Singapore Writers Festival

Finding hope and healing in poetry

British-Nigerian poet Theresa Lola is the Young People's Laureate for London.
British-Nigerian poet Theresa Lola is the Young People's Laureate for London. PHOTO: HAYLEY MADDEN

Poet Theresa Lola wants to help youth start conversations about mental health

Social media has widened the reach of poetry, says British-Nigerian poet Theresa Lola. In the same way, it can be used to raise awareness of mental health.

The 25-year-old is the Young People's Laureate for London, a post created by British writer development agency Spread the Word and selected by a panel of arts organisations and poets.

Her role is to host programmes to nourish a culture of poetry among youth.

Lola is among writers from around the world speaking at the Singapore Writers Festival, which for the first time will have a student-curated Youth Fringe aimed at young people.

"Mental health is a cause dear to my heart, given that it is a crisis among young people today," she says in an e-mail interview.

"I was inspired by the courage of other young people who are using social media as a way to share their ideas, stories and journeys to inspire other young people."

The poet has explored mental-health issues in her work, including her debut poetry collection In Search Of Equilibrium, which follows a girl grieving her grandfather's death from Alzheimer's.

  • BOOK IT/SWF BOOK CLUB: THERESA LOLA & JOLLIN TAN

    WHAT: Lola and Singaporean poet Tan discuss books such as Safia Elhillo’s The January Children and
    Anne Carson’s Red Doc> and Autobiography Of Red

    WHERE: Tribe, The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane

    WHEN: Sunday, 10am

    ADMISSION: Free


    BOOK IT/A EULOGY FOR DEATH

    WHAT: Theresa Lola, Danez Smith and David Wong talk about how they use language to deal with
    death, grieving and healing

    WHERE: Chamber, The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane

    WHEN: Sunday, 12.30pm

    ADMISSION: Festival pass, $25, or Youth Pass, $15, from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to
    www.sistic.com.sg). A valid student card must be presented upon collection of the Youth Pass

    INFO: For more information, go to singaporewritersfestival.com

As Young People's Laureate, she launched a social media campaign titled #MyMentalHealthJourney, which encourages young people to talk about mental health through poems on social media.

She has also written a short poetry film about anxiety and depression, Everything Feels Like Water, out last month in Britain on Channel 4's Random Acts short film series.

She jointly won last year's Brunel International African Poetry Prize and appeared this year in a special issue of British Vogue magazine guest-edited by the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle.

Lola will be performing at the festival's Epic Spoken Word Night, which has already sold out, as well as joining dialogues with other writers.

For her, the festival's theme, A Language Of Our Own, represents "the courage to take ownership of your stories and reclaim the politics of your language, whether it's traditional or creative".

"In some of my poems, I use the Yoruba language," says Lola, who was born in Nigeria and moved to London as a teenager.

"I find that important as certain words are better untranslated."

She returned to Nigeria last month with charity Save The Children to hold a poetry workshop for girls from conflict-ridden states.

Lola herself began writing when she was 13, after a school trip to a poetry festival.

 

If she could give a message to her younger self, it would be that being different is okay.

"I would tell her that no matter what she loses, her voice shouldn't be lost."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2019, with the headline 'Finding hope and healing in poetry'. Print Edition | Subscribe