Today’s guest-blogger is D.M. Aderibigbe, author of How the End First Showed, part of our Wisconsin Poetry Series. In this post he discusses how his teachers helped him get to where he is today in his career as a poet.
Of all human endeavor, mentorship is the most underrated. Here is the thing: I finished the first draft of what became How the End First Showed, while completing my undergraduate studies at the University of Lagos. I sent it in for a contest and came out as one of three finalists. Add that to the fact that the poems in the manuscript already appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Notre Dame Review, Poet Lore, and RHINO, among others. As such I thought I knew everything I needed to know about poetry—at least my poetry. So much so that when I was hugging my grandmother at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, about to board a Marrakesh-bound plane en route to Boston to begin my MFA, all that occupied my mind were new poems. “I won’t touch anything from this manuscript.” I said to myself.
Then came the famous Room 222. Then came workshop after workshop. Then came the lessons. From Robert Pinsky, Karl Kirchwey and Maggie Dietz (my MFA teachers), I learned that when it comes to oneself, honesty is always farther than we think. From them, I learned that the destination is as important as the route. From them, I learned that nothing is impossible to let go.
These words gradually took over my mind like true love. I decided to step into the past. So when I sat to edit the manuscript again, I parted with several parts of me. It was hard. I hesitated. I cut. I re-added. Then cut. I tell you one thing: if it wasn’t for what my teachers taught me, I never would have been able to do this. Never.
Back to my first ever literature class in high school. As a matter of fact, my first ever class in senior high. The topic for the day was literary appreciation. My teacher, Uncle Titus wanted to tell us the major difference between poetry and prose. He picked up a chalk, drew something that looked like a bungalow on the blackboard. Then he drew something that looked like a road. “If you are prose, you go straight,” he said. “But if it’s poetry, you’ll go round and round and round, until you arrive.” He made what look like a circle with the chalk. To prove his point, he asked us to read two poems: David Rubadiri’s “An African Thunderstorm” and “ A.E. Housman’s “Is My Team Ploughing.” He asked us what we thought each poem was trying to say. As you might guess, no two people got the same reading. Not even close. “That’s what poetry is,” he said. “It has the ability to provide numerous roads for many people to arrive at a particular home.” And that home means different thing to different people,” he added.
is a PhD student at Florida State University. He is the author of a chapbook, In Praise of Our Absent Father, selected for the New Generation African Poets Series of the African Poetry Book Fund. Born and raised in Nigeria, he earned his MFA in poetry from Boston University. His poems have appeared in the African American Review, The Nation, Ninth Letter, Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, and elsewhere.