Jakky Bankong-Obi on Breaking Free from the Expectation to Write Only “Serious Poetry”

Jakky Bankong-Obi writes from Abuja, Nigeria. Jakky is co-editor at Ice Floe Press, and her work is forthcoming or published in London Grip, The Kalahari Review, patchwork lit mag, Gutter Magazine, Hobart Pulp, Pidgeonholes, Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry, and elsewhere. Jakky enjoys long walks and yoga and dabbles in nature photography.

Jakky Bankong-Obi’s poem “In the Light of Wonder” is published in Capsule Stories Summer 2021 Edition. The poem was written as an exploration of the bond between mother and son by utilizing astronomy, nature, and shared memories/hobbies as a means of fostering said bond. The poem explores the purity of a child’s simple wonder as a way of transforming the ordinary into the miraculous.

Capsule Stories: Where did the idea for this poem come from?

Jakky Bankong-Obi: I had been talking about the nature of my poems and how sometimes as a Nigerian, an African, living on the continent and a relatively new poet, I was feeling pigeonholed into writing what people would consider serious/weighty poems about the political, social, and environmental issues plaguing us, especially following the pandemic and the #EndSARS crises in Nigeria.

In a way, the poem itself was an act of activism against not just the sense of oppression we were/are living under but also against a performance of art to fit the gaze of what others expect that a Nigerian/African woman should be writing about. Generally, there’s an expectation from people of color all over the world to produce art that mostly deals with “the issues,” I think. This poem was birthed around that conversation, which I now remember was with Ernest Ògúnyẹmí, who himself had just been published by Capsule Stories Spring 2021 Edition. And I actually wrote the poem before I saw the Starry Nights theme for Capsule Stories Summer 2021 Edition. It felt like kismet.

Capsule Stories: This was the first poem you’ve written about and for your son. How do you approach writing poetry about your son? What are the challenges surrounding it?

Jakky Bankong-Obi: Frankly, this poem was so, so easy to write once I got over the idea of writing “only serious poetry.” I only started really writing poetry in 2019, the year just before the pandemic. My journey to poetry was a long time coming because I’ve always considered myself an artist/writer, though I studied international relations and have worked in admin and media and in the development industry. So I became a poet with the pandemic, which gave me time to dedicate to writing, given the lockdowns and not even having a proper job at the time. And as the writing developed, I began to feel comfortable enough to explore every aspect of my life and not just get stuck on curating “the issues.” Though my voice is still developing (everyone’s voice is always developing anyway), I do consider myself a mostly nature and place writer. And because the poem was about a moment I had had with my son a while ago, I wanted that sense of light and wonder I felt to bleed through.

The challenge was that I had to remind myself that poetry is also sweetness, about love, about connection despite everything. My son is really my light and wonder, and it felt important to let the poem do what it wanted with that. Even if it seems sappy.

Capsule Stories: You play with spacing and white space in this poem in such an interesting way. What effect do you hope the visuals have on readers?

Jakky Bankong-Obi: When I write, I usually go with my instincts for how the poems should be shaped. I haven’t studied poetry in any way and I really don’t have an idea of the rules though I’m learning and studying as I go along. But mostly, I just let the poem reveal its form. Sometimes I hear the poem as a song following a certain rhythm, and sometimes it’s a picture. Sometimes the music and picture come from other poems I’m reading, and other times they just arrive. Then there are the ones I have to cobble into form. The poem will do what it will I believe.

For this particular poem, I was trying to curate a moment, an event so to say, and hence I needed to stretch each fragment of that moment to reveal its import. The white space felt somewhat like slow-mo, like holding each slice of the event to light, or should I say to highlight. 

Hands holding open Capsule Stories Summer 2021 Edition to the poem "In the Light of Wonder" by Jakky Bankong-Obi.

Capsule Stories: What ideas or images did you cut from earlier drafts of this poem, if any?

Jakky Bankong-Obi: Though I often grapple with most of my poems, I didn’t really edit much of this one. It’s one of the few poems I’ve written that came almost fully formed—I just had to work through the shape and placement of the lines. I maybe edited this twice, and that was it. I’m not a designer by any means so the challenge was really getting it into the pictorial idea that the white spaces provide.

Capsule Stories: How do you make time in your life to write?

Jakky Bankong-Obi: I often bully myself into it because being a working mom is quite stressful, so I’ve since carved out early mornings before school runs, say 4:30–6 a.m. And then I make notes anytime, anywhere as long as it’s not a professional place. I keep stationeries everywhere: kitchen, bathroom, car, etc. since I like to make notes by hand. I also make notes on my phone. I have some weekends and holidays free when my son goes to see his dad. Twitter is also a great place for ideas! I love the writing community there, and I read a ton of poems from Twitter and learn from everyone.

Capsule Stories: What are some of your favorite books or authors?

Jakky Bankong-Obi: I don’t know if it’s possible to have favorites because THERE ARE SO MANY GOOD BOOKS/POEMS/POETS AND WRITERS! But my journey to poetry really began with Rumi’s poetry. I remember reading The Essential Rumi translated by Stephen Mitchell years ago and just being stunned by what language could do. Rumi’s poetry is Sufi, hence religious in nature, and I was taken by how simple yet transcendent the poems are. I met my spirit in those poems and I began my journey not just to poetry but to myself.

Like I said, I’m still relatively new so I’m still discovering poetry, and I read poems and books that astonish me every day. But to name a few, I love Kemi Alabi, Adedayo Agarau, Aliner Stefanescu, Henneh Kyereh Kwaku, Linda Gregg, Ernest Ògúnyẹmí, Camille T. Dungy, Alycia Pirmohamed, Nâzim Hikmet, and Satya Dash. Aria Aber has an amazing collection, Hard Damage. Xiao Yue Shan’s chapbook How Often I Have Chosen Love from Frontier Poetry is a fave. And I’m just getting started.

Capsule Stories: What are you working on next?

Jakky Bankong-Obi: I haven’t been writing much though I’m trying to put together a collection. I’m currently focused on my editing duties for Ice Floe Press, where I was blessed to become a co-editor sometime last year. I’ve also been doing a few Zoom readings while guest editing, judging some local writing contests, and taking a few writing courses from The Poetry Business, who were kind enough to offer me full bursaries for selected courses.

You can follow Jakky Bankong-Obi on Twitter at @jakkybeefive and find more of her work on her Linktree at https://linktr.ee/Jakky.

You can read Jakky Bankong-Obi’s poem “In the Light of Wonder” in Capsule Stories Summer 2021 Edition.

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