By Jim Pressman, Contributing Editor with additional reporting by Abubakar Ibrahim and Kabura Zakama
Our first contact with this young lawyer was at the November 26, 2011 edition of the Guest Writer’s Session, an initiative of the Abuja Writers Forum (AWF), which normally features one or two published, often well-established, creative writer. However, for the first time the budding poetess, Ms Hajo Isa, whose debut collection of poems entitled Shadow Falls was released Friday March 30, was allowed to read from her yet – to – be titled, forthcoming collection then tentatively dubbed A Heart in Bloom, now the title of Part One of the 4-part, 85-page tome [Abuja, AGM Books 2012].
Ms. Isa, a 2004 Law graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria who hails from Kebbi State, currently works at the Supreme Court Abuja and despite her busy schedule, finds time to relate with the creative Muses of poetry and fiction.
Her interest in writing began at the Federal Government College, Jos as she came in contact with the works of major African writers such as Cyprian Ekwensi, Wole Soyinka, Leopold Sedar Senghor and Chinua Achebe.
Ms. Isa’s poetry has been described by the poet and literary activist, Abuja Literary Society’s Slam Master Ken Ike, as “sometimes quaint, sometimes melancholic, but usually profound.” He adds that her choice of words “helps you see the word in graphically new ways and that her later works are filled with the poise and confidence of a writer who has finally found her voice.”
So here we are, from the farthest reaches of Nigeria to the North-west, a promising poet emerges on the ever blossoming literary horizon. Hajo Isa, a lawyer and writer has been creating a quiet reputation as a writer worth looking out for, just as our sister Zainab Alkali from the North-East crept quietly into national and later international consciousness.
Hailing from Zuru, in Kebbi State, Hajo started writing poetry from very early, back at Federal Government College, Jos. But the foundation was laid much earlier when the literary bug spread by her father bit her. He was a military officer and read a lot. She caught his passion and started reading like it was going out fashion, voraciously like father like daughter. “My father is a reading man,” she told Daily Trust Arts reporter. “I’ve always grown in awe of my father’s ability to read literature on the go. I developed interest in literature. In secondary school, you would always find a Pace-Setter series lying here, a Chinua Achebe there.”
She read those and more and soon, the maiden fell in love with the fairy worlds which literature creates. Soon enough, she too started penning down her own works. She was moved by several factors. One of them was that she was coy. She kept much to herself and thoughts blossomed in her mind. The best way to release all of that, she decided, was through poetry. “I can’t remember when exactly I picked my pen and started scribbling but I know it was in secondary school, in JS two or so,” she said.
But beneath the veils shyness has cast over her heart burns an intense passion. This passion manifests in her fears, her love and her perceptions of day to day occurrences. Her poetry effortlessly transcends themes, driven by her mood or Muse.
“Each term, I would get a notebook and write,” she said, and when pressed on what those early writings were about, she said,” It could be on anything that came to my mind. I wrote about mangoes, I wrote about my fears, I wrote about what I loved,” and then added: “I love mangoes a lot.”
But most of those early poetries did not endure. They were lost or destroyed.
“It could be during relocations, or deliberately I destroy my poems,” she said. But why would a writer destroy the child of her imagination, one wonders.
“Just like that,” she said. “Sometimes it could be during some very emotional periods and I just destroy them or they just get lost. I’ve been very careless over the years, but now I am learning to appreciate my works.”
There was palpable nostalgia in her voice as she remembers one of her favourite poems. Of course it was about mango. She could not remember how she lost it. Self-destroying ones work may be a product of the tide of emotions but Hajo did also move a lot while growing up. Her father was in the army and the family was constantly on the move. She was born in Lagos for instance had lived in Enugu and has schooled in Jos and Zaria.
This constant movement has broadened her scope, adding some varied background to her poetry and outlook on life. She still retains her coyness but she is not the typical northern girl. For one, she is a self-confessed agnostic. “I’ve come to better appreciate people and see that Nigerians are very unique people, and I have come to realize that we all want the same thing; it’s just the way we go about them.”
All her varied experiences are reflected in her poetry because her poetry is an extension of herself. “I think I try to make my poetry mirror myself,” she said.
Over the years, Hajo’s taste in literature has evolved from those adolescent readings. She now reads Stephen King, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and other classic English literature which she loves.
“I think I’m an anglophile to a certain degree,” she confessed. Her love for the English culture does not however detract from her love for Nigerian literature. She reels out the names of Chimamanda Adichie, Adaobi Nwaubani, Zaynab Alkali, Buchi Emecheta and the grandmasters: Soyinka and Achebe, as some of her favourites.
In poetry, she turns to South America, to the poetry of Pablo Neruda and his likes.
This evolution also reaches out to her craft as she has started experimenting with writing the short story genre. She believes she has not yet mastered the craft, but is working at it.
Feminism and challenges:
The young poet admits she has some feminist tendencies. Her bias for female writers is evident, and she concedes it is no accident: “I am a feminist. I won’ call myself a radical feminist but I am sympathetic to females because I am one. I think we still have a long way to go in enjoying social and economic freedoms that men enjoy.”
She however emphasizes that her creativity has not been repressed because of her gender, and that she has other reasons to stay the course: “I think what helps me more as a writer is that I am a very emotional being and I channel my emotions and sometimes I could just visualize myself in someone else’s shoes and imagine the pain of a heartbreak or a woman carrying a heavy burden on her back and then having a small child to take care of,” she said.
What then has been her greatest challenge in her writing career so far? “Getting to appreciate my identity, getting to appreciate myself as a person, growing up; the experience of growing up. I think that has been a great challenge to me and connecting to the world and people.” And of course there was the little issue of overcoming her shyness to present her poems to a critical audience. The first time, she did, it was a personal and artistic triumph for her, as she promptly lost her ‘innocence’ and asserted herself, her art and meanings.
What Tomorrow Holds?
Currently working in the Supreme Court, Hajo has an eye on the bench someday. But in the immediate future, she would want to publish several collections in the next five years. For now, she is content with honing her skills, reading some interesting literature and waiting to explode, literarily, that is. We are watching and reading her at both the ALS and AWF, her major literary families in the FCT.
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