Blessed Be #5 with Fisayo Adeyeye
Fisayo Adeyeye is the author of Cradles (Nomadic Press 2017). He is the current Poetry Editor of Fourteen Hills and a Co-Curator of the VelRo Graduate Reading Series. He has works published in The Collapsar, The Birds We Piled Loosely, and The Wildness.
BBF: Can you tell me a little bit about your history as a poet? What is your poetry origin story and what are some of your other interests and passions?
AF: I started writing poetry 4 or 5 years ago. I had a Tumblr blog where I would write poems or short prose and I didn’t have any ambitions other than to write something every day. I would say I still don’t have any major ambitions aside from that. I used to hate poetry because I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t get much out of the way it was used / practiced in formal education. So, I guess I needed to see real people doing the real work, and the internet (for the most part) gave me a sense of that.
BBF: Can you tell me a little bit more about your different experiences with poetry in academia versus as you say “real people, doing the real work”? I’m curious about the use of the word “real,” appreciate this differentiation you are making, and am interested in knowing more about it.
AF: To me, people in academia seemed more interested in looking back. I understand needing context. I understand extending conversations between old and new writers. I think I struggled (and still do) with the idea that these things were final and that new bridges weren’t being created every day. In undergrad, it always felt like we were uncovering something old. Like we were looking at a fossil instead of an actual body. There was so much preoccupation with talking about what poetry was or wasn’t. I would bring in a work by an internet writer and we would spend so much time comparing them to old writers and talking about the generational differences and it was so odd. I just wanted to talk about how amazing these poems were because of the way they talked about things, things people didn’t talk about, and focused on these things for what felt like the first time.
I studied (and met) a lot of amazing writers who helped me craft and understand what I was interested in and why. Writers like Sarah Jean Alexander / Gabby Bess / Madeline Weiss / Joshua Jennifer Espinoza really spoke to what I feel is most exciting about poetry.
What I mostly enjoy doing now outside of writing and reading is making zines. I really like the more physical part of putting something together.
BBF: Can you speak more specifically about the ways in which these writers (Sarah Jean Alexander / Gabby Bess / Madeline Weiss / Joshua Jennifer Espinoza) have influenced your own writing practice. What are you interested in and why?
AF: The main thing I’ve learned from these writers is the power of voice. The power of being able to use your own voice. That you don’t have to channel a persona, or some old dead force, you can just write about things and you are allowed. I don’t really write anything like these poets, but they really inspired me a lot when I was first starting to write. Mostly because I didn’t have to think about poetics or see the strings moving behind what they were saying, I got to see the poems. There is such a mastery to that. Also their poems are some of the first I got excited about when I wasn’t really a fan of poetry.
BBF: This interview series is interested in the ways in which the occult operates as a part of the intimate relationship between the personal and the political. Can you tell me a little bit about your personal relationship to the occult and how it informs your day to day and your writing?
AF: I feel like I maybe practice Sympathetic Magic (or a type of Sympathetic Magic) in my work.
I usually place animals and people in my poems in order to generate something (usually vaguely positive) out of mostly difficult, traumatic life experiences. In my poems, these things often represent anxieties / fears / different parts of my body that I feel need a little more weight and attention.
Outside of that, I think I’m still exploring / stretching into a kind of relationship with the occult. I know it’s a part of my family history and culture, and I’ve been really interested in myth so I’ve been learning a lot about those practices more recently.
BBF: How do the animals and people you place in your poems generate this Sympathetic Magic or “vaguely positive” something? Can you say more about what you mean about Sympathetic Magic?
AF: This is something I’m still trying to understand about myself and my work, so I don’t think I can talk about it clearly. “Sympathetic Magic” is defined as a “primitive or magical ritual using objects or actions resembling or symbolically associated with the event or person over which influence is sought.”
…usually painting an animal / something in order to hunt it more effectively. Same-ish principle for me, except I try to use the animal to influence a situation or mentality.
