Exploring Life Through Poetry: A Journey with Tunde Balogun

Coach, poet and mentor Tunde “T.” Balogun takes us on a journey through the inspiration behind her debut poetry collection, "Blouse an’ Skirt, Babe!!!". With humour and humility, she shares insights into her creative process and the profound impact of her work.

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Q: Can you share the inspiration behind the title of your book, "Blouse an’ Skirt, Babe!!!" and how it reflects the themes of your debut poetry collection?

It's kind of funny. Through work, we ran an online book club during lockdown. In one of these sessions, someone asked me if I was to write a book, what would it be called? And I started laughing because already I knew there could only be one title, “Blouse an’ Skirt, Babe!”. It's a phrase I use a lot. Sometimes I don't even know I've said it. Life throws up a lot of instances where it's required, surprise, shock, excitement or when you need to swear, but you can't. It's a good phrase to throw in, and sometimes "Gordon Bennett!” just isn’t enough. 

The book is inspired by the resilient young people I've worked with over the course of my lifetime. People and life in general—all the things that happen in life—plus some of my own life experiences have also influenced the themes reflected in the book.

Q: The testimonials highlight the joy and depth of your poems. How did your experiences, particularly during Lockdown 2020, shape the rhythm, rhyme, and themes in your poetry?

During lockdown, I needed to do something constructive so that I wouldn't go completely crazy! I also had plenty of time for reflection, along with the space and energy to think, create and write. During the first lockdown, the weather was great, so I spent as much time as I could outside in my communal gardens, skipping, writing, getting my vitamin D, talking to close friends and family on the phone and sometimes the words just came. I usually had the garden to myself. I feel like it was meant to happen.

Q: "Blouse an’ Skirt, Babe!!!" covers themes of equality, education, mental well-being, and racial injustice. How do you believe poetry serves as a powerful medium to address and express such important societal issues?

Words have power, and poetry is a beautiful form of expression, a great way to express your emotions. Back in the day, when there was no TV, radio, or social media, entertainment and communication still happened! Poetry and stories have been passed down through the years, and we've got to keep talking. If we stay silent, things can't improve or progress.

Writing this book was quite cathartic—therapeutic even for my mental well-being. I learned about myself while I was doing it, and I attended a few workshops to learn more about poetry. I've always enjoyed words and reading, and I'm passionate about education, equality, and working with young people to help them progress in this crazy society that we live in.

Q: As a poet based in South London, how has your local community influenced your work, and what role do you see poetry playing in supporting youth development and women’s rights?

I’m a South London girl through and through. I live and work within my local community, and I've done so for many, many years. I've seen children I've worked with grow up into young adults and then into big people. It's lovely to see. My experiences and those of the people I've worked with, things I've witnessed or heard and learnt about, have influenced my work. 

As for the role of poetry, it’s good for well-being. It can help with the healing process for people who have been through trauma, it's empowering too. I’ve used it in workshops I run on knife crime awareness, well-being, and self-care to get people thinking about topics. 

As a mentor, I'm also a role model, so hopefully, by doing what I do, another person will connect. Words have power, and sometimes people think no one is hearing them, but through poetry, words can be heard. You have a voice.

Q: The book is described as a "journey of stories" with a positive and humorous tone. How do you balance the light-hearted elements with the deeper contexts and commentary on current society in your poems?

I like stories, but I wasn't about to write a novel. I like things like me—short and sweet! For me, humour is a great tool. It’s kept me going. It's also got me out of some tricky situations. Sometimes laughter is the only way. It's good to try and laugh out loud at least once a day. But we also need to know when to be serious. It’s not easy, but I try and remain positive. We need to keep some joy in our lives, and that is what I’m also trying to get across. 

So yes, I have a serious side, but I balance it with the light-hearted because life can’t all be doom and gloom. There is always a little bit of light in there, especially with what we’re having to go through currently with climate change, the cost-of-living crisis, protests and strike action, plus the increase in violent crime. If you focused on the negative, you probably would never leave your yard!

Q: "Blouse an’ Skirt, Babe!!!" is your first book. How does it feel to see your work in print, and what motivated you to share your voice through this collection?

“Blouse an’ Skirt, Babe!!!” is my first book, and I’m so proud. It was amazing to see it come together and see my work in print. I was so excited! I didn't set out to write a book and get it published. It feels like it almost happened by chance. The seed had been planted a long time ago, and the time came for it to grow. It was the response received from close family and friends on hearing my poems, the encouragement from them and other poets, that made me think, ‘Okay, maybe. Maybe there is something to this’. It was actually Vivienne Hayes, CEO of Women’s Resource Centre, who suggested I should perform at an open mic event – the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. 

