Episode 1: Younglan on Art, Society, Perseverance, and Legacy
As writers, the inner conflict that we wrestle with can be inspiring, but it can be nauseating too. To understand the pitfalls of any art is to recognize the fragility of what life offers at any point in time.
Maybe as humans, we suspect that life is a line to be drawn, but for those who sometimes see the deepest truths, life is everything else trying to define your essence, while you dare against the tide, hoping to know what you will become when the tempest is done.
I have always sought poetry out from amongst all forms of art; it is my crutch, for the moments when all else in life overwhelms me.
“Poetry has a way of bearing out our impressions of the society. It is a channel that expresses the deepest sense of our vulnerability, our strengths, our fears and even our love. But sometimes, a poetic piece has the power to transport us into a place where we can both reflect and introspect on the choices, the experiences and the decisions that have led us to the moment that we are in.”
When I wrote the words above, I was reviewing one of Younglan’s spoken word pieces and I could feel the angst and the anger that filled whatever was brewing around me.
I reached out to Younglan about interviewing him for my proposed column and his response was warm and graceful, he is always easy going and super comfortable to talk to. Despite originally intending to capture the interview on a personal level, certain limitations ensured that I had to make the interview virtual. I sent him the questions and told him to send back the answers at his convenience.
I have always known that if I was to venture into a column that discourses art, and I had to take interviews, Younglan will be one of my first. My attachment to him is partly because he sees the world and the experience of life in ways that are similar to mine.
Our journey as acquaintances began in 2017, on a cold evening at what used to be known as Badaska Chills. Gideon (G-king) sought me out online and invited me over to an event that had other writers and poets. Despite my best efforts not to attend, I did. The people and the scenery made for an interesting evening. The highlight of the night was hearing Younglan recite his ode to his beautiful neighborhood.
“Tudun Wada” as a poem, captures the essence of what Younglan is. The way he marries the beauty and ugliness of his community; neither fully judging nor denying its hold on him, but rather mirroring the past and the present to create a collage of its papered cracks. Throughout the rhythm of the poem, you can sense that whatever may happen, he is not seeking to escape the community that raised him. He finds himself muddled with the stains of his neighborhood’s wild forays yet still conscientious enough to realize that it needs better.
To this end, there is a philosophical argument which proposes that man is a product of his surroundings. The notion argues that the sum of man’s decisions, actions and inclinations are innately imprinted by the impressions he/she has witnessed. Although the counter argument proposes that some persons can transcend the complicated social conditioning of their society. It is inherently difficult to outrun the impact of the experiences that one has grown accustomed to.
Younglan’s most complete spoken word in my opionion,is “Elbow Room.” It begins with the familiar angst of a character in contradiction. The contradiction arises from the most familiar of places.
The human desire to navigate the pitfalls of the emotions of love and hate.
“Everything you seem to love now
You might just end up hating
And everything you seem to hate now
You might just end up loving
So I am hating the President now,
So that I might just love him later”
Across these few lines, a deeper story unravels.
It is a story that lays its soul bare over the rest of the poem.
A story of the contradictions of man’s experiences.
An experience which in some ways; has grown accustomed to the futility of the system.
When Younglan discourses the society in the way it projects its values, he replays the very plot of the sad society that we are immersed in. He discusses a society where hard work is constantly being preached, but in hindsight; the most successful individuals are the persons who are steeped in the less than stellar ways of politics.
The contradiction in the experience is thus; while the politicians live a life that is different from the one the masses experience, the masses still lie in awe of the politician who continues to pillage the values of the masses. The politician has no restraint. His lack of restrain, by default creates a sublet of identities. It creates the “collaborators” who are content to wallow in fear and live in the status quo. The second group is the one he describes as the ones that might become “monsters.”
His deep understanding of the society is still noticeable in the haunted but beautiful poem, “How To Find Your Children After It Rains in Jos”.
The poem is a haunting recollection of the emotions and tensions that arise with the rains of terror and killings. But it is also a damning critic of the slippery slope that leads us back to the same circle over and over again.
This ability to bring to the fore, complex stories of his society are what draws me to his art. And in order to unearth more, I had to ask a few questions.
Below are some of the questions and his responses.
Question 1:You are mostly recognized as a poet, but for those who don’t know you well enough or what poetry means to you, could you answer this question, Why Poetry?
YOUNGLAN: Why Poetry? Because it is first and foremost, a safe space for me. I chose poetry because I can say anything and everything I want to, without fear that the paper I am writing on will hurt me. I write poetry because it allows me to clear my head in moments when I despair. It is what preserves me.
QUESTION 2: Your poetry captures the nuances of the society you live in; has the flaws of these societies affected how you see your future within their arc?
YOUNGLAN: I know my role as the conscience of the conscience of society. I know that these flaws will never be completely eradicated. But I know that we can be better. And I am not doing this for the now, no, it is for the long run. Because if we are able to write and publish or record, a generation will come that will grow on this literature that we are building and it will shape them, their minds and emotions and soul. To create this art is to immortalize yourself in society, that way; you continue to shape and reshape thought even after you’re no longer here.
QUESTION 3: How do you combat the issue of keeping the faith in the same society?
YOUNGLAN: I’ll refer you to one of my favorite poems of all time. “The Weighing” by Jane Hirshfield:
“So few grains of
Measured against all
And still the scales
I keep faith because of the few grains of happiness, these few grains of good, these few grains of kindness. I am able to keep hoping that there will be a large ripple effect of these few grains with time.
QUESTION 4: What are the steps you go through when writing a piece.
YOUNGLAN: Well, I think of something to write about. I research about it, I listen to/read poems about the theme I want to write about, I pick what works for me in these other poems and let go of what doesn’t. I write a first draft and ruminate it. The poem is in a continuous state of growth. There is never a final draft because I can go to perform this piece and while on stage, a new line is added here and there, you know. But yeah, that is the usual process. Some other poems just come, you know, they are usually thoughts that one has harbored for a while. When you put pen to paper, it just flows, the first draft is the last. There are usually very few of those though.
QUESTION 5: A part of your social media bio is inscribed as ‘irreligious” how does that figure into the idea of the artist and man known as “Younglan”
YOUNGLAN: wheeeeew, this is hard. You see, religion isn’t something that I easily talk about, especially from my perspective. I do not subscribe to any religion though, but I acknowledge and respect all of them. I’ve always been very curious and I ask a lot of uncomfortable questions that a lot of people never answered satisfactorily. So I went in search of answers myself which brought me to this point. As an artist, I am open to any and every experience. I believe we should all be so too.
QUESTION 6: You’ve been extensively involved in entrepreneurial ventures, how has that played out, as an artist but also as a Nigerian youth?
YOUNGLAN: The Nigerian society we found ourselves in does not give artist the luxury to survive on their arts. Hence the need to invest in other trades and works. One needs to keep the body and soul together, pay bills, provide for the family, and buy books and travel. My art hasn’t gotten to that point yet, but hopefully with time.
QUESTION 7: What is in store for the Younglan brand? And what will your advice to fellow creative be?
YOUNGLAN: A lot man! I’ve been working. Working on long-term projects mostly; I can’t wait to share all I’ve been working on with the rest of the world.
My advice to fellow creatives; keep working on yourself first, then your craft, never stop. Keep on, it gets frustrating sometimes, push through those moments and keep working.
Elijah Abuni Peter is a writer from the city of Jos. His Bi-weekly column “The Art Tells” focuses on discoursing art,the artists and their place in the changing society.