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I Will Ordinarily Not Advice Anyone To Take Up Winning Of Literary Prizes - Literature - Nairaland

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I Will Ordinarily Not Advice Anyone To Take Up Winning Of Literary Prizes by synw: 6:54am On Mar 25
I WILL ORDINARILY NOT ADVICE ANYONE TO TAKE UP WINNING OF LITERARY PRIZES AS A GOAL OR AN OBJECTIVE TO PURSUE - TERSEER SAM BAKI

Terseer Sam Baki is a great lover of the Arts, a passionate poet, editor and all round writer. He is the author of the celebrated poetry collection, 'Euphoria of Sophistry' (2nd Runner up, ANA Poetry Prize 2015). He was one of the judges of the EndSARS National Poetry Competition, 2020 and a coeditor of the EndSARS Poetry Anthology. He has published in several other literary anthologies. Terseer Sam Baki is the immediate past General Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, Benue State chapter. He holds a bachelor's degree in English Education and is presently researching for a master's degree in Language Education, all at the Benue State University, Makurdi. In this interview with Wole Adedoyin, he talks about his writing and experience as one of the EndSARS National Poetry Competition Judges.
WA: FROM YOUR ENDSARS EXPERIENCE, WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE A JUDGE?

TERSEER: Being a judge for a literary contest in the caliber of Society of Young Nigerian Writers, SYNW, and the International Human Rights Art Festival, IHRAF's ENDSARS National Poetry Competition had been many things to me. It had been one of the most fascinating and exhilarating experiences I've had in recent times. Being a judge of that prestigious competition of such magnitude was to me an irresistible opportunity to feel the creative pulse of the Nigerian youths in their expression of literary and creative energies. Having watched the youths come out in their numbers, defiling ethnic, religious and political differences to speak out in one strong and unequivocal voice against police brutality, assault and battery, I was sure to find a rich and solid collection of literary pieces among those entries. Nigerian youths were clearly passionate, well coordinated and articulate about their resistance to the human rights abuses perpetuated by men of the Nigeria Police, and we all know that poetry thrives better on such powerful emotional issues. Their determination to ensure that their voices were heard loud and clear was unmistakable. It was therefore, a rare privilege and honour to be one of the first readers of that epoch making collection of poetry. Most importantly, reading those power laden entries with the intention of picking out the best among them entailed that one had to do an intensive reading of those entries, paying close attention to every printed word, expression and so forth. Finally, I wish to add that as a serving security officer, reading those entries provided a firsthand opportunity to get direct feedback and an assessment of how the security and law enforcement agencies are generally perceived by the average Nigerian tax payers whom all security agencies are meant to serve. At the end of the day, a fraction of the entries was published. Not everyone had the opportunity to see all the poems that were received, but I was privileged and honoured to see and read everything sent to the organisers of the competition. That alone is not something to take for granted.

WA: EVERY YEAR THERE SEEMS TO BE MORE LITERARY PRIZES APPEARING: WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS? DO WE NEED SO MANY?

TERSEER: In my opinion, the proliferation of literary prizes in Nigeria in itself should be a good development. The population of Nigeria has grown significantly from less than fifty million people to more than two hundred million people from post independent Nigeria to the present day Nigeria. Secondly, the level of awareness and education has also grown tremendously. Therefore, one should naturally expect an increase in the number of things like this. If the objective and the standards set by organisers of such literary prizes are for quality and the advancement of literature reading and writing, I have no problems with that. But if the intention is for the manipulation and exploitation of vulnerable upcoming writers and literary enthusiasts, then I have a problem with that. Literature is a veritable tool for liberation of a people, firstly, from ignorance and secondly, from oppressive and suppressive tendencies. Therefore, the closer that the literary art is brought to the people, the better for us all.

WA: AS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN A JUDGE, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANYONE SUBMITTING A POEM TO A PRESTIGIOUS POETRY AWARD? ANY FAUX-PAS WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?

