Raised in Barking and Dagenham, British-Nigerian poet Gboyega Odubanjo speaks to Write On! about his work and residency at Rabbits Road Institute Library.
Rabbits Road Institute Library was established in 2016 in a former Carnegie Library in Manor Park, East London. The books are all nominated by friends and collaborators of the Library, and organised into three categories: ‘People & Place’, ‘Making It Happen’ and ‘The Future’. They cover a range of subjects, including social history, British Asian & Black identity and class, architecture and science fiction. The Library is currently unhoused and cannot be visited in person, but is on a virtual tour to Barking and Dagenham, accessed online here. Links to books and ebooks available through Barking & Dagenham libraries and the London Library Consortium are on the online catalogue.
Following an open call in partnership with Pen to Print, Gboyega Odubanjo was appointed Writer In Residence of the Library. Gboyega is now working on a small book of poetry and interviews, to be published in spring 2021. He talks to Write On! about his writing journey so far.
WO: How would you describe your writing to someone new to it?
GO: I would describe my writing as a representation of my life as a British-Nigerian born and raised in east London. When I write, I’m interested in rubbing together the many different parts of my world: London, my Nigerian culture, religion, music, parties, history, etc. I’m always trying to find a language that is specific to me and my experiences, so I take the languages of these sometimes disparate worlds and try to make them do something for me.
WO: Can you tell us a bit about your latest project?
GO: For the last six months, I have been the Writer In Residence at the Rabbits Road Institute Library. As such, I’ve been writing a series of poems about my relationship with the borough of Barking and Dagenham and have also conducted interviews with artists from east London. Using books about London I have borrowed from the library to reference alongside my own experiences, I have written what I’d consider to be little portraits of Barking and Dagenham. The borough, admittedly not one of the most fashionable in London, is my home and so is endlessly compelling to me. It’s a place I have seen many sides to; from being chased home after school, to being able to buy grilled suya from a van around the corner from the local Wetherspoons! It’s been fascinating, for me, to be able to contrast these experiences and place them within a wider context of east London and its histories of migration and regeneration.
WO: What inspired you to write in the first place, and what inspires you now?
GO: What first inspired me to write poetry was the realisation I didn’t have what it took to be a football player or a rapper! What inspires me now, are the possibilities of alternative thinking that poetry allows. There are questions I feel free to ask: such as, what if racists expressed hate by kissing? Or, what if east London was the centre of the world? I’m less concerned with logic than with the idea of play.
WO: The current issue of Write On! explores the theme of ‘Growth’ and how we navigate Spring as the season of change. With that in mind, do you use changes in the natural world to motivate your writing?
GO: Writing is inseparable from reading for me. I tend to do most of my reading in the daytime and then write at night. Writing at night means that I’ve had the whole day to almost marinate in all the words I’ve read, the TV I’ve watched, the conversations I’ve had. Then, when I sit down, it’s just about making sure I’m hydrated and that the right music is playing. Writing at night means that the natural world tends to always look the same; however, with the changing seasons, there is the possibility that it will get lighter as I’m writing and that’s not a prospect I’m particularly fond of.
WO: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
GO: I’d say that it’s fun to tell bald-faced lies when writing!
WO: Can you tell us anything about future projects?
GO: Aside from the project with the Rabbits Road Institute Library (visit website here), I have a poetry pamphlet coming out later this year with The Poetry Business as part of their New Poets’ Prize. It will be titled Aunty Uncle Poems and is primarily concerned with all the Nigerians for whom London has become home.
You can connect with Gboyega Odubanjo on Twitter: @OdubanjoGboyega
You can visit the Rabbits Road Institute Library here
I'm always trying to find a language that is specific to me and my experiences, so I take the languages of these sometimes disparate worlds and try to make them do something for me.