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Brunel Prize win, my bridge to Nigeria – Theresa Lola

Bookshelf: You competed against over 1000 other international entrants to become joint winner the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. How do you feel? Theresa…

Bookshelf: You competed against over 1000 other international entrants to become joint winner the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. How do you feel?

Theresa Lola: I feel truly honoured. In those moments when you are writing in your little bubble you can never predict how far your work will take you. To win a prize aimed at the recognition of African Poets has an even weightier feel than anything else, maybe because growing up in Nigeria and moving to the UK I was afraid of being disconnected and so the Brunel International African Poetry prize feels like a beautiful bridge. 

Bookshelf: One of your winning poems, ‘Portrait of My Father as A Dead Man’ is about you painting your dad. Father is a key subject in three of your poems. Is there any particular reason for this?

Lola: I am always interested in dissecting complicated people in my writing and my father is a very interesting man, hence he finds himself explored in my poems. I also write about my grandparents a lot.

Bookshelf: You have said that you were inspired to write by Nigerian poets you saw during a school trip to the Lagos Poetry Festival at age 12. Can you give more details about that experience?

Lola: I was attending Corona Secondary School in Nigeria at the time, and there was a small school trip to the then Lagos Poetry Festival, a teacher encouraged me to go. I read a poem as part of a student competition and came 8th but I was just excited to be there. My memories of the festival are vague but I remember a male poet reading a poem on the Bellview plane crash and my heart hurt. I knew then I wanted to be able to use poetry as a vessel to document life. 

Bookshelf: How would you describe your writing style?

Lola: I love fashion so I’ll describe my poetry as is vintage couture. I guess I try to take old, heavy memories and try to make them seem beautiful.

Bookshelf: You presently reside in the United Kingdom. How does Nigeria influence your work? Or has the former taken over?

Lola: Nigeria deeply influences my work, whether it’s politics, music, the influences faith has, or the exploration of the strong and vibrant bond between people. I make a conscious decision to not separate the images of Nigeria in my writing. I also love dissecting my new memories here in England, as this is where I became a woman in regards to age. When writing I am more conscious of what memories the poem conjures or how location intersects with the memories, rather than picking and choosing whether Nigeria or Britain should be represented in the poem.  

Bookshelf: The Brunel Prize is not your first. You have won the 2017 Hammer and Tongue National Slam. What was the experience like?

Lola: It is always an honour. The slam is so far the most nerve-wracking thing I have ever experienced, to have people judge your performance on the spot. But it definitely built my confidence and it forces you to incorporate a connective aspect to your poetry.

Bookshelf: You have also been shortlisted for the 2017 Bridport Poetry Prize and 2016 London Magazine Poetry Prize. What would you say is one of the greatest feats you look forward to achieving?

Lola: I hope to one day, along with my peers, have my work in the poetry syllabus in Nigeria or Britain or both. Contemporary poetry is making its own wave, but most important of all, I hope for my poetry to be an avenue for healing. Poetry saved me and I hope the power words carry never departs from my own writing.

Bookshelf: You have performed some of your poems in the UK and internationally. In your view, is being a performer essential to being a poet?

Lola: I think it’s essential to be able to communicate your poem, and for me performance is essential because it allows you expand your poem in a capacity that is impossible on the page. There is a difference between performing your poem and being a performance poet, and performance poetry was what bolstered my confidence so I have a special relationship with preparing to connect with an audience in person.

Bookshelf: Aside these, you have been on the judging panel for poetry prizes such as 2017 Magic Oxygen Poetry Prize and 2017 Outspoken Poetry Prize. What are those things you look out for in a really good poem? 

Lola: I look for a poem that uncovers something interesting out of what is seemingly stale. A poem that seeks to take risks with its imagery, a poem sure of its voice.

Bookshelf: Despite your love for poetry, how did you end up becoming an accountant?

Lola: Aside from writing I loved maths because it was one of the few subjects I was good in. Intrigued by rational calculations, unsure of what I wanted to study in the university, I went for accounting instead of pure maths because I wanted the safety of a career, but unexpectedly the road to becoming an accountant ended up being the road to meeting people who would spark my love for writing. 

Bookshelf: You are presently working on a full collection of poems. What should readers expect?

Lola: The forthcoming collection will be out in February 2019 and explores my late grandfather’s Alzheimer’s, using it as an entry point into mental health and what life truly means.

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