A Story Is An Interval In The Enchantment Of Living. Poet Ben Okri On Writing

One of my favorite poets is award winning Nigerian writer Ben Okri, who also won the Booker Prize for his novel The Famished Road.

His poetry book Mental Fight, published in 1999, came at the just the right moment for me. I heard him read from it one night, his rich voice filling the room. His words encapsulated my feelings of needing to finish one life and start another. It was perhaps the catalyst that enabled me to resign my international consultancy job and go traveling. I left in May 2000 and have only recently returned to London, a changed person after 11 years away. It’s a book I go back to time and time again.

In this video, Okri talks about his writing.

Note his pauses. This to me is the mark of someone who thinks definitely before he speaks. I’m not like this. It’s something I would like to learn. It’s a deep consideration of words.

“As a writer, my life’s journey has been to try to catch all at once as many levels of the mysterious and beautiful things that make us human”

“a story is an interval in the enchantment of living”

“my writing isn’t about what is on the page, it’s intended to take you somewhere, it’s your journey to that somewhere. The journey is the point.”

Do you have any particular poets that you love? What can we learn from poets as writers of prose?

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi, Joanna Penn

    Yes, I have. He is Sutardji Calzoum Bachri, he not only write poems, but also short stories and some novels. Commonly, a poet who write a prose (short stories and novel) have a power. The power, I think, perhaps a genuine prose writer not have. The power is they know how to use words very effective (because they know how to use literary techniques). But their weakness is, sometimes, they usually too focuss on beauty of the language..

  2. says

    What I think other writers can learn from poets that write prose is, they are wonderful at giving the reader more than a nice sequences of words. They give the reader a sliver (or more) of themselves. We as writers are often so fixated on entertaining the reader, we often leave less of ourselves and more of popular culture on the page. IMHO, the goal of writing is to share something of ourselves, to communicate something about our journey to all.

    I hope to be capable of doing that effectively.

  3. says

    I was a poet before I was a novelist. I was a poet for twenty years before I ever thought that prose might have something to offer and although I’m perfectly comfortable being called a poet I still squirm a little when I think of myself as a novelist; despite have written five of the buggers I still find the title a little pretentious—for me. I usually say I’m a writer; it covers a multitude of sins.

    All the poets who have been the greatest influence on me are dead. I wouldn’t be a writer of any kind without Philip Larkin. William Carlos Williams was the next poet whose work helped me bring my own work into focus but it was years before any other poet really inspired me—individual poems, yes—and what do you know but it was another pair of plain speakers, Richard Brautigan and Charles Bukowski and all of the above have also dabbled in prose from time to time although some with more success than others.

  4. says

    My favorite poet is Stephen Dunn. He didn’t affect me as much as Okri affected you; I simply enjoy and admire his work.

    And I find Okri’s pauses so…interesting. It’s almost as if he’s receiving the words. Lol. :P I’m off to find a poem by him. Thanks for sharing!

  5. says

    After watching this video, Ben Okri is a writer I want to learn more about. I love his description of writing a story. I think prose writers can learn rythym from a poet…the natural flow of one emotion into the next. Thanks for sharing this, Joanna. I’d like to include this video in my Life List Club post on Friday the 9th and will point to your post here.
    I love your blog because your content is always fresh and unique…I always come away having learned something new. Btw, I LOVED Prophecy! You have grown so much as a writer! Congrats and I hope it’s doing well!

    • says

      Thanks so much Marcia. I’m really pleased you enjoyed Prophecy and also that you think I have grown as a writer. I would agree with you and I want to go back and do some rewrites on Pentecost in order to bring it up to scratch. I think this happens with many writers – it’s inevitable that time and words helps you improve!
      I’m glad you like Ben Okri too, I think he is awesome. Please do share it with people. That is just a YouTube video, not my own!

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