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Q&A with poet Gospel Chinedu, writer of 'The Lantern'

Our poetry features continued this week with publication of two poems from Gospel Chinedu, a Nigerian poet from the Igbo descent. Our poetry team is thrilled to publish "The Lantern" and "Everyone wants to stay afloat, when the truth is that we must learn to breathe underwater".

Gospel Chinedu is a Nigerian poet from the Igbo descent. He is a 2021 Starlit Award Winner, 1st Runner Up for the Blurred Genre Contest (Invisible City Lit), 2023, Honorable Mention in the Stephen A. Dibiase Poetry Prize, 2023.

Our editor-in-chief Julian Kanagy recently posed a few questions to the poet about his work and how these poems came to be. This is their conversation in full:

Julian Kanagy: I'd love to ask you about some of the images you use in these poems, beginning with "The Lantern."  The very concrete images of matches and matchboxes, "fire chewing up dry oaks," "the fire shoved into the lantern's white eye," all serve to build a tangible sense of the poet's passion. Did you feel the heat, so to speak, while composing this poem?

Gospel Chinedu: I'd say yes. The poem was actually birthed from one of the writing prompts I saw in Rattle Poetry last year. The prompt, not exactly but kind of looked like, “write a poem about an object that defines you or your life.” That writing prompt was a tremendous eye-opener for me. It brought me vividity and physical awareness. I began to think about every object around me, linking many events of my life to them. And what is most amazing is how our stories and the memories of us live inside the objects around us. I chose the lantern because growing up as a child, I had my own history with lanterns. So I thought of the match and the matchbox, how close my dad and I were in my childhood, so that we could create the sparks, keep it burning. I thought of the lantern's white eye and how badly my dad wanted me to be that fire shoved into his own lantern. And how badly I'm trying everyday to be that fire. 

JK:  In addition to the also-brilliant imagery in 'Everyone wants to stay afloat, when in fact, the truth is that we must learn to breathe underwater,' you employ an incredible diversity of sensory details - the poem swims across the stage in enjambed & particularly spaced line fragments, descriptions of physical sensations and imagined experiences ("I hold light the way a sponge holds water"); as a reader, I felt as though the negative space in the poem was room to breathe. Could you speak on some of the images and feelings that drove this poem's composition?

GC: I can remember how much I sought for clarity while composing this poem. It started with the title. And the title says a lot about the poem, you know. I have got this friend, Joshua who responds to “how are you doing?” by saying “I’m staying afloat.” And in contrast to this, Victoria Anthony sings “Breathe Underwater.” I would think so deeply about them and put myself in their shoes. Truly, everyone wants to stay afloat. But we are humans and I am black and surrounded by a whole lot of struggles. And within me I was finding the best way to overcome the waves. And staying afloat, I would say is just another struggle, on its own. So, I was convinced that rather than staying afloat, I could adapt to the ways of the sea, learn the waves, the tides, and just breathe underwater. And I think that's what the majority of us here in Nigeria are doing. Sometimes it seems like we are afloat as in surviving. I mean, the government is too big a sea, we are drowned in it. So, staying afloat is like an unthinkable circumstance. But here we are, I am, breathing —deep inside that sea. 

JK: Could you speak to the role of formal structure in your poetry? How has your craft changed from your early writing to more recent pieces in that regard?

GC: Well, there has not been any much of a change when it comes to the structure of my works of poetry from my early writing. Other than my admiration for formal structure, I don't think it plays a big role for me as a writer. Though, it might for my audience. 


Gospel Chinedu

Gospel Chinedu is a Nigerian poet from the Igbo descent. He is a 2021 Starlit Award Winner, 1st Runner Up for the Blurred Genre Contest (Invisible City Lit), 2023, Honorable Mention in the Stephen A. Dibiase Poetry Prize, 2023.

Julian Kanagy

Julian Kanagy is a Chicago-based poet and editor. His poetry samples a Midwestern upbringing peppered with loss and abandonment, thrives both in the confines of formal structure and the simplicity of its absence, and expands into an ongoing search for the beauty in everyday life when it seems to be hiding. He started Heirlock Magazine to amplify underrepresented voices and The Wild Umbrella to celebrate writing for writing's sake; both as an editor and in his own work, Julian follows the advice of a mentor: “find the poems that nobody else could have written.”


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