Can you tell Ink Pantry about your journey as a performance poet?
Performance poetry is something that has been a relatively recent step for me. I tried in 2013 and was quite overwhelmed (because I had a massive public speaking fear) so after a handful of performances, I stopped and didn’t perform again until March 2016.
I think I will always be (first and foremost) a poet who dives between the page and the stage. I have been writing on and off for many years. What led me down the performance poetry route was when I started to shift my poetry from being a ‘Dear Diary’ (self-indulgent) type of expression to a social commentary. The aim of my poetry is to encourage people to reflect on their position in the world and how they contribute to it.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am working on two (audio) poetry collections: L Words and Childlike.
Childlike looks at six different situations/experiences through the child’s perspective. I feel that children see and experience so much but their points of view and feelings are rarely considered or are often dismissed. I want to explore this through the collection.
L Words is inspired by the different types of love we all feel… some of which are easier to express, acknowledge and admit than others.
In December I will be recording the collection at The Truth Sessions’ studio.
What themes keep cropping up in your work? What do you care about the most?
A recurring theme in my poetry is definitely identity. A perfect example is ‘Black + Female’, the poem that I performed at the Worlds and Music Festival (which meant I met you guys at Ink Pantry). I am constantly forced to consider my identity (and the labels that are associated with it) as I navigate myself through life. In my poetry I explore the tensions between expectations/stereotypes, my internal dialogue and social constructs.
Who inspires you?
Poetry wise the person who most inspires me is Anthony Anaxagorou. I love how he challenges what it means to be a poet and how he incorporates history into his pieces. He is a reminder that poetry and expression need not be solely (or at all) self-indulgent and that there is a duty to shine a light on misinformation and injustice even if/especially if it does not directly affect you. Anthony Anaxagorou provokes thought and encourages his readers and listeners to do their own research – every time I hear him perform I just want to soak up all the knowledge he has shared! I discover so much and he makes me hungry for more information.
Another inspirational person is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; her TED talk ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ is the main reason why I decided to be more open and critical of events in the world and how I am complicit in contributing to them. Watching her talk was also the catalyst for me giving my first ever talk (at the Female Speaking Academy). That talk has led to an incredible year for me (numerous poetry gigs, delivering my first creative writing workshop and receiving a commendation in the Words & Music Festival poetry competition). She is also an incredible writer. I especially love Americanah
Both Anthony and Chimamanda (calling them by their first names is my way of claiming that one day we will be friends!) confront me with the fact that to be silent is to be complicit. I don’t know if that is always their aim when they speak or write, but that is the impact they have on me. I strive to use my voice to speak out; I often fail, but it doesn’t mean I will stop striving.
Can you give a couple of examples of your work and walk us through the ideas behind them?
Well I touched on ‘Black + Female’ earlier, so I may as well continue! ‘Black + Female’ is my response to all the black women who are asked to choose – choose between their race and their gender. In this often hostile world, there are movements fighting to combat injustices, but they often neglect intersectionality and ask black women to choose.
‘Should I tear my pigment from my uterus? Carve my cervix from my melanin?’
As the above line suggests, to separate my gender from my race is impossible, ridiculous and painful, but people do often insist that a choice be made, or insist that we ignore or prioritise one element over the other. ‘Black + Female’ sheds light on the biological benefits that come from being both black and female – why should black women be called to choose when our combination is so wonderful?!
The second poem is inspired by mum and is called ‘I Am’. In 2013, my mum pulled me up on my overuse of the phrase ‘I can’t wait until…’ She told me that I was always trying to skip, hop and jump to the next thing/grand event without taking note of what I had achieved. I was ultimately wishing my life away with ‘I can’t wait’ because I was trying to speed through days (sometimes weeks) until the next big thing. Her words roamed around my mind for a very long time (and still do). I say ‘I can’t wait’ much less nowadays. Although I didn’t truly embrace what it meant to be present until 2015; my mum inspired the poem ‘I Am’, which I wrote in 2013.
‘I had has had its time; it lacks the knowledge of I Am
I will be is dependent; it longs for the certainty of I Am
I Am has the greatest perspective
I Am is where the decision can be made
Immerse yourself in Yes I Am.’
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
I would change the internal dialogues that we have with ourselves. I want people to reflect on and challenge the internal dialogue that they have with themselves, about who they are, their place in the world and how that internal dialogue affects their interactions with others.
What are you reading at the moment?
Anthony Anaxagorou’s Heterogenous and Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist.
Have you got any advice for aspiring performance poets?
Talent (or at least our idea of it) is overrated. Talent is often tied to a notion of being naturally gifted at something. This year there have been numerous occasions when people have told me ‘you are a natural, so talented’ after they have seen me perform. They have no idea that I avoided any type of public speaking for about eight years, because it terrified me so! It’s the reason I have left ‘shy poet’ in my Twitter bio, as an acknowledgement of how much practise (and many ‘umms’ and stutters on the stage) I had to put in to not feel like a shy poet on stage – sometimes I still feel like a shy poet, I just manage to hide it better and sometimes I find it impossible to hide at all!
Aspiring performance poets, if you see someone you aspire to be like do not be daunted by what seemingly appears to be ‘natural performing talent’. A talent is a skill, which needs to be honed and practised. Set aside time for writing and be prepared to read/perform your pieces when you don’t ‘feel’ ready. My advice is, if you’re in two minds about performing, just go for it. Sign up to open mic nights and seek out spaces where you will be with like-minded poets.
Tell us about one of the best days of your life.
One of the best days of my life was last year, when I fully embraced ‘I Am’ and went on a month’s solo tour of Western Europe. I learnt so much about myself, I dived into being truly present and I learnt what it meant to go with the flow (I am typically the type of person who makes a plan to be spontaneous)! It was incredible.
What plans have you for the future? What is next for you?
Over the next few weeks, my main focus is on completing and recording the collections L Words and Childlike.
Earlier this month I delivered my first creative writing workshop, so hopefully there will be more opportunities to deliver workshops. Next year I am going to travel around Eastern and Southern Africa (which I am incredibly excited about, but I can wait)!