Of the hat
And rabbit between
Are buried alive in
Sawed in half
Juggling bodies in
Poet, author and activist Catherine Labiran is an embodiment of passion and determination. An artist who, despite her young age, is traveling an adventurous path heralding her as a voice for the future, yet one whose words, spoken and penned, evoke captivating insights into today’s world.
Born in Staten Island, New York, with British-Nigerian roots, raised in Harrow, London and presently living in Atlanta, Georgia, Catherine’s eclectic background resonates through her persona. Always bubbling with an infectious smile and often Pharoah-esque braided hair, she exudes a knowingness well beyond her years.
Catherine’s poetry oscillates efficiently between page and stage; at the dipping point in the centre you will find a firmness of purpose guided by fluid poetic sensibilities. There is a maternal awareness about her poems, whether in the actual context of the piece or from her perspective as the omnipotent performer, with some of her titles – By the Hand that Held You, Love, Cereal – suggesting that cradle of motherhood carved for the children one could say her poems are to her.
Speaking about the poem Magicians (excerpt above) and the sense of motherhood which subsumes both poetry and poet, Catherine says:
“The poem is dedicated to my mother and to all mothers, they are the true magicians. I owe my existence and everything I do to my mother. She embodies all the greatness in the world. I often start my poetry performances with this poem, so I that I can set the scene that all these words coming out of my mouth come from her. “
Heavily influenced by hip hop culture, she performs her poems with rapid-fire exuberance, picturesque rhymes and an unaffected hip hop bravado. Watching her perform with that confident smile painting expressions of joy and pain fills you with a certain assurance that there is truth in these words.
Only 20 years old, she has already racked up an impressive body of artistic achievements: winning the 2010 SLAMbassadors UK competition; teaching and hosting events at Harrow Arts Centre, London; getting featured in the National Association for the Teaching of English SLAM DVD, distributed to schools across the UK; being on the ’12 Poets for 2012′ committee responsible for creating the official Olympic poem, Eton Manor; getting to be a ‘buddy poet’ with Wole Soyinka at the 2012 Poetry Parnassus event; being one of 30 winners of the Stratford East/30 Nigeria House award which aided her in setting up her first non-profit organization, Twelve (XII) Talents, targeted at providing free literary workshops and performance opportunities for adolescents.
Ever the creative spirit, Catherine, in November last year, released her premiere book of poetry titled Ayisat. The book, launched in South Africa while she was performing at the Word N Sound poetry and music festival, is published by Wordjar (a publishing outfit run by her brother, Francis Xavier Labiran, which gives young writers a platform). The release of Ayisat fulfilled one of Catherine’s many dreams:
“I decided to publish my first book when I was 19 in order to document my early experiences growing up, writing, traveling, becoming the young woman I am today. It has been a roller-coaster journey, I have many stories, I have seen many stories and have had many stories shared with me. It is these stories that I converted into poetry in Ayisat. I wrote this book so that my children could read it and understand that I went through the things that they will experience, I think they will find comfort in that.”
Ayisat is dedicated to Catherine’s grandfather Ali Jibrill-Ellams, who passed away when she was a child but whose presence remains strongly felt by the poet.
“I feel him and have felt him throughout my life. Through my successes, trials and tribulations, he has been my strength and shield. Also, the name Ayisat was given to me by my grandfather. It is arabic and it means ‘she who lives and is well’. I strongly believe the meaning of this name embodies all that I am becoming. Someone who does not only exist but LIVES. Currently, Ayisat is in bookstores, libraries and homes across the globe.”
Ayisat is available for international purchase, and can be found in bookstores, libraries and homes across the globe. If poetry is your passion, Catherine Labiran’s journey into truth is an exploration you will love to experience.