Introducing RARI: A Pan-African Community for Emerging Poets

The Rari Free Poetry Workshop is currently one of my most anticipated literary workshops — and I’m not even attending. Rari is a new pan-African community for emerging poets. So if you’re an emerging poet, this is a wonderful opportunity.

Naturally, before trusting a group with your growth as a poet, it’s worth hearing directly from them. I spoke with Rari’s founder and my friend, Esther Edoho, who’s a poet (I interviewed her here). We discussed the birth of this project, the skilled, talented people on her team, Rari’s future, and the Rari free poetry workshop — among other things.


Rari Free Poetry Workshop

Hi Esther! It’s so exciting to see the growth of this literary community you’ve built to support burgeoning African poets. What inspired you to start Rari, and why the name “Rari”?

Hey Afoma, thank you! It is such an exciting project. It keeps my head buzzing. I started Rari because I think there could be more support for African Poets. There are a lot of initiatives geared towards fiction/non-fiction writers, but not so much poets.

I have also seen firsthand the immense growth that can occur when a person is in a community of people that understand one’s work and can offer constructive feedback. I have gotten so much better as a poet because of my little community of writers (aka writer baes, ha) and I thought it would be amazing to foster this community on a larger scale.

About the name “Rari,” it is from the word Literary. When people ask where the name comes from, I always sense that they expect something with more depth — sorry to disappoint. Finding a name was a little difficult, but once my friend Tiwa suggested “Rari,” I loved it. It sounds a bit African too, which is a bonus. I think it is perfect.

I started Rari because I think there could be more support for African Poets. There are a lot of initiatives geared towards fiction/non-fiction writers, but not so much poets. – @missedoho Click To Tweet

What is the ultimate goal for you? What do you hope Rari becomes in the future? Will it continue to be virtual or do you aim to have in-person workshops eventually?

The ultimate goal for me is really to build a strong community of African poets and to promote the underrepresented African voices in the global poetry landscape. I honestly have so many dreams for Rari. Every day, I wake up with new ideas and things I think we could achieve. But I’m taking it slow and focusing on our first project which is the online workshop.

I definitely see the Rari workshop becoming an in-person workshop hosted in different African countries (and possibly other continents). I think it would be an incredible opportunity to really connect with other poets and write great poems.

We are also considering starting a Rari literary journal or publishing chapbooks after each workshop (we are still deciding which medium would work best). We want to share some of the best poems from our workshop with the world.

The ultimate goal for me is really to build a strong community of African poets and to promote the underrepresented African voices in the global poetry landscape. Click To Tweet

Rari is planning its first ever poetry writing workshop — and it’s FREE. Why was it important to you that these workshops be free? Do you think they’ll always be free — is that the plan? Who is your ideal Rari candidate?

When I think of who might need Rari, I picture my college self who had just realized she had a lot to say and had a unique style of poetry that sometimes felt not good enough (even though it absolutely was). I think of her and her limited finances and I know she would have loved an opportunity like Rari and it would have sucked if she had to pay for it. I just don’t want money to be a reason why some talented writers cannot participate.

As far as I can tell right now, Rari workshops will always be free. Even when we move to an in-person workshop, I hope it will be an all expense paid retreat for budding poets. Obviously, this means we will need sponsors in the future and I hope that when the time comes, we will be able to make that happen.

My ideal Rari candidate is any poet of African descent who wants to refine their craft, values community and is able to give and receive constructive feedback. 

I just don’t want money to be a reason why some talented writers cannot participate. As far as I can tell right now, Rari workshops will always be free. – @missedoho on Rari. Click To Tweet

What books have you read and enjoyed recently?

I’m currently reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming and loving it. I have such a massive crush on her and Barack (Yes, I am now on a first name basis with them).

Can you tell us a bit about the process of building your experienced team of workshop facilitators? Why did you choose each of these writers? And can we meet them?

It was important for me to find talented writers who have a unique voice and style.  I don’t want the workshop to be filled with people who like the same kind of poetry or have the same style. There is real beauty in diversity and in selecting participants for the workshop, our individuality will shine through. I’m really looking forward to that.

