The Octavia Poetry Collective was founded by poet Rachel Long to give women of colour an inclusive place to write, read and “eat cake”. Rachel Long is at the Edinburgh International Book Festival along with collective members Tania Nwachukwu and Hibaq Osmam to talk about the collective and to read poetry. The event is part of the Babble On series of events at the Book Festival. This strand highlights spoken word and looks to open up conversations about poetry in all its forms.
The event begins with Long giving a brief history of Octavia and introducing herself, Tania Nwachukwu and Hibaq Osman. We find out that the collective was born out of the frustration that poetry education in the UK had a narrow reading list and did not highlight or focus on poets from minority backgrounds. The collective features 17 poets and writers and meets monthly at the Southbank Centre in Central London.
Hibaq Osman is a former Roundhouse Slam Champion and recently released her debut collection A Silence You Can Carry on Out-Spoken Press. She beings with a poem entitled A Brief History which looks at family relationships and this theme is further explored with the readings of Packing Two Gold Necklaces and with the personal and beautifully delivered poem, Saying it Again So I Don’t Forget. Next to read is Rachel Long. Her poetry is sharp and engaging and readings of Open, Night Vigil, Apples and Red Hoover show the range and power of her words. The latter poem looking at dreams and how these can be interpreted in different ways.
As well as being a poet Tania Nwachukwu runs the photography archive Black in the Day. History and archives are very much part of her work, as are relationships and family. The poet states she comes from a large Nigerian family with cousins all over the world. This is expressed in the reading of the poem Grits. The piece was inspired by a near death experience in Atlanta and the excitement and emotion that Nwachukwu infuses into her poetry is joyful and elating to witness.
There is barely enough time for an audience Q&A after the reading, but there is time to highlight the importance of Octavia: “In the collective everyone is different and there is also space for everyone to be different. We show each other respect and there is no competition.”