Born to the renowned late Senator Uche Chukwumerije, Dike Chukwmerije is known for his undoubted passion in the world of poetry. Spoken words could be melodious to the ears but his performance poetry leaves you unaware of the world outside. The award winning author creates no barrier between him and the many young poetry artists who wish to draw from his well of authenticity.
As Dike leads us into his poetry life…
Tell us about Dike Chukwumerije
I am a poet and I am also a novelist. I have a couple of novels. I am a writer essentially. That’s who I am- writer, poet, novelist, public speaker sometimes, performance poet, spoken word artist.
Give us a little bit of your background
I read Law in school, that’s my background in terms of academics but writing is something I have always done since I was a little boy. So that has always been my natural ability and I have developed it to what it is now.
At what point did you decide to go into full-time poetry? What was the turning point?
I’m not into full-time poetry. I do other things as well, I still do other things. I don’t really want to have poetry as the only thing I do, I have other interests and abilities. But I began to take poetry very seriously maybe 10 to 12 years ago. The turning point was a prolonged period of unemployment in my life. I couldn’t get a job so I sat down and asked myself, “What’s one thing you’ve always done?” And writing was one thing I’d always done and from then I just decided to take it seriously, believing it would make a way for me since nothing else was working at the time.
Tell us about Simply Poetry
Simply Poetry is a company I formed to promote poetry and to really introduce poetry to mainstream audiences. It is a production company that does poetry shows, spoken word production, video, audio CDs, workshops. Our objective is to make poetry (performance poetry) a mainstream form of entertainment in Nigeria.
We know you hold Made In Nigeria (MIN) and Night of Spoken Words (NSW) shows. Can you throw more light on them?
Night of Spoken Word (NSW) is our flagship event. We do it every year, twice a year. We started in 2013 and we’ve done seven editions of it and we are planning for the eighth edition in February 2018. It’s a standard performance poetry event where we bring in performance poets from around the country and have them perform one after the other. Highly entertaining and it’s a lot of demand for it.
Made In Nigeria (MIN) is our maiden spoken word theatre production so it’s like a play, like a musical but then it uses poetry. It’s a 2-hour long stage event and we have been on a tour with it for the last 11 months. We have been around the country- Lagos, Benin, Ile-Ife, Enugu- to perform this before hundreds of people all to very good reviews. So that’s what Made In Nigeria (MIN) is.
What does Dike do with his leisure time, when it isn’t poetry?
What I do with my leisure time… I watch TV (laughs). I like to watch TV. I play with my children; spend time with the family, my wife. I read a lot, I write a lot. I do lots of exercise as well, sports.
Where do you see poetry going from the way you are pushing it?
We want to see a situation where performance poetry is an industry and we have lots of performance poets who are able to earn a living from their arts and who are respected as artists by the society, and who get sponsorships from companies just like other artists do. We want to see a lot more performance poetry shows that achieve national prominence and draw attention on national and international levels. So, we are hoping in the next 5 to 7 years, we want to really see an expansion and growth in the industry.
Are there efforts to reach the younger minds and helping them improve in their skills?
Yes. We do open mics. I also volunteer with an organization known as Abuja Literary Society and we hold weekly open mics which is open to everybody. We have a lot of young people come through and we also help to groom a lot of young writers. Personally, I have worked with a couple of schools in the past, sort of introducing performance poetry and spoken words, and helping schools with performance poetry programs with their students; and a lot of performance poetry and spoken word artists in Abuja who do the same. So, there is a lot of reaching out to younger writers and younger people.
In the course of pursuing this vision, what have been your challenges?
Main challenge is awareness. A lot of people do not know what the art is. There’s the challenge of bringing a new product into the market. And then funding; this is because the challenge with awareness is the challenge with attracting funding performance poetry projects.
How available to those who wish to have you mentor them?
To be honest, I am not really available, in terms of one-on-one mentorship because of my schedule. But I’m someone who believes you don’t really need to know someone personally for them to mentor you because I’ve been mentored by people I have never spoken to or met, simply by engaging very seriously with their works and really studying what they do. Sometimes I think that people come close to you and because they become friends with you, they miss the point and not to be effectively mentored. But I’m also trying to develop more structures for perhaps teaching or sharing tapes with people. I’m sure in the nearest future I should have a formal program that people can apply to or more formalized sort of formalized mentoring session.
Briefly, what is your advice to those coming up in the poetry world?
Passion, passion, passion. You have to deep in your passion for it. You have to really look into yourself to be original and authentic. You have to practice, practice, practice, both your writing and performance. You have to practice all the time, practice makes perfect. And I will advice this- try and be a pioneer, a trailblazer. The industry is still small so there are many unexplored areas, many virgin areas. Try and go into those areas and do unique things.