#YNaijaLit: Esther Edoho is channeling our collective youth on “Moonflower”

Yesterday we debuted two new poems from Esther Edoho’s fantastic new chapbook, Moonflower, a poetry collection that explores love, displacement, migration and youth through the eyes of a young woman. Today, we chat with her about the book and her life and why she chose to self publish instead of waiting for a traditional publishing house. We hope you find it as enlightening as we did.

Moonflower is self published, a huge leap of faith for an emerging poet. Why did you decide to take the plunge?
I have had a poetry blog for a while and I believe the next step for me was to put out a collection of poems. Based on my research I found that it is really hard to get picked up by a publishing house and the best route for a poet was to self publish your work, or if you are lucky you win a poetry chapbook contest and get the attention of these houses. I had a deeply personal body of work I wanted to put out at a specific time, so I took my destiny into my own hands and self published instead of waiting around to get picked up.
I would eventually love to work with a publisher, but this just felt like the right thing for me at this time. With a blog, you get to a point where only the same people keep visiting your blog, but publishing a book allows me reach a wider audience.  Now even with the book out, people who have never heard of me are reading my book. So yes, I have achieved my goals of establishing myself as a poet and reaching new audiences.
Moonflower is a slim volume, mirroring your poetry, which is always succinct and grounded in youth and innocence. How did you choose the poem that ended up in the book?
The poems in Moonflower were written at a specific time in my life so they had the same theme running through them.  So when it was time to put together a collection of poems, I went back to the poems from that time, went through them with a fine toothed comb and rewrote them into poetry, because they were originally written as journal entries.
Apart from those poems, which is like 80% of the book, that were chosen based on the emotional field I was at the time, the other poems were chosen because they helped tell the narrative of being young and love and the complexities of relationships. I rounded out the collection based on what I thought were the strongest poems that fit into the collection, because I really wanted Moonflower to be a collection of some of my best work yet.
You have chosen to share “Sour” and”Adiaha” with us from the book. Why these specific poems?
I chose to share “Sour” because it is, in my opinion, one of the strongest poems in the book and I thoroughly enjoy the language of the poem. Its a poem that talks about the disappointment of finding out your feelings towards another person is not ‘love’, but rather a mimicry of it. And if it is love, why has it died or gone away.?
It explores all propaganda around love, how we are told it’s great and amazing and revolutionary, and how when we encounter the real thing is nothing like what we’ve been told and how this discovery always comes at great cost to us. It is a panic poem, and I hope this is what people get when they read it, that they feel the anxiety and the questioning nature of the poem.
I also chose to share “Adiaha” because its a survival poem. Its about a woman who has decided to break the rules and do what she wants to do. It is about finding out what it means to be yourself against the odds and against the shame that society places on women when things don’t go the way that they it should. Its about making that decision to be one’s self, outside of the norm and being okay with that place.
Your poetry tends to focus specifically on the millennial experience, especially the transience of interpersonal relationships in the age of the internet. How does your personal experience influence your work?
A good chunk of the poems in the book focus on interpersonal relationships. I am one of those poets who writes from personal experience, I cannot write what I do not know or have not felt.  The poems in this book were written when I was going through a really terrible heartbreak and I didn’t get to share them until two years later. Because I read in Dani Shapiro’s writing memoir where she talked about the fact that we should only share our work when our healing isn’t dependent on other people’s appraisal of it.
At the time when these poems were written, they were very raw and painful and such an unravelling to see myself at my lowest and being in touch with myself enough to document it. I could only share them when the book came out because I had gotten past it. I wasn’t in pain anymore and so I could even edit the poems as a poet, not a heart broken girl. So yes, my work is deeply affected by my personal experiences and I think that is what makes them so relatable.
One of the major themes in Moonflower is displacement, and how far too many young Nigerians have to leave everything they know and build lives for themselves away from their families, lives they are forced to return to by circumstance and time. How are you able to condense something so vast into such unassuming poetry?
I think that I’m able to condense the vastness of displacement because it is the reality of being young and Nigerian and having to leave home to other lands because our country doesn’t really work. Having to uproot yourself and make a life for yourself somewhere else. It is easy to write about things that are my reality and the realities of people I love. I remember Andrea Gibson say in one of her poems that she isn’t really a good poet, she just plagiarizes the thoughts of the people around her.
I think that’s the case for a lot of poets. You listen to your friends and your family and how life works for them and you take their words as a poet and you fashion them into poetic words, better words. You articulate for them their lives and their realities and what existing in these spaces is like for them.
What are your plans for Moonflower going forward?
I only have one major plan for Moonflower going forward, and that is to get into as many hands as possible. I want to get the right attention from the right people, I want it to resonate with as many people as possible. So I’m trying to promote and push the book and get people to give the book a chance to speak to them.
I am also recording an audio book version of Moonflower. I think poetry really comes to life when it is spoken and while I can’t say everything, I can tell you that I am working with the musician Ese Peters on the project, which I am really excited for.
Would you like to recommend to us, other young Nigerian poets we should check out?
Yes, this is my favorite question. The first poet I would recommend is Tomi Olugbemi. He is my darling friend and his chapbook, “Love is not a tempest” was what inspired me to start working on my chapbook. His is actually free and you can download it on his website. Another poet that I really adore is my friend Tiwalade Adekunle. She was one of the poets who helped me edit the chapbook. She is such a beautiful poet and her work is stunning, and would stop you in your steps.
I would also recommend Adora, she has a freshness to the way that she writes and her diction is so impressive. The way she chooses to describe things and express herself is so unique. I read her and she sounds like no one else out there. Its just her and I think it is amazing that she has a sound that is all her own. She doesn’t have a blog but she does have a tumblr.
Those three people are poets I think deserve more attention and I want everyone to read them. If you loved Moonflower, then you should check them out because they all helped me edit the chapbook.
You can get Esther’s poetry chapbook here.

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