2014 was a beautiful yet challenging year for me, but one of the highlights apart from marrying my best friend was helping Radio Plus Coventry pioneer a brand new course delivering media & employability skills to help people looking to move into the Radio industry. This is where I met Siana. She is such a talented, creative and outspoken woman who has achieved so much in her twenties. She is a joy to be around and when you are in her presence the conversation is thought provoking, fruitful and eye opening. I hope you enjoy reading through her interview and don’t miss out on her latest poem which we have linked at the bottom! If you live in London, check out her facebook for up and coming poetry nights she may be attending. You wouldn’t want to miss it! – Lisa
1. How long have you been writing poetry for and what inspired you to start?
I’ve been writing creatively for a long as I can remember (just like everybody says!). Running away with my imagination and seeking comfort in books, poetry, the writing of others was always my favourite pastime. So that’s how I started I guess. When I was younger I used to write quite dark stuff and some of my poetry got published in school anthologies, things like that. I remember I wrote a poem called ‘The Eye of the Sea’ when I was in primary school. I came across it a few years ago and laughed so hard. It was rubbish but for me, at the time, it was my Magnum opus.
I used to write short stories and was working on a novel when I was about twelve I think. It was a detective type thing and the main character was based on Hercule Poirot. I think the same things that inspire me to write now are the same things that inspired me to write back then too. I needed my voice to be heard and sometimes it’s easier to do so through performance or by using characters. Escapism can be very healing. Injustice makes me write. Anger leads me to my pen. Joy and love cause me to write. I stopped writing poetry for a long time though simply because life got in the way and I got ‘too old’ for it. I started to think it was a bit cheesy and felt a bit embarrassed about being so deep within my emotions. I decided I was ‘too busy’ for poetry. I turned my attention to music journalism and album reviews, fashion blogging, and politics.
However, in October 2013 I had a life-changing encounter with someone from my past. It was very quick but made a huge impact on me and because I wasn’t able to coherently talk about how I felt about that encounter and how much it hurt, so I went back to being the little girl who hid under the dining room table and found comfort in her writing. I found a quiet space and I wrote ‘The Stranger’. After I wrote this poem, I performed it in November at a monthly spoken word event in London called Poetry Luv. I had forgotten how exhilarating it is to be on stage and perform. It was also a very cathartic experience too – in the audience were my best friends as well as people I did not know. They all said my poem touched them deeply. One of my friends cried a lot and this told me that I had to pick up from where I left things. I started writing more and more, fitting it in every day (which wasn’t actually that hard after all – it never is when it’s something you love doing), and I started immersing myself in London’s spoken word scene, going to the numerous events, introducing myself to other poets, and understanding the culture. It was all really eye-opening for me.
2. Besides poetry – you have some other creative outlets, what are they?
I am really into photography (again, just like everyone else, right?) and I was taking it very seriously during university. I even had my own small business going but again, I ended up turning my attentions to other things. I really enjoy portraiture and capturing people, especially faces in black and white.There is so much history in someone’s face and so many stories. There is so much power in that stillness. I am also a big fan of fashion and I sew a bit. I would love to have my own blazer line – bold colours, power shoulders, gold buttons, and asymmetry. I used to make bags for friends at school from old jeans. They were quite good, even if I do say so myself!
I enjoy theatre too and one day I’d love to be back on stage performing in a role of some sort. In October 2014 I co-produced a one- woman comedy called Fierce, by Kathryn Griffiths. I’d never done anything like that before. I really loved seeing it all come to life on stage. Kathryn is a phenomenal performer. In a past life I also used to sing a bit and play the violin. I do wish I had stuck at those things and tried harder with the guitar but heck, some of us are better positioned to appreciate the music of others rather than make our own and there is no shame in that. I keep telling myself I’m going to learn the saxophone… we shall see.
It would be really cool to make a spoken word EP and fill it with musical interludes as well as poetry. So much of what I write could be turned into music – that’s the beauty of poetry. In fact, I often sing my lines when it comes to committing my poems to memory. It helps. I’d need to have singing lessons though if I was going to take it more seriously as I don’t know how to breathe and sing simultaneously! No formal technique. I had a dream a while back, in which I did a remake of Saint Etienne’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ and it went straight to number one worldwide. It was a one-hit wonder though. I am really keen to learn more about the technical aspects of production like mixing your voice and using studio equipment, producing, things like that. I know how to do some of these things as I was a radio DJ for three years and produced my own shows in Cambridge but I’m rusty now.
3. Where do you spend most of your time?
I spend most of my time in London. I work in Central London as a journalist and then most weekends or after work I’ll have an event to attend. I go to a lot of poetry events these days. I used to go to concerts more than I do now but I’m seeing FKA Twigs this month (February) and I’m super psyched about that.
When I’m at home I try to make sure I spend time with my mum and my younger sister. I am really loving Orange is the New Black on Netflix – I’m behind everyone else because I don’t watch TV much but whenever I can steal a couple of hours I will get stuck into an episode or two. As well as being hilarious, I think the way the creators have played with stereotypes of intersections like race, gender, and sexuality is really clever.
In terms of specific places, I love visiting the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton. I love Brixton in general. I love Peckham too as I lived there last year and found a lot of wonderful gems, Peckham’s best kept secrets that many people are only discovering now. I love South London as that is where I am from. It’s taken me ten years to finally love that place.
4. What is your biggest dream?
To touch and positively affect as many people with my creative work and my political activism as Maya Angelou did. How I’ll do that is anybody’s guess.
