Whenever I tell people I once had a conversation with Gabriel Okara, they act shocked. It’s almost like they think a guy like me could never have crossed paths with the legendary poet. If only they knew that legendary poet was once my neighbour. And that’s long before I even knew he was famous or cared anything for poetry. But I did meet the legendary poet and I have the trophies to prove it ( referring to my poems that is. hehe).Anyways, I’ll tell you of my meetings with him.
I’d just been introduced to the beauty of poetry after I watched two movies given to me by a friend and neighbour; Dead Poets Society featuring Robin Williams and GreenCard featuring Gérard Depardieu. The movies awakened a strong desire to write poems after that. And since I was a rookie , it seemed expedient that I get some professional advice on writing good poems. So I went over to Dr Okara’s home and asked him for advice. He was more than helpful. He even went as far as editing a line in one of my poems ( a line which grabs attention any time I show it to my friends).
Apathy set in not long after. I slowed down on my writing, thinking I lacked the skill and knowledge to write anything meaningful. So I thought maybe a book on writing poems was what I need to turn me into a Maestro. Dr Okara didn’t share the same view. In fact when I ran into him in the estate a few days later, he told me something that changed my paradigm about the path to excellence in poetry.
“Young man how is the writing going” he asked. I told him I had slowed down a bit, looking for a book on writing better poems and if he had any I’d be glad if he could lend it to me. He switched to mentor-mode and said to me, “I’ll tell you a story”. “Many years ago when I began to write poems consistently, I had a friend who admired my writings. He thought he felt inspired to write poems and asked if he could borrow one of my books so he could read it and learn how to write good poems. So he borrowed the book and guess what?”. What, I asked.” It’s been many years since then; he is still reading that book and hasn’t written one line of poetry. So what am I saying? If you want to write poems, go ahead and write poems. The way to write better poems is to keep writing. You don’t necessarily need a book to teach you how to write poems. Just keep writing and you’ll get better at it. In other words , he was saying, Just do it. So I took the old man’s advice and truly, I got better at the craft.
Come to think of it, that rule applies to more than just poetry. It’s a universal law of progress. I’ve noticed from my network marketing experience that most people spend way too much time trying to get a PhD before deciding to pursue their craft. Truth is, you can’t learn it all in one day. Life is an on-the-job- training. You get better as you get going. Some things can’t be learned in school because the map is not the territory. If you want to be it, you’ve got to Just do it!
– Nigerian Philosopher