How would you best describe yourself?
I express myself as an artist through photography and performance poetry. Last Friday, July 20, I held the second edition of my outdoor exhibition and open-air performance show, tagged, ‘Words Meet Images,’ and another one, ‘Vote With Ink Not Blood.’ I am also a journalist currently working at The Nation newspaper.
What influenced you to go into poetry?
As a child, I was inspired by how writers could carry me away into their world through the flowery language. Events around me forced my hands to write as I grew older. But I must state here that in learning how to write good poems, God and the Bible are my greatest influences. It was Foursquare Gospel Church, FESTAC District, Agboju, Lagos that set me on my path as a performance poet by organising poetry competition for teenagers. Winning first prize forced me to take the craft seriously – this led to my becoming an English and Literature graduate. My voyage as a budding poet is a story for another day but I’m sure the University of Benin (between 2002 and 2006) will not forget the “roving female poet” who stole the hearts of many with words. The rest is history.
How do you describe your style of poetry?
Using my environment and happenings around me as raw materials, I often blend my poetry with contemporary and traditional motifs, images, songs, and speech patterns. While drawing from traditional African theatre, as a performance poet, I also mix performance with elements of folklore, myths, songs, and sometimes employs masks, drum rhythms, music and dance to express my poetic thoughts.
How long have you been doing this?
I started writing poetry and performing my poems and poems of others as a teenager.
What’s your best moment while performing?
My best moment is when I hold the audience spellbound with my words to the point of tears or laughter or as the case may be, joining in the performance.
And your worst?
My worst is when I lose my voice on stage not because of fright but because of excitement.
What brought about the ‘mat carpet’ concept?
The concept is inspired by the need to promote locally produced interior and exterior decor, and to show that art can be used by everyone to beautify our homes and environment whether we live in highbrow areas or in the suburbs or hinterland.
What themes do you most address with your art?
Love, peace, unity, hope, domestic violence, rights of persons, especially those of women and children, art/culture promotion, to mention but a few.
What has the reception been like so far?
It is a good thing that more people are beginning to appreciate the art generally. Fortunately that is also robbing off on me. I am hopeful that greater things are in the wait for us as artists.
What has been your most effective performance platform to reach your audience?
I would say my art-to-the-street-project – ‘Words Meet Images’ – has been the most effective platform that has allowed me to bring my art face-to-face my audience. People are reminded about the need to pursue peace with their neighbours just by seeing my exhibitions and live performances as they walk pass. In Agege and Somolu local governments areas that we visited with the project, we’ve received interesting observations on how much the event has impacted on their relationship with others. For example, particularly in Somolu, the usual thing is that you find young men coming to demand for money before you are allowed to perform but those who did, promising to disrupt the event became part of our cast and gave musical renditions after watching our rehearsal using people in the area. The rawness of the audience and the cast, in the sense that they are not the usual art enthusiasts/arty crowd, makes the whole idea really nice and truly challenging. I love a good challenge. (Laughs).
Apart from art, what else do you do?
I’m a journalist. I see my journalism as an art, the difference between it and my creative writing, is that one is fact, the other is fiction. However, the mode of expression does not disturb the craftsmanship of the wordsmith. I am also an ardent promoter of our local fabric, especially the tie and dye materials. I write their story, wear and market them.
Tell us about your process: Pen and Paper, computer, notebooks … how do you write?
I use all. From when I was a teenager, my mum would always say when my younger ones were sweeping, “No throway any pieces of paper wey you see o because Evelyn fit don write important thing for inside. I no want her wahala o”. [sic] That tells you how much my family came to value every piece of paper lying lazily around the house. Whenever I have inspiration, every and any paper available becomes my canvas. With the computer, it is sometimes hard to catch the muse when you are right before it, but the coming of the smart phones revolutionalised everything. Now, beyond finding my muse on the go, I can also record my poems on the spot. It has also helped my photography as well.
What’s been your most challenging creative work?
Each work is a challenge. To conceive, graft and complete each piece is always a challenge that I’m excited to complete. It is the same way I feel about every story I write as journalist.
How do you handle a bad review of your work?
I listen and pay attention to what is being said.
Which creative would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
There are so many of them but your question brings to mind a long-time fantasies that I had nursed, which can never become reality. Firstly, I would have loved to have a drink with the Flora Nwapa and Buchi Emecheta with whom I share the same birthday – July 21. I would love to know what drove them and how they were able to capture our world (the world of women) that many were not telling in their times. They did so without trying to prove they were mistresses of the English Language – but stole our hearts with their simplicity of language. Secondly, I would also have loved to not just have a drink but lunch with the late Maya Angelou because she is simply amazing. Her poems are easy to understand and connect to, yet deep and pregnant with so much meaning.
What backstage habit/routine do you have that your audience doesn’t get to see?
I dance. I love to dance. I like dancing before and after every show. Somolu people were fortunate to witness me do the dance. They all refused to leave even though the rains started immediately after the programme ended. They stayed back, saw me dance and joined in the dance, including the children. Dance is also how I exercise.