Tag Archives: creativity

Ordinary People – Interview with Inua Ellams

This week I interviewed another ‘Ordinary person,’ Inua Ellams. Now, I was tempted to re-name this post ‘A life less ordinary,’ given Inua’s achievements, but on reflection I realised that we are all ordinary people, only some of us do extraordinary things. Inua is one of these people.

I first met Inua back in 2004 when I was a regular on the spoken word circuit myself, and back then he was simply a shy teenager with a love of words. I watched as Inua grew into himself, gradually embracing his star quality and becoming who he is today. If you haven’t heard of Mr Ellams, I suggest you start by reading his poetry collection, ‘Thirteen Fairy Negro Tales,’ which includes one of my favourite poems, ‘The One About God.’ Sample line:

‘…She rocks two jobs, three kids, two cars and gives change to homeless others. She can go from corporate to ghetto
She rocks red stilettos with earth brown badus and has cowry shells laced to her laptop carry case.’

You can also check out Inua’s graphic art on his website where you’ll also find a long list of clients who have worked with Inua either with words or visuals, and a variety of accolades for his work.

Together with Joshua Idehen and Musa Okwonga, Inua has been running Poejazzi, one of the most talked about poetry gigs in London, since 2006. In 2009, he wrote and performed the critically acclaimed one-man play ‘The 14th Tale,’ about his mischief- making life growing up in Nigeria and Dublin before he moved to London. Inua regularly runs poetry workshops and is currently working on a new one-man play amongst other projects. As if all that wasn’t enough (and I’m almost sure I have still managed to leave something out), he’s pretty easy on the eye too. Want to find out more about Inua? Thought you might…

Hi Inua. How are things?

Things are good. I mean, I have my daily hurdles, demons and insecurities, no more than the next person, and increasingly more often these days I stop myself and think – I write for a living  –  and realize I am incredibly lucky. Things could be worse, a whole lot worse if you consider the shape of the world and its extremities; those who are afraid to think, or live in oppressive regimes where to think other than the prescribed mainstream is punishable by death –  and here where I am encouraged to think as ludicrously as I can, write it and have classed as art… things are WELL.

When I first met you, I only knew you as spoken word artist; ‘phaze.’ Your way with words blew me away even then, back when you had less confidence in yourself than you do now. Can you tell us a bit about your journey from then to now….?

I am even less confident now! I look at the 13 Fairy Negro Tales and marvel at the fearlessness of youth, that I sat down and composed such long, sprawling, interlinked, interlaced conceptual set of poems and sustained themes, and that it touched so many people and still continues to. Whatever it is I was smoking then, I wanna smoke some now.

Since then, I have learnt more about writing and more of my position and the historical context in which my work sits – why it works and how it might work better.

Besides that nothing has changed; I wake each morning  and try to turn the images I am struck with into poems. And longer failed poems become plays. Got my heart broken and rebuilt a few times, have become the man I hoped to be in a few ways and am still growing, trying to make him better.

As I mentioned, I knew you only as a spoken word artist at first and later that learned that you are also a graphic artist. Are there any other ways in which you create that people may not be aware of?

I have talked about it in the past, but I wanted to be a visual artist when I was a kid. All the years spent painting, drawing, sketching etc meant that I had collected a chest of images and a lot of the time, I ‘see’ poems before I write them. I am usually first struck by images, I slap narrative after idea after philosophy till something sticks, chase it down a page and see what comes out the other end.

What’s your preferred creative channel?

I do not have one… some ideas are better communicated through certain creative channels. However, I begin by attempting to write a poem.

What or who inspires you to create?

When I lived in Dublin, I had a close friend called Stephen Devine who was argumentative as I was. We would sit and battle about the most insignificant things, our interactions thrived on language and we excelled in English lessons. One summer, Stephen committed suicide. I arrived after the school holidays to find the person I was most alive with, I was most expressive with, was no longer there. I started writing to keep that part of myself alive; to keep arguing with the world… That was the first ‘need’ to write.

Why I continue to write, why I am inspired to, is a reoccurring theme. During my first month in London after leaving Nigeria in ’96, I began to study my friends. Not just how I interacted with them, but how they faces moved when they spoke, when they laughed, the shape of their mouths, how their eyes flicked from side to side etc. In doing so, I reached the conclusion that they only differed from my Nigerian friends in accent.

When I moved to Dublin, the same series of incidents occurred where I’d find my old friends alive and kicking in new friends.

A more significant thing happened one afternoon speaking with a old friend on a phone after a few years without contact. I realized something we all go through at some point in youth – that his life had carried on with out me. He’d fought, dated, loved etc… things that I had done, that I continued to, he had done so without my being integral to his life. As I sat on the bus, listening to him, I considered that everyone on the bus had lives similar to mine that of which I was completely unaware of, and as the bus descended into the sprawling city of Dublin, thousands of people walking laughing etc, It blew my 15 year old mind to consider they had lives as complicated, insignificant, lush, petty, trivial and at the same devastatingly important as I thought mine to be, all occurring at the same time as mine, without my knowing.

After swallowing such a pill, I considered that a lot of the problems in the world stem from a belief in ‘the other’; that someone is somehow ‘different’ from you. In my work, I try to join, to unify, to reflect, to show we are fundamentally all the same.

Finally, what would you say your values are?

My values I can reduce to something Lord Polonius said to Laertes his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. ‘This above else: to thine own self be true.’