Something about writing about people surviving / animals surviving feels therapeutic to me and seems like it stretches outside the walls of the poem and into my life and I hope into other people’s lives as well.
BBF: Can you tell me a little bit about the relationship between magic and your family history?
AF: Growing up Christian, my parents didn’t really talk about occult stuff a lot. At least not in positive contexts. But it’s a big part of Nigerian culture, and sometimes we would watch films from Nigeria that featured things about it that interested me a little bit. There are so many (too many) gods and spells in the culture, so I am still making my way through it all. Looking into things that speak about our relationship to the earth / each other.
BBF: What are some myths that speak to you?
AF: I think I like myths because they seem like the most human thing a human does, trying to give reason to everything. I like creation myths generally. They seem to be the most startling to me. I like those personal mythologies people forge out of their situations and experiences. I like the way we carve meaning from the meaningless. I like people that are always looking for these things to sustain them, and like being sustained by them.
Currently, I’m interested in Dionysus and the myths comparing him with Jesus. I’m trying to write a project loosely based on this, so I’ve been reading a lot about those myths lately.
BBF: Do you have any magical practices?
AF: I think a type of magic I practice on the daily is surviving / finding new and more fantastic ways to survive.
It’s hard existing in a place that seems like it wants you dead. Sometimes I don’t feel like I belong in this country and I have to deal with those thoughts. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m wanted here and I have to deal with that. My personal belief is you have to keep making survival interesting and magical otherwise you might never want to do it.
BBF: Thank you so much for sending me some of your work. I greatly enjoyed reading your poems. I noticed quite a bit of Christian imagery in your work. Can you talk a little bit about that?
AF: I think Christian imagery is the strongest and most nostalgic for me since I grew up in a Christian house. I have a kind of tense relationship with it, so I can’t really respond well to all the different aspects, but the stories and narratives that come out of it have always felt particularly vivid to me.
I think I’m more interested in the way that people relate to it than in the thing itself though. So the parts that are grappling with humanity / nature / finality tend to interest me more than the spiritual elements. I always find myself wanting to extend the conversations that the Bible and Christianity brings up, and part of the way this comes out for me is by imagining scenarios in more modern contexts, like Jesus as a young boy or a teenage Jesus…
BBF: I also notice a lot of references to fruit and to the mouth. Can you talk a bit more in depth about this imagery?
AF: I think the mythology behind fruit and mouths is really interesting. Particularly fruit, the way it is depicted in different cultures / contexts. Like how the apple can be seen by some as a hella evil fruit simply because some people think it’s the fruit in the story of the Garden of Eden. But of course to others it appears different, more youthful.
Also I like mouths a lot. I like the way they look when they’re forming certain words (like push / profit / soap). I like how they bend / fold. I like soft mouths. Cracked lips.
I like the way mouths look when people are eating. A secret pleasure I have is watching people when they eat. I think it tells you a lot about the person. Also most times, it seems like it’s people at their safest / most still.
BBF: Will you share some other themes that come up in your work?
AF: Safety / the myth of safety / the myth of safety in a place (any place) as long as you are in a body that it is not safe.
BBF: How might you describe your poetics?
AF: I’m preoccupied with animal drives / “base natures” / I’m intrigued by the ticking parts of us even when we’re not entirely aware that they are.
I’m interested in the ways people take on attributes of the places they live, how animals adapt to certain settings / landscapes / situations. I like to focus on how big things make me feel. And how small.
What happens to the body after trauma? How does nature negotiate having to share space with us? How can people be as happy as possible in the space of time they have to survive / the amount of space they’ve been allotted to survive?
I like to take notes on things, so I feel like I begin with notes. Then shape what I’m trying to say or depict out of that.
BBF: Any final thoughts?
AF: I’m pretty excited about my first full length book. It’s coming out April through Nomadic Press. It kind of focuses on things I’ve mentioned here, but is mostly an examination of hunger in its various forms. Hunger for connection, for safety. Being in love with the world and what it might do to you if, for whatever reason, the world doesn’t love you back.