Victoria-Anne Bulley is a British-born Ghanaian poet and writer. She is a member of Barbican Young Poets, and recently completed an MA in Postcolonial Studies at SOAS. In 2015, she was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Arts to respond to works by American artist Richard Diebenkorn. That year she was also long-listed for the role of Young Poet Laureate for London. She was also one of six young producers selected by The Poetry Society and the Southbank Centre to curate the annual celebratory events of National Poetry Day Live. Presently an assistant facilitator for the Barbican Junior Poets programme, she is also developing a poetry, translation and film project exploring the interplay of language and generational and cultural distance between diasporic African poets and their elders. She is also currently at work on the manuscript of her debut pamphlet for release by flipped eye press.
Geosi Gyasi: I understand that your name, Naa Adukwei, is a Ga given name though you’re a London-based poet and writer. My question is, are you a Ghanaian?
Victoria-Anne Bulley: This is a question that has layers and dimensions to it, but yes, I do see myself as Ghanaian. It’s not a default, passive descriptor that I use simply because I have two Ghanaian parents, though. There is a very deliberate willingness to it, in which I want to openly claim my heritage.
‘British-born Ghanaian’ is a term I use a lot. Regardless of my feelings about Britishness, which are another matter, I grew up and was born here, and this is also a reality of who I am.
Geosi Gyasi: Did you have any clue as a child about who a writer was and did you know that you would one day become one?
Victoria-Anne Bulley: I had the idea that people could be writers, and I really enjoyed reading and telling stories. I still have a recording of myself from when I was three, making narratives up. Still, for some reason, I never deeply considered becoming a writer – at least not a creative one. I’m not sure why, but I do think this had to do with representation – I didn’t see any black female writers (or read any, seriously) until I was much older. Perhaps if I had, a seed might have been planted in my head from much earlier on.
Geosi Gyasi: As a child, what was the main medium of language spoken at home and how has it impacted your life as a writer?
Victoria-Anne Bulley: Growing up – and still, today – I heard Ga when it was spoken between my parents. They didn’t speak Ga to us, however, but I know they might have done things differently in retrospect. As a writer, words are something like tools or currency, and language contains whole world views within it. This is why a current focus of mine is not only to learn but to write what little of it that I do know. This is very important to me. Another response is that I am currently producing Mother Tongues, a poetry, film and translation project that will attempt to address this in collaboration with other African poets, and encourage us to use these languages as much as we can.
Geosi Gyasi: You are on the shortlist of the 2016 Brunel University African Poetry Prize. How did you first hear about the prize and what prompted you to send in your poetry for this year’s prize?
Victoria-Anne Bulley: I first heard about the prize about 18 months ago. I read the poems by the applicants and was blown away – but at that time, applying seemed like a mile away. Although I did have a body of work, much of what I eventually submitted was more recent writing that came as a result of a lot of workshops, poetry community and mentoring (e.g. through Apples and Snakes’ The Writing Room, and the Barbican Young Poets). These three things are really what brought me to the point of putting in a submission.
Geosi Gyasi: Did you know that you would end up in this year’s shortlist at the time of writing and submitting your poetry?
Victoria-Anne Bulley: No. I had no idea at all. I only saw it as my job to submit. I am really happy to be shortlisted, and I am decently happy with what I submitted. But I do still feel lucky in some way. Elizabeth Gilbert, an American writer, has a quote that advises creatives to accept the point at which their work is ‘good enough’, as opposed to striving for perfection. You put in work, yes, but then you send it forth and that’s you done, you let go: next thing’s next. Thinking like this has liberated me a lot and though it can’t make you invincible to disappointment, it does sound like good practice. It’s been key to learning to see success predominantly as the work and study I put in, and not just the recognition.
Geosi Gyasi: One of your shortlisted poems is, “why can’t a K be beautiful and magick”. Could you tell me why you chose to rely on the letter K to bring out the beauty of the poem?
Victoria-Anne Bulley: I chose the K out of familiarity with the fact that the letter C is redundant in a lot of non-European languages. I also chose it because it’s not a letter I’ve really considered as beautiful, yet it still has a strong sound but equally also is sometimes rendered mute. I knew that when it shows up instead of or alongside a ‘C’ – such as in ‘Africa’, or ‘magick’ – there is a vast, ideological context involved that sits outside of general, hegemonic norms. So, ultimately, the K seemed to me a very ideal letter upon which to foist some of my most pressing feelings about many issues of power and erasure, particularly about the black/African experience, past and present.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you name just one writer who has had a major influence on your writing career?
Victoria-Anne Bulley: James Baldwin. I can’t narrow it down, poetry-wise. But nonetheless, I am continually inspired by Baldwin’s ability to write with love, anger, beauty, grace, humour, and irony all at once. His dedication to truth, also.
Geosi Gyasi: In another poem, “Peach Crayon”, there’s a strong emphasis on ‘kids’, which occupied the speaker’s mind even as she taught about leaving for this imaginary man. Could you comment on the second stanza below:
“I was thinking of the kids –
about the kids
of the kids.”
Victoria-Anne Bulley: I often think about the future in terms of children; what the children of the future – or even just my nephews – are set to face. I was thinking about how heavy it feels to know that our actions and choices, right now, in all aspects of life, have the potential to carry enormous generational weight, and how much that worries me sometimes.
Geosi Gyasi: Besides writing, what do you do for a living?
Victoria-Anne Bulley: At the moment I’m juggling a few things, working things out. I’m a trainee facilitator on the Barbican Junior Poets programme, working with students from four East London secondary schools. I also work part time for a small social enterprise called Little Bee Community, founded by my sister. This has really helped me to scrape by, post-studies. I’m now aiming to spend more time working as a creative facilitator and producer, in addition to writing and performing.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you hopeful of winning the 2016 Brunel University African Poetry Prize?
Victoria-Anne Bulley: It would be a wonderful, beautiful thing to win. Nonetheless, as I said, you do your best, you send it out, and you let go. The other poets on the shortlist are brilliant, and I’m just happy to be in there too.
Visit the BUAPP website to read some of Victoria-Anne Bulley poems.
Note: BUAPP stands for ‘Brunel University African Poetry Prize’
The winner of the 2016 BUAPP will be announced on May 11, 2016.