Ordinary People – Interview with Alice Fenner

This week I interviewed another ‘ordinary person,’ Alice Fenner. Alice would say she’s perfectly ordinary, but I beg to differ. I have known Alice for many years and the first time I became aware of her creative genius was on reading a story she wrote for the school magazine – a dark fairy tale with shades of Tim Burton (I would love to read it again Alice, if you still have it!). Since then I have heard compositions that reduced me to tears and read poems that made me re-think the way I look at the world.

Over the years I lost touch with Alice, as relationships change over time, so I was very glad to find her again online and to see that she had continued to write. On top of this, Alice is also an all round supermum to her son, Stanley, and she still found the time to answer my questions (below).

I already know that you’re an extremely talented writer, as the stories and poems on your blog show… Are there any other ways you like to create?

Well, I like painting with my son! Mainly we paint suns, cars and fish. I used to write music a lot but after a while I found it difficult and frustrating and I ran out of ideas. It needed an attention to detail that made my head hurt. And a lot of what I wrote was terrible.

What’s your preferred creative channel?

Poetry, definitely.

What is it about poetry that you enjoy?

I like how poetry lets you invent characters and tell a bit of a story but in quite a free sort of way. You can just go straight into a situation, and straight out again. It’s a great way of talking very personally. I enjoy prose poetry particularly. There’s something about the rhythm of a sentence that I really like. I’m quite interested in trying to write poems that are written in a way that’s similar to how someone might talk, using a lot of normal everyday language but with extra poetry bits. That way it feels like someone is just chatting with you, like you are sat at a bus stop or something, but the poetic bits make it unreal at the same time. I like that mix of normal and not quite so normal.

What or who inspires you to create?

I often get inspired by reading a few words which I think are really amazing. Sometimes they come from a poem but, most often, I find it’s a line in a pop song that gets me going. I always listen to music when I’m trying to write, usually the same song over and over, and often the poem gets based on the feelings and images I associate with that song.  I also get inspired by people who find time to be creative outside of work and other commitments. I find it inspiring that so many people do creative things and have the courage to share their work.

Tell us a bit about your son, Stanley

Stanley is 3. He’s very funny. At the moment, he loves running, trains and Postman Pat. He’s lovely.

Finally, what would you say your values are?

That’s a difficult question! I think my values are probably mainly to do with trying not to make too much of a mess of anything…

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Alice. I think you do very well of not ‘making too much of a mess’ of anything, in fact, I’d say you manage quite the opposite!  I hope you found answering these questions as interesting as I found your answers.

If you would like to read some of Alice’s work, head over to her blog, get acquainted with her lovely ‘normal but not quite normal’ poems, and say hello!

Through a child’s eyes

I love the way children make you look at the world in different ways.  This weekend, my husband and I were asked to babysit his nieces at short notice (are they my nieces too now that we’re married..?  I am still not sure how it all works….) and although tired after my first full week back at work, I was looking forward to seeing them.  Also, if I’m honest, I had planned to do some writing that day and as I was still lacking motivation, I was secretly pleased to have a valid reason not to.

So, on the way home, I picked up a paddling pool and some bubbles, and when the girls arrived we had a few hours of fun in the garden, followed by story time (I was hoping this would make them sleepy).  This was when I rediscovered my passion for poetry.  I read the girls one of Roald Dahl’s revolting rhymes, having as much fun as they did, as, through their giggles and squeals of delight, I re-lived the first time I had heard when Little Red Riding Hood ‘…whips a pistol from her knickers.’  Their excitement was contagious, and ‘story-time’ quickly turned into ‘poetry hour,’ as the girls demanded to hear more poems, and asked whether I had written anything for children (I have.  They liked it).

After this, they had planned to draw pictures about the stories we’d read, but Olivia, the eldest (8yrs) looked at me thoughtfully.   ‘I might write a poem,’ she said.  I told her I would love to read anything she wrote but still she sat quietly, a frown forming on her face. ‘Hey, what’s going on up here?’ I asked, gently touching her frown.  ‘Well, I have an idea, but it doesn’t make sense and it’s a bit silly so I don’t think it will work.’  Without even thinking, I told her that there are no rules when it comes to poetry, and she should go ahead and write whatever she was thinking of.  I showed her a couple of nonsense poems, just to prove my point.  She then happily sat down and wrote a funny nonsense poem, ‘Rub ‘a’ Dub,’ about three men in a tub (naturally), eating grubs and turning into mugs.  You can see her finished work below.

While she was busily writing and illustrating her poetic efforts, it dawned on me that the very question she had asked me, goes on in my head all the time:  ‘I have an idea but…  It won’t work/it doesn’t make sense/you’re not supposed to…’  Where did I learn all these rules that I so easily dismissed when trying to nuture a child’s creativity?  Who did all these ‘shoulds’ come from..?  And do I want to continue to hold myself back, or do I want to keep moving?  These thoughts flashed by as I settled the girls in front of a movie and they gradually fell asleep.

The next morning I wrote two poems on my phone’s memo function before I even got out of bed.  Simply changing my perspective had released the creativity I had been struggling to find, and I was eager to get to my laptop and start writing.

So, dear Readers – is it just me, or do you also find that this kind of unhelpful self-talk can hold you back?  If so, how?  And whose perspective could you ‘try on’ to release yourself from the ‘shoulds’ in your creative life?