Victoria Adukwei Bulley On Feeling More ‘Possible’ In This World

The poet, writer and artist talks to Black Art & Design about inspiration and the assurance of doing what she is supposed to be doing right now.

Victoria Adukwei Bulley is a poet, writer and artist. An alumna of the Barbican Young Poets, her work has appeared widely in publications including The Poetry Review, the London Review of Books and Chicago Review, in addition to featuring on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. She was the recipient of a Society of Authors Eric Gregory Award for promising UK poets under 30 in 2018, and has held residencies internationally in the US, Brazil, and the V&A Museum in London. Victoria is the director of MOTHER TONGUES, an intergenerational poetry, film and translation project centering the indigenous language heritages of black poets, supported by Arts Council England and visual arts charity Autograph.  

BA&D: Tell us a bit about yourself. 

VA: My name is Victoria and I’m a writer, poet, and artist. I’m also a student at Royal Holloway, where I’m completing a practice-based PhD in Creative Writing.  

BA&D: Where did you grow up and what role did creativity play growing up? 

Victoria: I grew up on the outskirts of East London. Creativity played a large role in my childhood; there were so many ways that I amused myself and I don’t really remember being bored. I was usually drawing or reading or spending time digging things up in the garden, and I was really happy getting lost in my own thoughts. There’s a recording somewhere of me as a three year-old telling a story about some animals – storytelling was something that I used to do a lot and on that occasion my mother and sister managed to catch it on tape. 

“I feel most myself when I am creative. I enjoy making things – seeing or feeling or hearing something and then translating it into something new” 

BA&D: Why this career path?  

VAB: It’s still strange for me think of being an artist as a career path because I never really saw it as one – it seemed more of a lifelong vocation. But the why this part is clear. I feel most myself when I am creative. I enjoy making things – seeing or feeling or hearing something and then translating it into something new (mostly textually as a poem or essay). Having that newly-created thing then reach somebody else, and finding out that it evoked a feeling within them is deeply rewarding. It confirms to me that creativity is always about connection. 

I get a lot of ‘sparks’ from conversations and things that I’ve read, or from music and film. I also find it helpful to read ‘randomly’ –  to follow my interest in things that I just happen to feel drawn to otherwise fascinated by, even if they’re not outwardly poetry, for example.  

More often than not there are connections that become meaningful, which then work themselves back into poems, or fuel essays. Whatever your discipline, it’s helpful to keep learning outside of it. 

BA&D: There’s a lot being spoken about around mental health and the arts. How do you feel about the two? 

VAB: I think it’s a sign of deep wellness to feel that you can create something, or to be moved by something created by someone else – be that a book, or a TV show, or a song. When you experience that feeling of relation it affirms that you’re alive and that you’re not alone. So much of this is available to us via the arts, and creativity for me has absolutely allowed me to feel more ‘possible’ in this world. 

BA&D: Looking ahead – what are you working on?  

VAB: Over the next year I’m working on three things: my debut poetry collection, the critical part of my PhD (aka the thesis), and if there is any energy left, a novel. I’m praying for all the courage and discipline it will take to do this.  

More than anything, I just want to astound myself with what’s possible, or by how much I can enjoy being devoted to the work I love. 

BA&D: From a creative perspective, what was your biggest challenge and highlight in the last year? 

VAB: My biggest challenge in 2020 was keeping a routine. For a few sunny weeks I made a really good go of it all, but then other things came into play. And that’s alright, because I realise that I am seasonal: what works in summer might not work in autumn. I’m also a lot more aware of how much I have to limit anxiety and distractions and that I have to stay flexible to how my needs can change. 

My biggest highlight of 2020 was feeling my writing be deeply supported, both internally and externally. I feel like I had some key breakthroughs and was also offered amazing opportunities. I’m bringing all of this with me into this 2021 – the assurance that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing right now, even if the future is uncertain.  

BA&D: What does your reading and watch list include? 

VAB: The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom; Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, by Robin D. G. Kelley; The Blue Clerk, by Dionne Brand; new and old work by the scholar Kevin Quashie, lots of essays…  

I don’t watch much TV but in the last year I’ve enjoyed watching a BBC show called The Repair Shop, Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, and a show called The Leftovers that my agent put me on to.