TERSEER: My advice to anyone submitting poems or any other literary work for a contest that would lead to the award of a prize, is first of all to understand what literature or creative writing is all about. Again, one must first of all aspire and strive to be a creative writer. One must read widely as well as study all relevant concepts, theories, conventions and principles surrounding each genre of literature. In addition, every organiser of literary contest have their entry or submission guidelines clearly spelt out in their advertorial or call for entries. And so, the beginning of the journey into success or failure sometimes starts from adhering or neglecting those entry requirements as publicised by organisers of each competition. Having said all of this, I wish to add that venturing into creative writing with the sole aim of winning literary prizes and awards is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes anyone could ever make. I advice people who wish to take up creative writing, especially the younger ones, to do so because they have great love and passion for the art of writing. Write because you have the flair for writing. Don't write because of the financial benefits that come with wining writing contests and selling your publications. That's not to say that making money from one's art is totally wrong. Wining competitions and making money should be the last things to think of after every other important thing I've earlier mentioned here is in place. So, read, read and read have a good grasp of the art and craft of writing before embarking on putting pen to paper.

WA: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE END SARS OUTSTANDING POEMS?

TERSEER: Hmm, they're many. It's a difficult choice to make, honestly. It's like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. The level of creative dexterity demonstrated by Nigerians and of course, non-Nigerians who sent in over a hundred entries for the EndSARS Poetry Competition in 2020 was simply amazing. There is Chukwu Sunday Abel's "Split Green Flag", Nwokeabia Ifeanyi John's "How our Lights were Put Off", Godstime Nwaeze's "Bermuda Triangle" and a whole lot of others. As a matter of fact, all ten shortlisted entries and many others not on the shortlist actually won my heart and can favourably be tagged my favorite EndSARS outstanding poems because anyone of them at that level could have emerged the overall winner.

WA: WHICH POETRY COLLECTIONS ARE YOU READING AT THE MOMENT?

TERSEER: There are tons of poetry collections currently on my shelf, waiting for me to devour, and I'm very eager to. I'm presently and regrettably not reading any literary pieces now, not because I don't like to. This is because of my academic work. At the moment, I'm deeply engrossed in putting together my dissertation as one of the conditions I need to fulfill to the Benue State University's department of Arts and Social Sciences Education, for the award of a Masters degree in Language Education. Amongst those collections I've mentioned are people’s unpublished manuscripts I'm meant to edit for publication and so forth.


WA: IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT A POEM THAT WOULD MAKE YOU INSTINCTIVELY SWITCH OFF FROM READING IT?

TERSEER: Yes. If the first few lines of anything worth calling a poem fail to grab my interest poetically, I lose interest in it. The truth is that any piece that fails to deploy language appropriately isn't worth the name of a poem. Poetry is not prose, and so, poetry must be rich in devices like metaphor, figures of sound such as rhymes, rich diction, and originality of ideas and so forth. In all of these, any piece of poetry must be sensible, linguistically fresh and enticing and must have a message for its readers.

WA: WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES YOUR HEART SOAR A LITTLE WHEN YOU READ A NEW POEM?

TERSEER: If and when a poem appeals to any of my senses and/or emotions. You see, a good poem must make the reader feel something them through the poem's effective deployment of words and language. Instead of getting me irritated by its lack of depth, penmanship and lack of good craftsmanship, anything worth calling a poem at all should either create some mental pictures in me or evoke some emotional stir in me. The presence of any one of these is okay, but the absence of all of these is certainly unacceptable by me and I believe this applies to all true poetry enthusiasts and artists.

WA: WHILE JUDGING ENDSARS POETRY COMPETITION WAS THERE A TIME YOU DIDN’T READ BEYOND THE FIRST LINE OF AN ENTRY AND DISMISS IT IMMEDIATELY?

TERSEER: That terrible urge to dismiss some entries just after I started reading the first few lines was certainly there. But people are gifted differently, and so, in order to ensure fairness and justice, I made sure I read everything to the end, no matter the nightmare in it. I do this with the hope that perhaps, some contestants would prefer to save their best for the last. That's why the job of a judge of a literary contest is such a difficult one. The judge passes through psychological torture sometimes in attempt to read some poorly written entries to the last lines.

