Rasaq Malik is a graduate of the University of Ibadan. His poems have been published in Rattle, New Orleans Review, Spillway, Poet Lore, Michigan Quaterly Review, Minnesota Review, and elsewhere. He is a two-time nominee for Best of the Net Nominations. His poem was among the finalists for the 2015 Best of the Net Nominations. In 2017, Rattle Magazine and Poet Lore nominated his poems for the Pushcart Prize. He was shortlisted for Brunel International African Poetry Prize in 2017. He was a finalist for Sillerman First Book for African Poets in 2018.
We had the opportunity to have a chat with him last week.
BM: Congrats,RMG, on the publication of your chapbook in the African Poetry chapbook series box set. Can you tell us something about it?
RMG: My chapbook “No Home In This Land” explores the inherent trauma of war and the aftermath of living in a country where safety is illusionary. I mean the title is symbolic in diverse ways. Symbolic in a tragic way. Symbolic in a way that shocks and terrifies those who desire peace and love from their homelands, but find none. The chapbook documents and preserves the memories of the dead, the ones bombed in their homeland, the ones towed to IDP camps in the dark, the soldiers buried in the absence of their relatives, the orphans, fugitives, etc. Also, the chapbook is an answer to the immediate demand for the souls of the unmourned dead to be mourned, to be glorified heroically despite the fact that they died in a country where our political leaders drape their lips with lies and attend to frivolous activities when what we really need is the adequate assurance of security on the lives and properties of the masses. Writing some of the poems in the chapbook took months. The death of Abu Ali blew me apart that I spent days discussing him and watching the video clip where his colleagues shouldered him, praising him after his promotion, singing his name, celebrating his military prowess. Here, a quick remembrance of A.E. Housman’s “To An Athlete Dying Young” surfaces. As a vibrant young soldier who had devoted his life to the serving of this country, Abu Ali, like other countless dead soldiers whose corpses were never brought home for a decent burial, deserves everything good from this country. In “To An Athlete Dying Young”, there is a bleak end to everything called life. An Athlete dies, and becomes a story told by those who carry him ‘shoulder-high’ whenever he wins a race. Abu Ali was killed by Boko Haram. He was buried by his kinsmen in their own way. Also, Chibok continues to linger in a haunting way. The children of Chibok and Dapchi could be your children and my children. So, there is always an urgent need to create a platform, through writing, for their yearnings and pain to be narrated. In a way, writing this summons the attention of others who are unaware of this trauma.
BM: Splendid. Did you write thematically for the chapbook specifically, or did you select from an array of unpublished works?
RMG: I worked in accordance with the title of the chapbook. I have always been a passionate explorer of the sadness of this country. Before the selection of my chapbook, I had poems birthed from my reflection of this country in a way that reminds me, every time, of an artist painting his homeland on a broken wall. Even when it sounds artistically powerful, I always find myself passing through the channel of pain in the moment of writing about grief. For example, the recent news about the release of Dapchi girls doesn’t reduce the fact that those girls were abducted, snatched from the open hands of their grieving mothers. So, my poetry has a trajectory: to paint in the mind of the reader the anxiety and dread dominating my country, crippling the dreams of many who find no bliss in this homeland.
Were you given a title or did you choose it yourself?
RMG:I chose the title myself. I had always wanted to write about this country. About the silence of things that scares us, about the voiceless rage that creeps in the heart of a mother forcing herself to stay alive after the death of her only son in Borno. To me, writing poetry is not about displaying words on a paper. An artist should not paint/write out of the sheer need to write/paint alone. So, I chose the title because of the urgent need to talk about people who died of bomb blasts, people who became unrecorded dead in the North, people who were once like you and I, who had dreams, too, but were buried in haste by bombs, by this war they knew nothing about. And this reminds me again of “The Casualties” by J.P. Clark and “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen. In both poems, there is a heavy presence of universal anguish attached to war, to those who are innocent, but get wiped by war; those who know nothing about the tragedy that visits them.
BM: How did you come to the attention of the publishers?
RMG: Since the prize started, I always sent my poems every year. I never missed the chance to submit my poems. And every year I was rejected . So, in 2017 I was shortlisted for Brunel International African Poetry Prize alongside some of the vibrant African voices we have today. Also, it is noteworthy to say that since the inception of the prize, the organizers have always provided the platform (APBF) for the shortlisted poets and others to send their manuscripts to them. Eventually, my manuscript was selected. In summary, the prize served as the passage of discovery.
BM: Apart from yourself, who are the other poets who have chapbooks in the series?
RMG: Kechi Nomu, Umniya Najaer, Amanda Bintu Holiday, Yalie Kamara, Alexis Teyie, Omotara James, Leila Chatti, Saddiq Dzukogi, Romeo Oriogun, and Henk Rossouw.
BM: How many of them are Nigerian?
RMG: Four of us (Myself, Kechi, Saddiq, and Romeo). However, Omotara James shares dual places. She is a Nigerian-British writer.
BM: Once again, congrats on this. But an artist is a restless soul, so I must ask, what next? More poetry? Nonfiction? Fiction,even?
RMG: Brother, it is everything. And before this present moment I have realized the temporariness of everything. The transiency of space and time. Before the arrival of my chapbooks, I had felt my heart desire everything joyous in the world. The moment I received the package, I knew I was holding my strength and power. I knew I had left my heart fixed to this country. Sometimes it takes us years to fulfill our dreams. I have a chain of dreams. But I am always aware of death. Of things that break us. Of death and its eternal presence. In creating my poems, I feel this sense of how ephemeral everything is. So, I try to forget some of the poems I have written, and creating new ones always trigger me to further relentlessly on this journey. I applied for the Sillerman prize and I was a finalist. Most of the poems I submitted were written after Brunel. So, there is this continuous drive, this untamed zeal and passion to continue writing no matter the bad state of the country. So, I will keep writing and creating.
Here’s a little bonus poem:
You will wake to remember old poems,
greeting cards, dead roses,
and the traces of tears
beneath your pillow;
You will walk the streets
that house the bars —
where the bottles of beers
are samples of unwritten
You will wake to hold pictures
read old mails, long for embraces,
but words will betray your feelings.
You will remember the night of poetry
On the stage of your heart.
Where love cycles like a wheel.
And again, tonight,
you will remember me in the
wake of memory
reopening the door of longing.