Among the new breed of young inspired writers gradually gaining roots into the literary landscape in Africa is undoubtedly Jude Fuhnwi.
The young Cameroonian poet, whose works address social issues such as war, oppression, bad governance and human rights, currently works for Interpeace, an international peace-building organisation, as senior Global Communications Officer, after having worked as head of the Africa Communication unit at BirdLife International, and as Regional correspondent for West and Central Africa at SOS Children’s Villages International.
Jude Fuhnwi, who was shortlisted in 2015 for the Foreign Press Association (FPA) Award in London, in the Thompson Young Journalist from the Developing World category, holds a Masters degree in Conflict, Peace and Security; a Bachelor degree in Journalism; and a certificate in Business Journalism from Ghana, Cameroon and Uganda respectively.
While he is still making arrangements to publish his first anthology, he spoke to The Post about his works and experiences in an exclusive interview. Read On
You have written a collection of many short poems…as a journalist what inspired you to dabble into poetry?
My first poem was to myself, and that was back in secondary school. As a literature student, I read and interpreted quite a good number of poems. When I started high school, I realised that, unlike prose and drama, most of the poems we read were written by poets from outside Africa. I got a bit worried because African poetry did not seem to have enough space in our school programmes. I found it quite strange because poetry speaks directly to what we so often pass over in our daily lives – in us and in our societies. So, I knew that poetry had the power to change the way we see ourselves, the way we see our societies and the world. One day, I decided to write a poem to myself. I remember that was in 2008. It was titled “The Graduate” and was something of me motivating myself on who and what I wanted to be in future. I regret that I have no copy of that poem today. Even with the experience of writing my first poem, I did not nurse any dream of becoming a poet or creative writer. What I think I got from it was an awakening, an open mind into a bigger world and the determination to break free from my own barriers to the cautious mind. When I started my career as a journalist, I had the opportunity to understand and appreciate the world around me even better. As a journalist, I have worked in different contexts in Africa and beyond, telling stories about how we all relate to each other. Through these experiences, I have witnessed in our African societies how man is losing humanity for greed, and above all else, how oppression is taking forestage without restraint. In 2017, I decided it was necessary to add my voice to the few voices already advocating that we relate with each other a little better. I felt it was important to lay bare the plight of the most vulnerable. So, I decided to pass my message through poetry because a poem combines the message with emotions to drive a point home more compellingly.
We have noticed that your poems are mostly short poems, is there any particular reason for this brevity?
When I write, I think of the audience. And what I have noticed is that consumption habits are changing. People like to read something short and appealing. So, I try to keep it short and engaging. I want to get my message across in a few lines and speak directly to a person’s life. That’s why I try to limit my poems to a maximum of 30 lines. It’s a tough job to tell a whole story in just a few words. But again, I must always keep my audience in mind.
What messages are you putting across to the public?
I write about what we experience in our daily lives. But as you must have noticed, most of my poems have deep roots in African societies – and perhaps that explains why I focus my writing on some of the most pressing issues we face in Africa, as Africans and as a continent. A lot of them are about oppression, exclusion, injustice, war, resilience, love, hope and beauty. My experience working in oppressive societies and conflict-affected areas has inspired me to shine the light on the damaging impact of oppressive rule and war. I also write about what a troubled mind finds hard to conceive – which is resilience. It can change the way we see ourselves and the world, especially in the most difficult of times.
Some of your poems are a byword of socio-political satire, who do you write for?
My poems target Africans primarily. Like I said before, it’s about our daily lives. We all have experienced injustice, exclusion, oppression or war in one way or the other. Some people continue to face them daily. Much of this, if not all, are defined by the politics of our societies. And so, my message is mainly for Africans. It does not matter where you are and what you do because, as Africans, we all have a role to play to fix a lot of these things. Sometimes, in my poems, you find that there is a message directed to the international community as well. Some of the issues we face in Africa are sometimes defined by actors outside of Africa. For example, just the silence of the international community or actors outside of Africa in times of injustice in a country can define the fate of people in such a society.
Can we say that your poetry is also a lamentation over bad governance, abuse of human rights ailing the post-colonial Africa?
