Bola Opaleke is a Nigerian-Canadian poet. His first poetry collection was published in 2012. A Pushcart Prize Nominee, Bola's poetry has appeared in many international publications, both in print and online. He lives in Manitoba with his young family. Find out more at www.bolaopaleke.com
How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The book changed my life in the sense that it brought some new attention to my work, and by doing so made even more people show interest in my craft. Since my last published book, I have met and been inspired by a whole lot of brilliant writers and mentors.
How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I embraced poetry very early in life, even when I hardly knew what ‘poetry’ was. In nursery rhymes I was always thrilled by the choice of words and their musical tunes. I saw how poets talk about different things in different ways, so unlike how everyone else talked about those things, and I wanted to do the same thing.
How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It is “all of the above”. Sometimes works come together quickly, other times they come slow. The most important thing for me is the completeness of it. If I feel like it’s the sixth day of the creation then I take the seventh off. Job done. But that often takes a while. Mostly, there’s always room for revision.
Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
My work does not follow a particular order. Sometimes it begins from the end actually. Other times I work my way upward. A poem, for me, could start with a line or a brilliant quote from someone. It could be something I just heard on the news or saw in a movie.
Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Yes. I enjoy doing readings, but I have not been doing a lot of them because of my day job. Writing should be a fulltime job and I just don’t have that luxury at this time. Public reading helps develop a writer’s performance skill. It is great.
Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Most of my writing attempts to respond to political and socio-economic questions. We can have an argument about the man being a reflection of his own shadow and see how some people would say it is a mis-statement. You’ll always find conversations in my work. Because sometimes the question is actually the answer, and that is the beauty of poetry.
What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Writers have always been some sort of prophets. The origin of all written arts is in the prophetics. Without a voice reminding all about what was and what might be, there is no chance for what is already is. A writer’s role is to question the questions, show the incompleteness of complete answers. They call what is not as though it was. In a writer, you will find a god, a prophet and a king. I was having a conversation about writers with a sociologist and she asked “you say god, prophet and king, what about a slave?” I told her, a slave is no slave if they can find a pen. A slave with a pen is a king.
Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I have not worked with a lot of editors. But my experience with the ones I have worked with has been great. Yes. I think working with an outside editor is essential - could be difficult, but essential.
What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
You don’t know what you’re doing until you know what you’re doing. As an emerging writer I give myself this advice all the time. Sometimes you look at someone’s work (established writer) and think, “How is this a brilliant piece?” An established writer did not just wake up one day and become established. I’m sure you can fill in the gap.
What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I have absolutely no writing routine. None! Maybe I will one day, but right now, I’m working on becoming a writer.
When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When I’m stalled, I just walk away. Get on with my life. I really don’t walk around with the idea that I have to write anything. For me, the urgency and necessity must be present. We have millions of writers around the world. There is a tendency to think that someone has already written or is writing what you’re trying to write. The difference is the substance of its being; the urgency in your own voice. I am always willing to wait for that voice.
What fragrance reminds you of home?
When I am around trees, alone. Maybe walking in the woods outside the city. It often brings back the memory of the past. The scents of nostalgia.
David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Yes. Nature for sure. I just mentioned the trees. Also, movies and music. But books mostly.
What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I watch movies a lot. Epic movies mostly. I love anything that takes me on a journey into the past.
What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Hmmm. Well, there are few. But a very important one is to plant a thousand trees.
If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
If not a writer, I would be a potter.
What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Well, it is cheap. All I need is a pen and a paper (which I don’t even have to buy). Coming from a place where everything is monetized; where voices are vetted; where a protest is met with stiff punishment, trust me, writing is cheap.
What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Last book? The African Child by Camara Laye. I would be reading Jericho Brown’s The Tradition next. And film? Hmm. A Few Good Men. Just can’t get it out of my head!
What are you currently working on?
I am in the process of completing my new book. I have a few publishers/editors already waiting to read it, so there is the extra challenge to make it “not a disappointment”.