Interview with Onajite Clarke
Onajite Clarke is a poet and mother to three children aged between 24 and 12. Onajite’s collection “The Secrets of my Ukulele: A Metaphor for 21st Century Poetry is available now on Amazon and Kindle. The collection is full of personal and political writing about education, social justice and equality – as well as parenting.
When did you first start writing poetry?
I first started writing Poetry in 2016 which was inspired by an encounter that I had with someone who was street homeless during an early morning commute to work. Normally you don’t see the street homeless at these pivotal times. But on this particular morning I did, which seemed so strange to me. It was hard to observe that people were so self- absorbed with their phones and going to work and preferred to step over and around this person who appeared to be visibly sleeping outside a well know establishment. I was bothered that no-one cared enough to stop what they were doing and show compassion for another human being. It struck me that this individual may not have been asleep and the only way to know was to enquire, to care enough to want to know. To stop, pause and take a moment to help someone else, even if it was an inconvenience or meant being late for work. I needed to know if they were ok and then ask if there was anything that I could do to help and support them in that moment. My intervention meant that I was able to help someone else who needed my support. When I laid what I had bought beside them. I was pleased to see that 2 other people had done exactly what I had done. They had seen with their eyes and felt with their heart.
I was so visible upset at the perceived selfishness of society that I wrote to the Evening Standard newspaper about my experience. I had hoped that it would be a full written piece but with not having any journalistic experience it was condensed down. I was really pleased that they agreed to publish my first article piece. This spurned me to think about societal issues on a broader scale and my poetry book, “The Secrets of My Ukulele: A Metaphor for 21st Century Poetry” was born.
How did motherhood impact your creativity and the way you write poetry?
Gosh I’m a mother to 3 children 2 boys (24 and 9) and 1 daughter who is 12 and at the time of writing my poetry book I was also going through a lot of issues around my daughters identity as a dark skinned black girl. Wanting to fit in and never understanding why. Not having any role models that looked like her. I was also challenged by the way school had changed. My eldest had been privately educated while my daughter was in main-stream school. It was such a different experience for us both in terms of the age gap between her and her older sibling and they were also different genders. It was uncomfortable accepting issues around the way she was being educated, not just academically, but socially and at a conscious or subconscious level. Even though professionally I was used to dealing with different systems and communities but as a parent it was very challenging to navigate. The behaviour of other mothers and their judgemental attitude was shocking. I felt proud that I had the skill-set to support my daughter through these experiences and then decided to write some poems about this. So yes motherhood has and did impact my creativity around writing my poems.
How do you write poetry? How do you find the time?
It’s funny because lots of people have different methods but for me I write about topics that affect me on an emotive and intellectual level. I tend to write when I feel compelled and or I have the urge to. Early Morning and late nights are the best times to write for me because it’s the only quiet times in my home. Juggling parenthood does not make it easy to find the time to sit down and write but if you love what you are doing you manage. If I’m up early before the sun sets it’s the most beautiful feeling in the world when everyone else is asleep and it is so quiet you could drop a pin. You’re watching the sunrise from your dining room table and your thoughts are free flowing and uninterrupted. I can write at anytime and anywhere so I consider myself blessed.
How do you feel when you’ve written a poem?
I feel amazed at what you mind thinks and your hands create and for me I’m always amazed at how diverse my poetry is. I know that there is a conflict between old poetry verses the new but it does not have to be that way. I believe that poetry should not be so abstract that it excludes people but rather should be relatable and unifying. It can be used to convey a myriad of themes and topics. I find writing poetry very cathartic and therapeutic especially when writing about more challenging topics e.g. mental health, race, parenting and relationships.
Who do you share your poetry with and why?
My poems where initially shared with friends and family, I then attended poetry groups and finally plucked up the courage to self-publish my small chapbook of poems. It’s available on Amazon & Kindle which is a wider platform and audience to share my material with. I’m of the belief that if something I do helps another or gives them the courage to do better than that is my gift to the world.
What has the response been to your poetry?
The response has been overall very positive in terms of feedback and I hope this trajectory continues.
How did you feel when you published your poetry book?
I felt incredibly proud to be honest, as did my family and internal network. It’s really weird because I have always wanted and known that I would publish my own book as a child. So to finally see that manifested into a physical and tangible product is off the charts. It’s taken me a while but I got there in the end. I just consider myself to be incredibly blessed with the gifts and talents that I have been given and just want to continue to share these with as many people as I can.
What poetry do you enjoy reading?
Rupi Kaur, Kipling, Rumi, Maya Angelou, there are so many to choose from.. the list would be endless.
What tips do you have for others writing poems about their experiences of motherhood?
To just start, don’t stay in your head, get those thoughts and ideas down on paper and let it flow. Don’t self – correct immediately but keep revisiting your work until it’s achieved its aims of what you are trying to say. Sometime in those moments of immense joy and challenges in your motherhood journey your pen and your paper can convey those feelings.
Join groups and share as much of your content that you feel comfortable with and get as much feedback as possible, this will be invaluable to your journey. My, ‘Negative Nancy’ (the name I give to negative self-talk ) held me back, worrying about whether my material was good enough or if people would like it, silence the inner critic and just take one step at a time and go for it.
What tips do you have for anyone who would like to give writing poetry a go but hasn’t done it before?
Write about what comes naturally to you and do not be afraid.
In a nutshell, what are your reasons for writing poetry?
To share my experiences in the first instance and then to demonstrate that if I can do it so can you and that as mothers we have so much untapped potential that we use with our families but should also consider using on ourselves. That as woman we have to wear so many different hats but that we do have a great deal to say as nurturers of the next generation and our shared experiences as woman and mothers means that we can all learn from each other. That if I start the journey maybe someone else can pick up the mantle and run with this. By helping each other, we are opening the door for others to step through and repeat the same process.
Onajite’s poetry collection “The Secrets of My Ukulele: Mataphor for 21st Century Poetry” can be found on Amazon & Kindle and it’s out now.