Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Nigerian poet Obinna Chimaobim Obilo found that quarantine was exactly what he needed to complete the poetry book he started sixteen years ago, “Memories of the Future.”
The talented poet started writing at the tender age of six when he would journal consistently. He identified his natural gift during his sixth grade summer camp where he completed his first short story. During his sophomore year of college at the University of Pennsylvania, a friend of his started a spoken word poetry collective. Knowing Obinna was poetry inclined and into conscious hip hop, his friend encouraged him to join the collective and explore his gift.
When asked what poetry means to him, Obinna responded: “poetry is about written rhythmic cadence. It is very much the sense of feeling and being able to efficiently articulate that feeling in a way that resonates with others.” He has a multi syllabic writing style that allows him to create literal soundscapes with his words.
Obinna draws inspiration from other creatives who have influenced his writing tremendously. He credits his old college friend and renowned poet Carlos Andrés Gómez as the one who encouraged him to discover his ability to write poetry. Some of his other influences include poet Ainsley Burrows, hip hop artist Aesop Rock (not to be confused with A$AP Rocky), and writers George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut whose approach to writing has shaped the way he now approaches his art.
About his inspiration to write, Obinna said “I write to make sense of what’s happening around me and to help others do the same through my words.” Obinna published his first poetry book, Within this Welded Spirit in 2004. Mostly written while in college during the midst of President Bush’s first term and post 9/1, the book encapsulated the angst of the times. He was graduating college filled with a host of internal conflicts and he poured those all out onto paper. The title, "within this welded spirit" is a borrowed line from “One Brick” by one of his influences, Aesop Rock. “We are all fractured people trying to get by and make our way in the world. Your spirit can be fractured from the challenges life throws at you, but it can always be put together again,” he told Amplify Africa.
Obinna came up with the title for his second book Memories of the Future in 2004 and sixteen years later he has released it. First, his hard drive filled with the materials for that second book crashed and he unexpectedly lost all that he’d been working on. Shortly after that he started his MBA program and found himself shifting away from writing. The more time that passed, his spirit and energy for writing simply wasn’t the same. The current global pandemic drew Obinna back to his pen. He began chronicling how he felt about everything that was going on around him using the hashtag #CoronaChronicles on Instagram. His friends were reaching out to him with positive feedback about how much they related to his words, and that sparked a fire inside him.
Once he decided he was going to complete his second book, he dedicated all of his time to that and within six weeks he had completed the first draft of his manuscript. “While it took me less than two months to complete this book, in a sense it took me sixteen years,” Obinna said, “this project poetically combines content from two periods of my life.”
Being a Black man has always framed the way in which Obinna operates in the world. It has had a profound influence on his writing because it has shaped the man that he is. He has become more internally focused and intimately aware of the space in which he writes. As a Nigerian, he recognizes the importance of showing his appreciation for Africa in his work, and he actually wrote some of the poems in his new book whilst visiting Nigeria.
We asked Obinna what makes him most proud about Memories of the Future, and he replied excitedly, “the fact that it is a manifestation of the clarity that 2020 gave me.” After sixteen years he finally returned to his purpose of writing. He carries the responsibility of being a voice for Black people and Africans by using his gift of words to translate life experiences in a way that we can all relate to.