AT: I actually got that anecdote from an interview you did with radio producer, Ayan Shirwa, on her 3CR show Diaspora Blues, and she’s another person I’d love to shout out, because her two interviews with you so far have been so thoughtful and engaging. I kind of feel like Ayan both already covered everything I had initially wanted to ask you, but, in doing so, laid really rich jumping off points for this interview now. It was lovely to read a written conversation between yourself and Ayan in contrast to her audio work, and to see that published by dichōtomi. That interview was accompanied by some truly glorious portraits of you by the brilliant lens of Ivy Mutuku which just added so much warmth, depth, and tenderness because of how Ivy captures people. These are just some of the examples of Black women’s work that I’m so grateful for and feel really excited about, and it’s very encouraging to see wherever and however Black African people here are nurturing and uplifting one another’s gifts and providing spaces to grow creatively.
TT: Ayan was an absolute joy to work with! As was Ivy and as always Bigoa. What I love most is that they’re creating spaces! Rather than squeezing for a seat at the proverbial table, they made reservations elsewhere and are carrying us all along for the feast!
AT: Yes to that – reservations elsewhere – folks deserve. On that note, we’ve also collaborated distantly once before, when I was working with Ruth Nyaruot Ruach on putting together the second edition of Next in Colour’s zine, The Colouring Book. That issue was on the theme of ‘support’, and I actually chose your poetry submission, ‘Space’ as the opening piece.
The first line was:
Is there space for this?
I felt that this piece was so fitting to open the zine, because the back-story to a lot of the initiatives Black folks continue (what is seen is ‘starting’ something is never really the start, is it?) to build here arises from the need and desire for truly supportive and myriad, rather than homogenising, spaces for many of us. That’s to put it mildly. I’m conscious of the experiences I have projected onto ‘Space’ in my reading of it, so would love to hear about some of the layers of thought and experience that went into that poem as you conceived it.
TT: It’s interesting how you mention ‘projecting experiences’. That idea has been floating in my mind a lot lately, particularly where poetry is concerned, the alchemy of it. I take my own thoughts, experiences, emotions, observations and transmute them into something on the page or on the stage. The reader or audience then perceives that result and does another transmutation based on their own experiences, feelings, and views. No piece remains static, it’s always undergoing all these changes of state, which I think is a really beautiful process. Granted, I’ve had to work on letting go of how others transform a piece, acknowledging the change has done wonders for my creative process.
Back to the piece though, it’s largely inspired by this whole concept: I wrote it at a time of questioning whether audiences (who were mostly white) actually resonated with my pieces or just praised them out of a need to validate the ‘foreign’. 2019 was my most successful performing year – but through it all I grappled with the question of ‘is this appreciation genuine? Or am I just being tokenised?’
‘Space’ became a resignation of me separating myself from my poetry. As if to say: I create this work, give it to you and you have permission to do what you will with that because the initial transmutation will always belong to me and me alone.
AT: That’s beautiful and, I think, necessary to find that sense of boundary as an artist sharing in public and with strangers. I’m also struck, in your work and in past interviews, how generous you are in sharing the fruits of your internal alchemy. What motivated you to share your poetry publicly for the first time?
TT: I’d have to say the idea of emotional and experiential validity. As someone who’s in recovery from addiction so much of my world was saved by folks sharing their journeys and stories. It’s so important to me to pass on that legacy of allowing us all to feel less ashamed and less alone. It often sounds cheesy in my head because our contemporary landscape has unprecedented digital reach but, if one person can read or hear a piece and feel a little less isolated then to me, the work is done.