Betini Udo recently published a collection of poetry, I May Destroy You. When I read it, it felt so profound that I decided to have a conversation with her about it.
Aliyah: Hi Betini.
Betini: Hiya Aliyah.
Aliyah: You started your book with a reference to a quote that spoke about how blossoming was uncertain, risky and how remaining a tight bud was more painful. That you were unwavering, coming forward. Is that what I May Destroy You is for you?
Betini: Yes. Writing I May Destroy You was my way of breaking out. For a while, I’ve been ‘hiding’ under pseudonyms, burner accounts, because I was afraid to write what was in my head or how I really felt, but as time has passed, I see now that it’s harder to remain where I am than actually putting myself out there. As heartbreaking as it is to see myself out there for people to read, it’s easier. Easier than running away from what I truly want to say or do.
Aliyah: Hmm. I do agree. We can run away from ourselves but we always end up back there. Inside us. And talking about ourselves, if this book was your way of leaving behind the safety net that was being away from eyes, was it an easy thing to do?
Betini: Easy? Definitely not. All the parts of the book are so personal to me, and it was so hard for me. I think one of the nights, when I was editing, I had to call a friend to ask exactly what I was doing because why in the world would I be telling anyone this? It felt a lot like putting down a load I had been carrying for a long time with no help.
Aliyah: I think one of the hardest—and bravest— things we do as writers is carry these heavy pieces of ourselves and show them to the world. We keep going over our words, you know? Like what part of it is appropriate? What part feels like oversharing? How much could we pour down to loosen the burdens we carry? And sometimes, the fear. The fear gets in the way. And the uncertainty. And then our little cocoon of safety becomes a sort of permanence? I’m glad you’re here. And that you could lighten the load.
Betini: Exactly. I think, when we get too comfortable and confident playing it safe, we slowly lose what makes us unique. What makes the art ours and different. We’ll always be afraid, we’ll always be second guessing what we put out. I’ve been telling myself one thing, something I learnt when I heard someone speak about creating. Just do it. Anyhow, what’s the worst that could happen?
Aliyah: And I think it’s also important to note that we don’t exactly get rid of the fear. It doesn’t really go. But we do learn to push forward through it. What’s the worst that could happen, really? And this reminds me of a line from the first poem in your book, “…all will be well and I will be whole.” When I read that, it felt almost like a balm. A subtle kind of self affirmation. All will be well. All will be well. All will be well. I, also, saw that I May Destroy You opens with My mother once said… How was it to write that down?
Betini: Like I was being choked in my sleep. Funny, I wrote ‘My Mother Once Said’ half asleep. It was one of the many things that I knew I had to write down. It felt like If I didn’t, I would not be at peace. And it wasn’t the first one I wrote, but it felt right being at the beginning, because putting it down almost felt like a catharsis.
Aliyah: And I think it achieved its aim. The release you felt. The peace it is leading you too. The Internet is the Best Place to Love came directly after this heart wrenching tale of grief and the contrast was very stark. Was this intentional?
Betini: Yes. I wanted the book to somewhat feel like a journey. After making peace with the grief I feel, I am ready for a new step. And this new step so happens to be falling in love.
Aliyah: Then again, this thing of contrast doesn’t end there. Another sad tale of love followed it and that was preceded by I’m thinking of ending things, which felt like a metaphor for the process it took you to write this book. The horrors and moments where you were terrified.
Betini: As for I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I prefer to leave the interpretation open. Talking to other people about it, it seems there are a million ways people see it and interpret it. It was the very first poem I wrote out of everything, but it felt right to put it in the position. For me, I’m Thinking of Ending Things was a note, or, is a note. It gets to a point where I mention that I have to finish what I’m writing first before I do anything else, and that’s why I put it where it is, in that position of the book. When I’m done with all these ideas that are driving me crazy, I’ll know what to do.
Aliyah: We go through two more poems—A Secret Told and A Tale of Scalpels and Needles and Scars. A short phrase ends your book of poems.“This is it. This is as far as I can go.” And it felt like it was an ending, but not the ending. And I have to ask. After putting your foot into the water with this book, are you ready to dip your whole self?
Betini: Yes. This was the reassurance I needed from myself to me. I’m ready to do more and just keep going. That little phrase just means this is the most I can do for now. As willing as I am to do more, I still need to take steps. Baby steps. Still learning how to swim, this is new waters for me. Even if I’ve done this before- self-published a collection before, this is different and I still need to take it easy.
Aliyah: I hope to be here to see you do all of that.