Nii Ayikwei Parkes
The writer, editor, broadcaster and performance poet speaks to Sideways about creativity and transformation.
Nii Ayikwei Parkes is one of seventeen contemporary Black British poets launching the new The Obsidian Foundation Collection for The Poetry Archive.
You can listen to him reading his work on The Poetry Archive Website from 18th February 2022. www.poetryarchive.org
Maya Angelou said, “Creativity or talent, like electricity, is something I don’t understand, but something I’m able to harness and use.” – when did you first realise you had the ability to create?
I think the realisation of the ability to create is something that always comes in hindsight, otherwise we’d be celebrating from the moment we utter our first cry. For me, I think I became aware of the power of transformation – which is ultimately what creativity triggers – on early mornings gardening with my father as a boy. I was always stunned by idea, first, that my father could make these seeds become food, and, with time, that even I could raise corn stalks taller than I would ever grow. I must have been 7 the first time that that sense of wonder hit me.
What emotions does poetry induce for you?
It depends on the poem, but generally I allow poems to carry me, so I also feel weightless when I get into a poem, like my entire body is in a voice.
What’s your writing process like?
I carry notebooks and jot things down, but the process to completed poem varies. Sometimes, I like to create conceptual poems, playing with multiple meanings and form; other times, I just pay homage to a moment of clarity, beauty, terror, transformation.
You co-founded a national student magazine in your teens. Do you offer any advice to the students of today?
I’m still a student, and my advice is always to stay curious and keep trying to transform the world. What Nick Makoha has done by starting the Obsidian Foundation, for example, has been revelatory for me. I may have edited his work once, but I am now his student, learning from the power of his determination to make change.
Who or what is life’s biggest inspiration for you?
Days are my biggest inspiration. Everyday asks me: what are you doing to transform your world today? And I get to work…
Nii Ayikwei Parkes is the author of three poetry pamphlets and the Commonwealth Prize-shortlisted novel Tail of the Blue Bird (Cape).
His website is niiparkes.com and you can tweet him at: @BlueBirdTail.
Interview by Richard Gilbert-Cross