Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí is the curator of ‘The Fire That Is Dreamed of: The Young African Poets Anthology’ released earlier in June 2020.
His book of poems, ‘My Mother Died & I Became’ is forthcoming from Ghost City Press.
He is a reader at The Masters Review and Palette Poetry, and an assistant editor at Counterclock Journal. Here, he talks about curating the anthology and more.
You curated the publication of The Young African Poets Anthology, ‘The Fire that is Dreamed of’, released in June. What initially triggered this move?
Thank you. The trigger for me was my own experience when I submitted my work to teen literary magazines outside the continent and I got rejections. I also had friends who submitted work to these magazines and got rejected. When we weren’t rejected, only one or two of us got accepted at a time. When I got selected for Adroit Summer Mentorship Program in 2019, I decided I was going to curate an anthology of poems by young African poets like me. This would be a space just for us. Fall 2019, I got selected for the Counterclock Arts Collective Fellowship, and I received a tiny grant to start work.
What was the experience like working on ‘The Fire that is Dreamed of’?
It wasn’t easy, but it was a wonderful experience. Reading poems by young African poets like me, a lot of whom had never been in workshops or mentorship programs and who wrote beautiful works was something that filled me with joy. While reading submissions, I remember screaming. In fact, I read some of the poems out loud to myself a couple of times.
What were some of the challenges you had to overcome? What did it take to get the needed support?
The main challenge was getting guest-editors for the anthology; and, after the anthology was curated, getting blurbs for it. There were other challenges. A major one was getting a literary platform that would publish the anthology after the Brittle Paper issue came up. Thankfully, after reaching out to a couple of platforms, Agbowó picked it up.
Talking about support, I had Fiyinfoluwa Oladipo, a friend who read submissions with me, and Haymoux, a friend who kept cheering me up, even when the idea was still shapeless. Also, Mr. Adeeko Olamilekan, a teacher I adore so much, who always believes in whatever dream I have. Otosirieze Obi-Young, who pushed me to make the right choices for the anthology and who said yes when I first reached out to him about publishing it. And I.S. Jones and Nome Emeka Patrick who took it upon themselves to help give the anthology a fine shape.
I don’t know what it took to get the support of these people I mentioned, other than their goodness. They were just good to me.
How would you describe the response from young poets?
The response was exciting. We received close to a hundred and fifty submissions from about eight countries. From the continent and from the diaspora. That was calming, because I had doubted that we would get so many submissions.
What informed the choice of poetry you eventually selected?
When myself and Fiyinfoluwa were reading submissions, we were primarily looking for good art. We were looking for poems that did what they wanted to do well enough. Whatever that was was secondary. It’s why there are poems about love, Lagos, feminism, violence, war and more in the anthology.
It’s also worthy of note that I didn’t make the final selections. Myself and Fiyin only shortlisted some poems, which we sent to Nome Emeka Patrick and I.S. Jones, both of whom made the final selections.
Since the anthology’s release, what kind of feedback have you gotten and how would this shape the second edition?
The response to the anthology has been overwhelming. I was literally shaking with joy when people on social media engaged with the anthology. People shared poems from it; others shared lines that stuck with them. Some people tagged others. The joy of the contributors was also one thing that gave me so much joy. It was the first time some of the poets were appearing in a publication.
I’m not sure there’ll be a second edition. Let’s see.
Poems like ‘Night is Dead Here’ explores the Nigerian situation, particularly the epileptic electricity supply. What would you say you were specifically looking for with regards to the anthology and did you have to change that at any point?
As mentioned earlier, we weren’t on the lookout for anything specifically. We were only looking for good poems. However, the guest editors were careful to select an eclectic array of voices, with attention to nationality. For example, we received a lot of submissions from Nigeria. The editors had to be careful not to neglect writers from other countries. It is a young African poets anthology.
You were a top ten finalist in the BPPC May Poetry contest, for your poem ‘This Dream’ and longlisted for the Art Prompt Writing Contest for your story ‘Without Life’. How would you describe your writing journey so far?
BPPC was a long time ago. Or it feels like it. Same with the Art Prompt Writing Contest. Since then I have experienced a level of growth. Fall last year, I was a runner-up in the Kreative Diadem Writing Contest (Poetry). Early this year, I was longlisted for the Awele Creative Trust Award. My microchap, ‘My Mother Died & I Became’ is forthcoming from Ghost City Press in the fall of this year. I have work forthcoming in ‘Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry’, ‘Tinderbox’, ‘Down River Road’, ‘20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry’, ‘The Dark Magazine’, among others. So, basically, my writing journey has been very exciting; I have over 90 rejections this year alone to prove it.
What do you hope to achieve, generally, in the next ten years?
The next ten years is a long time from now, and it isn’t. I’ll probably get an MFA or not. I must have completed a book by then, too, though it might still be unpublished, and I would have read a lot of books. Reading is the most creative thing for a creative person.