Hello Iyanu, how are you doing?
I’m alive. I can’t believe it. [chuckles]
We googled Iyanu Adebiyi and you are dominating the first page on Google. Your poems are amazing, and you are successfully carving a niche for yourself. Can you please take us through your journey?
I guess you can call it a journey, but the places I’ve been to are the hearts of the people I’ve met. First, it was growing up with my father’s library, then there were two teachers who helped lay a good foundation for me; Ms. Akunna, my very first Literature in English teacher. She took interest in me after giving us an impromptu test on her very first lecture. She gave me friendship and made me fall in love with literature.
Mr. Henry, was a no-nonsense English teacher, who was very kind to me. I can’t explain it, but I found myself writing essays and short stories at the end of every school day for him to grade. When he began to mess up my work with his red ink, I wanted to stop but found that I was hooked already.
I also had friends at that time who nicknamed me ‘Soyinka’ and that sort of stuck. I guess all of these provided a good foundation for a lifetime of writing for me, but the thing that made me conscious of writing the most was heartache. [smiles]
I’d been rejected by many people, who meant so much to me. I was thinking about suicide and had developed a very low self esteem. One day, I was scrolling through my timeline and saw a post by Michael Ogah. He was writing about how it felt to be depressed and want to commit suicide in a way that resonated deeply with me. As I read on, it suddenly dawned on me that I had talents that I wasn’t using and that, to me, implied suicide. Impulsively, I started to send friend requests to writers on Facebook and that opened a whole new community to me. There I met fine writers like Hymar David, Tj Benson, Ife Olujuyigbe, Akintunde Aiki, Innocence Silas and a host of many others. Innocence’s poems had a great influence on me and because I used to write songs in my childhood, poetry came naturally.
Early this year, I met myself. It was like the experience of Adam and Eve at Eden when their eyes were opened and they saw their nakedness. I wrestled with myself. Sometimes I won, but mostly, I got beaten to a pulp and out of my wounds, poetry gushed out and right there in my pain, I knew the world needed my poems, so I started to post them online. After a few months, I started to do spoken word because I wanted to embody my poems and allow them heal me.
At what age did you write your first poem and can you tell us what you did with it?
I must have been 18 years old, when I wrote “Standing Friend”. I can remember being so scared that I had to shut my eyes when I published it on Facebook.
You recorded the ‘Up Nepa’ poem in celebration of Nigeria’s 56th independence what inspired you?
I am a very patriotic person, and I got inspired by my enthusiasm for Nigeria. Nigerians need to know that if anything good must come out of this country, then it must come out of every single one of us.
I do believe that we are still going to be great, so I wanted to spread hope, to let Nigerians know that we can make it out of these hard times if we come together and put heart and mind to raising our nation from the ashes. As a country, our mentality is marred by the past. We need to unlearn many things, forget about what has happened and strive to reach a common goal.
Spoken word is gradually becoming a thing in Nigeria but some people still don’t know what it is about. Would you be kind enough to explain the concept?
Simply, Spoken Word is poetry when it is performed. For me, Spoken Word is poetry that decides to stand up from the pages of a book. It has the power of breath because it is spoken. I believe that when words are spoken, they have better effect and meaning because the poet has the opportunity to embody the poem and also portray the exact meaning of the poem. A person’s voice is the DNA of his or her spirit, so when a poem is being spoken it allows for a connection with the audience.
Spoken Word is usually written to address a particular issue that is relevant to the society or audience to which he is performing the poem, there has to be a binding force, a unifying factor and a shared experience so that even though the poet is speaking from his own perspective, the audience is able to enjoy the performance as though it were theirs.
It has strong ties with the hip hop culture, story telling and monologue theatre. Some spoken word pieces require the use of word play, gesticulation, free styling etc. Yes, in Nigeria, spoken word is becoming a thing and that is a welcome development.
What’s the worst thing anyone has said about your poem and what was your reaction?
“It’s too dark, it might trigger depression.” This really hurt, because depression is one of the things I hope to cure with my poetry. I was sad for a few days within which I was feeling useless, but I shrugged it off, knowing that empathy is not darkness. My poems are meant to heal, especially by telling sad people that I know how they feel, that they are not alone. You know, something to take them through that pain and help them really conquer it, not run away from it. If it triggers depression, then it means there was a problem the person didn’t know he or she had before reading my poem.
Different people write for several reasons; fame, fortune, impact. Can you please tell us why you write?
The reason I write is pretty much summarized in Isaiah 61:1-3, which is to bring good news to the hopeless, to heal the brokenhearted, to release souls from their prisons and proclaim freedom, to comfort all who mourn and grieve.
I believe it is a calling and whenever I write. I write knowing that I’m the voice of a people who may never get heard. I write knowing that hey, somebody’s life could take a positive turn because they read my poem, and so that the younger generation can say, “If Iyanu can do it, then I can do it ten times more.”
The other day, someone I don’t know from Adam sent me a message saying that, my poems may be the only reason why she is still alive. So I write, knowing that I am somebody’s answered prayer and a line from my poem could be the mantra that saves a life. It sounds too pompous or ridiculous, but I’m beginning to believe that.
Do you have a writing mentor and why?
Right now, I can’t say I have a mentor. Maybe I’d just feel out of place with a mentor because I’m doing the type of thing I’m doing. Nobody can teach me pain, passion or purpose. These things just spring up on me and how I catch them is my poetry. Also, I am afraid that I might begin to write like someone else. I want to protect my originality, but that doesn’t stop me from learning from others by asking questions and observing.
On the average, how many times do you edit a poem before you say it’s ready?
Who is counting? [laughs] I don’t count. I just write until the picture I have in my hand resembles the picture I have in my heart.
What’s your take on the belief that ‘talk is cheap’?
Talk is not cheap. Talk is expensive. In fact, it takes a huge amount of courage to speak up in these days of social media subs and bullying.
I think the statement was borne out of frustration from hearing people say that they’re going to do this or that without putting any effort, but talk is where change starts from. I do believe that the world is in so much turmoil because of silence. We are not speaking up enough.
When Iyanu is not writing, or performing, Iyanu is…?
Singing. I write songs and sing in the choir. I’m currently teaching myself how to play the piano, in order to further develop my music skills. I also sell poetry inscribed t-shirts.
Complete this statement One day my writing will…
…crown the lips of children. It will be the song they sing to themselves when they are trapped in darkness.
Is there a poet, writer or spoken word artist you would absolutely love to meet and why?
Kahlil Gibran is the poet I’d absolutely love to meet. He’s dead, and I wish I could wake him up from the grave, put my hands on his shoulders, shake him vigorously and ask: “what is your ‘juju’? But the words he requested to be written on his tomb say there’s no need for that; “A word I want to see written on my grave: I am alive like you, and I am standing beside you. Close your eyes and look around, you will see me in front of you.”
What’s your advice to upcoming poets?
What I’ll say to upcoming poets is this; There is no ‘upcoming’ when it comes to poetry. You’re either a poet or not. ‘Upcoming’ is just your excuse for not rising up to your full potential. Cut that crap and own it. Write from your soul. As long as you feel what you write, don’t be afraid to spill the truth of your existence on the world.