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Exploring identity with Oluwaseun Matiluko

17 Jan 2018

Have you ever sat down and asked yourself the question: who am I? What qualities make me… me? Will I be remembered for doing this, saying that, acting a certain way? Have you ever put pen to paper, focused the mind, and dragged up every vulnerable thought in the hopes of getting something out there for people to pay attention to, something that they may not bear in mind when it’s communicated verbally? Have you ever taken the time to consider your identity?

Yes?… No?

It’s a concept we all struggle with at various points in our lifetime. Most don’t ever reach the point where they’re fully comfortable in their own skin, scared to have a voice and breech the status quo that society and so called social norms have burdened us with.

“Oluwaseun used these rejections to fuel her passion and self-published her first e-book at the age of 16”

Identity, the debut poetry anthology by Oluwaseun Matiluko, is a selection of poems delving into the mind of a true lover of the written word. From a very young age she was encouraged by her English teachers to develop her talent and showcase it to the masses, her work often being used as exemplars for the rest of the class. Oluwaseun describes a few years later, as she grew confident enough in her skill to begin considering poetry as a career, the feeling of “reaching out to a fair few publishers and, unfortunately, [receiving] a lot of rejections.” Not to be disheartened, Oluwaseun used these rejections to fuel her passion and self-published her first e-book at the age of 16. At the age of 21, and with over 100 poems to her name, she took the ultimate plunge and chose to share a handful of these personal moments. Gifting us small sound bites into her life, and allowing us to glimpse her journey to portray how her “identity had shifted from childhood [to] adolescence [to] womanhood”.

“this self-published selection of poems by Oluwaseun Matiluko is proof of the importance of determination, independent writing and publishing”

Through the words of Black Girl Smile, History Lesson and Diaspora, Matiluko eloquently expresses the juxtaposition of past and present prejudices; calling out our British schools for undermining the importance of black influences on history, and making concise and valid points on why the internal conflict between ‘Nigerian pride, and British disappointment’ is a very real and poignant concept when you’re debating with yourself on what the term “home” truly means. It’s a point that resonates across all age groups, genders and backgrounds in black society. She forces us to consider a question that I for one certainly thought of back in secondary school: with the exception of the most prominent, widely talked about figures e.g. Martin and Rosa, why are black people only ever mentioned in the context of slavery? Will black people forever be bogged down in the quagmire that is our enslaved past, or will we celebrated in the mainstream again, bringing into the light all those beacons of hidden historical greats that have been wrongly held under the boot of the British education system for too long?

Though Black cultural identity is the strongest theme throughout – in both context and writing ability, flashes of creative flair in regards to body confidence can be seen throughout the poems Loving The Skin You’re In, Fat, and Wash Day. Matiluko brings to the forefront the daily grievances women of colour struggle with on a regular basis from childhood, through puberty and well into adulthood. Her use of simple language and easily imaginable scenarios pull the reader into her world, relating her issues to their own truth with simple ease.

The third and final theme I sensed running through the verses of this anthology was that of emotional identity. Alone, Happy, Friendship, and Society is ‘too PC’ stand out as leaders in this category, with a sense of conflict abundant within each of them. Conflict in how to feel in regards to everyday life, conflict in how to react to emotions that some would deem unwarranted, conflict in how to respond to the ignorance of humankind and, above all, conflict in how to deal with emotions when no one around seems to agree or understand. This batch of poems may not be the most engaging of the bunch but they certainly hit home in terms of forging a connection between author and reader. Though not showcasing an overtly broad range of emotions, Matiluko touches on enough to have the reader feel like this could easily be an excerpt from their own collection of poems.

Overall, this self-published selection of poems by Oluwaseun Matiluko is proof of the importance of determination, independent writing and publishing. In the words of Oluwaseun: “Keep reading […] keep trying, keep reaching out to literary agents or publishers. Develop a list of publishers and/or agents that you would love to consider your work and start from there.”

Identity is certainly a collection to be enjoyed by multiple members of society, by women of colour looking to find themselves represented in writing, as well as those interested in taking a look into the unfiltered psyche of a British-Nigerian woman trying to sift through the social stigmas and abundant prejudices present in our modern world. For the author, this is a clear memo for her future as well as being a time capsule from her past. It’s a collection that serves as a reminder of what’s brought her down whilst simultaneously building her into the confidence she clearly possesses today – and a truly ambitious and brave tribute to her Identity.