This issue’s featured writer on writers is Bahamian poet Obediah Michael Smith, one of The Bahamas’ most prolific poets and authors. tongues of the ocean interviewed Obediah about his work. Owing to circumstances beyond our control (you know, the most banal of technical difficulties) we don’t have a video interview for you. The written interview is the standard toto interview. More recently, on January 20, 2010, editor Nicolette Bethel interviewed Obie on more up-to-date matters: on his latest books, In a China Shop, Seventy Poems, and Open Testament and the challenges of publishing poems in The Bahamas.
Interview with Obediah Michael Smith
January 20, 2010 interview with Obediah Michael Smith
TOTO: Why do you write?
OMS: I write because if I didn’t, I’d hunger and thirst and I’d suffocate because writing is meat and drink and air for this citizen.
TOTO: Who are your poetic influences?
OMS: The author of the universe.
TOTO: Chinua Achebe famously wrote that “art for art’s sake is just another piece of deodorized dog shit.” What is the role of the poet in society?
OMS: To be a poet and to stay alive without abandoning her craft or his craft.
TOTO: Some people believe that poetry is an outdated art form, especially poetry written for the page, which has been supplanted by the spoken word. What is your view on this position?
OMS: Poetry like flowers and the insects which fertilize them can never be outdated. New blossoms are always being produced. Similarly new poets are constantly coming into being. With them, they bring new poetry into being just as composers bring new music. This is as natural as rivers and waterfalls, with new water always coming along. Spoken word is a species of poetry. It cannot speak for all of poetry. Spoken Word can only be the only poetry if language were to become exclusively oral. As long as there is the written word there will be the written poetic word.
TOTO: What do you dream for tomorrow?
I know tomorrow will never come. It cannot. It can always only be now. I dream of living in the present and without distraction. A nation of persons thus aware and thus focused upon what is could move mountains or whatever stood in the way of truth and light.
•••Obediah Michael Smith has published twelve books of poems, a short novel and a cassette recording of his poems. At University of Miami and University of the West Indies, Cavehill, Barbados, he has attended writers’ workshops facilitated by Lorna Goodison, Earl Lovelace, Grace Nichols, Merle Collins, and Mervyn Morris. He is a 1971 graduate of St. Anne’s School, Nassau. He attended Memphis State University from 1973 to 1976 and majored in Speech and Drama and Biology. He has a B.A. in Dramatics and Speech from Fisk University. Employed by the Ministry of Education, he taught English Language and Literature in high schools on New Providence, Grand Bahama, and Inagua. In 1989, he lived in six months in Paris, France, and studied French at L’Alliance Française. As a result of having attended the 12th and 13th annual Havana InternationL Poetry Festivals in 2007 and 2008, his poems have begun to be translated into Spanish and included in anthologies and journals in South America, Mexico and Spain.