We spoke to Rachel Nwokoro, one of our four Boat Poets, to find out about her tidal residency ahead of their forthcoming performances and poems appearing at piers along the Thames this September.
Rachel grew up in London, and has spent years cycling past the river without ever really acknowledging it. The project has given Rachel her first opportunity of riding a boat along the river, opening a doorway to see the river as another possible way of making a journey through her city. Her residency was aboard Livett's Launches.
Rachel’s Nigerian history forms a strong part of her beliefs around water, leading her to reflect on the peace and place-hood offered by the River Thames.
What do you find interesting about the river, and what has been your involvement with it in the past?
What I find interesting about the river, is how little I engage with it. I think that’s my curiosity really. I love water, I love nature. Even though I’m from London, there’s this Nigerian heritage in me, a cultural heritage that really feels a close affiliation with earth and nature. I always feel at peace around nature and water generally, so it always astounds me how little interaction I have with the river. I don’t see it as this piece of nature in our city that we can access at any point. I’m interested in that. This idea of movements and stillness, it’s really hypnotic.
What have you wanted to explore through the project?
Any time I’m on the Southbank, or at different stages of the river, I’ve always felt peaceful and mindful in a busy city. In those moments I can really just look at the river to think and breathe and exist. It’s free to look and enjoy it, and I don’t do it enough. I’m curious about building a relationship, and what that history is, and why I don’t feel like I engage with it.
Is it for you, about seeing the river as a resting place, right at the centre of a hectic city?
I think, when you are looking for places to go for spaces of restoration or peace or tranquillity, often we think we need to go far away rather than be in the midst of the city. I am interested in that stillness, not just in the river, but around us, given to us by the Thames. The patches of quiet in the city.
You engage with the river in quite a transport kind of way, cycling down the river. Have you reflected on movement?
Recently and through this residency I’ve reflected on that. I love my bike, I love the freedom of cycling by the river, but I’ve never connected travelling on the river as a means of transport, and it’s something I’ve reflected on a lot.
It’s like we render it unconscious
Yeah, it’s like it’s something I don’t think about, and something I’m so curious to find out more about.
Do you think it’s to do with the feeling like you can’t get access to the river?
Yeah, I feel like maybe it feels like a luxury to go on the river. Like, to access the river in a way that feels beautiful, but I think about how I spend money on other things. So there’s a balance to my perception, between it being inaccessible, and whether it actually is. The thought of going on a boat trip on the river feels so foreign to me, and it’s what I’m going to be doing for the next few days. And I’m excited to expose that side of things, I’m excited to know what it feels like, whether it feels decadent.
How have you been thinking about the approaching the writing aspect of the project?
I always try and adapt different writing projects for things at hand. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all. With it being a foreign landscape, curiosity and questioning will be at the forefront of that, because that’s what I would want to see. I think it’s really beautiful to have a lot of questions about this, asking questions we don’t think to ask. Questions around community and vocabulary, snapshots of what I’m exposed to, collating all that information and go on a journey. That’s what I’m hoping.
It must make it difficult being a resident working in that way then. Has this process changed and contributed to your work?
It has made me much more curious, having a structure to my wondering has been great. Having a structure in which to be free is really useful, makes me see things from lots of perspectives, and framing from a lens that I’m constantly refining in my work. I’m interested in engaging with people and how they see their environments.