Poet Tomi Adegbayibi: a duality of senses

"I think that poetry is a reflection of the truth as you see it. I want to get better at telling the truth, I want people to want to hear the truth" - Toto


Tomi Adegbayibi has been developing her poetry practice for the last few years between France and the UK. Through language and words, Adegbayibi presents a hunger to explain how colour, sound, and imagery is a subjective, reflective experience. With a unique ability to translate ever-morphing sensations into poetry, Adegbayibi's latest collection, Ekphrasis (Greek for the description of a work of art), is a play between translation and reimagining.


Adegbayibi, also known as Toto, shares with us four of her poems, sitting alongside a selection of artwork and music inspiring the multilayered landscape of her narratives. We asked Adegbayibi to talk us through her evolution as a writer, and the role she sees her art having. The result of which leads to a thought-provoking walk through the mind of this talented young poet.






Flamenco Dancers - Ibrahim El-Salahi, 2011, Oil on Canvas

I cannot remember my first encounter with poetry. I do know I read a lot, I read to the point that it became problematic (I would get in trouble for reading in the dark). I read because I could never really sleep and eventually the words made the fatigue go away, I would forget that I hadn’t slept much at all. I didn’t know then, and now I can only speak retrospectively, but I was captivated. I didn’t need to sleep the way someone needed to breathe but rather I needed these things one could read on a page.


Life always seemed to move so fast that weirdly it seemed to move in slow motion (it’s hard to explain). I always felt a self that was separate from me observing, watching, collecting details if you will, so much so that when I did consciously start writing poetry, it became the only real evidence I had that I was alive and living.


I didn’t know that what I was writing was poetry, there was no pivotal moment, It started with outlining feelings, a lot of introspection… again because I was experiencing this sort of dual existence – being outside of life but also being in it. I couldn’t understand a lot of my feelings. I knew these experiences where mine and that I was present for the various things, but I couldn’t understand the residue, the feelings that came with them… so I guess I started to write more in order to align myself, to make myself fit inside myself. If I saw those words now in the Eeyore journal I had back then, I’d probably laugh because it would read like a rant. I do know one poem, it was about indigo and the sky, I was maybe 14/15… I can’t remember why it mattered at the time.



I always felt a self that was separate from me observing, watching, collecting details if you will. So much so that when I did consciously start writing poetry, it became the only real evidence I had that I was alive and living.



The biggest development in my approach I would say is research. When I was younger, I mean I’m still young but in my teens up to maybe my 1st /2nd year of university, I almost only ever wrote from within. Poems were flooded with ‘I’ or ‘my’. These are still present here and there but my ability to draw from the outside has been as a result of me learning not to just read for reading sake as one breathes passively, but to read with the intention to be challenged, to learn, to be confused and also enlightened. And to take all of that regardless of who I may think I am as a person… just like it would be tiring to breathe intentionally every time you do breathe, the same way this also is tiring but I find it extremely rewarding.


Regarding collaboration, with everything else in life I’m great at working with people. However, when it comes to poetry, I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t quite found a way to do it so effectively. The most effective it's been is when I work with artists specialising in other forms i.e. photography. To write in the same room as another writer has always been hard for me (even though I have many times). I would love to freely do so and enjoy it in the future but right now it feels a little bizarre.





The space of the dissertation is indigo - 14th July

I just finished my Masters a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t had much time to consolidate the entire experience. It’s done so much for my discipline and writing. I know that I’ve never written so prolifically as I have in the last year. I know that in learning French and listening to it every day, my use of syntax has changed, I arrange sentences and words differently now. I’m slower as well, I don’t hurry to the end anymore. Being in a country where every sound/conversation around you is indistinguishable, your attention becomes more acute, you start listening for more than words. This was hard but I enjoyed the discomfort, it invited me to get comfortable with it.



I wanted to know what an arrangement of instruments was saying without just saying what they made me feel. If the violin had lips, a tongue, a vocal cord, what words would come out.



Translation was my main motivation, as I spent pretty much every day translating things from French to English. I started translating past words, I wanted to know what an arrangement of instruments was saying without just saying what they made me feel. If the violin had lips, a tongue, a vocal cord, what words would come out. Same with an oil painting. Essentially that is what 'Ekphrasis' is. I want to know what everybody is saying, whatever language it is spoken in, even if I can’t prove what I’ve come to understand as accurate or true.






Henri Levi - Sarpedon, 1874, Oil on Canvas




I have to blink a lot more now; I spend too much time staring. It’s as though I want to peel the skin of colour or a sound. I have to actively remove myself, so as to not overwhelm or tire myself. On a forest walk, if I want to ignore the different greens I’m seeing I’d remove my glasses. When I put them back on I’m excited all over again. I feel grateful for having all my sense… well to some degree.



When I’m sat at my desk alone with the page staring back at me, the definitions or descriptions of what it is I’m doing do not matter. It’s the page, its poetry, and the hope that I’ll make it to the other end somehow.



I would like to release my book as soon as it is ready to do so. It engages with the senses of taste and sight. I’ve tried to ground them in nature, in humans, and myself. It's one of many books I hope. Also, when things clear up again I’m planning more readings and thinking of more events.


I think that poetry is a reflection of the truth as you see it. I want to get better at telling the truth, I want people to want to hear the truth.


I’ve got many years of writing ahead. I wanted to make a distinction between academic writing and what it is I do now, but I think they can be interchangeable. Essentially when I’m sat at my desk alone with the page staring back at me, the definitions or descriptions of what it is I’m doing do not matter. It’s the page, its poetry, and the hope that I’ll make it to the other end somehow. This is what I want for this book and the others to come.



Written by Tomi Adegbayibi


Visit Tomi Adegbayibi's website and keep up-to-date with Toto's work on her IG @totoshe_

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