There’s one sweet name that readily comes to mind at every mention of Poetry in today’s evolving literary world. The name even seeps through the nerdy confines of the industry to the contemporary world of groovy people – oldies, millennials, even zoomers and the alpha generation, who definitely can’t relate to orthodox Shakespearean literature.
It’s the name of a very handsome African poet who has brought life, entertainment, storytelling, excitement, joy, laughter, innovation and all kinds of goodies into this otherwise rather bureaucratic and boring branch of literature – to the extent that his creativity is globally acclaimed by people who naturally hate poetry.
Moreover, he commands a huge followership of passionate and voracious readers of his works.
So what’s the secret code? What’s the magic wand? Is it his great looks and six packs? Well, so I thought until I read his books “Your Father Walks Like a Crab” and “I Laugh at these Skinny Girls”. Tolu Akinyemi aka Poetolu’s is an adept and innovative writer indeed!
So, it’s such an honour to present to you this very interesting interview. Let’s explore the very exciting world of award winning poet and author, Tolu Akinyemi aka. Poetolu.
My poetry has a clear agenda, which is to tell the usually untold the stories of everyday experiences (of what it means to be African, either living on or outside the continent) in a way that is simple, witty, poignant and relatable, while providing an alternative narrative about Africa and African writing.
Funmi: Let’s meet the amazing Poetolu
Poetolu: My Name is Tolu Akinyemi. I was born in Akure, Ondo, State Nigeria, where I spent almost all of my childhood. I studied Architecture at The Federal University of Technology, Akure, before I moved to the United Kingdom in 2010.
Funmi: What Inspired You to Be A Poet?
Poetolu: The root cause of this journey is boredom. Growing up, I was such a voracious reader out of boredom. I grew up in a house filled with books and in a state where TV stations didn’t open until 4pm in the evening and when they did, power supply might be unavailable. So the only thing left to do is grab a book. Eventually, I began to find books very fascinating and I started to really enjoy reading and this later led to me trying my hands on writing short stories and bits of poetry. I had to include that preamble because every writer is first a reader. In 2010, I met a group of strangers on Facebook who loved poetry, and we created a group where we shared the poems we wrote. Around that time, I also began to buy and read more books of poetry. I think that was where the major motivation to invest in that form of writing began.
… be consistent… Doing otherwise would be like having a popular TV show that starts a new season, yet nobody knows what time and day of the week or month each episode will be aired.
Funmi: Interesting. So, when did you start doing poetry professionally, and when did you become Poetolu officially?
Poetolu: I officially started taking my poetry writing serious around 2010 through the platform I already mentioned. I didn’t adopt the name ‘Poetolu’ until 2012 when I joined Instagram.
Funmi: What separates you from other poets, that is, what is different about your poetry?
Poetolu: Two things, perhaps. My poetry has a clear agenda, which is to tell the usually untold ordinary stories of everyday experiences (of what it means to be African, either living on or outside the continent) in a way that is simple, witty, poignant and relatable, while providing an alternative narrative about Africa and African writing. (For a long time. African writing had become one-dimensional, focusing only on the sensational social, political and economic problems, which is not wrong; but when they are the only things being written about, they present an incomplete African story).
The second reason is that my poetry doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes it come across like a familiar friend to a lot of readers.
For a long time. African writing had become one-dimensional, focusing only on the sensational social, political and economic problems; which is not wrong; but when they are the only things being written about, they present an incomplete African story.
Funmi: Awesome. You have an awesome social media presence and we particularly love you Instagram page; the level of engagement is very remarkable. So, how do you grow your followers? Any strategy, or do people just follow you naturally?
Poetolu: Writing is one thing and growing a social media audience is a different ball game. And after a while, I realised that there are strategies to achieving this. Here are a few things that help me in growing my social media audience.
1. Content. It’s important to have a quality offering by making great content. Most people come on a social media platform to consume, not give. So you can’t grow an audience if you don’t have something interesting to offer, especially when your audience is spoiled for choice.
2. Presentation. It is important to present your content decently/ professionally. Presentation is very important because often, social media users will pick poor content well-presented over good content poorly served. For my social media platforms, I think it helps that I have a design background, so my posts are always done in nice graphics.
… my poetry doesn’t take itself too seriously…
3. Consistency. It’s important to be consistent with your offering on social media, It’s nice to make posts everyday if you can, but the crucial thing to do is be consistent with whatever frequency you have chosen. Doing otherwise would be like having a popular TV show that starts a new season, yet nobody knows what time and day of the week or month each episode will be aired. Such a show will become obscure very quickly.
4. Community not Audience. A common mistake people who have things to offer on social media make is that they try to grow an audience and not a community. One is usually a one-way street while the other encourages engagement, which is good for social media growth. You grow an audience when all you do is just push out information or advertisements at them, but you build a community when your contents are designed to encourage engagement. For example, I know a lot of people follow me because they like my poetry. I have written three books so far, and I would want them to buy the books, yet I rarely advertise my books on my social media platforms. I post a lot of my poetry on my page and this gives my audience the time to fall in love with my work, which makes it easier for them to make a decision to buy the book when they see a post about it.
Funmi: Community not audience… Now we know the secret. Thanks a bunch. Now, tell us three things that excite you…
Poetolu: Gadgets, healthy hair on a woman, Airport’s.
Funmi: Hmmm… Now we can imagine what Chioma’s hair must look like (😁) . What advice did you find useful as a poet and writer, and what’s the source?
Presentation is very important because often, social media users will pick poor content well-presented over good content poorly served.
Poetolu: A friend from my Facebook group that I talked about earlier said these simple words to me in 2010; “Poetry is about communication”. And what he was saying was that poetry is like a message and the poet is a mere courier. The object of any message is successful delivery. The fanciful words, expressions, and pedantry a message is encased in are worthless if the message is lost. And if the message is lost, the messenger (poet) has failed. And if the messenger fails, the message is in vain.
Funmi: Awesome. So, do you write full time?
Poetolu: No I don’t and I doubt if I ever will. Writing is just one of the few things I’m passionate about. Until last year, I worked in a design firm, before I left to become a full-time entrepreneur.
Funmi: Great. Tell us about your works and how to get them; any ongoing projects, forthcoming events?
The fanciful words, expressions, and pedantry a message is encased in are worthless if the message is lost.
I have written three collections of poetry so far “Your Father Walks like a Crab”, “I Laugh at These Skinny Girls” and “Funny Men Cannot Be Trusted”. All available in bookshops in Nigeria, Konga, Jumia, Okadabooks, Barnes and Noble, Kindle and on Amazon.
I’m currently working on an African folkstory “Bobolaya The Land of Liars”. We are hoping it will be available middle of next year.
Funmi: It’s been a very educative chat today. Thanks Poetolu . Final Words?
Poetolu: Everybody has a story to tell. Don’t be afraid to share your stories. Unless you take a lot of selfies, it’s the other very easy way to immortalise yourself.
“Your Father Walks like a Crab”, “I Laugh at These Skinny Girls” and “Funny Men Cannot Be Trusted” are available in bookshops in Nigeria, Konga, Jumia, Okadabooks, Barnes and Noble, Kindle and on Amazon.