Kariuki wa Nyamu is a Kenyan poet, radio playwright, editor, translator, critic and educator. He is published widely both in print and online.
Some of his poems won the National Book Trust of Uganda literary award 2007 and Makerere University Creative Writing Competition 2010.
Kariuki recently co-authored a children’s poetry and short story anthology titled When Children Dare to Dream.
The 2017 winner of the Babishai Niwe 2017 Haiku Prize spoke to www.nation.co.ke about his literary favourites.
Who are the three poets you look up to and why would you like to meet them?
Oh, it’s a long list but for now I’ll mention the ones I’m yet to meet! They’re Jack Mapanje, Niyi Osundare and Micere Githae Mugo.
I really admire their superb poems, scholarly input, estimable activism and devotion to openly scold evil regimes. Interacting with them one on one would definitely inspire me. Even if they might not know that I exist, I’m sure each has a special message for me.
Which one book do you hold so dear that it can't possibly be lent out?
Home Floats in the Distance by Susan N. Kiguli. I treasure it since the author, my undergraduate don and mentor, gifted it to me in 2015, three years after I had left Makerere.
I’m glad she closely follows my journey of poetic writing. The book has very terrific poems! She courteously autographed it, “May your love for the word flourish”.
See, why I treasure it! I can’t dare lend it out for I can’t afford to lose it.
Your favourite childhood book?
Gulliver’sTravels by Jonathan Swift is my favourite, though it was the abridged version.
I borrowed it from our primary school bookstore and read it. Gulliver’sTravels explores the adventures to strange lands and seas.
Gulliver’s multilingual nature mesmerised me! Much later at campus, I learnt it is a satire! Well, doubt not that my reading was misreading but at least it nurtured my love for Literature.
What is your greatest fear?
To grow to be a politician and in due course be compromised not to document authentic experiences of my people or worse still, stop writing!
If you were to dine with three writers dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Oh, how wonderful! But can’t I solicit for more? I’ll pick Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Susan N. Kiguli.
I’d engage Soyinka on the art and craft of remaining relevant in the literary world, and of course tips on how to win Nobel Prize for Literature in early fifties.
We’d converse with Ngugi about his story “The Upright Revolution” or “Why Humans Walk Upright” published and translated into over thirty world’s languages. We’d also compare his days at Makerere with mine and of course Kiguli’s, now that we share the same Alma Mater.
With Kiguli, we’d investigate ‘The African Saga’, philosophise it, theorise it and even deconstruct it. Oh heavens, may that chance of a life time come hopefully before the next life!
Most unforgettable character from a book?
Jane Eyre from the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte! Goodness me! I’ll never forget her horrid experience in the red-room when she was locked up for countering John Reed! John hit her with a book, making her collapse and bleed! According to Master John, Jane’s fault was picking a book from the shelves without his permission and hiding to read it behind the curtains.
Jane’s words to John still ring in my ears, “Wicked and cruel boy! You are like a murderer! You are like a slave driver!” I can’t forget her lonely journey from Gateshead! The cold nights and all sorts of hardships at Lowood School!
I felt compassion for Jane as if she were a real little girl known to me… If she were a real character, and I’m sure she’s all grown now, I’d marry her, not for sympathy but for her heroism.
Which book do you wish you had written and why?
Oh, no! I wouldn’t have wished to write another person’s story because if I do, then who would tell my stories?
If you were sent off to Robben island for a year, which three books would you take with you?
I’d clutch The Holy Bible for I’m thirsting to know God more. Besides, it often gives me flashes of insight into my writing life. I’d also grab The African Saga by Susan N. Kiguli. I’m pretty sure her poems would keep on invigorating my zeal to organise my poetry superbly. My third would beA Thousand Voices Risingedited by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva.
It has very entertaining and unique pieces from some of the best African poets! So, these three books would certainly inspire me to return from Robben Island with a new poetry manuscript.
If you weren't a poet, what would you be?
I’d maybe be a soldier, and a soldier in this case doesn’t mean a watchman like most of my folks would think… Oh yes, if I’d have become a soldier who writes specially war poems, I think I’d soldier on very well!
Tell us the poem you obsess about?
Countless love poems for I believe in love. My pick is ‘I carry your heart with me’ by E. E. Cummings. It’s one of the most romantic verses I’ve ever read!
What are your thoughts on the Kenyan poetry scene?
For many years, the Kenyan poetry scene has been very vibrant. We’ve always had many celebrated poets published in the best of poetry books across the continent.
Each new day, it’s exciting to see fresh talents emerging from all walks of life. Trust me, there’re very many talented poets especially in schools, colleges and universities.
Poetry in the country is also being written and performed in our native tongues. This is exhilarating!
I’m also pleased to assert that the new generation of Kenyans is appreciating poetry more than the old generation.
What do you think schools and teachers can do to encourage high school students to enjoy poetry?
Teachers must make poetry fun by encouraging students to recite poems instead of just reading them from the page.
Organising poetry writing competitions could also persuade them to love poetry.
It’s also advisable to introduce them to humorous, short and musical poems with straightforward meanings before one exposes them to serious and long poems with multifaceted meanings.
Is spoken word and poetry one and the same thing?
Not really. While poetry is initially written, sung or recited to an audience or even published on the page, ‘Spoken word’ is a word-based performance art that is usually accompanied by music and may not necessarily be published on the page.
Admittedly, it does not meet the salient features of a poem and that’s why it’s called ‘Spoken word’ and not poetry!
Are all poets performers?
Yes, they are. All poets are performers only that the manner of performance varies.
Many page or printed word poets just write poems and consequently perform by reading them aloud from the page. However, there are those who create poems and recite them off by heart. Interestingly, even silent reading of a poem is also part of performance!
BY THE BOOK is a literary series that covers authors, bloggers, actors, academics and poets of note in the African continent. For comments or inquiries, e-mail: [email protected]