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Meet: Dike Chukwumerije

I had heard quite an earful about this personality we’re meeting this week and was in awe the day I finally witnessed him perform. He is a master of words and a mind that speaks the words that every man should hear.  Please Meet Dike Chukwumerije

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Dike Chukwumerije is a member of the Abuja Literary Society (ALS) and the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). An award winning Performance Poet, he is also a regular on the Nigerian Spoken Word circuit. He has a Law degree from the University of Abuja and a masters degree from SOAS, University of London.

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•Why did you choose to express your poetry as spoken word?
Let me start by saying that between Poetry and Spoken Word is something I like to call Performance Poetry, which is where I sort of major. I don’t really see myself as a core Spoken Word artist. But then the lines between these things are very thin. However, to answer your question, I made the transition from just writing poetry to reading (or speaking) it out loud about 10 years ago. And decided to do so because I found it a much more effective way of communicating a poem to an audience.

• When did you find ‘your voice’ and how did you hone the skill?

I never really struggled with finding my voice. It was there from the first day. Mostly because I didn’t see someone doing Spoken Word and then decide to copy it. For me, it came as a natural next step to holding a piece of paper and reading from it. So, my voice was mine from the start. But I had to find (and I’m still finding) ways of getting the best out of it for each performance. That’s about practice and experimenting. It’s also sometimes about shutting your eyes and allowing yourself to be ‘lost’ in a poem, so that you can really express it without inhibition. I sometimes struggle with this, being a very self-conscious person. But I practice a lot on my own – with breathing, and modulation, and movement, and gestures, constantly seeking the perfect combination for each piece.

•What inspires you the most?

Truth. I am obsessed with de-constructing life’s experiences to its most basic principles. So I am always looking for the ‘moral’ if you like to all the tiny stories going on around me. In that sense, the question, ‘Why?’ is what inspires me the most. Why are people born? And why do they die? Why do we fall in love? And why does love grow tired after a while and begin to limp? What is it about little children that is so endearing? Why is it so hard to be good? Why are we so afraid of being more? My poetry comes from that sort of melancholic philosophizing about Life.

• How long have you been doing this, tell us about your journey
I’ve been writing since I was a little boy. My big brother, Che, and his friend, Onesi, were my inspirations. It’s been so long now that I can honestly say I cannot really remember a time when I was not writing poetry. It’s not been the story of being ‘discovered’ by anyone. That’s not my story. My own story is of one day at a time, one step at a time, of patiently building my own bridges from one level to the next. So when I tried to publish my work and couldn’t find a publisher, I published myself. And when I found no platform to really showcase my talent, I worked hard to create one. That’s what Life is to me, anyway, just pushing out my personal boundaries, one day at a time.
What have been your best moments in life and as a poet? (memorable)
My first collection of poems is titled ‘The Revolution Has No Tribe’. After lots of rejections from publishers, I decided to self-publish. That in itself was tough. But what followed was even tougher. In a year, I couldn’t sell even one copy. But I kept on. 7 years later, I got an email out of nowhere. A university somewhere in Europe wanted me to come and read from that collection. The afternoon I found myself reading from ‘The Revolution Has No Tribe’ to a room full of PhDs, I couldn’t help thinking to myself – ‘wow’. That was a memorable moment for me as a poet, and it was a great life lesson as well.

