I interviewed Liberian poet Edwin Olu Bestman who writes about war and loss in magical and surprising ways. He says about his work, “My poems begin with a scratch and they grow into beauty.” Edwin is the author of two books, Genesis and Raindrops, he has co-authored several anthologies and his poems have appeared in numerous magazines.
Leslie: How has your upbringing in Liberia shaped you as a person and as a poet?
Edwin: Liberia is a country that has suffered fourteen years’ civil crisis and numerous other things. We lost many things to the war. As a Liberian growing up in Liberia, I did decide to tell my story. I wanted my voice to be heard. The war has helped me to tell my story and growing up in my country is not an easy task. Every time I have a feeling of those many things, I write them into poems. Most importantly, I would say the war and my late parents helped me become a better poet.
Leslie: You’re called the ‘Magical Poet’. Why? What’s behind the title?
Edwin. My pen name is “Magical Poet”. I got this name from some of my colleagues in the field. Whenever they read my work, they say it’s magic. I twisted the magic into magical and then I added the poet. I do believe of every poem of mine is magical – ‘cause I put in my emotions, feelings, scars and thoughts into words.
Leslie: Tell us about your successes as a poet. Who and what circumstances do you have to thank for these achievements?
Edwin: I don’t like to talk about achievements. My achievement lies in one thing: when people are able to read my works and stay alive. Getting people inspired and helping them to regain faith. And telling my story is a success to me. I’m happy enough that thousands of people can read my story and get inspired. The civil war and my late parents brought me into poetry. It was the beginning of my success. I believe success is when my voice is being heard. Many thanks to Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, poets Jeremy Teddy Karn, Eduardo De Bosco, Abdul R. Kiawu and etc. These people have helped me along the way. By God’s grace, I am influencing people across the African continent – that’s success.
Leslie: How does a poem of yours begin, grow and develop?
Edwin: Usually, a poem of mine begins with a feeling. I always do my walks with a pen. The reason is, when I see situations or experience different things, I write them into crazy lines. And when I am back home, I arrange them the way I want it. It takes me two or more days to complete a single poem. Every poet has a voice. In my poems, I don’t want to sound like others. I want to write like me. I want my voice to be me. My poems begin with a wscratch and they grow into beauty.. Sometimes writing those poems happens randomly and other times inspirationally. My poem’s pattern is simple – but daring, soulful and engraved with grief.
Leslie: What do you find are the most common changes you make to your poems in the process of edit? What have you learned about yourself from the process of edit/being edited by others?
Edwin: In the process of editing, I read my poems repeatedly. I read them more than three times to observe the flow. If I am not hearing myself within, I’ll continue to twist it until it suits it. Secondly, my word choice is very high. I love to use smaller words to convey something huge. But those smaller words take time to come in my mind. I am very careful of the type of word I use in my writing. It helps me to stay simple and original. For the length of time I’ve edited my own poems, it feels amazing. I don’t change my voice. It remains the same all the time. When people do edits sometimes, they change the mood, the tone and the flow, and I don’t get to hear my voice.
Leslie: Could you select a short seminal poem of yours, please, and comment in any way you feel appropriate.
Edwin: This is a piece published in Eremite Magazine. It’s a piece I wrote about Liberia – concerning insincerity, corruption and dishonesty.
a poem for liberia
By Edwin Olu Bestman
there are many ways to survive in liberia.
break yourself into our country’s politics
& raise battle cries to appease deceitful men who see themselves as gods.
wear a beret with an army jacket & a
your body making a way into our streets
& blood pumping out of your skin is an evidence for loyalty.
it is a belief to ignore what is right.
so, our people continue to hold their master’s words like good seeds
& plant it under the garden of their tongue for safety.
integrity is another tree planted on the roadways of our country’s body.
for people wanting to stay alive:
they usually carry lies upon their shoulders for survival.
since my country is a troubling home
where many things have unloved themselves.
this poem too has unloved itself & fighting for survival.
i pray someday everything in this poem becomes survivors.
like people who survived our country’s fourteen years of civil war
& nothing is left to kill within.
Next week, I interview Janet Lees, who is a follower of the rule of St Benedict, about her quilts and her long-distance walks across Britain.
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Love’s Register tells the story of romantic love and climate change over four UK generations. Beginning with ‘climate children’ Joe, Mia and Cass and ending with Hereiti’s night sea journey across Oceania, the book’s voices take us through family conflicts in the 1920s, the pressures of the ‘free-love 60s’, open relationships in the feminist 80s/90s and a contemporary late-life love affair. Love’s Register is a family saga and a modern psychological novel that explores the way we live now.
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here