David Ishaya Osu is a poet, memoirist and street photographer. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies across Nigeria, Uganda, the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, India, France, Bangladesh, South Africa, Austria, etc. He is the poetry editor of Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, and a board member of Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation based in Uganda. David has an MA in Creative Writing (with distinction) from the University of Kent, and is the author of the poetry chapbook, “When I’m Eighteen.” He tells AWAAL GATA how his recent stay in London has impacted his writing.
Your poems are being published in magazines across the world frequently; why are you still withholding the release of a full collection? Are we close to having one?
I am not withholding my first full-length collection. Poetry is not to be withheld; it is soulmate for all. So, yes, I am currently shopping for a publisher. I did hand over the manuscript to two publishers in the UK, and got a very sweet rejection. So, yes, we are close to having my first full collection of poems. By the way, I just released a poetry chapbook titled “When I’m Eighteen.”
Why don’t you want to self-publish? It is mostly the only option poets have in this age. Why do you want to be an exception?
I do not agree with that. There are hundreds of poetry collections being published traditionally and widely. My fact is that, to write and to have written the poems is to self-publish; the other phase or stage is to share the work with the world. I am in the world and of the world. Self-publishing has its many wahalas, and me, I just want to write and hand over the work to a publisher to do what they can do in distributing it.
Did your stay in London give any boost to your writing?
The boost to my writing is my mind, imagination, my will, and London showed me something new. Of course, new experiences open up new seeing, new embodying, new stimulation, new challenge. I love it in the UK. I love it away from Nigeria, away from epileptic power supply, away from generator noise, away from fear of someone snatching your laptop in broad daylight in Mararaba, away from mediocrity, from creative repression, away from malaria. I tasted another side of my wild, restless, untameable spirit in London. A city of trains going and coming, buildings that resemble what you have in mind, of bodies central to time and echoes. The city places in front of you and projects your longings, your vision, reachable or not, and even your displeasure. So far, leaving places is a big boost to my imagination and creativity. Moving is central to my expansion.
If you had been living in London since you started writing, would you have fared better as a writer?
That is not for me to say or bother about. What I have is the present, to write and keep writing and keep expanding my craft, wherever I am.
You have been effusive with your poems, when are we going to have a taste of your memoir?
I’ve been writing flash memoirs and publishing in journals. So, there are several tastes of my memoir everywhere. I am already working on a collection of essays. I don’t know when it will be fully ready. For now, writing is most important; it’s my core.
How has the pandemic affected your thought as a writer? Is the lockdown having any (poetic) effect on you?
I am currently with family in Nigeria, and catching up on unused time. The lockdown isn’t having any poetic effect on me at all. Yes, I am writing and reading as usual, and sharing laughter with my siblings and mum; but the prayer is that, this should pass and that all should be well. People are counting losses, cancelled gigs, money lost, social distancing, etc. We shall overcome, survive and thrive. Our capacity to live through times, both good and bad, is boundless.
What does photographing the street entail? What is your long time aim as a photographer? How are the images you capture determined?
Photographing the street, for me, is loving and appreciating the dailiness of life. Everyday humanity. Every day people carry with them various technical rules, theories, aims, ambitions, fears, joys, pains, angst, desires, etch. When I go out to make street photographs, I do not hold any aims but an open heart. A heart to behold magic, beauty, human emotions; to partake in the mystery of time, unknowingness, uncertainty, strangers, the connectedness of life. I remember bumping into an older woman in Liskeard in Cornwall. She told me she worked for a photographer in her early years and even did a few photography gigs those days. In the few minutes we shared together, it was as though we had known each other for so long. Guess what? going by my intuition, I didn’t take a photograph of her, and I told her, she laughed and said, that’s the crazy beautiful thing with artists. I wanted the image of her awesomeness to stick in my mind, with no physical trace in pictures. I feel alive on the street, expanded, opening my personas to receive as many souls I can, as well as gifting myself.
Sometimes, it’s not the photograph one makes, but that smile you get to give or receive from a stranger. That wink, that split second, that chat, that gaze, that warmth. I remember a driver zoomed, passed me screaming and waiving cheers, cheers; I didn’t get a photograph of him but got his cheers – I can still find echoes of his cheers in my head. On the street, I do no select nor delete; I embrace all. Humans are universes on their own, boundless; their being, infinite. Well, for exhibition and publications, one must select what to show; you don’t want to jam beauty into a single loaf of bread, there’ll be more.
Selection is done by listening to what the image is saying, and looking even more intently, squinting. Photographing the street is me extending my love, my concerns, mystery, my childlikeness to people out there, and in return experiencing theirs. Interestingly, these objects of perception are reflected in buildings, in glass walls, stacks, dresses, colours, floors, furniture, and so on.
Which are you most passionate about between poetry, photography and memoirs?
They are all sides of the same coin. All sides of the same polygon. They are mediums among many other mediums of life. And I am passionate about all of them, everything art. Architecture, music, flowers.
I give myself wholly to poetry, yes; but that doesn’t reduce or minimise the potency or aliveness of other forms of art. It’s like choosing between sleeping and eating or between peeing and drinking water; they come together to form something whole. You’d see photographs in my poems, see poems in my memoirs, see poems in photographs, see memoirs in my poems, see buildings/architectural explorations in my poems. I am on earth to explore all fissures of life and death. Central to my drive is the unlimited creative energy that is my being, my imagination. That same energy running our universe. Be it poetry, fashion, food, love, architecture, surfing, science, medicine, technology, name them.
What is your view on Nigerian literary landscape? The oeuvres are churning are churning out commendably; what is your view on the politics?
I have erased my views on the Nigerian literary landscape; I do not want one. Folks should sit their arse down and make art – great art.