Abby Kesington: I Want My Poetry to Outlive Me
For Houston-based poet Abby Kesington, some of her major literary influences are Noble Laureate, Wole Soyinka; global phenomenon, Maya Angelou; and Chilean poet -diplomat, Pablo Neruda. Widely regarded as one of Nigeria’s emerging poets in Houston, Texas, Kesington has featured at poetry events and is working on her first collection of poetry. Her poems usually focus on anxieties, freedom, women rights, poverty, and climate change. In this interview, she speaks about her literary influences, what poetry means to her, poetry of old and modern poetry and so on. Excerpts:
There appears to be a burden of tradition for many Nigerian poets to write poetry that tends towards the socially committed poetry, some sort of ‘art in the shadows of protest’. How much of this burden applies to your poetry?
Poetry is an expression of the experiences of the poet. Now because of the social economic climate or should I say injustice, many of the poems from Nigeria seem to take on the narrative of protest. However, my poems are a kind of protest against social differences and the seeming injustice of race, gender, age and abuse, not necessarily in the Nigerian sense.
While writing poetry do you have in mind that you might have to perform your poems at one time? Do you write poetry with an ear for the page? Which of these comes easily to you – poetry for the page or poetry for the stage?
Well, when I started, it never crossed my mind that I will ever read it on stage. It was a form of therapy to just let out those words buzzing in my head. So I think poetry for the page comes easier for me but I’m very much open to new opportunities of poetry on stage.
Some literary critics tend to dismiss spoken word/performance poetry as not poetry, mainly because it tends to focus more on the performance/delivery than on the poem. How would you react to this?
I think the goal is to have the reader or audience appreciate your work. Poetry is a form of art that is blessed with an advantage to have the words perform before an audience. Now reading the poem aloud sometimes lend credence to the work and it is very much left to the audience at that point.
What inspired the poem Finish Line, which you are performing soon at the Color Story 2023 in Houston?
I wrote that poem on a very challenging day. When it seemed all hope was lost. I was battling a monster anxiety and the words came. I was able to put things in perspective and sustained my sanity.
What does poetry mean to you?
Poetry means a form of expression. Beyond the art is the poet’s experiences all morphed into words. A window to the poets mind and sometimes heart.
Did you find poetry or did poetry find you?
Wow!!! Poetry found me actually. It found me at the doldrums of life, when all hope was lost and I didn’t have anything to live for. It gave me renewed hope in humanity. A renewed sense of self. Don’t get me wrong, I still fight my inner demons.
What poetry were important to you when you first started writing poetry?
I honestly didn’t attach any importance to anyone poet. Like I mentioned, poetry found me. It was a form of therapy.
Do you prefer the poetry of old or the modern type?
Well, I lean more to the modern form of poetry, however with some sentiments for the old sonnet. I like the modern forms because the poet is not boxed into a form. You have the freedom of expression. Juxtaposition of prose and poetry, Imagery and concepts that push the norm. I like that very much.
Where do you want poetry to take you?
Posterity. I want it to outlive me. For generations to come to read my works and see that I identify with issues like anxieties, freedom, women rights, poverty, and climate change.
Who are your poetic influences?
This one is a tough one. I think I have some poems inspired by Nigeria’s Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka. I also am very inspired by the late American poet Maya Angelou. And the Chilean poet, late Pablo Neruda, for his many romantic poems.