WA: WHICH PRIZES HAVE YOU SEEN EMERGING RECENTLY THAT YOU THINK WILL HAVE A BIGGER PROMINENCE IN NIGERIAN LITERARY SCENE?

TERSEER: The thing with literary bodies and literary contests and prizes is not really in the level of media gimmicks adopted by their organisers. It's not about the level of what I refer to as 'whitewash' arrangements. The staying power lies on the soundness of the foundation upon which such literary prizes stand. We have seen many platforms offering one from of literary prize or the other fizzle and peter out every now and then. But like the saying goes, by their fruits, we shall know them. In Nigeria, some individuals, obscurity, rode to some level of prominence on the benevolent wings of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA. For some selfish and unclear reasons, some would hurriedly dump the Association to set up some mushroom literary bodies touting one literary prize or the other. These are the sort of mushroom literary bodies you see on and off every now and then like the phenomenal Nigerian NEPA. But that is not to say that there are no promising literary prizes with genuine intentions and high prospects of bigger prominence in the Nigerian literary scene. A few of them actually come to mind, such as the recent collaborative efforts between the Society of Young Nigerian Writers, SYNW and the International Human Rights Art Festival, IHRAF who successfully organised the 2020 EndSARS National Poetry Competition.

WA: DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THOSE ENTERING COMPETITIONS ARE INFLUENCED TOO MUCH BY THEIR IDEAS OF THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE JUDGES AND WRITE TO THE DETRIMENT OF THEIR POETRY?

TERSEER: True, that possibility cannot be ruled out completely. In a desperate attempt to seek to impress judges, contestants are sometimes misled into overstretching themselves artistically. You see, art is meant to be a free expression of one's creative and imaginative ideas and impression about any given subject matter. One is supposed to be as real to oneself as possible. Seeking to impress unduly leads to disastrous consequences. There's tendency to put oneself under an undue pressure thereby putting one's natural poetic flow in serious jeopardy. It is always better to write at the dictates of one's heart than in an attempt to please a judge.

WA: HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU AS A JUDGE TO FIND A NEW VOICE?

TERSEER: Besides being a judge of a literary contest, I've been actively involved in managing a literary organization, the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, through which literary awareness, reading and writing campaigns have vigorously been pursued. These campaigns are generally aimed at among other things, the discovery of new talents in creative writing. As a judge I found myself doing same thing in a different manner. You see, the harvest is much, but the labourers are few. There is still so much to write about. So many gaps to fill in the literary space and few writers are available to carry this out. Again, there are many more budding talents to be uncovered and brought to limelight. The Nigerian literary scene still yearns for new voices to take over from the established giants of the older generation of writers. So, as a literary enthusiast, I'm elated whenever I come across a promising young writer with the potential to redecorate Africa or Nigeria on the world map of literature.

WA: DO YOU IMAGINE THAT READING LOTS OF POETRY FOR A COMPETITION LIKE THIS WILL HELP WITH TEACHING POETRY?

TERSEER: Reading lots of poetry as a judge of a poetry contest actually provides the opportunity to directly assess how well the contestants understand what poetry entails. Instead of requiring them to answer questions on aspects of good poetry, they turn in pieces of poetry for a direct assessment. This form of assessment is very useful in the teaching and learning of poetry. It serves both as an assessment of learning and an assessment for learning. It provides a good opportunity to know areas of strengths and those of weaknesses of the learners (contestants) which puts the teacher (judge) in a better position to know what next line of action to adopt.

WA: ANY ADVICE FOR POETS HOPING TO WIN FUTURE PRIZE?

TERSEER: I would ordinarily not advice anyone to take up winning of literary prizes as a goal or an objective to pursue. I would rather strongly advice aspiring writers to take time to hone their creative skills by being voracious readers of good texts. It is only through serious reading of literary texts that one gets to understand the basics of what good writings are. Aspiring writers also need literary appreciation skills to understand some of the literary concepts, conventions, theories and principles of literature and creative writing. When one has gotten a good grasp of these, only then can one think of indulging in creative writing. If one decides to enter for a writing competition, one should do so to seek for validation or assessment of one's writing. In summary, setting out to write to win prizes is what I seriously discourage writers from indulging in.