Poetry is a powerful art. It is a magical form of writing because the words in a line of poetry mean something different to each of us. When I write a poem, I do so with an open heart. I want to establish a relationship with my reader. So, how my poem is interpreted depends on how you read it. Sometimes, I write from the character’s point of view because I want my reader to connect directly with the subject and the message of the poem. If you read with an open mind it changes the way you see things. One poem reads differently to different people. It simply depends on how a poem speaks directly to you. That’s why some readers in the African context may easily identify with issues related to bad governance and human rights abuse in my poems. I have seen people from different parts of the world interpret my poems in ways that I did not imagine. That is the beauty of poetry.
How is your poetry different from others, especially those who belong to the fraternity of angry writers?
I think what makes it different is the fact that it breaks free from the imaginary or opinionated world to inspire individuals to think deeper or act in the face of issues they confront in their daily lives. Often, I tell a story from the character’s point of view – so the feeling in my poems is determined by the characters portrayed. If, for instance, you read “In the Shadow of Oppression”, you may get a sense of frustration and anger by the character. In the poem “Impostor” the character tells the story from an obviously angry point of view. You may not necessarily find that level of anger and frustration in a poem like “A Snatch of Spring” or “Insecure” which tell stories that are likely to generate frustration or anger. You will find that, in most of my poems, and perhaps that’s what makes my poetry different. I may not consider myself to belong to any writers’ fraternity because a poem I write does not necessarily reflect my opinion. I tell the story from a character’s perspective. The character could be the protagonist who is a victim or perpetrator; it can also be a story told from a narrator’s perspective. That’s what defines the mood, not me as a writer.
When will you publish?
I already have quite a good number of poems out there in public, on the internet. But I am looking forward to publishing my anthology not too long from now. I have not set a date yet because I have my 8 – 5 job that keeps me really busy. So, exactly when I publish will depends on how much time I have to complete the collection I am working on now.
What is the importance of verse vis-à-vis other literary genres?
Poetry is a beautiful art. I consider it the most important and powerful genres in Literature because it transforms language that we often believe we know into words that no longer mean or sound the same. The beauty of patterns in a line of poetry and the melody is something you will hardly find in the other literary genres. It succinctly pulls together messages and emotions to speak directly to our lives. Any work of art that can do this is obviously important for the well-being of human life. We all love music, music is poetry. It opens our minds and leads us into a bigger world that we may normally not dream of. Poetry touches the innermost part of us, in the most intimate ways and opens our hearts to see things differently.
Why did you not embrace prose or drama in your creative writing?
I do have an unpublished prose manuscript which I wrote about 11 years ago. Unfortunately, it’s only good now for someone to have a glimpse into the younger version of me – which is why I have never made an effort to publish it. And of course, if you remember, I wrote movie scripts sometimes in the past – which is a form of drama. But then, I settled on poetry because it is not really celebrated and promoted in Africa, which probably explains why African poetry is not having a significant presence on the global literary landscape. I want to contribute, to encourage a new generation of African poets. Poetry is an elusive art that pushes me to see things another way, to think deeper from the simple narratives that we find in prose and drama. With poetry, I have to dig deep into my inner self to write because that’s how I open my mind; that’s how I get fulfilment to connect with my readers. I have to do so in a few words. I can write a whole novel with the story of one poem. But thanks to the power of poetry, I am able to tell such a long story in just few lines.
How much of reality or existentialism are in your poetry?
Much of what I write about is inspired in one way or the other by real life experiences. Sometimes I get inspired by something I hear, witness or read about – then try to understand and tell the story from the perspective of one of the actors. An example is my poem “A Snatch of Spring” which was inspired by the gruesome murder of school children on a campus in Kumba, Cameroon. That is why people can relate to my work easily. I have seen people comment on my poems from India, Europe and elsewhere identifying with the message. That’s the beauty of breaking away from the full cover of the imaginary world.
Who are some of the poets that give you inspiration?
I get inspired by our experiences in daily life. But I enjoy reading poems by Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Lord Tennyson and William Shakespeare.
Interviewed By Kini Nsom