Eniola Adeniyi, known by her stage name omó pastor, is quite the force. Hailing from New York City, the Nigerian-American storyteller is a passionate photographer and beautiful poet who, per her bio: “uses these artistic mediums to heal and empower through authentic stories.”
And, that she does.
Her 2018 book, Gaze, is a phenomenal collection of art and poetry which speaks to, and about, the complexity of black masculinity. It includes omó pastor’s own stunning photography, and features poetry by: omó pastor, Amanda Furdge, Bird Nefertiti and Imani Jones. Though each poet has their own voice and story, the poems run together seamlessly.
The Poet’s List is happy to present our interview with omó pastor where we discuss her book, her process and her thoughts surrounding the concept of healing:
Prior to landing on poetry, what memories do you have of your relationship with literature and writing as a youth?
My favorite place to be as a youngin’ was the library. I spent a great amount of time in the library by default and for leisure. I remember my brother and I had to go to the library after school to wait to get picked up because after school programs were too expensive for both of us at one point in time. I remember reading to pass time which then fell into a habit. Saturdays, I’d escape to the library just because I wanted to.
My two greatest memories as a writer occurred around the ages of five to seven years old. I remember sitting in my 2nd grade class writing short stories about a kid named Ronnie. I had a whole series going. My second memory is when I told my daddy that I wanted to be a writer at age six, I believe.
When did you begin to claim the title of poet and how did you first connect with the poetry community?
Funny enough, I do not consider myself a poet. I feel like a fraud saying I am a poet. I first began writing poetry in 4th grade when I entered a poetry competition—that I did not win.
How personal is your poetry? Do you tend to write about things which directly affect you or do you also venture out?
My poetry heavily surrounds my own personal experiences as well as the experiences of others, that I have processed. Essentially, I write from my own lens and understanding of life—from both my own stories and that of those around me.
You mentioned in an interview with Womanly that you started focusing on the concept of black masculinity in 2017. Was there a catalyst or a significant event that prompted your interest in the topic?
I attended the Children’s Defense Fund Conference in July 2017 for the second time. I met a young brother named Eric, and we chopped it up for a couple of hours in this field with tall grass as the sun set. It was a beautiful moment, visually.
I spoke to him randomly about his life and experience. It was such an organic exchange. I fell in love with listening to the stories and experience told by him; and later on other Black men. That was the exact moment I decided to do this project.
Additionally, I fell in love with the pictures I took of him, and [I] said to myself: this is gonna be a thing!
The photography in this collection is divine. At what point did you decide to include visual art?
I love that word. Thank you for this compliment. Gaze was actually going to be a photobook, then I decided to add poems to add more context and layers to my imagery.
At what point in the project did you decide to include other poets? Did you find that the collaborative effort encouraged additional vulnerability?
I decided to include others when I decided to write a book. I felt [that] I did not have the capacity to produce enough pieces for the length of the project, so I figured having more voices [could] create a more robust experience for the reader.
It definitely encouraged vulnerability and inspiration because there was a common, yet distinct, thread between all writers.
Gaze starts with an impactful dedication which really sets the tone. The book is then divided into two parts: “dysfunction” and “reparations.” The poetry in Part 1 paints a picture of how brokenness begins in childhood and how it manifests in adulthood. Part 2 takes a healing turn, particularly after Bird Nefertiti’s piece, “dear daddy 2018.” What was your process for organizing the poems?
I worked with my homie, Kevin Anglade, who published the book. I honestly did not have a process besides reading and seeing what felt good in the order the poems read coupled with the images.
This collection strikes a beautiful balance between empathy and self-preservation. What advice do you have for those who tend to fall too much toward one end of the spectrum?
This is a great question. My only advice is to find and/or maintain a balance that’s unique to YOU as the individual; not according to what society says. Also, it may appear [that] one falls too much on one side of the spectrum, but it may honestly just be in their destiny to operate like that. That may be their balance.
When you reflect on the creation of Gaze, what lessons has it taught you about: poetry, black masculinity or healing?
The number one message Gaze gave me is that there is no UNIVERSAL Black manhood/experience. Everyone has unique experiences that may resemble each other, but still are different.
What tips do you have for a poet who is looking to publish their work?
Plan, plan and plan some more. Research how to execute afterward. Because, to “publish” is not necessarily the difficult part of the journey, in my opinion. Getting traction and promotion is the hardest part. So, I’d say: plan and strategize. Get a publicist! Research other people’s stories and journeys.
We know that you are Nigerian-American, born in New York City. Which aspect of your hometown has had the most significant impact on you?
I was born in Brooklyn. Grew up in Queens. And pretty much traveled all over NYC. Every week I was in the Bronx and every month I was in Staten Island. New York City was, and is, my playground. It taught me how to hustle and create at a level [that] no other city I have lived in taught me.
Which aspect of your Nigerian heritage has been most impactful?
My culture’s spirituality has been the most impactful. It has transformed the way I view life and spirituality. Learning that I am spiritual first, before human, has changed my thought process and how I operate on earth. This is a teaching in Yoruba spirituality.
What has been the greatest piece of advice you’ve received thus far (poetry related or other)?
To stop being too humble. I sleep on myself too much.
What is your ultimate goal—with regards to your poetry career or life in general?
To be one of the most profound and influential storytellers, globally. The ultimate goal is to be able to create narratives through different mediums and impact society in positive ways that also disrupt. My stories will bring me wealth and a self-sufficient life—on a big ‘ol farm.
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