5. For someone looking to start a blog – what advice could you give them?
It’s important for women, ethnic minorities, young people, and other marginalised groups especially to have their voices heard. We have to carve our own spaces in which we can be visible. I started blogging regularly when I was fifteen I think and have not stopped since.
I decided that I would put a flag in my little corner of the Internet and make it clear that it is my space. I have been through a lot of blogs but I think my current one, dontgotheresiana.com , is right for me right now. I finally got the tone and feel I wanted. I really wanted someone to hire me as a journalist when I left university and nobody did and so I thought to myself, ‘you know what? I am going to make myself an editor’. And I did. I was also really fed up of not really having somewhere for Black British women to speak about their lived experiences so those two things led me to create No Fly on the WALL.
6. Who inspires you as a creative individual?
It’s not so much who inspires me to create as it is what inspires me to create. I would say for now, the Zeitgeist is pushing me to write and create. The current mood of my generation is one of unrest and desire for change. I strongly believe the revolution is ours. So I write poetry that explores things like abandonment and absent fathers, racism and white supremacy, shadeism, Islamophobia, Jihad, corrupt political systems, betrayal, but also sisterhood, Feminism, and love.
My latest poem is called ‘Elephant’. On the surface, you could say it’s about racism. The ‘elephant’ is a very bitter, lost, sad, frightened white man who now hates all people of colour. You get small insights into the potential reasons why he is like this. He has also suffered and he is a victim of capitalism and failed democracy. He has been failed too. This man embodies all the things I’ve read, conversations I’ve had, tweets I’ve seen, and Facebook posts I’ve scoffed at. There really are people who will argue that ‘Africans have nothing to be proud of’ and that ‘White people built the modern world and this is a white man’s world’ and the rest of us are just living in it, despite the fact that non-white folk are the world’s global majority. The global South if you will.
The poem is also about hypocrisy and contradictions – something we are all guilty of. But the effects of all these negative things live forever within us and we do remember, just like elephants. The memory of an elephant is imperative to its survival so it can’t afford to forget about those who have killed its mother or its children. I find my environment inspires me. I also have some very talented people in my circles who I really respect so keeping a close eye on them encourages me to always bring my A game and make sure my shit is tight. I want to be respected by my peers for the work I put in and the stuff I put out there. I’m not afraid to admit that.
7. Do you read any blogs and if so what are you favourites?
I read and write for VS Notebook, which is an upcoming and exciting platform for writers and other creatives. There is always a lot of diverse content on the site and the editors are cool too. I often read For Harriet, which is a blog focused on Black women (mainly African-American women).
Afro Punk is awesome for fashion and music and on Facebook they often share stuff from other platforms too. Asylum 33 is cool, a real visual feast. Those are my regulars right now but I spend so much time online I am always coming across new blogs, new people, new writers and that is exciting.
8. How do you keep yourself inspired?
I think being inspired and motivated can be conflated. I often do it. In general, I am a really motivated person. I tend to plough through tiredness and generally manage to keep high spirits because there is so much culture to witness and participate in everywhere.
I get tired sometimes when it comes to my more political work though – some of us call it ‘the burden of being “conscious”’. Sometimes you get writers’ block or you feel like your work isn’t as good as that person’s or that person’s, especially if you’ve been to a show or read something amazing. But it works the other way also – seeing how great others are reminds you of how good you already are and how great you could be. At least that is the case for me.
I keep reading, watching, writing, discussing and then everything just flows. I tell myself our generation needs another Maya Angelou or bell hooks, or Alice Walker. I tell myself we need a ‘For Coloured Girls’ choreopoem for the women of today. And I tell myself that there is no reason why one day I can’t be the one to write it and I tell myself that there is no reason to put limits on what I can achieve because others will do that for me. That’s the nature of our present society. It can be hard to be original. It’s a special currency. Everybody is out here in the wild trying to ‘make it’ as a creative and often it seems like we all want to do the same things and all want to go for the same limited opportunities, start the same platforms. The creative world sometimes feels congested and claustrophobic and even the word ‘creative’ is overused I guess. It can all be so loud. That’s why you have to remember to take some time to sit with yourself quietly and recharge your batteries. After a long day at work you might not feel like going to your laptop and finishing off your novel or polishing off your track and that’s okay but most of the time you will want to do those things because that is what you love.
Love, self-love, is so powerful. We are in our element when we are doing what we love and being all that we can be. What we have in common is that we all want to be happy. My quest for happiness and feeling satisfied with my life is a strong fuel of inspiration – it is one of my many motivations. I want to be able to say I made the most of my time here, while I had it. I want to be sure to leave a positive and meaningful legacy like the people I admire.
9. What do you like to do in your spare time?
I don’t have much spare time! But I like going to the movies. I like going to art galleries. I love reading and all of those things inevitably make me want to write something.
10. Where can our readers find you online?
I have quite a big online presence I hear so I’m not hard to find!
You can keep up with me by visiting my personal blog: dontgotheresiana.com
You can also check out my work within the Feminist movement by visiting: noflyonthewall.com and attending one of our No Fly on the WALL Academy events and workshops.
I am a fan of micro-blogging too. The power of social media fascinates me. Catch me on Twitter here: @sianaarrgh I share some of my spoken word poetry on Sound Cloud: soundcloud.com/sianaarrgh
Check out my latest poem, ‘Elephant’, here: