Updated: Apr 23, 2021
Valentine Okolo is a poet, a filmmaker, and a social activist. He is the author of the poetry book: I Will Be Silent. He is also known by the stage name Poetval.
Get the book: I Will Be Silent on Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/valentineokolo
What does poetry mean to you?
For me poetry is the stuff of dreams. A world made up of words. The way these words sound to my ears and how they roll off the tongue. How they taste and how they feel. It is about the balance of the words I place on my lips and how they resonate past pages once performed. It is about the great power behind them. The massive creative force which moved a universe into existence and gave birth to life in Genesis. It is about poetic telegrams breathed out of the lungs and into an attentive ear.
It is always love at first-write. The burden of the lingering thought released unto pages of paper, on a laptop screen or phone. (I write a lot of my poems with my phone. Because it's always around me).
It is also about rhythm. The kind of rhythm found in creation. Everything in life possesses this sense of rhythm. The waves crashing into the sands on the beach. The wind whispering in my ears and caressing my face at the top of a hill. It is the flight of birds being borne by thermals, seemingly without effort, on a sunny afternoon in a commute to the outskirts of the city.
It is about beauty and the flow of moments captured in words.
What inspires your poetry?
I am an empath. And I feel with intensity the emotions of others. I write what I feel. Sometimes in myself. And sometimes from others. I am moved to document the suffering of people. Those whose voices have been silenced because of one political propaganda or the other, silenced because they dared speak the truth. Those murdered in silent pogroms in Northern Nigeria and in some other parts of the country, and a government which pays lip service in the combating of the insurgency. It is about speaking with temerity and bearing witness for those who have no one to bear witness for them. Because they are poor. And the poor, unfortunately get trampled upon by the rich and powerful. They are those "underneath snake skin shoes and Mercedes tires" something which Niyi Osundare highlighted in one of his famous poems.
It is about representing the unrepresented. Because their pains are my pains. Their perseverance, my perseverance. And their pleasure, and small triumphs, when they do have them, are mine as well.
I can never be divorced from them. Because they exist within me. I am her, the molested and the raped. I am him, the detained and the sold. I am they, the legions of people killed in regional subsidised genocides without names and buried in anonymous tombs.
Which are most important to you: (1) joy, (2) peace, (3) patience, (4) kindness, (5) self-control, (6) faithfulness, (7) gentleness, (8) love, or (9) goodness? If you can, explain why.
All are important to me. Because I am a follower of Jesus Christ. And those who follow Him and worship the Father in truth and in spirit follow in the steps of Christ. Because He set the supreme example for all to follow. If, however, I should highlight the most important one to me, it will be love. Because all these other attributes grow from it. And also, because it saved my life.
There was a time in my life when I was in a very dark place. I lived the way I liked. I did whatever I wanted. And I cared for nothing. I gave very little regard to my fellow man. And I cared nothing at all for God. In fact, I huffed at His existence.
But God is love. Even though I did not love Him or give Him any regard He loved me (why He does, I have no idea. Because then, I wasn't an excellent example of a human being).
But one particular day, in my blackest hour, He did a most remarkable thing through His Son. He healed and delivered an unbeliever from the scythe of the grim reaper. He raised me up when I was completely broken, damaged, abandoned and dying. Would I have done the same to someone who constantly reviled me? And who even said that I was a figment of the human imagination? Would I? But God did. And in my mind, if that is not love, and love of the purest kind, what is?
Not so long after that transformational incident the poem "Raven" would come to me in a dreamlike state ("Raven" opens the sequence of my poems in my book I Will Be Silent). A state in-between being awake or asleep. A state some people might call trance. Since I have never experienced a trance before in my life, that event was quite unusual for me. Because before "Raven" I had not written any poetry. In fact, I despised it. So, imagine my shock after I awoke from whatever state I was in to find sheets of paper with poetry scribbled upon them. And till this very day, I cannot explain in full what that experience signified. Or who "Raven" is supposed to be. I can only postulate. And all my theories may all be incorrect.
All the same, "Raven" was a message to me, a call to witness and the beginning of my journey as a poet.
What sort of things are you looking forward to improving this year?
Publicity. I want more people to have access to my work. When you are an indie writer, and with very little resources, you have to struggle against the might of the big publishing houses and their marketing machinery. It can be intimidating at times. These publishers have more than enough money on hand to promote their writers, put them on the Jimmy Fallon show, and run ads for their books within the pages of the New York Times. They have what it takes to make any writer into a mega star. Because the public believes what it sees. And when you place an object in front of millions of eyes, and if that object is well arrayed, it becomes an object much desired.
Indie writers on the other hand don't have this kind of advantage. They depend heavily on a small network of friends and a tight and remarkable helpful community like the #WritingCommunity on Twitter.
Despite my observations on the influence of the big publishing houses, I am still happy that I am an indie writer. Because I like the freedom of having complete creative control of my book. I can say things as they are without being worried of ruffling the feathers and sales forecasts of my publishers. This freedom appeals to me. And I will have it no other way.
What is one big dream you have?
That my book be read from Cairo to Rio. From Nairobi to Cairns. I want my message to reach those who need to hear it. Because those who need to hear it are many. The voices of those who have been silenced should be heard. Their stories and their tribulations told. Because there are so many people suffering in silence. People who believe that their own narrative in the existence of their civilizations have been forgotten or worse lost.
“We used to have peace, but now we have only war.”—Halima
I will not speak of the dead
for that is another matter.
I will not speak of those
driven out of their homes
to find shelter in a camp
fenced with strings.
I will not speak of those
raped at dawn. Or of children
shot in the head.
I will not speak of them.
I will not speak of the woman,
round and heavy, like me,
who will give birth to a child she’ll be ashamed
Neither will I speak of
a dozen other women, like her,
and a village which will beget bastards.
I will not speak of the slash—deep in my thigh,
made by a knife: a brand of ownership,
the mark of a slave.
No; on such matters I’ll be silent.
Rather, I’ll speak of warm fires. Of oases, dates,
and night songs.
I’ll speak of things that once were.
You can also follow him on Twitter. His handle: @poetval.