  I am a product of the said establishment and now also mentor there.  I try to expose the kids there to writers I am reading who I feel will be beneficial to their development  as writers and human beings. I don’t think being physically absent is hindrance to direct mentorship, I enjoy good relationship with Unoma Azuah, and in far away America has served as my mentor and has had more of an impact on my writing than a number of others who are as close to me as the spaces between fingers.

P: What is next for Saddiq? Where can our readers find you if they want to learn more about your work?

S:The next thing for me is poetry poetry poetry. I can be reached on twitter: @SaddiqDzukogi, though still trying to get a hold of the tweet world, I will be sharing my bits there. I do have work published in a number of online journals. Anyone who is interested in reading more can google “Saddiq M Dzukogi”.


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