Poet laureate Interview – Udo, 2021

Poet laureate Interview with Damilola Ojikutu (TVOTRIBE’s Poet Laureate Editor)

– Who is Udo?

UDO is a voice… UDO is a way… UDO is you.

UDO is a Nigerian pseudonymous Artist and writer. He was born and raised at Umualikpa Village II in Isiala Mbano, Imo State, the oldest of 5 sisters and 1 brother. He has lived in various parts of the world and now resides in Bangalore, India, practising peace, passion and football as a lifestyle. UDO taught himself to be a storyteller and has recently begun writing the stories of his childhood and upbringing, in an effort to recount his experiences of life; bringing Nigeria and his African culture into the forefront of his work. UDO is a believer of how art is more important than the artist, for which reasons his real name and identity remain unconfirmed and subject to speculation.

UDO in Igbo means Peace.

– How long have you been writing?

The question to ask is “When did UDO start listening to stories?” UDO remembers the stories he was told as long ago as when he was 6 years old. It was his grandmother who would tell the most beautiful stories after dinner to the children of the household. Her name was Eugenia – may her soul rest in peace. Her stories, the stories he would then tell his younger siblings as they were growing up, and then the stories from a show called “Tales by Moonlight” that would air once a week, on Sunday evenings back home in Nigeria, became the foundations to UDO’s craft.

UDO taught himself to write from memory only very recently. All the stories he was ever told have unfolded as little experiences from UDO’s life, and he now chooses to use writing as a form of storytelling in an effort to pass on the stories he was told.

UDO will keep writing as long as there is even a single audience for his words.

– What inspired you to join the contest?

The theme Ukabuilulu – the Parables of Africa’s past… this word resounded a bell that brought back all the memories of how the elders communicate with each other. The elders are seen as wise. As children, it would be difficult to understand the words they spoke, and UDO grew up believing that speaking in Parables is a way that the Gods communicate. He grew up trying to find ways to communicate like the elders. He practices his stories in Parables even today.

It is your theme that drew out the story UDO wrote… In fact, UDO’s decision to participate in the contest was also inspired by a Parable. And as the saying goes, “To notice and not speak, kills an adult. To speak and not be heard kills a child.”

Ahu akaa, na-egbu okenye.

Akaa anughi, na-egbu nwata.

– What does Ukabuilu mean to you?

Words are riddles. If you listen closely… the words we speak, these riddles we decipher… are full of life lessons. UDO’s first inspirations come from the way that the African elders speak.

To be able to speak in just a few words, filled with deep meaning… and to pass on a message that is handed down through generations, sometimes takes a lifetime to learn. Ukabuilu is a lifestyle to UDO… it is an inspiration. Ukabuilu is wisdom. Ukabuilu helps UDO be a man of few words.

– What is the inspiration behind your entry?

Just the word Ukabuilulu inspires so many stories. In the case of “Water No Get Enemy” – the title of this poem is inspired by a childhood legend, the artist Fela Kuti, whose song of the same title remains one of UDO’s favourites, even to date.

It is based on a Yoruba proverb that speaks of the power of nature. Live in harmony with nature, he says, and you will live longer and wiser. 

“To wash, you use water. To cook soup, you use water. If your head hurts… you use water to cool it. If you want your child to grow… you use water. If water kills your child… you use water. Nothing without water. And you can’t fight it unless you want to die.” ~ Fela Kuti.

– Do you think parables are still relevant in the African space?

Parables are a philosophy… a choice and practice of how to live your life.

When the elders of Africa spoke… you could not ask what they mean. If you ask for the meaning, they will tell you another parable to counter your question. You must just listen, and try to decipher… to tap into that deeper meaning.

UDO would take the Parables he didn’t understand back home to his grandmother, who would explain them to him using a story. He knew that he would grow up… become an adult… and be wise like the elders… the day he understood them all on his own.

Today, UDO realizes that he talks in riddles sometimes… he likes to talk in riddles… especially when he wants a deeper meaning to come through. Ukabuilu is like little stories that we recollect and reflect on… little pieces of advice that shape our personalities.

Ukabuilulu is as relevant as we want them to be in our lives. These little pieces of advice come from Africa. They come from home. And through us, they can be passed on to anyone across the world who would like to listen.

– In seven words, how will you describe your creative mind?

UDO is the thought that chooses him.

– If you had to stop being a writer, what other profession do you think will work for you?

UDO will never be able to stop being a writer. Words are a part of him and through words, we make meaning of our lives. UDO will always try to write, regardless of what else he does with the time he has.

– One thing that writing has taught you?

Writing is like recording our experiences. It is a series of questions asked and answered with our minds. Writing has taught UDO that there is a vault of memories in his mind that he has access to… a duffle bag of stories from his observations, just waiting to be told. These thoughts… these stories… choose to be told. UDO is simply the messenger.

– One major accomplishment and heartbreak from writing?

Winning TVO Tribe’s Poet Laureate Award is an accomplishment to celebrate. UDO is proud to have found a tribe of like-minded people, working together as one, and with the singular goal – of telling our stories to the world.

UDO faced heartbreak while writing a story titled – “Sunday”. It is the story of his best friend who died at the age of 6. It took UDO decades – a whole lifetime spent – to be able to grieve for his friend. And it was writing that helped him remember, reconnect and immortalize his friend.

– How do you feel about being crowned our Poet laureate?

Winning TVO Tribe’s Poet Laureate Award is the beginning of something beautiful.

This theme, Ukabuilu has sparked a realization for UDO – that all his life, he has tried to understand the words of the Gods, this tongue of Parables that they speak in, and learn them… and now that he does, he wants to tell the story of how he learned them.

Winning this award is an acknowledgement of the thoughts that choose to come out… it makes them real… and heard. Because of TVO Tribe’s Award, UDO realizes that people are listening.

Thank you TVO Tribe, for making a little boy’s dream come true.

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