Culture and Poetry: Conversation With Catherine Labiran 2


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Catherine Bisola Olamide Ayisat Olayemi Olajumoke Adetoun Efearue Atoke Labiran is a 21 year old Nigerian poet/writer and a psychology student, born in New York, raised in London and currently studying in Atlanta. Catherine explained that she is incredibly proud of having 8 middle names, she stated that typically she never writes down her middle names, however she thinks it is important to do so, because each name is picked with a meaning and was given to her by someone who prayed for her and loves her.Catherine discussed with us that in the Yoruba (tribe in Nigeria) culture naming a child is so much more than just choosing a beautiful name, it is a way of blessing that individual’s life.

Catherine is a talented young lady who is passionate about human rights, mental health and bridging the gap between art and science. Catherine emphasized that her parents are her greatest inspiration, she stated ‘I was raised by parents who worked against-the-odds to provide a better life for their children than the life they had’  

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Was it a conscious decision to go into poetry, and what or who influenced you into this path?

I used to write my thoughts and feelings on pieces of paper every day, and every day I would throw the pieces of paper away. I did not see any worth in what I was writing and unfortunately I did this for years. One day my teacher saw me throwing paper away at the end of class and she asked if she could read what was on it, once she read it she told me that I should never throw my writing away again, she was the first person that allowed me to realize what I was writing was poetry, she also encouraged me to enter a national poetry competition and at I first did not listen to her. But one day, I decided I would just enter the competition for the fun of it and months later I was selected as a winner. So to answer the question I never sat down and decided that I would write poetry, but unknowingly I was writing it anyway.

Your poem, ‘Questions’ is extremely powerful, your passion are heavily felt through your words, could you please share with our readers the emotions behind this poem?

“Questions” is inspired by the fact that colonization does not only occur in countries, but also in minds. Like many young Africans living in the Western world, I felt the pressure to assimilate in order to fit in. Unconsciously, I was hiding who I was and the beauty of my culture. As I grew up, I started learning about African inventors, warriors and leaders. I learned more about the trans-Atlantic slave trade and I was horrified, but I was also in awe of how far we have come against the odds. It was through this education that I have truly started to love my culture and myself. The poem is a series of questions that explore the moments in my life when I started to learn more about my culture and identity. As I was writing this poem I felt liberated. The poem is a celebration.

Photography by www.jjamiephotography.com

Photography by www.jjamiephotography.com

Would you say that the poem Questions, was influenced by the historical, politically, social and cultural oppression that Africans and Blacks face in the hands of racism? 

Yes, I definitely would, my poem is an illustration of how the mistreatment of black people across the globe has a direct impact on family-relationships and the relationships we have with ourselves.

As a Nigerian, would you say your heritage have heavily influenced your writing style?

Yes, I am Yoruba and I believe that Yoruba proverbs have strongly influenced the way that I write. Once sentence of a Yoruba proverb can change someone’s life because they are packed with meaning, this influences my style because it encourages me to take more time with my writing. I am also greatly influenced by Yoruba visual art: sculptures, paintings, and masks, all of Yoruba visual art is functional, all of Yoruba art has been made to be used for a purpose whether it is social, spiritual, or something else. Similarly, I want all of the art that I create to serve a significant purpose.

 
We want to now take a walk through your creative mind, so perhaps it would be a good time for you to share one of your poems with our readers?
 

Seeds 

we begin as seeds, coffee coated caskets

clenching our insides

breathless

anticipating

cracking 

our whites palms

engraved with fortune

we grow towards the sun

daughters of moonlit prayer

who exhausted the winds

wings in search for land

we push and the

earth cannot contain

its oceans

crown first we come

cloaked in blood

uprooted by cut

chords

that we used to play

tug of war

with our mothers

breath

ever since we 

were planted

the world has

been waiting for us

to exhale 

bruising the air

with labors lullaby 

our hearts

singing as they

take their first

unguided steps

our mouths

become buds

lips closed

speech coloring

our tongues

 with premature words

ready to flower

we present our presence

in a bouquet

people pick us

to pieces to see if we love them

 remove our petals

and leave

we fail to attract 

our first choices and settle for bees blue

we bend towards the

yellow sun

and grow into our green

we will soon learn

that to grow up means

to grow down that

true height is measured

from the tip of your roots

to the top of your crown

and that staying grounded

means to remember

that we are a grains

of soil bound by breath

crawling

walking then

laying  back in the earth

we end in coffee coated caskets

 using gravestones

as headboards, the rain begins our reincarnation

our lungs

vases stemming

flowers from throats

exhaling through leaves 

loved ones

leaving flowers

for us without knowing 

we have become a flower for them

What is the future for you? 

I would be lying if I could tell you what my future exactly looks like, but my hope is that it involves a lot of writing and a lot of work in the fields of human rights and mental health. Above all, I pray the future involves a lot of love, happiness and growth.

It is a common knowledge that in most Nigerian homes, creative fields are not as highly respected as much as academic field, which is a big problem, so if you could advice the young creative minds and their parents what would you say? 
To the young creatives I would say:

Never give up on anything that you love, life is so short you deserve to live a life that makes you happy. We spend so much of our lives living for other people. Truthfully, a lot of Nigerian parents love creativity, but they are just worried about whether their children will be financially secure if they do not focus on academics, this is an understandable worry. However, daily there are artists that break the starving artist stereotype and the next person to do this could be you. Deep down, maybe deep deep down in some situations, I believe that most parents value their children’s happiness more than whether they choose to pursue academic or creative work.  Alternatively, you might be someone like me who loves academics and creativity. In this case, flourish in both! you will find that your academic work supports your creative side and vice versa.

 

Photography by www.jjamiephotography.com

Photography by www.jjamiephotography.com

To the parents I would say: 

 Although you may be worried, support your child’s dreams as much as you can. This shows that you are proud of their efforts and that you believe in them. Motivate them to be the best that they can. I was in tears the first time that my family came to see me perform, that is the power that you have right now and always, to shower your child with the love they deserve.

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Check out Catherine’s latest poem ‘Questions’

By Abiola Balikis Salawe Bankole
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