Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Spotlight on: Poet Inua Ellams

by Elizabeth Salmon
culled from

With his play The 14th Tale being picked up at the National Theatre, Inua Ellams met up with Catch a Vibe to talk about poetry and his numerous projects.

Spoken word artist - Inua EllamsCatch a Vibe: When did you decide to become a Poet?
Inua Ellams: I didn’t decide to become a poet. It was by accident. I wrote a poem and my English teacher told me it wasn’t bad. I didn’t think of it as a poem just me writing rubbish on paper. Then a friend of mine dared me to write a sonnet, which I did, but even then there were just far too much obscure hip-hop references for it to qualify as literature, or so I thought. Then I came to London from Dublin and another friend of mine played me a CD – Amethyst Rockstar by Saul Williams and I saw what he tried to do with literature and I wanted to do the same thing. So I began to chase it… I guess I didn’t really see myself as a poet until people started calling me a poet.

CAV: Are there any poets that inspire you?
Inua Ellams: There is Roger Robinson who is pretty dope, there’s a guy called Polarbear . There is a girl called Jay Bernard who is amazing, Kayo Chingonyi is another dope poet. There’s an American writer called Major Jackson he’s crazy, Anisley Burrows who is also American. Nii Parkes , who is my publisher is another good guy…Oh and the boys that I roll with Musa Okongwa and Joshua Idehen . That’s all so far there’s probably a hundred others like Wole Soyinka , William Shakespeare, Terry Pratchett , Neil Gaiman …..

CAV: Tell us about your new play ‘Untitled’. What’s it about?
Inua Ellams: It is ridiculous in terms of scope and what it tries to talk about. It is a play about twin brothers split at birth, one of them grows up in West Africa and the other in London.
It is a magical realist story, it’s inspired by Salman Rushdie and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and also inspired by Saul Williams; He has this line in one of his poems that says ‘Let your children name themselves’ and the idea is that if you let your child name themselves it is the ultimate act of freedom and they become authors of their own destiny. It stems from a belief in certain parts of West Africa that a child grows up to embody its name. So that was the first seeds of Untitled; the kid that grows up in West Africa because of the destruction of this ritual in the village / grows up as this unnamed child and that’s where the title comes from. We showed the first 25 minutes of it at the Roundhouse and we got lots of feedback, lots of people liked it. Now it’s a case of knuckling down to write the last half and see if I settle it next year fingers crossed.

CAV: Would you consider writing a novel?
Inua Ellams: This is the thing; when I was explaining to Nii Parkes the idea and the plot for Untitled there were so many strands that I could pull out of it. Nii was like if this fails as a play then just spend the next year and a half writing it as a novel. Based on the good feedback that I got from The 14th Tale – people described it as being such beautiful prose that I could easily dip my hand into writing a novel. So maybe in the future if there’s a story that strikes me or if I steal from someone, twist it enough to claim it as my own then possibly I will get down to writing a novel. But at the moment I don’t think I’m disciplined enough or that I’ve read enough to do that yet but we’ll see.

CAV: Are there any upcoming events that you are going to be involved in?
Inua Ellams: There are a million things. There are the Poejazzi events, we have lot of plans for next year. The 14th Tale is going to be on at the National Theatre next year through February and March which is going to be very cool they’re organising a small spring tour.
Untitled was commissioned by the Soho Theatre so fingers crossed we’re going to start developing it early next year. I’m working on my next book of poetry called Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars. Hopefully I’ll finish writing by February latest and it will be on shelves by May . Then I’ll hit the streets touring.

The 14th Tale is at the National Theatre for 10 performances only between 9 February and 10 March

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