As Siana embarks on her latest project, ‘Elephant’ which is her first published book of her poetry collection, I took the opportunity with both hands to have a conversation with a beautiful and daring mind.
What inspired you to write Elephant?
I was putting ‘Elephant’ together long before I even realised. The oldest poem in there is called ‘The Stranger,’ which I wrote in 2013 after a difficult encounter with someone from my former life. That encounter caused me a lot of pain – the type of pain I did not know how to verbalise and process. It was a destructive pain, so I countered it by creating something. I put pen to paper, and a river of blood poured from me. I wrote and performed it, and I felt better. So rather than inspiration, this book was born from the need to feel better. I had and still have a lot on my mind, in my chest, in my bones, and I needed to put some of it out into the world because through starting and continuing difficult conversations, we can begin the long journey to finding answers. I wanted to address the elephant in the room and explore difficult and very personal subjects candidly from migration to domestic violence, racism, love, death, fatherlessness, hostile cities, gentrification, and existing as the ‘Other’. The 37 poems that make up ‘Elephant’ take the reader on a journey. The personal is indeed political.
Is this your first published book? How do you feel?
‘Elephant’ is my debut collection of poetry. My poetry has been published in art magazines, and literary journals in the past and my essays and journalistic work can be found in mainstream and alternative media outlets, but this book is my first child. I am a combination of excited and nervous, but it feels good to share what I’ve been working on over the last two to three years. I look forward to the small or great impact this addition to the Black British literary world might make. I hope it heals and empowers somebody out there.
What has the journey been like so far, from the idea stage, to print and then launch?
I published the book via my indie publishing company, Haus of Liberated Reading. We recently soft launched online, and ‘Elephant’ is the first book from the Haus, but I’m already working on the next projects to come. I want us to give a platform to brave, bold, radical, and uninhibited voices. It’s been a long and eye-opening process, but I was determined not to wait for the gatekeepers of the publishing world to give me ‘permission’ to put my work out there. My voice matters. Marginalised voices matter. Black women’s voices matter. Black British women’s voices matter.
When did you realise you have a knack for writing and expressing your thoughts?
I was the kid at school who loved to read and write stories. For as long as I can remember I have loved writing. I was even published in school and regional anthologies when I was a kid – I discovered some of these while clearing out my room last year and I laughed so much. I’m certain the poems in ‘Elephant’ are an improvement on those! But I’m one of those people who, although passionate and outspoken about certain things, I simply cannot discuss matters of the heart and very personal stuff. I struggle with that, so writing is the only way I can share that part of myself.
Did you go through any challenging moments putting this book together?
The editing process was very tough. It’s hard to edit work you’ve seen and read thousands of times, work that you wear like a second skin, work that you have lived in and lived with for so long. I was lucky enough to have a very encouraging mentor and editor throughout the process, so that helped me when things got intense. I also had moments where I debated how personal and open I should be, especially when choosing which poems made it into the book. The very first poem is a short piece in Krio (Sierra Leonean creole) essentially saying ‘Child, do not tell them your business!’
That is the voice of our parents, aunties, uncles, and ancestors.
What kind of impact do you hope to achieve with Elephant?
My dream would be for ‘Elephant’ to be included in schools national curriculum. I spent my entire school life reading poetry and literature that rarely represented stories like mine. I have enormous respect for ‘the classics’, but it shouldn’t be the case that the only time we hear black and brown voices is when reading ‘special anthologies.’ History and English Literature curricula across the country are whitewashed. I’d love to one day hear that people are studying my work at GCSE and A-Level and are drawing out their meanings from it.
Aside from that, I hope this collection adds to the ongoing conversations Black British people are having right now. I hope it encourages future discussions. This collection is quintessentially Black and British. I’m all about confronting the ‘elephant in the room’ because there are so many taboos and uncomfortable subjects we need to discuss and face up to if we are going to overcome them. Although these poems came from a personal place, they are a commentary on our society and the broad experiences of people like me, people like your parents, grandparents, and neighbours – ordinary people with sometimes extraordinary stories of survival and resilience.
For the people who read elephant, what is one thing you would want them to get out of it?
I’d like all who read ‘Elephant’ to feel brave afterwards. I’d like them to feel naked and uncomfortable but also bold and courageous. By confronting the elephant in the room and dealing with all the things you fear and engaging with the things you don’t understand, you can only come out of that experience fearless. I hope.
Siana Bangura will be launching ‘Elephant’ at Hackney Attic on Friday 20th May. Click hTickets can be booked here: https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Hackney_Picturehouse/film/siana-bangura-elephant-book-launch
Subject – Siana Bangura, poet and writer