A.R.T’S INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE LABIRAN

So we threw some questions at Catherine Labiran and the always delightful poet, author and activist shared thoughts on her new book of poetry titled Ayisat and her life as an artist. Check out the interview below.

Give us an insight into the creative journey of Ayisat.
The poems in Ayisat were written across my teenager years, so each poem gives the reader an insight to my experiences and what I was going through at that particular time. I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit and this reflects in different cultural references documented in the book. When I put this book together, I told myself that I was going to be as free as I could possibly be. At first, I was nervous to talk about certain topics because of how I would be perceived. However, I then came to the conclusion that my story is more powerful than my fear of perception. I then progressed to write and collate poems with a free and unchained spirit.

In what ways did you grow upon completing the poetry collection? And did this change or expand when the book got published?
Completing the collection helped me grow up a lot because it propelled me to put myself out there. Sometimes I can be really reserved with my art. Sometimes, I fall into the trap of being a perfectionist, which is a loser’s game. Making Ayisat taught me that imperfections can be beautiful. I included poems that I wrote when I was 16 to demonstrate my journey, not what the perfect poem could be. When the book was published, I grew once again because I had to make myself vulnerable to criticism and open to love. Once a book is out there, there is no taking it back. This process freed me from the restraints I put on myself creatively.

What can poetry lovers who haven’t read Ayisat be excited about?
If you know me, prepare to learn something new about me. If you do not know me, then here I am. Even though all the poems are not directly about me, they all show my thinking process.

Ayisat is dedicated to your mother and all mothers. How does that maternal mind state impact or reflect in the book?
Ayisat is my baby. I birthed this book, I have seen it grow up and go across the world. When I hand over copies of the book to people it is as if I am giving my child away to get married. The book is a collection of poems I wrote when I was experiencing the upside-down-inside-out-crazy-normal-quiet-loudness of being a teenager. This book is my journey in text.

Are there any poems or themes you’d love to revisit when you become a mother?
Definitely, when I am a mother I want to revisit the topic and idea of love. I have experienced love but never the love that a mother has for a child. I can only imagine how intense such a love is. Also, depending on the state of the world when I give birth, I am sure I will have to revisit my poems on politics. It’s bad enough living a corrupt world, but it is even worse knowing that your offspring is suffering at the cost of greed and evil.

How does your written poetry differ from your spoken word pieces?
I do not really think there is much of a difference between both forms. The only difference I can immediately think of is structure. When I write poems for the page, I have to pay attention to the structure, where I want words and the punctuation. However, when I write a Spoken Word piece, I do not really structure the poem or add punctuation because I know my mind would do that naturally.

Is there a dominant approach to your creative process or is each piece developed uniquely?
I think I approach every piece in its own unique way. When I create poems in my mind, I flip reality on its head. My mind births the abstract, filters dreams into reality and makes the reader question if there is a difference between the two. The world is a mysterious place, beyond what you and I know, and my poetry wants to demonstrate that. Also, in order to write I like there to be silence and I like to be alone.

What life experiences thus far have shaped you as a poet?
The biggest experience that shaped me as a poet was moving from the U.K to the U.S to pursue my degree. My transition made me a fish out of water. At first, I spent weeks, months, even, trying to work out how to breathe. The awkwardness of not knowing anyone, having an ocean separate you and your loved ones, drove me to pick up my pen in a way I have never done before. I have gone through isolation in the past, but this time I was not afraid of it. I connected with all that was lonely inside of me, all the little torn up pieces. I introduced my fragments to each other and then they weren’t so lonely after all. My best work has been produced ever since.

Literature lovers can get their hands on Ayisat at Lulu.com. So if you don’t have a copy click the link to see how you can get one, and if you do have a copy go ahead and get another for a friend.

20140706-161948.jpg

Catherine Labiran: AYISAT – A Poet Spinning Words to Outlive the Weaver

Catherine Labiran

Photo by J. Jamie Photography

The greatest magicians
Are unaware
Of the hat
And rabbit between
Lips
Are buried alive in
Cradles
Sawed in half
Whole
Juggling bodies in
Wombs.
My mother,
Yours.
– Excerpt from Magic by Catherine Labrian, from her book of poetry Ayisat, published by Wordjar.

 

 

 

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.

Catherine Labiran the poet

Photo by J. Jamie Photography

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.

20140605-130500.jpg