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In what ways do you want to impact the society and performing arts in the country, using Spoken Word?
I use Performance Poetry and Spoken Word very consciously, as a tool for engaging with my society and my generation. The objective is to influence popular culture positively, because I think the way people think is a very critical factor in the development process. In terms of the performing arts, Spoken Word can bring a lot of meaning and depth to what would otherwise be mindless entertainment. It’s okay to laugh and dance and sing and all that, but if there’s no more to it, then it’s all just a way of escaping from reality, and if that’s the case then entertainment has truly become the new opium of the masses. However, the challenges we face as a nation will not go away just because we can bury our heads in the sands of the latest dance craze. We also need to inspire ourselves to think deeper, to try harder, to run faster, to reach higher. This is the true calling of the artist.
What role do you think Spoken Word plays within the performing arts industry and how can it be introduced to the Nigerian entertainment scene?
Apart from being an art in itself, Spoken Word is also a great source of content for other arts. The thing about it is that so many genres in the entertainment scene presently draw significantly from ‘spoken word’ – whether it’s comedy, or music, or drama, a significant part of these genres is the ability to put words together. The only thing is that, for these genres, words are used in a secondary or sometimes even tertiary position, where the driving force of the act is something else – perhaps a beat, or humor, or the dramatic plot. But then you can flip the script and make Spoken Word the driving force for an act, and then use other elements to support or enhance it. I think that’s one way to go in terms of introducing Spoken Word to wider audiences. There is also the need for Poets to be less inward looking and introspective in the sorts of things they write, and begin to write about things (and in a way) that other people can easily relate to. Like anything else, it’s about putting yourself in the shoes of a typical listener, and being more sensitive to what it would take to get the average man (who already has a somewhat negative view of Poetry) to sit up and listen.
What other poets do you look up to?
Like I said, my journey began with the poetry of my brother and his friend – sort of home spun, rustic, heart-felt, simple poetry. And that’s the taste that’s stayed with me since. So, think Khalil Gibran. Or Maya Angelou. I don’t like complexity or riddles. Just poetry that takes me back to fundamental truths about life. But I’ve heard lots of poetry that struck a cord. If I had to choose my favorite, it would be ‘What do you wear?’ by Donna K. Then there’s the 2007 spoken word album by Storyteller (Reward Enakerakpor). Honestly, there are lots of really good poets around these days, and I could go on for a while if I really had to list names.
Would you consider Spoken Word an art that can become a viable career and source of income?
Yes, I would. No doubt at all. In a few years, it will be big.
Tell us about your role in the Abuja literary society
The Abuja Literary Society is the most vibrant literary group in the country, in terms of programs and events. It was started about 17 years ago by a group of friends (Victor Anoliefo, Ferdinand Agu, Ken Ike, Ike Anya, Deji Fisho, Jide Attah etc) who thought Abuja lacked a ‘soul’ and decided to do something about it. I joined ALS about 5 years ago, and fell in love with it. And so decided to contribute my quota to keep the vision going. So now I volunteer my time, and help with organizing the society’s weekly events – open mics, book clubs, guest author reading sessions etc. Every time I’m at an ALS meeting, in a room full of people listening to poetry and short stories and literary stuff, it never ceases to amaze me.
What projects have you done to promote poetry and spoken word? (NSW)
I’ve done workshops in schools and different sorts of events. But my biggest project to date has to be Night of the Spoken Word (NSW). It’s an evening of poetry, performance poetry, storytelling and spoken word designed specifically for the non-literary-inclined audience. So it’s poetry for everyone, communicating it in a way that the average person would find both entertaining and engaging. It started out as a ‘Let me see if this would work’ sort of thing – to give poetry its own dedicated but outside-facing platform. Not a slam. Or an Open Mic. But a show specifically for the public. So I did the first one in Oct 2013. And just did the fifth one this past September. And I have seen audience numbers more than double in that time. So, it’s definitely working.

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What next for you?
Finding ever-new ways of communicating Poetry to fresh audiences. I have done Poetry videos in the past, but I am interested in experimenting even more with videos. I would like to do even bigger live poetry shows, with more intriguing collaborations with other art forms and genres. Just to keep pushing the boundaries of creativity, till I am exhausted.
Final words…
It’s not really about an obsession with Poetry, to be honest. It’s more of a commitment to the belief that Life should be lived from the inside out. As a young undergraduate I always used to say to myself, ‘Don’t look out at the economy and say – What are the most profitable sectors? – and let the answer to that question define who you become. But look within you and let what you find there define who you become.’ And that’s exactly what I am trying to do with myself, to live life deliberately, if you know what I mean.

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