A Poet’s Journey
I have kept a journal since I was 16. As a child, I saw my mum write in her diary and though I didn’t know what she was writing about, I got jealous that every evening, she wrote something in this small book. So, I got a notebook and started keeping a diary, trying to be an adult. It became part of me and while in boarding school, I also had a dairy and would later discover that I wrote about the changes my body was going through when I got sick but I had no idea why my body was changing. I also wrote down the dreams I had about my schoolmates back in Nigeria being at a graveside, burying someone wrapped in white but I was not able to see the person’s face. I was only watching the funeral from a distance. Years later, that dream would make sense but hell, I’m alive to tell the tale.
Writing a diary would later turn into writing a journal and that journal 14 years on is now journals. On the pages of my journal, I chronicled the fact that I was a 16-year-old living on dialysis and really did not want to live like that but I had no choice. I wrote about the fact that I hated life and there were days I wanted to end it all but the thought of going to hell, being that I had heard so much about the fiery furnace scared the life out of me, so I wanted to live. I also wrote down what people did to me, my mum being the number one offender. However all of that would change when my health got really bad and life was in the balance. The realisation that I didn’t have another option but dialysis for life was one of the hardest things to hear from the doctors and deal with as a 16-year-old. The only hope of a transplant was not an option my parents were open to back then. And not for one minute do I blame them or think they were not doing right. I believe everything happened for a reason because my life’s journey is the greatest story I could ever tell anyone about myself.
It was during this period that I started keeping a gratitude journal. I remember watching Oprah and the topic of the day was about journalising and how it could actually be a form of good therapy when you write down the things you are grateful for. I stopped keeping a dossier on my mum and started writing the 10 things I was grateful for each day. It works, why write down pain when you can celebrate life. Memories make or break you and I want my memories to make me not break me.
On the same pages of the journals I kept, I started writing poems when the pain became too much to take in. My journal served as my escape route from life because though I was alive and living, the Belinda I knew was long gone and writing was the only way I could reconnect with myself. Writing was an outlet for reflection and on some level, it was and is still a form of catharsis which enables me to get my tears down on paper, express my joy at life and observe the world around me. It is also the vehicle with which I explore and examine the issues of life, love, injustice, movement and migration, cultures and traditions and the pain of dislocation and dispossession.
One thing that gets me about a book is language and the writer’s ability to make words make love to each other. My world, there is something about words and language that would make me read a page or a few lines over and over. I remember when I read The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours: The Poetry of Jill Scott and Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems and Lyrics by Alicia Keys, they had me nodding my head like I was actually listening to a song. I believe that’s one of the effects poetry should have on you – make you think, feel and of course get to your soul.
It was while journalising which I still do, I practically have a journal for aspect of my life, including one for the man I am yet to marry and the child I am yet to give birth to. I write letters to them but I have no intention of telling you what those letters are about. Journalising my thoughts and feelings lead to my first poem, Fire Shut Up In My Bones. I remember it so well because it was simple, yet so powerful for me.
Like fire shut up in my bones
That’s how I’m going to fight this thing
Which they say has the power to kill me
I won’t give up without a fight
I’ll fight until the very last day and breath if that is what it takes
This thing is not going to take me out
Like fire shut up in my bones, I’m going to fight and fight.
I kept that piece in my bag and took it everywhere with me. It was my declaration to renal failure that no way in hell was it going to win and I fought. I fought and I won. I have not stopped writing poetry since then. I have become a regular at Paperchase, looking for a different design of notebook. I get so picky about the type of notebook I should use because it is such a personal and emotional thing for me. The notebook has got to be right or I am going to be grumpy. For a long time, I was afraid to publicly share my work. I wrote them for me and kept them on my bedside drawer, sometimes I would read them before I go to bed or read the odd one or two to a friend. I was and I am still work in progress. I am not there yet and there is great room for improvement.
However, in the last five years, I have not done anything in public but that changed on 20 November 2009 when I finally plucked up the courage to share my work with other people and it was in style. It was at the African Writers’ Evening – the last event of the year and it was at the Southbank. Yes, we roll like that. I stood in front of my mirror and practiced like my life depended on it. I can tell you it went well and I was very happy with the feedback I got. I came home, all fired up and started writing furiously. Today, I was at Poets Corner, organised by a friend and she is a brilliant poet, Leine Marielle O’Kenze. While on stage, I could hear people’s responses, the eyes and nods and I wondered if they were responding to me, my words or it is part of the thing people do to make you feel okay about yourself. When I was done, the applause was very emotional and deeply emotional at that.
When I got home, I had a moment to myself and brought out my poetry notebooks for the last two years and I saw my own progress – the sweet nice ones with no F-words and then the angry and aggressive ones with the F-words. The ones that celebrated the man I am yet to marry and the daughter I am yet to conceive. I gave myself a path and said well done Belinda, you are on your way. Now don’t stop.