I have wanted to experience the beauty of creating poems in my first language for so long. I wrote a whole poem in Yorùbá for the first time in 2018 when I visited the village where my grandfather was born and taught to read the Qur’an, before they began preaching in some West African countries. In the late ’80s, they returned to Nigeria to settle down in Kakuri, where I was born to love.
Yorùbá shapes how I explore English as a language for my poems and I like to believe I think in my first language even though I don’t write in it. I come from a long line of poets that write in Arabic. As a child, the first poetry books I studied were poems that aligned with my Sufi origin and they were written in Arabic, so even though I was introduced to poetry very early, they were not in my first language.
In Jodoma 2018, sitting under a mango tree with my father and his brothers, I was jotting down some lines as I eat from a bowl of yam and palm oil, my father asked what I am writing, and I told him a new poem and he laughed. He asked if I know the English translation for “Àfòmà,” and if I was aware of the medicinal benefits and I laughed, because even though I had not seen any before, I know the English word for it. He asked what it is, and I told him “Epiphytes”, he spent the night muttering the word with smiles smeared on his face, as though surprise by how different it sounded. That night, I wrote the draft for the poems in Yorùbá and worked them through the English version until I was satisfied with the outcome.
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