In collaboration with StAnza Poetry Festival, which takes place 9–12 March, the Edwin Morgan Trust is funding residencies for two poets to attend and respond to this year’s festival and its theme WILD: forms of resistance. We caught up with JJ Fadaka, who has been selected for this year’s StAnza Poet in Residence Open Award.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work as a poet? What inspires you to write?
I am a writer and poet, I work day to day as a barista and also in a community space. I spend three quarters of my day speaking to people, having very expansive conversations that can rise from a simple ‘how are you?’ or comment on the weather. It’s amazing how often strangers will share a piece of themselves if they receive the same back. These connections feed into my poetry, I write about building a community, and what it is like to live alongside others. My writing is a lot about my search for relations(hips) with people and the world around me. 

I write when I want to continue these conversations, I’ll see the speech I heard earlier looking back at me on the page, but writing allows me to interrogate them further and try to find the influences behind my thoughts and feelings. This search for deeper meaning inspires me to write. 

You’re not only a writer but a workshop facilitator – in what ways does your work as a facilitator influence your creative practice? 
Workshops create a safe space to experiment and stretch your capabilities. You set boundaries and make a collective agreement to put your all into tackling a subject, learning and hopefully coming away inspired and matured. I like to create workshop exercises about the same things that influence my writing, love, feminism, nature, friendship etc. When I think of ways to engage with these topics with others, to invite them to input and challenge the group, I come away with inspiration to elicit the same feeling in someone reading my writing. Creating questions that stay long after the piece is over stirs something in people. I want both my workshops and writing to make people feel and move ambitiously.  

Image credit: JJ Fadaka

The theme for StAnza this year is WILD – forms of resistance. How do you hope to engage with or respond to ideas of wildness and resistance in the work you develop? 
During my residency, I will be exploring perceived ‘natural’ ways of being that are used as examples of humanity’s inability to own a sustainable, just future. Anger, resistance, and passion, I believe, can all be harnessed for good if we look to the examples of these in nature and, at the same time, accept looking after this world requires a spiritual and collective change in society. My work will focus on finding fulfilment and belonging in our relationship with each other and our surroundings, inspired by the conflict and mutualism in nature. I will also interrogate the prevailing Western approach to understanding nature and resistance, framing these as objects to be contained and controlled rather than equal partners in a changing world. Calling on indigenous ways of sharing knowledge, I will map out spaces of resistance unto a world fighting for its place. 

Are there particular aspects of Edwin Morgan’s work that you’re excited about exploring as part of your residency?
I have been excited to read Edwin Morgan’s interpretation of the poets he loved. Through his annotations and clippings, he kept a record of the words that inspired him, the phrases he chose to keep close to him, and what moved him to push boundaries in his writing. In Morgan’s own work, I have been inspired by his wit in bringing references and images together to redefine meanings set in stone and give us a picture of his creative mind and sense of humour. Observing how Morgan played with myth, current affairs, and storytelling has influenced my work greatly during my residency, teaching me to express my beliefs in a way that is engaging and creative but leaves room for the reader to play and challenge as well. 

Finally, as a Poet in Residence you’ll get access to all the wild and wonderful events at StAnza this year – who are you most looking forward to seeing perform?
I’m really excited about the festival this year. Seeing poetry sprawl over the city will be a dream. I’m most looking forward to the panel of poets (Nasim Rebecca Asl, Jess McKinney, Roshni Gallagher and Tim Tim Cheng) in conversation with Éadaoín Lynch on ‘Language, Distance and Lost Selves’. Our ability to wield language marks our place in the world, connects us to those who have said the same words before and gifts our stories to those who will come after us. I can’t wait to see how this group of fantastic thinkers discuss this topic.

JJ will be performing with Gabriela Milkova in the Byre Theatre on Sunday 12 March at 1pm – book your tickets here!

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