Poets in Conversation: O-Jeremiah Agbaakin
Could you comment on the origins and inspiration for the poem "the passage: i, morpheus. amorphous?” How did the poems come to fruition?
I cannot remember the precise moment this poem came. The impulse emerged from a dream-logic form I cultivated a few years back, whereby I quickly write the first things I remember from a dream or nightmare and milk art from it. I fear our real lives can be too uninspiring sometimes. This particular poem explores the mythology of Morpheus, the dream-god, as a way of deflecting the private lens from the intensities of my own ordinary life.
Do you feel poetry has a role to play during (and/ or coming out of) this global crisis/pandemic? How did you experience writing (or not!) during this time?
I ask myself everyday if poetry can change anything (not to talk of an epidemic) and I am yet to articulate any conviction. As an optimist, I echo the sentiments of those who say (good) poetry changes the way we see the world and thus, changes the world. As we come out of the pandemic, some monumental books will definitely come out, to help us process what we have all just gone through and see that yes, “we’re singing of solitude but we’re singing it to one another” (Ocean Vuong). Solitude, as in scars of isolation, grieving the death of loved ones, etc.--Poetry gives us that nuanced intimacy found nowhere else.
How do you determine the form or shape for your poems?
This is a very organic process as it takes me a long time to declare a poem ready. During revision, I ask myself: what music is this poem singing to me? It’s my duty to know what that is. One of the ways I listen is to use a ten-syllable count per line, a faux iambic pentameter structure to organize my thoughts rhythmically. Also, I realize that sometimes life must happen to me before some poems can assume their absolute meaning and form.
Is there a writer or a poem you’ve discovered recently that you’re really excited about?
It’s exciting to find new writers almost everyday, especially those at their nascence like me. I cannot brag enough of my workshop family at my MFA program here at the University of Mississippi and recently at the Tin House summer workshop. It’s such a long list, but I cannot wait to hold Ariana Benson’s books in my hands when they’re published!
Do you feel inspired by a particular musician or genre that you listen to while you write?
I don’t have a favorite, but whenever I’m in that mythical place that Jane Kenyon described in her poem, Not Writing, good music and art always stimulate me. Presently, I am steeping myself in the Baroque art tradition (artists like Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Lodovico, etc) particularly for the reason that they explored subjects and the kind of narratives I explore in my own poems.