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Sheila Ojei: I never really set out to be a spoken word artist

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Let’s meet you; Name, Nationality, Family background, Educational background etc

My name is Sheila Ojei from Delta State. At the moment, I am an investment banker and a writer. I have a B.Sc in Accounting from St John’s University (New York, USA); a Masters of Arts (MA) from Regent’s Business School (London, UK) and an MBA from Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland)

Do you consider yourself a Poet? What inspired you to become a Poet?

I consider myself to be a poet, more of a spoken word poet than anything else. To be honest, I don’t think I ever had a eureka moment when it came to poetry, I had always loved the arts from a young age so poetry and writing sort of came naturally to me

How long have you been writing? How old were you when you wrote your first poem? How old were you when you first performed your poem?

I have been writing for a very long time. As a kid, I had so many journals where I would put down my thoughts and at 18 I started my first blog. However, I performed my first spoken word piece when I was 25. DSC_1106

What was your childhood like – did you enjoy reading and writing poetry as a kid? What books did you read growing up? and what kind of books do you read now?

My childhood was quiet; I grew up as an only child for 15 years so a lot of my time was spent talking to adults and also putting down my thoughts on paper. Even though, I was very reserved and very shy, I had an active imagination so I enjoyed playing out scenarios and writing what was on my mind at that moment. I read a lot of books that’s because my parents were kind of strict when it came to TV so they bought a lot of books for me to read especially Christian novels; I was and still am a huge fan of Francine Rivers’ books. At the moment I am going through a phase in reading so I support any book that was written by an African. I prefer realist fiction where I can relate the characters to things/people around me.

The information you use to write poems, is it based on personal experience or other things such as facts?

Most of my pieces are based on experiences either mine or of others around me.

What is the most difficult poem you have written? Is it your favourite? Which poem has been your most popular?

“Dear Grandpa” has to be the most challenging till date although it’s not my favourite. My favourite is “As Long as I am Good” and of course “My Romantic Lagos” is the most popular.

What inspired you to write “My Romantic Lagos?”

I was driving back from work sometime in 2011 with a colleague and we were talking about how Lagos was so ‘unromantic’ and comparing it to other cities around the world. Something so simple could be so romantic somewhere else but in Lagos it’s always a bit tougher. Somehow that conversation stuck in my head and then a week later I wrote My Romantic Lagos.1-192

Do any of the artists/ poets you listen to inspire your poems? Do you sit down and think about writing, or do you just get sudden inspirations?

I consider myself a student most times and I am always paying attention to people’s writing and/or performing styles in poetry. When it comes to inspiration, there’s always an event or conversation that sparks something in me; for example my piece titled The Game was inspired by Big Momma 3, you need to see the movie to pick up the specific line.

Most times I have a line stuck in my head for a while and I eventually build my piece around that line.

Who are your favourite poets, both locally and internationally?

Locally- Efe Paul, Donna, Wana and Sage; Internationally – Dana Gilmore, Bassey Ikpi, Sarah Kay and Jackie Hill

You were abroad for a while, how is the acceptance level of Performance Poetry/ Spoken Word there as compared to Nigeria? Did you perform there or you simply faced your studies?

Spoken Word poetry is something that’s relatively new globally and the acceptance level in places like Ireland is quite low but Spoken word poetry is recognised in places like America and the UK.  However, I never performed any of my pieces prior to 2011. To be honest, I never really set out to be a spoken word artist or a performer of any sort except singing in church. I was very much focused on my studies and running the different organisations I was a part of as a student. 

I didn’t get to perform anywhere in Ireland but was lucky enough to perform at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York during my time away.

How was the experience when you performed at Nuyorican Poets Café in New York?

Performing at the Nuyorican was a wonderful and insightful experience. It was my first time being on a different stage, different being not Nigerian so I was nervous at the start and then excited at the positive response from the audience. 

What do you like about poetry? On the average, how long does it take you to write a poem?

I like how poetry can be understood very differently based on personal experience. When I recite certain poems I enjoy the conversation it sparks and the reaction I get from the audience ‘cause it shows they can relate to what I am talking about. It takes me about a day to write a piece, that’s because I perform, write and then perform it again to myself.

Are you of the school of thought that poetry does not have to rhyme?

If you know my pieces quite well, you’ll know I don’t rhyme…I just send my message across because that’s what is important to me. So no poetry does not have to rhyme but it should have a nice flow.

Do you get nervous when you are about to perform your poem? What ritual/ habit do you engage in before you perform?

I always get nervous before I perform. Usually before any performance I take out time to ‘scope’ the crowd, do a quick prayer and get a glass of red wine. (don’t judge me).

You were one of the headlining poets for WORD UP Volume 7 in Ikeja GRA, how was the experience? How was the show itself?

The experience was really good and the crowd very responsive so I enjoyed every bit of it.

Where do you see yourself (as regards Poetry) in the next 5 years? Where do you see Spoken Word Poetry in Nigeria in the next 5 years?

Spoken Word Poetry in Nigeria is definitely going to be big in the next 5 years; there’s been significant growth from when I started performing in 2011 and Nigerians appreciate this form of expression. Personally, I am glad to be a part of it now and I hope to be a varied spoken word artist in the next 5 years.   

 

What advice do you have for young people who want to be poets today?

 Find your voice and your message. No one is perfect or is a ‘professional’ so take your time to see what others are doing and how you can always improve your work.

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Is there any link, blog or site people can go to read your writings/ poems?

www.sheilasmusings.wordpress.com , I have not updated in a while but feel free to see some of my ramblings.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you for the opportunity

 

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