Spine 2024 AiRs

Eileen is part of SPINE Festival 2024, along with an incredible team of poets they’ll be leading workshops and arts activities for children in Libraries and schools across London this Spring.

Describe yourself in 3 words…

Nerdy, introverted, auntie.

What inspires you?

The community of Black British poets, writers and creatives that came before my generation. Like Theresa Lola, Inua Ellams, Yomi Sode, to name a few. It’s so inspiring to see them achieving such amazing things with their careers and also how they show up and support each other. 

Tell us about your worst ever gig?

It was not a gig, but a few years ao, I signed up for an open mic night. I was terrified to perform and when my name was called out, I was so nervous. I got on the stage and read my poem but I have a feeling that barely anyone heard me, mainly because I naturally have a soft voice but also when I’m nervous, I get quieter. 

What’s your number one poetry pet peeve?

I don’t think I have a poetry pet peeve but I do find poetry that relies heavily on cliches a little frustrating. Mainly because I think it stops me imagining the world/emotions that are being built in the poem. But I have read poems that creatively play with cliche phrases that I love!

Whose words do you love at the moment?

I was recently gifted Amy Acre’s Mothersong which is such a beautiful and honest exploration of motherhood. In every poem I’ve read, there have been lines and stanzas that have changed the way I see the world and what I perceive being a mother to be.

Also Danez Smith! I get so excited reading his poems and particularly how it looks on the page. 

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I would tell my younger self not to limit my ambitions. My dreams are never too big for me to achieve. 

How do you relate to the themes of magic & imagination?

I grew up in Ghana with my grandparents and our TV barely worked. But when it did, it was usually Nollywood movies that were famous for all the terrible special effects and the use of black magic. Through watching them, I learnt to let my imagination fly when it comes to storytelling and I remember writing crazy stories based on those movies.

I also find the concept of magic very interesting because I am such a gullible person. I think it is because I want to believe in the wonder and the surprise but I know that there is a very logical explanation to a lot of the tricks. But in literature, magic is so powerful because unless it’s a detective novel, you don’t need to explain the logic behind magic.

What do you enjoy most about working with children, families and libraries?

I love working with children because they are just so naturally creative and incredibly funny. I’m not a naturally funny person so working with them means I laugh a lot and also get to bring out that side of me. Libraries are such accommodating spaces and so I’m excited to be working there and creating workshops that can highlight how truly magical libraries are. 

If you could travel anywhere in space and time, where would you go?

I would go back to just before the moon landing and somehow take Neil Armstrong’s spot as the first man on the moon. I’m not sure what my first words would be just yet. 

An image of poet Eileen Gbagbo. She smiles at the camera and has short black hair. She wears a black dress and white shirt.

About Eileen Gbagbo

Eileen is a spoken word artist and playwright based in London. Her poetry often explores themes of justice, identity, climate change and migration. She was part of the Apples and Snakes 2022 Writers Room and Highly Commended in the 2015 Slambassadors competition and has performed at various shows like Jawdance and institutions including the Saatchi Gallery, the V&A and The Albany as part of Apples and Snakes theatre show – Cece’s Speakeasy.

She is a 2024 SPINE festival facilitator and was part of Joseph Coehlo’s ‘Diversifying Children’s Literature’ programme.

Insta: @afua.gbagbo

Tiktok: @afuagbagbo