Review: Theresa Lola’s ‘In Search of Equilibrium’

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It was completely by chance that I stumbled upon the work of Theresa Lola. She was speaking at an International Poet Laureate Showcase event at the British Library, which I attended on a whim whilst trying to occupy some of my time on my gap year. 

At just 23 and the Young People’s Poetry Laureate for London, Theresa Lola is a phenomenal rising talent. Quietly confident and enviably humble, Lola’s stage presence is entrancing. Her poems seem at once fragile and unbreakable; complex, yet effortlessly simplistic. I left the event feeling overwhelmingly inspired. Lola’s work struck me not only as impressive in its own right, but also important for the continuation of poetry in changing times. 

It was completely by chance that I stumbled upon the work of Theresa Lola

In February 2019, Lola released her debut poetry collection ‘In Search of Equilibrium’; an exploration into life, death, disease and the grieving process. Central to her work is its experimental manipulation of our ever-changing language, especially within the current ‘digital age’.

Two poems in the collection are formatted as wikiHows for example. The first- ‘WikiHow: to Find Things You Have Lost’- is a poem that takes the steps from an actual wikiHow page, and applies them to her grandfather’s battle with dementia. This quirky yet poignant poem takes a format intended to be blunt, informative and by no means ‘literary’, and infuses it with poetic language. Lola dexterously blurs the distinction between the physical and the abstract, inserting creativity into the mundane. 

This is 21st century poetry that acknowledges a changing literary and linguistic landscape, but challenges the widespread belief that ‘change’ must signify something negative and narrowing for the arts. That’s not to say that she doesn’t challenge our reliance on technology. In her aptly formatted poem, ‘<h> Cutting Back on Work Shifts </h1>’, which is written to emulate computer coding language, she is openly scathing of people who seek answers online for ‘unanswerable’ metaphysical questions. Indeed, her worldview appears somewhat dichotomous, split between spirituality and rationality. 

Yet, Lola doesn’t have to actively advocate for technology in order to prove that it can provide space for creativity. In writing a poem in programming language she is, on one level, intrinsically proving that technology allows for an expansion of language and expression. 

Her poems seem at once fragile and unbreakable; complex, yet effortlessly simplistic

Interestingly, it is much easier to access Lola’s poetry through videos of her performing it, than it is to find the written poems themselves. I question whether perhaps this marks an almost cyclical return to the early stages of poetry, when it was shared through song and performance, not in writing. Is technology allowing us to reinsert a certain vibrancy into poetry, an interaction, that is perhaps lost when it is relegated to the physical page? Lola’s ever-growing bank of film projects, gigs and social media campaigns would certainly suggest it is. 

It is undeniable that the growth of technology has raised concerns amongst some about the future of the arts, but I think it would be naïve to treat it only as a threat. As a generation we must learn to experiment, push boundaries and seek creativity in a digital landscape. If Theresa Lola is a pioneer of poetry in the 21st century, I have few qualms about its future as an art-form.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash

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