WA: TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND

TERSEER: Well, I hail from Ikurav-Tiev 1 in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue State. I grew up partly in urban areas and partly in rural areas. My primary education wasn't stable as I attended about five primary schools at different points in time across three states of Nigeria, namely, Benue, Imo and Ondo. My love for the literary Arts started as far back as when I was in primary five. Before I finished my primary education, I had already developed a strong love for reading stories. At that time, I didn't even know there's something called literature whose preoccupation was nothing other than stories. I got to secondary school and was excited to find out that there's a subject that dwells squarely on stories, and since then, my love of stories has never dwindled. At a point in time, I would stay indoors and read all day and night till all of me hurt. I'm presently in my mid forties. There wasn't much of the television for me to spend time watching while growing up and so, most children at that time got their entertainment through hardcopies of books. That helped a great and I guess that's what has shaped the most part of my life. I get confused whenever people say literature is difficult. I don't see the difficulty in reading and enjoying stories around the world. Fast forward, I'm professionally trained to teach language and literature. I'm the award winning author of "Euphoria of Sophistry", a poetry collection approved by the Benue State ministry of education for use in senior secondary schools. I write, I edit and counsel people on the art and science of reading and writing. I'm a senior public servant with the federal ministry of interior who is happily married with five beautiful children.

WA: ANY TYPICAL/COMMON MISTAKES THAT NEW WRITERS TEND TO MAKE?

TERSEER: I think the commonest mistake that new and emerging writers make is to set their minds on winning prizes. The second is being in a haste to publish. The third is trying to copy others' style of writing. Of all these common mistakes, I think rushing to publish is the worst of them all and should be avoided if one intends to come out of press in the grandest of styles.

WA: WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT A PIECE OF WRITING AND WHAT MAKES YOUR HEART SINK?

TERSEER: I'm usually spell bound by any piece of writing if the style of the writer is so captivating and I am also able to relate to the events of the story and there is so much suspense such that I find it difficult to eat until I've finished reading the very last page. My heart sinks when characters that I admire or have pity for in stories are made to suffer untold hardship from beginning of stories to their end without any form of compensation. A good example is Abu Bakir in Cyprian Ekwensi's "An African Night Entertainment."

WA: WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHY?

TERSEER: I have read so much such that it's hard to say exactly who my favorite writers are. I love Suemo Chia, Isidore Okpewho, I love Ayi Kwei Armah, Chuma Nwokolo, Peter Abrahams and Wilbur Smith to mention just a few. All these writers have left indelible marks on me and they all have unique styles that are just peculiar to them.

WA: WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?

TERSEER: I'm a public servant at the moment and so there are a lot of things I wish I could do but I just can't do now. I hope to retire into full time literary engagements. I hope, wish and pray that I have time to complete many of the manuscripts, mine and those of others that I had started work on but I’ve been compelled to abandon for years, I hope to start a literary agency and publishing outfit. I hope to be able to assist people live their dreams of writing and publishing with less hassles.

WA: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A NEW WRITER STARTING OUT?

TERSEER: Read widely, know the basics of the art, join literary groups, don't ever be caught without a pen and a writing pad, keep a diary and make entries in it daily, be true to yourself, believe in yourself, tell yourself that you are the best and believe that to be true, write from your heart and don't be in a mad rush to publish.

WA: HOW SHOULD OUR MEMBERS APPROACH YOU IF THEY WANT TO?

TERSEER: I blog and I'm very active on social media, especially on Facebook. I blog at https://terseersambaki. my email is terseersam@gmail.com. You can tweet at me on @baki_ter and on Facebook, I'm Terseer Sam Baki. I also run the Facebook page "Pen & Pad Africa." Anyone can reach out to me through these platforms.

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