Victoria Adukwei Bulley’s work is a deep well of gentle, glistening water. She is a British born Ghanaian poet, writer, and filmmaker whose work has been shortlisted for the Brunel University International African Poetry Prize, featured on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour and in The Poetry Review, and commissioned by the Royal Academy of Arts. Victoria’s intergenerational poetry, translation and film projected, Mother Tongues, is supported by Arts Council England and Autograph ABP.
Through the magic of the internet, I came across Victoria’s poem, "Revision," in Tongue Journal. I was moved by the tender expertise with which she coaxed language to hold more than its weight in meaning. All of her work that I’ve experienced is brilliant and strikes a gorgeous balance between sincerity and wit. Her words and works resonate profoundly: she makes language dance.
In this interview we talk about blackness, spirituality, beauty, and diasporic angst.
Your chapbook, Girl B, is just straight up filled with light. Where did it come from?
That’s really kind. It means a lot. I have been somewhat shy about the manuscript because I didn’t expect to have a pamphlet out so soon. I had a collection of poems that were not any kind of collection but individuals, and I was asked by Kwame Dawes to submit for the New-Generation African Poets series. This was after I was shortlisted for the Brunel International Poetry Prize in 2016. I was reluctant to accept the invitation because I didn’t feel ready, but ultimately I was persuaded. I have to give credit to the wonderful poet R. A. Villanueva for that push. The poems address much of what you’ve asked me about here – blackness, beauty, spirituality, ritual, my body.
I'm fascinated by the way that different forms of art speak to each other, what sounds, images, and otherwise immersive experiences inform your writing? What are you reading right now?
I’m a very diffuse reader, which I’m trying to correct in 2018 – one thing at a time, with focus. I’m currently reading Whereas, by Layli Long Soldier. I love the way the collection operates by its own rules, establishing delicately, first, then building itself accordingly page by page. I just read Don’t Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith, who I’m about to see perform twice this week – which tells you how I feel about him. I’ve been midway through Toni Morrison’s Beloved since before Christmas; I put it down because it was hurting me but I’ll come back to it. Elsewhere, I’m finishing a book called Anatomy of the Spirit, by Caroline Myss, and I dip into Poetry Magazine when I feel like it. Shoutout to the bar I used to work at for buying me that subscription.
In other news, I recently watched a beautiful film called LoveTrue, which was recommended to me by another amazing poet, Amaal Said. I love some of the work of Terence Nance, a filmmaker. I’m listening to a lot of King Krule (or Archy Marshall) at the moment. I’m also listening to a lot of gqom music because I was just at Afropunk in Johannesburg and haven’t really returned. Finally, as uncool this sounds, there’s a podcast called Dissect where some guy spends whole episodes doing close readings of a single Kendrick Lamar song at a time… and I can’t recommend it enough.
Tell me your thoughts on power, and its interplay in your personal life and/or creative career.
Not sure how to respond here, as it’s a big deal. I do believe I am powerful, which is to say I do believe we are powerful beings, albeit not supreme. I also believe we often need to get out of our own ways to experience it – to maybe even submit, or allow, in order to redefine what power means; recast it inherently as something that can’t be given or taken away. In the same breath, I would like to have the power to afford a nice place in London one day soon, or to be based Ghana or Africa for considerable parts of each year, increasingly. And then I see how that power doesn’t feel so real any more because it starts to sound too much like money. But I know it’s there, and I believe it’s not money. And I know I should be careful with it.
Have you had the experience of seeing yourself in another author's words? Will you tell me about that, or the absence of that? There is something to be said about the incredible value of representation, but can you share your thoughts on the soft magic of writing yourself real?
I saw myself in Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’ when I read that at university. I’d never read anything like it before and it hit me in a soulful way. Outwardly, I probably don’t have much in common with him, and that’s okay. Later on, I found Zora Neale Hurston, Lucille Clifton, Tracy K. Smith, Aracelis Girmay, and now other British writers who I feel very grateful to call friends.
As for writing oneself real, it’s a continual process because the self is fluid and so easily a uniform we wear to move through life. I find that each new poem I write refers to an event of myself that I might not encounter again. So every act of writing is placing some self or other of me into recorded existence, as if only to say yes, she was here. Which she that is – or was – is changeable.