Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Isabelle Baafi

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Isabelle Baafi

Isabelle Baafi

(According to her website)

is a writer and poet. Her work has been published in The Caribbean WriterAllegroMoko MagazineKalahari Review and elsewhere. She was recently admitted to the London Library’s Emerging Writers Programme, and performed at the Battersea Arts Centre’s Homegrown Festival. In 2008, she was a Commended Foyle Young Poet. She is currently working on her debut poetry collection.

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The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I’ve been writing my whole life – mostly stories, but also songs, letters, diary entries… The shift from fiction to poetry was a natural one, when I felt the urge to communicate truths that a linear narrative couldn’t contain, or that were too difficult to say in plain English.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

I didn’t read poetry until secondary school. The AQA anthologies opened up a whole new world for me. Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney, Imtiaz Dharker, John Agard – those were the poets that had the strongest impression on me back then. At the time, my favourite poem was “Blessing” by Imtiaz Dharker. A perfect poem, still.

  1. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Apart from Shakespeare, I knew very little about poetry from before the 20th century. However, one day I came across the poem “High Waving Heather” by Emily Bronte, and it gripped me. A simple poem, but a gorgeous one. The first poem I ever wrote was in response to it. I was fourteen at the time.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t write every day. I write 2-3 days a week, during the weekend. During those days, I try to spend some time reading and analysing poetry, so that I’m learning as much as I’m practicing.

  1. What motivates you to write?

The internal questions and desires that never leave me. The need to say things for which I can’t find the words. The beauty of words. The fun of writing. And, as corny as it sounds, the hope that my writing will one day impact others for the better.

  1. What is your work ethic?

Don’t wait for inspiration, just write – and (sooner or later) the words will come.

  1. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

To be honest, I am more influenced by literary traditions that were not studied, or made prominent, in school. Specifically, the oral traditions of the African diaspora, and biblical forms of storytelling, such as the incorporation of parables and the prophetic. My poems often seem to overflow with voices, and yet that’s never been a conscious choice.

  1. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Danez Smith is an incredible writer. Their work is bold, rich and so important. I am also constantly returning to the work of Ocean Vuong, Safia Elhillo, Warsan Shire and Safiya Sinclair. Each of them are masters at what they do. And I will rave about Shivanee Ramlochan to anyone who will listen. The way that she disrupts and confronts language is so irreverent and powerful.

  1. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Writing is how I communicate with the world. It’s how I understand the world and myself. For me, any life without writing would be unthinkable.

  1. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Start by telling your own story. What have you learned thus far? What battles have you lost, drawn, won? What journey are you on, and what will happen when you reach your destination? No matter how small you think your life is, your story is important.

  1. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment

I’m currently writing towards a pamphlet on intimacy, and a full length collection, which is still in its embryonic state. I will hopefully finish the pamphlet next summer.

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