‘Out of the Slums Came Poetry’ is a book written by Yusuf Kamara and co-authored by Bridgette O James, an established Sierra Leonean poet who lives in the United Kingdom. The book is a collection of poems. It is a reflection of the astounding transformation of Yusuf Kamara who once lived on the streets of Freetown for so many years with little or no hope of returning to normalcy but later found solace in poetry.
Yusuf Kamara is a Sierra Leonean poet, musician, freelance photographer and editor and Agri-preneur. He was born and raised in Makeni, the northern province of Sierra Leone on May 30th 1992. His educational journey started at the Roman Catholic Teko Services Primary School where he sat the National Primary School Examination (NPSE). He then continued at the St. Francis Secondary School, where he sat the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and later the West Africa Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). Yusuf later dropped out of school after writing the WASSCE examination.
The African Dream had an exclusive interview with Yusuf Kamara and Bridgette O James on the release of their book ‘Out of the Slums Came Poetry’.
The African Dream: Yusuf, who or what inspired you to write poems?
Yusuf: My poetry describes my lived experiences. My inspiration mostly comes from my surroundings, my daily activities, the struggle to survive and the strong will to transform my life and impact the lives of others from my background.
The African Dream: Before poetry, what were you doing and why did you switch over to poetry?
Yusuf: I was homeless. I lived on the streets of Freetown City for many years since I dropped out of school, and I found myself on the street rolling with gang members, not only that but later became a godfather: leader of the gang members I was hanging out with. Life was pretty worthless, society saw me lost and useless, and I came to see myself the same way. I was really not happy with the life I was living back then, so I started searching for a means to transform my life. In 2017 I discovered poetry through WAYout, a Charity organization registered in the UK that is helping street youths and the less privileged with different media skills, arts and free videos and recording sessions. I went to WAYout, took poetry classes, and that was how I started writing poems.
The African Dream: In the book ‘Out of the Slums Came Poetry’, what inspired it and what’s the end goal of putting out a collection of your poems into a book?
Bridgette O James: Out of the Slums Came Poetry elucidates Yusuf’s transformation from a youth who lived in a marginalised sector of society: Krubay slum in Freetown to an accomplished Sierra Leonean Poet and budding farmer. Yusuf worked with the Sierra Leone Poems Platform (which assists and funds talented, young, disadvantaged writers) to publish his first solo anthology of short autobiographical stories and poems. In it he depicts impoverishment in the streets of Freetown, felt by the frustrated youth; Yusuf is a school drop-out who found himself lured into criminality and substance abuse. Yusuf bravely describes using substances, engaging in petty crime, and going to Prison. However, he has today transformed his life as the book explains and is a shining example to other street youths.
The African Dream: How many poems are in the book and which of the poems is your favourite?
Yusuf: Out of the Slums Came Poetry consists of 20 poems and 4 flash nonfiction stories. My favourite poem is ‘Where I came From’ because it depicts my past life in the slums of Krubay and the streets of Freetown. I never want to go back to those dark days.
The African Dream: How can one access the book and what’s the cost of one?
Bridgette O James: The book is available on Amazon in 3 formats: eBook; Paperback and a Hardcover. Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B5KV4K1R
The African Dream: What’s it like being a poet in Sierra Leone, a country where poetry lacks support?
Bridgette O James: Traditionally, it’s been hard to become an established poet in Sierra Leone. Local Publishers are in scarce supply. Often published poets are English Language and Literature graduates, but Yusuf is a street poet whose contemporary style of rap-poetry has made him popular with young Sierra Leoneans. Bridgette James has brokered a few interviews with the local media.
Yusuf who also runs the Crime to Career farm in Makeni, which is part of a state-initiated project to reintegrate street and disadvantaged youths back into society by teaching them farming skills, was lucky enough to be filmed in his home environment for an upcoming project by a Social Enterprise in Europe which supports a National Sustainable Agricultural Plan beginning in Sierra Leone across 3 regions Port Loko, Bombali and Kambia. Yusuf’s writing was one reason why he was featured as he is using Art: poetry in particular to teach young people about the dangers of engaging in crime or using substances. Local and international observers are beginning to recognise Yusuf as a strong voice in advocating for the marginalised youth.
The African Dream: What are some of the biggest challenges you are facing as a poet and how do you overcome those challenges?
Yusuf: My biggest challenge as a poet is my background. Prejudice still exists in Sierra Leonean society as a poet wasn’t expected to have emerged from the slums or streets with no University qualifications. I’ve been praised by other writers thought as Samuella Julia Conteh and supported by Bridgette O James who co-authored Out of The Slums Came Poetry. But guess what? I am overcoming all challenges despite my level of education as I keep working on improving my writing skills.
The African Dream: Who’s the poet/writer that you admire the most and why?
Yusuf: Lemn Sissay. He is a British-Ethiopian writer, he is the poet whom I have loads of admiration for, simple reasons are his style of writing, wordplay, use of language and themes and metaphors. I consider him to be my mentor.
The African Dream: What message do you have for young poets out there who want to make poetry their profession?
Yusuf: My message for all young poets that love poetry and want to make it their profession, should find something extra to do to earn a living, as there is little or no money from poetry.