No Fly on the WALL recently sat down with the wonderful actor, writer, and poet, Yrsa Daley-Ward to discuss Feminism, women of colour in literature, ‘coming out’ poems, and her latest offering, Bone.
No Fly on the WALL: What role do you feel art plays in social commentary, particularly poetry and spoken word, which have grown in popularity of late?
Yrsa Daley-Ward: Art (in whatever form) has always been a powerful tool to talk about challenging, contentious topics. We are living in wildly interesting times, aren’t we? You only need to take to Twitter and Facebook to see how freely we discuss differences in opinion on gender, race, media, sexuality, sex work, dissatisfaction with the government, the horrors of the the justice system, anger with the police…the list goes on. I don’t need to watch the news anymore, I get a much more rounded view of what is happening on my timelines! Art nearly always draws reference to society. There are varying degrees of social commentary happening around us all the time and so it follows that artists feel inspired to speak out about how they feel about what is happening around them.
NfotW: You are known for being extremely honest and vulnerable in your work – do you think it is important that artists are open, honest, and vulnerable? Does that help the audience engage and connect with their work more?
YDW: If you’re afraid to write it, its usually a good sign. Honesty will usually connect with people. James Baldwin says:
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
Its important, to speak on what we’re struggling with. It brings us closer together.
NFotW: Do you think the work of women of colour is predominantly invisible from the mainstream, especially British female artists of colour? – Particularly interesting after the whole Human Zoo, The Barbican, and Brett Bailey incident. This raised the question of where we are in terms of visibility in the creative world, amongst other things.
YDW: Art by British female artists of colour has been virtually, invisible yes. Things are slowly improving. I’m now able to view emerging playwrights, directors, acts writers – women of colour artists in general and I’m proud to be one of them.. There is a long, long way to go, but I’m encouraged.
NFotW: How do you use your poetry to share your experiences of being a black LGBTQ woman? Do you find this outpour of emotion and the process of creating cathartic?
YDW: I write about my experiences as deeply and openly as I can.
NFotW: Do you have a favourite poem from ‘Bone’? Or a favourite few? If so, why are those your favourites?
YDW: All of the poems are important to me. The title poem, ‘Bone’, always has a profound effect whenever I read it out at an event. My poem ‘Mum’ is very important to me, for obvious reasons. The poem, ‘Girls’ too. I don’t hide in my writing and much of the book is based on direct, personal experience
NFotW: What would you say are the main themes and topics dealt with in your body of work?
YDW: Sexuality in its many forms. Womanhood. Depression. Family/Lack of family. Religion. Self reliance.
NFotW: What does the word ‘Feminist’ mean to you? Would you say there was such a thing as ‘Feminist Art‘?
YDW: It means equality to me. Equality for all people. We get bogged down with the definition and what makes us not feminist enough, which is problematic and divisive.
NFotW: You recently performed at an intimate gathering with Dean Atta and Keith Jarrett. Keith performed his ‘gay poem’. Do you have a ‘coming out’ poem?
YDW: Ha! All my poems are coming out poems, whether they relate to sexuality or otherwise.
NFotW: Who are your artistic influences? Whose work has had a profound effect on you, if any? Why?
YDW: Alice Walker’s searing truth and sensuality. Toni Morrison’s grace and language. Nayyirah Waheed for her exquisite use of imagery. She resonates in the clearest most shattering form. Tapiwa Mugabe’s sumptuous imagery and magical prose all have had an effect on me.
NFotW: And finally, Yrsa… What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
YDW: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” – Anne Lamott.
Yrsa Daley-Ward is an actor and writer of mixed West Indian (Jamaican) and West African (Nigerian) heritage. She was born and raised by her devout Seventh Day Adventist grandparents in a small village in Lancashire and has been writing stories and poetry for as long as she can remember. Yrsa moved to London to pursue a modelling career some years ago and continued to write. Drawing heavily on her own experiences, Yrsa interweaves each discipline to fuse poetry with theatre, music and storytelling. Her collection of poetry and prose ‘Bone’, is out now on Amazon.
Also check out Yrsa’s Ted Talks here: