A sequence of short features focusing on the five individual young poets included in the recently-launched collection Rising Stars published by Otter-Barry Books.
Victoria Adukwei Bulley, born in 1991, is a British-Ghanaian poet, writer and film-maker, living in London. She is a former Barbican Young Poet and has had worked commissioned by the Royal Academy of Arts. Her debut pamphlet, Girl B, is part of the 2017 New-generation African Poets series.
She is the director of Mother Tongues, an intergenerational poetry, film and translation project.
Interviewed recently by Dandano, a community project aimed at analyzing, documenting and archiving African film and music, Bulley described the project’s procedure: “A poet asks her mother to write a translation of a poem, the mother agrees and does so. Then, the two are filmed at a studio in intimate conversation, followed by the mother reciting the translation, with the original poem recited by the daughter.”
She went on
The project was borne out of a need to connect with the language that I’ve heard around me since birth, yet cannot understand. In my case, that language is Ga, spoken by the people most historically based around Accra, in Ghana. I have a deep love for indigenous cultures, and languages are the entry point into these. I also have a feeling of disconnection and limitedness, knowing that I can only really speak English. The fact that lesser-spoken languages are rapidly declining in usage is one that makes me intensely sad. MOTHER TONGUES, for me, is one small and meaningful attempt to restore and reconnect what is at risk of being lost or neglected.
Central to Bulley’s section in Rising Stars is a powerful prose poem, ‘This Poem Is Not About Parakeets’. A young woman is on a bus. Two men are mouthing off about immigrants. Saying things like, “They take up all the housing” and “They’re scroungers”. She has seven stops to travel. In her mind, as a means of blanking out the anger and prejudice, she thinks of parakeets…
I want to tell the men how the parakeets got here. All they do is take our jobs. How they were brought here in the 60s for a film, and then escaped. They’re scroungers. I want to tell them how despite the bad weather they never lost their sings. Why are they so noisy? How none of April’s showers ever washed their colours off. They don’t even try to blend in.
Elsewhere Bulley shows her versatility as a poet. There is a clever villanelle about the cat Toby killing a bird, which begins
Toby killed the bird at first light,
left the hallway dashed with feathers:
a fraction of a pillow fight.
Before we woke up, after night,
and hoovered up the snowy weather,
Toby killed the bird at first light.
As a photographer who loves taking portraits of people with big curly hair, I especially enjoyed the ‘Afro Hair Haiku’ sequence…
I used to harm it,
force it down, flat and lifeless –
a ghost of itself.
Now I let it grow
the way it wants to grow:
‘Strange Dusts’ is a poem about African sands being blown into European skies and falling as ‘pollution’
air is indiscriminate
and wind knows
no such thing
Posts about the other poets in the collection will follow shortly.