In a conversation with Booker-prize winning writer Ben Okri
Booker Prize-winning fiction writer Ben Okri is also a poet. He took part in a panel on magical narratives on the opening day of Dhaka Lit Fest, and in another panel on the second day he talked about his most famous novel, The Famished Road. A former poetry editor at West Africa magazine, he has published several books of poetry including An African Elegy, Mental Flight and Tales of Freedom. This interview took place on November 17.
This is your first time in Bangladesh. How does it feel to be here?
Yes, this is my first time, and it feels really great to be here.
Has your poetry evolved? How so?
Yes, of course it has evolved. The nature of writing is that it will evolve.
Notebook or online? How do you get started?
I start writing on paper first. I hand-write everything. Paper. Typing. Paper. Typing. I like to do most of my corrections by hand. I think it’s the ultimate authority over the text.
In your session on November 16, you spoke about paintings. Do paintings influence your poetry?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a painter as well. And I really believe that we should keep as many of our dreams alive as possible. My book, The Magic Lamp, is a book that I collaborated with another painter friend of mine. I wrote these 25 stories from 25 of her paintings. Very beautiful paintings. Her name is Rosemary Clunie.
Are you writing any new poems now?
I’m always writing new poems. That’s what a poet does. Even when I’m sleeping, I’m writing poems in my sleep.
Do you plan to publish another book of poems anytime soon?
I’d love to publish another book of poems soon, but I always take my time.
You spoke about that on the first day of the festival as well. The waiting, for their own time.
Yeah, I always take my time. I feel poetry … I mean what’s the rush with poetry, you know? If a poem is true, it will always be true, and I’d rather wait and get it right. But sometimes, like with the Grenfell poem (Grenfell Tower), you can’t wait because you’re full of anger and you’re full of outrage.
So, every now and again, I have this burst of reactions, or something, but it’s very, very, very rare. On the whole I really, really take my time.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading hundreds of things. If I start to go over a list of them, you’ll be here after a week.