The Team

The first person I reached out to was Tiwalade. She is my go-to poetry person and I thought she would appreciate the idea and would want to be a part of it. Also, Tiwa had hosted a “Litmas writing challenge” December last year. That was an excellent opportunity to push myself to write. I knew she was definitely one person I wanted to have on my team. It doesn’t hurt that her poems are stunning. She is able to write about deep things with such clarity. Her poems teach, question, and provide a fresh perspective. It was a no-brainer.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Tomi’s work. He approaches poetry with a lightheartedness and humour that I find endearing and rare. His play on words are my favourite thing. You never know where he’s going to take you. So, of course, when I had to pick facilitators, I wanted someone with the unique style he possesses. I think participants will learn a thing or two from him.

Have you read Adorah’s prose? It is delicious. It pulls you and doesn’t let go until you reach the end. Adorah is more a fiction writer but her prose poems are so dreamy and will tug at your heartstrings. She has an absolute knack for it and prose poems are increasingly becoming a thing. She will be able to provide support in that area.

I met Tolu through Tiwa’s Litmas writing challenge and was very impressed by his work. Tolu’s work is so refined. I really appreciate the thought and time he puts into his craft. When you read Tolu’s work, you know right away that he is not your average poet. He is in a class of his own.

As you can tell, I’m a fan of my team 🙂

For the team: what about joining Rari appealed to you personally? What do you hope to help poets accomplish/gain from the workshop?

Adorah: I was drawn to the idea of community. A safe haven for people who look like me, who share a common love for poetry, and whose experiences are as familiar as they are foreign. I was drawn to the notion of a poetic homecoming of sorts.

Tiwa: I loved the idea of helping to establish something that would support poets like myself. The gap in community was so obvious for me, that saying yes was easy.

Tomi: By joining Rari, I’m able to join a community that caters to an under-served group. I hope Rari enriches the poets — their skills and confidence — and fosters the importance of community during and beyond the workshop.

Tolu: I had participated in a writing challenge moderated by Tiwalade in December 2018. Writing through the period before and during the holidays, at the risk of sounding too dramatic, helped me survive December. It also helped me complete my full-length manuscript, which was accepted for publication a few short months after. The generous feedback and lively conversations we enjoyed around poetry ensured that, when Tiwalade offered me to opportunity to join Rari and hang out more with these awesome people, and nurture African poetry, the only answer I could have had was an enthusiastic yes. Regarding what I would like to help participants achieve, if I have learned anything in my 17 years of writing poetry, learning by more error than trial, I would like to pass these lessons on to ease the paths of any who need them.

Who are some of your favorite poets to read over at Rari?

Adorah: Warsan Shire and all the members of the Rari team. 

Tomi: Sharon Olds, Amiri Baraka.

Esther: Yrsa Daley-Ward, Warsan Shire, Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, TJ Dema, Titilope Sonuga, Maggie Smith and, of course, the Rari team.

Tolu: Esiaba Irobi, Kamau Brathwaite, Solmaz Sharif, Adrian Matejka, Safiya Sinclair.

Tiwalade: Safia Ehillo, Tracy K Smith.

It was important for me to find talented writers who have a unique voice and style. I don't want the workshop to be filled with people who like the same kind of poetry or have the same style. Click To Tweet

See photos of the team and learn more about them here.

Back to you, Esther, is there anything you wish I’d asked in this interview?

I wish you’d asked about our growing Instagram page. We are currently building a community on Instagram @rari.ca, where we share writing prompts, quotes, and poems to keep you inspired. Our prompts are designed to make you write about diverse emotions and things. We’ve gotten such amazing feedback so far and I’ve been very encouraged by the amount of engagement we’ve been getting.

Rari Free Poetry Workshop

Apply to the Rari Free Poetry Workshop for Emerging African Poets

Rari Free Poetry Workshop

Deadline to apply: Oct 31, 2019

Length of workshop: 6 weeks

Dates: Jan 12, 2020 – Feb 22, 2020

To be considered for this workshop you must:

  • Be of African descent
  • Submit 3-5 poems. Each poem should not exceed one page.
  • Write a 250-word essay on either of the following:

Your approach to poetry OR  Your favourite poem

Submit profile via the google form on the website by October 31, 2019, at 00.00 am GMT.

Find more information on Rari’s website.

Still Undecided? Here’s a Peek at the Rari Free Poetry Workshop Curriculum

Rari Free Poetry Workshop - poetry workshop curriculum

If I was an African poet, I’d be applying for sure! So, please spread the word about this wonderful opportunity to any African poets you know.

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