Unbound: Finding Home

Poets and performers come together around Finding Home, an event that will explore traditional ideas of home and place, as well as timely political barriers to finding a home, such as borders, nationality and xenophobia

Feature by Katie Goh | 01 Jul 2019
  • Finding Home

From the classic The Odyssey to the other classic Home Alone, concepts of home have been rooted in our artistic and cultural consciousness for as long as we’ve had stories. For those who find themselves unmoored, rejected or displaced from or within a physical home, the idea of finding a home in art has become a comforting, as well as radical, one.

For Nigerian poet Efe Paul Azino who is heading up the event, the concept of Finding Home is rooted in the complicated relationship he has to his physical home of Lagos. “I was born here,” Azino explains. “It is home and it is not. This is because there are subtle political realities that limit how much claim I can lay to the city. I can’t easily run for a municipal position or a legislative seat, for example, as I will be swiftly reminded of my ethnic background. I come from an ethnic minority in the Niger Delta. But I have never been to the village of my fathers, cannot speak the language, weirdly shielded from my roots by the colonial anxieties of my parents which demonised the traditions and religion of their forebears. So, there is a sense in which I find myself not exactly belonging, fully, anywhere, even within the country of my birth. This is a common experience for most Nigerians of my generation.”

Home, for Azino, has taken root in words and in his art. “Where home in a geographical sense might elude me, a life of the mind enables me to find my place in poems, and in the many ways poetry connects me to the universality of the human experience, and creates opportunities for me, and my work, to be welcome almost anywhere in the world.”

Scotland-based poet-performer Hannah Lavery, another contributor, met Azino at StAnza Poetry Festival and discovered that their work shared similar themes. “The powerful thing for me was that through our work, and sharing the stage together, we found our poetry was creating a dialogue between us, one that explored borders, racism, migration and the idea of home,” Lavery explains. “But I am wary about putting art forward as the answer as artists are not separate from the world they live in. Their work reflects the world; the putting up of a mirror can be a force for change, but artists have to also be aware of their own privilege and prejudices. We are not immune to the divides and not free from furthering them too.”

Nigerian spoken word artist and MC, Yomi Sode, agrees that storytellers have powerful tools at their disposal. “Poetry could bridge the gap or rattle the floor that we stand on – or do both simultaneously,” he says. “Some people are not as ready to hear, not as ready to hold a mirror to themselves. But they can do so while sitting in audiences, they can read some truths in the comforts of their homes and ponder on change. What it looks like and what it takes to build bridges.”

While the ideas at the heart of Finding Home – borders, migration and displacement – feel timely, Azino emphasises that these subjects are old concerns as well as contemporary ones. “Right-wing populism is near global, clean ideological divides are locking us up in right- and left-leaning echo chambers globally, fake news is everywhere, undermining even the most formidable democracies. So yes, the issues facing poets and artists everywhere today are quite similar and the battlefield is an old one, and our duties, in certain respects, have always been the same – to conjure the language that points us to our common impulses, good and bad, to insist on mutual respect and equality on all fronts, and more than ever today, to restore, in the hearts of our readers and listeners, the ebbing belief in truth and facts.”

While it feels like nation borders and walls are becoming increasingly hostile and unyielding, poetry shares a fluidity in its language with migration’s ability to break down boundaries. “In different ways they both poke at the superficiality of borders and boundaries,” says Azino about the similarities between poetry and migration. “Movement, whatever the factors that necessitate it, is essential to human existence and the viability of it, just as fluidity is essential to the art. But where bodies are restricted by fear-induced practicalities, poetry, as art, can move unrestricted in the realm of ideas, and at its most effective, can confront the fears that underpin othering and the political restriction of bodies.”

This ability for language and art to cross borders has been a result of technological advances, as well as globalisation. Many modern spoken word poets have become YouTube hits while Instapoet has developed as a genre in itself. Poetry, maybe more than any other literary genre, has the ability to be shared instantaneously and its recent accessibility stands as a leap away from traditional poetry’s reputation as impenetrable.

“There is certainly more engagement with poetry, and poets no longer have to wait for ‘permission’," says Lavery. “I think this has been important to poets who have often been marginalised, ignored and restrained by the elite, those appointed ‘gatekeepers’. This revolution in delivery has introduced more diverse voices and this can only be a good thing.”

Azino agrees that poetry’s ability to adapt to the internet and social media is a positive thing but has noted the criticism from some people within poetry’s circles over quality. “The fixation has been on how much this has lowered the barrier of entry, so to speak, and allowed for the existence of what might be considered as bad poems, with less regard for how technology has and is bringing poetry to wider and newer audiences, without diminishing the existing publishing structures that serve us poems that have benefited from more critical appraisal. I think accessibility has always been a bit of a tricky issue with poetry, almost like the more people it reaches and that readily understand it undermines it in some way. However, there is no evidence, historically, that is the case.”

For Sode, it’s about finding a balance between more traditional forms of poetry and technological advances. “While I’m like ‘get with the times,’ I am also like ‘purchase some poetry books.’ Social media is a stomach that is constantly growling. The attention, while amazing, can also be fast food. The books never go though; they remain, awaiting one’s full attention.”

While Finding Home is an event around finding commonality amongst artists, Lavery emphasises that the most important thing the poets have in common is, ironically enough, their differences. “I think the different perspectives, places, and positions of privilege that we experience these issues through will be really enlightening and challenging. The coming together of these voices has the potential to be very important especially in those points of difference as well of course, in those points of connection.”

Azino hopes Finding Home will build bridges through art sorely needed at this time. “The core objective of Finding Home is to stretch language to build bridges where political expediency has erected walls,” he concludes. “We have to believe that poetry and art in general has the capacity to do this, and that poets can be legislators of the world, perhaps not in sweeping political sense of it, but in their ability to urge, demand even, a second look, a different way of seeing, to force a conversation.”

Finding Home, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Spiegeltent, Charlotte Square Gardens, Thu 22 Aug, 9pm, free and unticketed