BY THE BOOK: Adipo Sidang'

Friday December 15 2017

Poet Adipo Sidang

Poet Adipo Sidang. He won the Burt Award for African literature. FILE PHOTO 

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Adipo Sidang', 34, is a Kenyan poet, playwright and an award-winning writer.

His novella A Boy Named Koko recently earned him the Burt prize for African literature.

In 2016, his poetry collection Parliament of Owls was by Contact Zones, Nairobi and he has since adapted the title poem into a play which has been staged in theatre by the group Agora.

Sidang' holds an MA in Philosophy from the University of Nairobi and currently works as a political analyst at Elections Observation Group (Elog). He spoke to about his literary favourites and fantasies:

Who are the three poets you look up to and why would you like to meet them?
Aha…Kwame Dawes, the skilful poet who weaves words with lapidary precision. ‘Poetrigenarian’ Taban lo Liyong whose tongue is the womb that bore poetry; won’t mind meeting him again and again. Then there was – is, revolutionary Amiri Baraka. R.I.P. Rest in Poetry.

Which one book do you hold so dear that it can't possibly be lent out?
I fall in love with a book when I decide to buy it. It becomes a bond – a marriage of sorts. I hate to see my books come back home dog-eared and heart-broken. I just don’t lend them out.

Your favourite childhood book?
Barbara Kimenye’s Moses series, Kezilahabi’s Rosa Mistika, and Konjra Aloo’s Otieno Achach - Dholuo novel about a wayward boy who ends up buried alive.

Your literary crush?
Some literary grafting here - of poetry and prose - that is, Salman Rushdie and Taban lo Liyong; simply ‘Salman-Taban’. Why Rushdie? Read The Satanic Verses and Midnight’s Children.

If his pen had veins and therefore blood, I’d ask for blood transfusion for mine, or better, ballad transfusion. And Taban? The old soul is astoundingly philosophical with words!

What is your greatest fear?
Death. Worse, death of ‘us’. The moment our society loses its humanity, it loses its soul and we cease to be. If our communality persists merely as a façade (like has become of our country) then we are no different from ‘brains in a vat’.

If you were to dine with three writers dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Hope it comes with golden goblets or agwata (calabash) for some booze as we ride the muse. The intrepid Rushdie – you now know why. Khaled Hosseini, I think he’s a great story-teller. Imbolo Mbue – so I can just behold the dreamer (smiles).

Most unforgettable character from a book?
Gary Soneji in James Patterson’s Along Came a Spider. Soneji is a psychopath with split personality, easily switching from Gary Murphy, the genial family man and teacher to Gary Soneji, the callous serial killer.

Which book do you wish you had written and why?
Well, I constructed a literary altar to revere great books that I have read, not to wish that I wrote them but to feel great that I read them.

If you were sent off to Robben island for a year, which three books would you take with you?
On revolutionary mode already! Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Margaret Dickinson’s poetry anthology When Bullets Begin to Flower.

If you weren't a poet, what would you be?
An owl in our adorable Parliament of Owls or a goal-keeper (jersey number 12) at a football club with the best defenders (of course not Arsenal ha ha).

Tell us the poem you obsess about?
From Larkin to Neruda, I’d go for Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani’s 11-line poem Language. He writes: “When a man is in love/how can he use old words?” Through verse, he exposes the poverty of language and how we’ve overrated it.

What are your thoughts on the Kenyan poetry scene?
The poetry scene is coming back to life like the proverbial phoenix. However, there’s need to mentor younger poets – what we plan to do with 'Booze My Muse' Poetry Night. READ: All set for ‘Booze My Muse’ poetry night at Kengele’s

What do you think schools and teachers can do to encourage high students to enjoy poetry?
Schools should know that times have changed and that poetry is an art, not a subject merely for examination.

Is spoken word and poetry one and the same thing?
Well, poetry has its standards defined by certain structures, style and depth of language which demands interpretive analysis. Spoken word relies on musical flow, voice inflection and lacks the complexity characteristic of poetry. I appreciate spoken word but it is not poetry.

Are all poets performers?
Not quite. Not all trees shed their leaves but they are trees all the same.