Wordplay: Raluca de Soleil

Produced in association with Sheffield’s first poet laureate Otis Mensah, Wordplay is a monthly showcase of up-and-coming artists from the city’s literary scene. For this month’s issue of Exposed, Mollie Bland spoke with writer, poet and artist Raluca de Soleil.

When did you first start writing spoken word poetry?
I started writing reflectively when I was about 14, but this was different to what I write now. They were narrations – me putting in writing what I was thinking without trying to fit a form or anything. This coincided with me taking photos – I was really into photography. Then I basically left both of them. This was back in Romania, where I’m from. When I came to Sheffield to study in 2012, I followed a few friends who were in bands and this inspired me a lot. Later on in 2016, I started writing poetry when I went back home to Romania. I was fascinated with how close I felt to people back home – I was lacking that in the UK and I was struggling a lot. On this trip, I felt like I belonged on a deep emotional level. I had this explosion of euphoria, everything made sense, and everything was wonderfully connected. So, this is the initial feeling I had when I started writing poetry. A few months later, I came back to Sheffield and started writing poetry in English. I still use Romanian words when they add meaning to a poem and preserve authenticity.

How does your upbringing affect what you do now?
My upbringing in Romania impacts everything that I do today. Financially I was quite well off, in terms of Romanian financial standards anyway. My parents were business owners so they were working a lot, and they were carrying some inter-generational trauma. So that impacted the parenting, and has affected me in turn. I started developing anxiety and depression from as early as 8. By the time I was 14 and started writing, I was already emotionally overwhelmed and used it as a way to make sense of my current reality. My early life has effected everything – my relationships, the work that I do, every task in my life. I started creating because I wasn’t getting enough satisfaction from life and activities. I was spending hours and hours looking at how the light was reflecting on the walls, at shadows and insects. At this time, I was taking photos of everything. I was very preoccupied with my mind, so this all sparked the creativity that I still have now.

What main themes and ideologies do you explore in your work?
From an early age, I became aware of structures in society – family structures and roles, what is acceptable and this idea that parents own their children and that children are inferior. The idea that the adult always knows better and the child can’t really have a better argument. Also that the structure in the family is reflected by other structures in society, especially patriarchy. I realised this patriarchal structure very early on, because this idea of the ‘respectable’ woman was floating around everywhere in my life. This idea was abused by people who were judgemental of promiscuity and who were ready to call you a whore. Strangers and family were just throwing this idea around in telling you how to behave like a ‘girl’.

I was trying to make sense of my own realisation of this, which was conflicting with my external reality. This meant that I wasn’t having many conversations about these things because most weren’t agreeing. Writing became a sort of conversational partner for me. These ideas kept on developing in my work. Specifically, my recently released poetry book looks at childhood trauma and is explicit about that, by directly mentioning my parents. I don’t truly blame them. I’m looking at it more as trauma that is being passed on and the effect of societal systems on people who are going to become parents and just reflect that structure in their day-to-day lives.

How do you feel about sharing such emotional material with your audience?
It’s always nerve-wracking because it’s so intimate. Like, I’m stood there performing to a group of people – some of them are my friends but a lot of them I’d never met – and it’s hard to both maintain authenticity and put on an effective performance. After the show, though, I had many people coming up to me, saying how great it was, and how they really needed it. This is was so therapeutic to hear!

Where can people see the film and the rest of your work?
I’m working with Resolve Collecting to do a performance at S1 Artspace which will incorporate as many elements of my artistic mediums that I can put together before 2 August. My Instagram is the best place to keep up with what I’m doing, where I’m performing and what I do to dismantle these oppressive systems within myself and hopefully inspire you to progress your own journey, too.

What does the future hold for you?
I have a few ideas in the pipeline that I’m hoping to explore very soon. Some paintings and short films, and in terms of my poetry, I’m hoping to put on an exhibition incorporating it. Whether this will happen by the end of the summer or later in the year, I hope to bring together my writing and my visual art in a conceptual piece.

Raluca’s debut poetry book ‘Adulthood is a lifelong conversation about what we used to do as kids’ is out now.

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