When I did my first open mic, and it was well received, I thought, ‘Well, why not? Why not carry on – your words have power, you have to value your voice. So, if you've got something to say, there's no other way you can share it if you don't open your mouth and let the words come out’.

It's good that my words are in print because long after I'm gone, my words will still be around. So, it’s part of my legacy. And it's also to show people that it's possible. If I can write a book, why can’t you? It translates. Maybe you're an artist, you can paint that portrait. Maybe you like music, you can learn the guitar or make a beat. This ripple effect is what motivates me to share my words.

Q: How has your partnership with Women's Resource Centre impacted your journey as an author, and what made you choose to partner with us for selling your book?

Women's Resource Centre has opened doors for me, boosted my confidence, and helped with networking. I’ve been involved in the leadership conference, which enabled me to write more poems and learn new things. I’m continually learning about myself and the work of WRC. Through my job roles, I've always been one to empower people, and working with WRC has helped to empower me. The partnership also helps to empower other women. Every time someone buys my book from the WRC shop, I know that other women are being supported and that for me is brilliant. I think WRC and I chose each other. And Vivienne is very passionate and encouraging. Through knowing Vivienne, having the chance to partner with WRC, I knew that it would be uplifting.

Q: Your poetry is described as a commentary on current society. In what ways do you hope your words resonate with readers and contribute to positive conversations and reflections?

Reading my book, I know that people will interpret my words in their own way, but I hope to make a connection with the reader. There is often a small message in my poems, so hopefully, they can receive it. Or it might open up a conversation that enables someone to reflect on something that's happened to them and realise that they're not alone. Some people may feel they're the only one that thing has happened to, but then they read something and realise, ‘Okay, it’s not only me’. It might just open up a conversation. Or it might encourage someone else to write about their feelings or talk to someone they've been meaning to talk to but haven't been able to find the words. Now through poetry or prose they manage to do that.

Q: Can you share a memorable moment or experience during the process of writing and self-publishing "Blouse an’ Skirt, Babe!!!" that stands out to you?

Writing my book involved quite a few memorable experiences. One afternoon, during a visit to my mum, she shared some life experiences, which helped shape the poem ‘Mum MBE’. Without that conversation, that poem possibly wouldn't have been written.

Just after the book was published, I was thinking, ‘I need to go and sell it now’. So, I become a walking bookstore. There are always a few copies of my book in my bag to sell, along with my SumUp card machine. I was shopping in my local Sainsbury's when I saw an old work friend, he said, “Oh, I've been meaning to buy your book.” I replied, “No problem, babe. You can buy a copy now!”. So right there in the middle of the Sainsbury’s bread aisle, I made a sale!

Through people buying my book, I received an email from someone who said they loved the book. In bold words, they shared, “Guess what, I sailed on the Sir Winston Churchill too.” It blew my mind. You’ll need to buy the book if you don't know what they’re referring to. Those are some of the most memorable moments of this experience, as well as reconnecting with people who I hadn't spoken to for a little while.

I also can’t neglect the invaluable help I received from my brother and sister, especially during the writing, self-publishing, and social media navigation processes. It was beautiful to be able to spend a bit more time with them. We’re all busy, so we often don’t get to spend as much time together as we would like, but this book made it possible.

Q: What message or takeaway do you hope readers gain from engaging with your debut poetry collection, and do you have plans for future literary projects?

I’d like people to enjoy the book and, once they've read it, to maybe pass it on to another person to enjoy. It may be that it inspires them to pick up a pen or return to a creative activity, such as drawing, dancing or playing a musical instrument. Maybe deep down they need to talk to someone and through poetry they can do it. I also hope it helps people improve their reading and literacy skills. I encourage you to pick up the book and read it out LOUD.

When I sold my first book, it was like I won the lottery, I was so happy! I sold it to a wonderful woman called Sandy, whose first words to me were, “When‘s the second book coming out?”. A new seed was sown—so yes, book number two is happening… More will be revealed soon. Keep an eye on my page on the WRC website.

"Blouse an’ Skirt, Babe!!!" by T. Balogun is available in the WRC Online Shop in two sizes: 5”x 5” (£14) and 8”x 8” (19.75). Order your copy for delivery.