The Story Of ‘I'm Not Your Plural’ Poem: How I Missed My Flight Because Of The Poem – Gimba Kakanda

Gimba Kakanda is a Nigerian writer with a poetry collection 'Safari Pants', published in 2010. However, he is known more for his socio-political essays and commentaries than his poetry. Currently on a Writing Residency of the International Writing program of the Iowa University, US, he writes a weekly column syndicated in some Nigerian newspapers. When a few days ago he deviated from his normal commentary on social issues in Nigeria and began to share poems on his social media platforms, he got many readers to equally run ‘commentaries’ on this poetic side of him that’s getting revealed to many of his fans only now. One particular poem, 'I'm not your plural' is being shared eagerly across facebook, twitter and whatsapp platforms by enthusiastic readers. Here, he explains to the Arts-Muse Fair the story about the poem.

TAMF: You rarely write, or do we say, post poems on your Facebook timeline. However, few days ago you gave us this poem that has got many of your readers talking. Why did you choose to break your tradition by sharing this poem?

Kakanda: I won't blame readers for missing that part of me that is a poet. It's entirely my fault, my deliberate withdrawal from the literary scene to be a mischief-maker in an industry that, for me, has bigger audience. I became a nuisance on a national scale two years after my self-published poetry, Safari Pants (2010), following the OccupyNigeria protests of 2012.

Many of my peers have up to five collections now, but I don't regret my decision to take a break. I realized that I'm not designed to simply write books for a certain class of elite readers, I'm designed for the street, to think for the man on the street and attempt to stand with him when it matters.

So, essays come handy in this mission, offers me a voice to contribute to topical issues and be immediately understood, without any classroom tutorial required for decoding my messages.

As for why I finally begin to start sharing my poems, the truth is, Iowa has only saved me from myself, given me an opportunity to return to poetry and these poems are simply a proof that America has not wasted its money on me. On a serious note, I think I just want to give my readers the reason I've not been politically active as they expected since my departure for the United States.

TAMF: Apparently, you wrote the poem at an airport, perhaps while waiting for a flight. Was that the point you got inspired to write the poem or has it been hibernating in your mind before then?

Kakanda: When I was packing for the United States, Charlottesville was in the news to remind me of the race tensions there. I ventured out fully conscious of this reality of the black man in a country that, only less than a century ago, did not allow black people to vote. But that was not the inspiration for the poem.

The poem was inspired by a neon sign at the baggage reclaim section of O'hare International Airport, Chicago, warning travelers about a recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

I was concerned because West Africa is not a country, and that notice on August 18, 2017, was misleading about a plague the people of affected countries fought really hard to stop.

As a Nigerian, I'm proud of the medical intervention that stopped that only one case of Ebola through the Liberian visitor Patrick Sawyer, and the sacrifice of the late Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh. So while I waited for my baggage, I began to think about what the immigration officer who checked me into the country probably thought of this West African, whether perhaps she held her nose in fear of Ebola virus or so, and as I headed to catch my connecting flight, I began to hear James Baldwin's voice, saying "I'm not your negro," which is even the title of the new documentary in his honour.

While I wait for my flight, I wrote "I'm not your plural," and then worked and reworked it until I missed my flight. Yes, that poem made me miss my flight, but United Airlines was considerate, and professional. I got to leave the airport three hours later. Strangely, a white passenger at the waiting lounge approached to see what I was reading and we struck a conversation around race, around Charlottesville, and told me about certain inadequacies in checking white supremacists going loose since the election of President Trump.

He was the first person to read the poem, and he confessed that he was truly dazzled. It turned out he's an unpublished poet, he's an artist from Maine. I read some of his poems too. He gave me his diary and told me deeply personal stories about himself, his struggle and all. His name is Rick Beerhorst.

TAMF: Now that Iowa has reignited your poetry muse, do we expect you to drop more poems in 'units' on your Facebook timeline or just wait to read a new full collection after your Iowa residency?

Kakanda: I think I'll rather prepare to send my poems to journals and then share with readers on my social media platforms. Later I'll produce a full collection of poetry, which won't be long. After reading my poems here in Iowa, I received several offers from some translators to have the poems translated into other foreign languages. That honour motivated me, and now I see the essence of networking beyond one's literary strongholds. These people don't operate based on trivial cliques as we do in Nigeria, they recognize talents and willing to support where and when necessary.

In Nigeria, you're expected to be nice to some arts promoter to earn an invitation to literary festival or summit. I will never ever let myself be driven by a literary establishment. That's why I'll struggle to have a certain financial independence in order to also serve as a benefactor instead of waiting for these petty gate-keepers of Nigerian literature to make me beg to attend their events or be recognized by them. I think you reach a certain phase that you begin to compete with your colleagues in other nations, and not waste away as a local champion dependent on the establishment.