Wasafiri Wonders: Theresa Lola
Photography by Hayley Madden for Spread The Word
‘Grief is as much of a universal language as music is.’
Ever wondered what your favourite writer’s first drafts look like? Or which book they love that nobody’s heard of? Wasafiri Wonders is a series that asks these questions for you.
Theresa Lola is a British Nigerian poet and founder of the writer’s magazine FourHubs. She is a joint winner of the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and member of the poetry collective Octavia led by Rachel Long. In 2019, Theresa was announced as the Young People’s Laureate for London. Her poetry collection ‘In Search of Equilibrium’ was published by Nine Arches Press in February.
Describe your first drafts in one sentence.
Tell us about your writing rituals.
I usually have a topic or area I am interested in exploring, and I tend to do research around it even if I am writing from the personal. I decide what the most effective entry point/form would be, then I write a free write, usually on my iPhone, and then I edit it on my laptop.
What themes do you gravitate towards and why?
Grief, wellbeing and the nuances of love and loss. I love these themes because grief is as much of a universal language as music is. I have always been intrigued by the questions most difficult to ask either by myself or the world, especially what place death holds in our brain, and poems give me room to explore these. I am interested in the way our experiences intersect with our well-being as this often shapes the way we view, and live, our lives. Lastly the nuances of love and loss is something I am continually learning and hence documenting, the ways love differs in our languages both physically and emotionally.
Tell us about your newest work.
My debut poetry collection In Search of Equilibrium was released in February 219 published by Nine Arches Press, and I’ll regard that as my newest work. Though the poems were written over the years they were edited with a fresh lens before the release. The collection follows a girl grieving her grandfather’s death from Alzheimer’s, and her revisiting of her mental health in relation to her perspective on death.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
An advice I took from Nick Makoha is to consider the rivers that flowed before your poem and be aware of how you are following or disrupting those voices.
What is your favourite book or pamphlet published in the past year and why?
Belinda Zhawi’s Small Inheritances. I love the way it explores and reflects on the relationship of one’s body with different cultures and geographies. We see a young woman in London, and in Zimbabwe, and we get to discover how place intersects with our experiences.
What is a classic you recently read for the first time?
Efuru by Flora Nwapa, it is the first book written by a Nigerian woman to be published.
What is a book or pamphlet you love that no one else has heard of?
I am hesitant to assume no one has heard of the work or books I love. But I enjoyed reading the pamphlet Any Kind of Excuse by Nin Andrews.
If your newest work were a music album, what would it be and how would it sound?
It would be an eclectic playlist of Fela Kuti mixed with Ja Rule, Johnny Nash, and Kirk Franklin.
Which books or authors are relevant reads in our political climate —or one you’d recommend to current world leaders?
Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey
Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness by Carolyn Forché
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky
Ship Shape by Dorothea Smartt
In Search of Equilibrium by Theresa Lola was published by Nine Arches Press in 2019.