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A Poet from Cameroon: On Identity and Self-Definition for an Artist

I’ve been taking long walks in the evenings. On my walks, I think about a lot of things. One thing I’ve been thinking about is my self-definition as “a poet from Cameroon.” I am looking back at the last eight years of my life, years I have devoted to being a writer in one way or another. While my devotion to my art and path as a writer remains steady, I wonder if I may have defined myself too narrowly–at least, from time to time.

Identity and self-definition are important things for an artist. Because art and the maker of art might not fit into any well-defined categories of creativity and work, the artist has to be clear that what she does is valued and named and claimed. This was something I wondered about when I realized I loved poetry and wanted to be a poet for the rest of my life. I wanted to be able to hold my head up high and identify myself with my art. I wanted to tell the world that I had found my passion and my path.

Mainly, I was so insecure. I had left a graduate program unfinished (my PhD studies in anthropology). I had struggled with full-time work, each job leaving me progressively depleted and disillusioned about the realities of taking a job just for the sake of a paycheck. When I found poetry, I was ripe and ready for something to embrace that gave me a sense of security. I latched onto poetry, and I have not let go. I will never let go. I will never release my embrace of this beautiful thing called poetry.

But now that I have been a poet and discovered that no one is coming to take my poetry away from me, I feel that I can relax a little bit. I don’t have to be so fearful of losing my identity, my sense of place and purpose, my feeling of belonging to something grand and beautiful like the tradition of making lyrical lines and crafting rhymes.

So who am I? Beyond being a poet from Cameroon, who am I? Beyond being a yogi-poet from Cameroon? What do I love and cherish? What new identities might be waiting for me, inviting me over and offering me more places and moments of purpose and belonging? In what ways might I be able to serve humanity, with my poetry and beyond my poetry? How can I expand my view of myself to include other ways of being that appeal to me and my disposition?

Perhaps other artists go through periods of time when they have to be very particular about their self-definition. This helps them navigate their communities and goals, helps them target audiences or potential opportunities. But eventually, perhaps these artists also get to points where they can broaden the scope of their self-definition, or shift gears and take on different identities.

I feel that I am definitely going through a period of transition. Of moving into another way of being. I am not abandoning my identity as a poet, but I am stretching it, expanding it, broadening my horizons and possibilities, so that I can be much more than a poet. I want to be a poet and many other things, at the same time.

I feel a sensation of expansion happening within me. As if my soul were a balloon and someone were filling it up with air, and that balloon has now begun to rise within me and is compelling my body and mind to stretch themselves, in order for my soul to continue to grow.

Ah, these are some of the things I think about on my long walks. Here in Oklahoma.

To read more of Viola Allo's work click here or follow her on Twitter.

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