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An Interview with the 2023 Stacy Doris Memorial Poetry Award Winner, Nnadi Samuel

In additional to celebrating our award-winning poets each year through publication of their long poem, the editors at Fourteen Hills like to explore the craft elements at play within these pieces. This interview was conducted by our Poetry Editors. Read Nnadi Samuel's award-winning poem A Boneyard of Flesh// Post-War Trauma.

Q. What was the process like writing this poem? How long did it take to complete? Is this part of a larger work?

A. I started this poem like every other one, with a concept in mind. Yet, clueless as to where it was headed. I have always wanted to write a poem that boldly reflects the past & present trauma/life consequence of civil war in my country. This poem fills that vacuum. I am quite slow with my writing, so it took about six days to finish up this poem. The piece is a part of my full-length unpublished manuscript titled NATURE KNOW A LITTLE ABOUT SLAVE TRADE.

Q. Who inspires you the most for your writing? How have they inspired you?

A. Being an ardent reader of poetry, my writing is spurred by a whole lot of young poets. However, I am greatly inspired by the visceral use of words in K-Ming Chang's poems. Some of her works, I must say, have helped shape my early approach to language - that replicates a vivid, haunting imagery. I am also inspired by the literary doggedness of Despy Boutris. The way she pushes boundary to see her work live through various renowned platforms. It has always been a thing of joy for me, to see a writer defy all odds to get into the most difficult of places, at such dizzying pace. And, I love it for her & her brilliant works. I have recently been reading Sarah Fathimah Mohammed also & she is nothing short of amazing.

Q. In the line, “what language meets a bomb halfway between beauty and boom?” Does experimental poetry help us find the language to communicate trauma?

A. Thank you for the highlight. That was one of my favorite moments writing this piece. Yes, experimental poetry helps us discover more language to communicate our trauma fluently. I have always seen metaphor to be accidental, with boundless possibilities. It is where everything happens—both miracle & healing.

Q. There is the trauma of language that controls the narrative and there is the trauma of life that is present in this poem. Did you initially think about intertwining these two elements or did those reveal themselves after writing the piece?

A. I started this poem with the intent to reflect life's trauma, as it affects my people(past or present) & her immediate surrounding. As with each account of a traumatic event, the language's environment is greatly influenced by the dominant theme of grief, which blends into one true narrative. In light of this, I would say the intertwining of both elements was envisaged, & further revealed itself as the poem unfold.

Q. Does silence take a role in this poem? How do you challenge silence when there are no words?

A. Silence take up spaces in this poem, as the rinsed hands of our ancestors—leaving us to our woe, as the emptiness of a fetus burdening our womb. Descendants, who ought to keep fanning the embers of this one true narrative.

Here, we lose our tongues to silence & the retort from a gun's mouth. We confront silence with our survival, showing up when there are no words left.

Q. We're curious about how English is being decolonized by outside cultures that adopt and redefine it. It feels as though your language in this piece, through exploring trauma, is reappropriating and redefining the way we understand English. Can you talk about that?

A. Yes, some of the language/diction in this poem & other pieces that forms the larger body of my full-length manuscript titled NATURE KNOWS A LITTLE ABOUT SLAVE TRADE, is an intentional stray away from the laws that guides the English language. This abnormal deviation leads to a flout in the rule of English, which brings about new meaning/direction to words, and a true sense of belonging. It decolonizes English to form a language where hurt is comfortable and the trauma & grief is better expressed.

Q. You use craft devices such as alliteration and assonance to great effect in this piece. Can you talk about the sonic quality of your work? How important is the rhythmic and percussive aspect of the work in regard to telling the story and conveying meaning to the reader?

A. I have always been a sucker for sound conveyed through literary devices & how the phonological aspects meets the need for semantics(meaning) in my poems. So, I tend to mouth each line of my poem, to make sure they come clean with meaning & rhythm. This process for me, is as important as telling the story itself.

Q. Where can readers find more of your poetry? Are there other new publications of your work we should be looking out for?

A. My works can always be found online & my social media page. On Twitter, I am @Samuelsamba10. I have some forthcoming works which I'd definitely be sharing there as always. Thank you!


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