The winner of the PEN Nigeria/Saraba Poetry Prize 2013, Tonye Willie-Pepple, shares his thoughts on contemporary poetry practice.

Why do you write poetry, and what fascinates you about poetry?

Poetry for me is a way of sermonizing without necessarily being religious, I read poems of other writers and feel like I am being directly spoken to, they affect me in countless ways, sometimes they are encouraging, other times they serve as a critique of one’s way of life, so when I write poetry I aim to let my words do same for would be readers. Poetry also makes the world more interesting as it makes me tend to see beyond the things we call normal, for instance, a tree may not just be a tree, its leaves falling and greening could inspire a message that can make humans learn a lot. So writing poetry for me is an exceptional way of expressing and sharing my conversations with nature.

Is poetry important?

Poetry in general to me is important, be it haiku, American, African, etc. If I can benefit mentally, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually from poems of other writers around the world, which also spurs me to contribute in my little way then poetry is extremely important.
In your practice, what do you aim for, especially in relation to your shortlisted poem?
Like I said in my answer to your first question, I aim to appeal to the conscience of my fellow human being positively, that is sermonize without necessarily being religious, without being judgmental either, I try to see myself and every other person as wearing same shoes, albeit in different sizes, in relation to Old River Bank which fortunately was shortlisted, my aim is to appeal to the consciences of Multinational Companies within and outside Nigeria, whose extraction of crude and various minerals in whatever form from the environment is killing hosts of their projects, diminishing the productive nature of their agrarian and aquatic habitat and changing cultures for bad in these areas, It is a call for change, for a better approach to environmental preservation and all.