Lind Grant-Oyeye: The Poet and Advocate
In celebration of Women’s History Month, Harvard, recently, recognized and showcased 31women from its alumni who, through their endeavours have been remarkable, powerful voices around the globe.
Among them was Dr Lind Grant-Oyeye, a poet, critic, winner of Ken Saro-Wiwa poetry prize and the UHRSN Human Rights poetry awards. Lind, who holds a diploma in medical journalism from the James Lind Institute, she is also a health advocate with bias for mental health.
A graduate of the Health Sciences faculty, University of Benin, she is also an alumnus of the Harvard University Post Graduate SQIL programme.
Renowned for her poems, M-moments, African Refugee, and Walking under water, her works feature in literary magazines, anthologies, and specially curated poetry projects globally.
An affiliate of the Harvard Alumnae for Global Development and the International Leadership Association, Lind’s work has featured in The Honest Ulsterman, A New Ulster, New Verse News, The Clarion, Leicester city mental health project, Expound, The University Birmingham Greek Economic crisis project and the University of Maynoot DIP project.
Winner of the Irish Times African day poetry award, Lind is a freelance editor with JCACAP (Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry), in charge of the interface content between arts and the scientific.
How does it feel to be so recognized by Harvard Alumnae Women as one of their 31 voices?
It is always a delight to serve in any capacity, as one of the voices fostering women empowerment and growth. It is a pleasure to be among a group of women making positive changes around the world.
Two other Nigerians made that prestigious list. Does that speak to the “can-do” spirit of Nigerians?
(Lauhs) You trust Nigerians! Nigerians are a great people.
Can you please share your works that got you recognition by Harvard?
As previously mentioned, it is not a specific work or poem Harvard alumnae women are acknowledging. It is the overall consistent work and contribution to society.
Walking under water discusses the continuous struggles of women through generations. It seems women are still trying to rise above suffocating waters, although gains have been made in various aspects.
How do you employ poetry for advocacy or is it purely for academic purpose?
Poetry is an interesting part of art. Like comedians, poets generally have the social license to push boundaries, and discuss subjects otherwise considered taboo topics. I use poetry to discuss subjects such as migration, inequalities, and equity issues.
Poetry is not as popular as prose and drama. What sparked your interest and how did you develop it?
I have always been interested in poetry for personal expression. I, however, started rethinking the role of poetry as a medium for social discussion, when a university classmate posted a tribute to Princess Diana on the door of a classroom. It was quite an experience to observe the debate the poem generated. It was a learning moment, to observe the influence of culture and personal background on how we perceive things in our environment, including art.
How can you get people interested in poetry so that those messages are not lost on them?
Oftentimes, young people move change. Anything that would make poetry accessible and hype for the youths would bring about change; for example, incorporating poetry into mainstream events. This was the case when Gorman participated in the USA presidential inaugural ceremony.
Who are your favourite poets in history?
I admire a lot of poets for various reasons. For example, I like Emily Dickinson for simplicity in approach.
Does your list include any Nigerian?
I admire Christopher Okigbo for including his cultural experiences in his poetry.
What’s your all-time favourite poem?
My favourite poem is “My Mother”, by Ann Taylor.
It is a timeless poem that speaks passionately about the relationship between a child and her parents.
The last line is also a call to duty and a promise to be there for the other person, when it is their turn to be weak, to require care. It is about the parent-child relationship, but can be translated into any form of interpersonal connections or relationships.
So, that old poem about sitting and watching infant cribs is still one of my favorites.
As a poet, do you find interest in rap music for its lyrics that often employ rhymes?
As a poet, I have a huge interest in a lot of musical genres, not only the ones that rhyme. Music is poetry. It is sometimes funny, when I listen to music with others, and I interpret the deeper meaning of what the singer is really saying to individuals around me. Musicians use allusion and symbolic talk in their lyrics a lot.
Since Americans started celebrating Black History Month in 1926, discrimination against the black race continues to be a recurrent decimal even in a country that preaches human rights. How does the celebration address this issue?
Commemorative days and celebrations are not an indication of perfection. Rather, they serve as reminders of how far society has come regarding that issue and what is left to be done. The Black History month serves as a yearly call to action.
What can Africans do to enlarge the coast of their influence and not be overwhelmed by racial Injustice, or the idea that the black race has an inherent problem?
Enlarging one’s coast of influence is usually a deliberate act, with some sacrifice involved. Africans need to be strategic in picking areas of interest and something that can be marketed to the world, as unique. For example, Nigerian musicians are already impacting the world. Global musicians are incorporating afro beats in their songs. Young people around the world dance to Afro music. It is such a unique influence that shifts mindset.
Which black women in history made the most impact on you?
Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba and Maya Angelou. These women practiced their art with passion.
The theme this year was on health and wellness. As an advocate, what specific health issue are you focusing on?
My focus is mental health.
It’s Women’s month here in Nigeria and just as we were kicking off the celebration, the National Assembly, rejected two gender bills. Do you think the gender disparity especially in government can be bridged?
Gender disparity like any form of inequality is a work in progress. Concluding the gender gap can never be narrowed, would be to dismiss the efforts of women who have contributed to bringing us where we are now. It would be to lose faith. I guess it is a case of little drops of water and the ocean parable.
What can women do?
Whenever there is disparity and inequality, it is important to understand, placing the entire burden for change on the individual, or group already marginalized, is to state that society is not ready for change. Men need to step up as allies, as well. Women in the meantime, need to remain consistent in their efforts, to not give up. Historically, change happens slowly, but it comes.
What can women do to promote their mental health?
The first thing is to acknowledge that mental wellness is as important as physical health. Another thing is to understand that meaningful connections with others, not necessarily quantity, but quality is important. What does your support system look like? Are you taking on too much in various aspects of life? It is important to understand oneself and rhythm, for effective self-care.
What life issues commonly draw women to the edge of mental health?
Mental health problems are usually related to various factors, oftentimes not just one specific matter.
There are predisposing, as well as triggering factors.
People face stress regularly, but sometimes, any form of stressful situations beyond what we can deal with, may be triggering, for example, the loss of a loved one, or perceived failure in one area of one’s life or another.
Paint a picture of your dream for women.
My dream for women is that in the future, when a woman takes up a position of honour, or an important job, the headlines would not be “A woman has been appointed”. Women in leadership would be so commonplace that it would no longer be news.
What do you love most about being a woman?
(laughs) Women change their hairstyle and colour of shoes as often as they wish. Most importantly, I can be phenomenal, I mean a phenomenal woman like Maya Angelou mentioned in her poem.