Ayokunle Falomo (’12)
Ayokunle Falomo (’12), a Nigerian-born psychology graduate and poet, has been featured in a TEDxHouston talk and was in January 2016’s Local Houston Magazine, in the “Houston A to Z” edition, as one of nine Houstonians doing big things in the city. He is pursuing a master’s degree in School Psychology, and his second book of poems will be released soon. Learn more about his poetry and TEDxHouston talk at https://about.me/afalomo.
LUNAR COUGAR: How did you become one of the TEDxHouston speakers?
AYOKUNLE FALOMO: It goes back to 2012 when I became a big fan of TED talks and watched at least one video each day. In April of 2013, when TEDxHouston organized a simulcast event for TEDxChange, I went and after the event, the audience was asked to raise their hands if they had anything to add. I raised my hand and shared a poem, and the organizers asked me to speak at an upcoming TEDxHouston talk later that year.
There seems to be a lot of religious imagery that finds its way into your poetry — can you speak to that? What other imageries do you employ in your work?
I think it’s because I am fascinated by archaic stories and seeing those stories in a new light. Also, they find a way in my work because I don’t want to forget some of the stories as I remember them from my childhood, for example, those from the Old Testament. A few other imageries I’ve been told my work contains have to do with flight, water and especially, the earth. In my poem “Unmask,” which has become like a mission statement for me, I say that I use my “pen as a shovel, to unearth those things that make us human.”
How did your degree in psychology translate into a career as a poet? Tell me about that journey.
I think psychology and poetry inform each other. Some people might say they are at odds, but I believe they help each other. I feel like my poetry is like research, with each project guided by specific questions, which then leads me to go out into the world to gather stories to answer those questions. For “thread, this wordweaver must!,” the question was “What makes us human?” And for my new book, “kin.dread,” there were two questions driving the premise of the book: 1) Who is my closest kin, and 2) What do I dread the most? Those two questions are inherently connected. For instance, I don’t want to disappoint those I consider “kin” or family, and I have to find an answer to why exactly I am so afraid of that.
How has your education at UH shaped your life?
I was only at UH for two years after transferring from Houston Community College, but it changed my life. I got very involved with leadership activities (one of which was through the Bauer college) and was able to exercise that leadership ability through organizations I was a part of. Also, I had the chance to volunteer with the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees (PAIR) through UH as a mentor for refugee youths in 2012; and that experience contributed partly to my decision to pursue a degree in psychology. UH, more so than other schools I would say, is good at offering programs and opportunities for involvement.
Did you have a favorite professor or class at UH?
One of my favorite classes was Literature and Medicine, one of the courses for Medicine and Society which I minored in, which I took with the intention of becoming a clinical psychologist before I decided instead to pursue my master’s degree in school psychology. I am studying at Sam Houston State University for that master’s degree currently, and I intend to graduate in May. In the interim, I am interning with Humble ISD, delivering psychological services in schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels. When I’ve made friends with a middle-schooler, I know I’m doing a good job!
What do you like best about the city of Houston? Any favorite spots?
I came straight to Houston from Nigeria when I was 17 years old, and I appreciate the many opportunities I’ve had since then. Whenever I get the chance, I like to attend open-mic poetry readings on Wednesday evenings at Avant Garden, and I also enjoy visiting the Rothko Chapel — I could sit by the reflection pond for hours!
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy reading nonfiction books — especially books on creativity, leadership and theology. I am currently reading UH Graduate College of Social Work’s leading expert, Brené Brown’s, book “Daring Greatly.” I really enjoyed “The Gifts of Imperfection,” so I’m interested in what else she has to say.
What advice do you have for current UH students?
Take advantage of every campus opportunity. Really be involved in your college experience! It looks wonderful on your resume and it also connects you to people in the greater community.
Can we get a little “taste” of a poem that will be shared in your new book, “kin.dread”?
poem: i trembled at the sight
by Ayokunle Falomo
i heard a voice in the wind
say the earth is ready
all you have to do is
spit, make a brick
and build. Behold,
and i trembled
at the sight
i long for this world
which, though it does
not yet exist,
has always been