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.
Ruth Awolola was born in 1998 and has been writing since 2015, when she was a winner of the SLAMbassadors UK national youth slam.
Earlier this month Awolola explained how she had become a poet…
Ten years ago, I remember it being World Book Day. This was the highlight of my academic year for several reasons: the book fair came to the school; we didn’t have maths lessons; and we were encouraged to go into school dressed as our favourite book characters. My brother however, who preferred running to reading, was not as enthused about the event. Two years earlier, before I joined the school, he had chosen to go as Kipper from the Biff, Chip and Kipper series. He returned home feeling defeated that day as a teaching assistant had told him he didn’t look like Kipper because Kipper wasn’t black. Every year after this he wore his latest football kit to school and cited he was a character from a book about sport that I knew he had never read. I was angry at him for not putting in any effort, sure that if he had read enough he would have found a character that looked like him. It wasn’t until I was eight years old and, despite having spent all my free time reading, couldn’t think of a black character I liked enough to dress up as, that I realised my brother wasn’t the problem.
Awolola’s younger bother is the subject of ‘Superpowers’, the second of her eight poems included in Rising Stars.
My littler brother loves superheroes.
He wants to change the world,
get the keys to the city and save the girl.
A couple of the poems ruminate about the vastness of space. In ‘Mainly About Aliens’
I’m looking up into the sky
And I’m thinking why is it so big?
An in ‘Love Letter To The Stars’
There are things I hate about space,
It’s far too big and unknown.
But it is my safe place,
I long to call it home.
In the biographical piece quoted from earlier Awolola confesses, “I was initially daunted about writing for a younger audience as I hadn’t really written to a brief before. The best advice I received, which applies to all writing, is to write about what concerns you. There’s no use trying to produce something that relates to people if it doesn’t relate to you. I had to remember that the person I was five years ago was still me, with similar interests and concerns.”
She has done this very well. The poems are accessible and simply worded, yet they speak of the big things that children, as they reach nine or ten years old, contemplate with such receptive minds. The longest poem – ‘On Forgetting That I am A Tree’ – is a fabulous work of empathetic imagination. Picture a teacher suggesting to his or her class, “I want you to write a poem in which you pretend you are a tree,” and receiving this in response!
Near the beginning it goes
A poem in which I fear I did not dig into the past,
Did not think about my roots,
Forgot what it meant to be planted.
A poem in which I realise they may try to cut me down,
That I must change with the seasons,
That I do it so well
It looks as if they are changing with me.
A poem in which I stop looking for it,
Because I am home.
I am habitat.
My branches are host and shelter.
I am life-giver and fruit-bearer.
A poem in which I remember I am a tree.
Posts about the other poets in the collection will follow shortly.