World Poetry Day: Celebrating Kenyan queens of verse

Clockwise from left:  Laura Ekumbo, Mumbi Macharia, Anne Moraa, Mwende Ngao, Alex Teyie and Michelle Angwenyi. PHOTOS| COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The world marks World Poetry Day today, and what better way to do it than to feature poems by a few of Kenya's most illustrious female poets?

You can't start a story about poetry without a bit of poetry.

 “Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.” Plato.

The world marks World Poetry Day today, and what better way to do it than to feature poems by a few of Kenya's most illustrious female poets?


Alexis Teyie

Poetry is a nice meditative practice for emotional and mental hygiene, the way you shower every day!

I brush my teeth every day, so I read a poem every day, just to get out of the muck of the day and feel like I did something with my day.

Ideally, the point of days like this is to remind people that poetry is not the preserve of someone who wears sweaters and horn-rimmed glasses.


I was a little anxious about my new book, Clay Plates – Broken Records of Kiswahili Proverbs, because I was unwell at the time, and I had this awful feeling - what if this is the last book I ever make?

If I wasn't as unwell as I was, I wouldn't have been wild enough to write some of the more honest stuff that's in there, when I was being sincere with myself. Here goes:





These are the aftershocks of love:

Nanananaaa. Wololo.

We, History and I, are a marimba.

Every time He hits me, the sighs make

a phlegmatic cobalt music.


Laura Ekumbo

Do you think that International Women's Day, which took place earlier this month actually makes a difference for women, particularly creative women?

This is a complicated question, because the point of IWD is that it is supposed to bring attention to women, not just plights and lack of rights but also their wonderfulness.


We should get to a point where we don't need to celebrate this day to get people to pay attention to us. I get numerous calls on this day to perform – why not other days?

The International Poetry Day is different. It highlights an art, a cause that outlives the day.  




i thought it could be mine -

all of it.

the night made dreaming seem like it would be okay

but where the stars are concerned, i am but a blink

in life

in dust

this is temporary;

i am only part.

Mwende Ngao

Q: Your poetry is around advocacy and Pan-Africanism. Why do you choose to write about these particular topics?

I want to say that it is done with focused intention but that wouldn't be completely true. I think it's what I am constantly being exposed to.


The conversations I have in the spaces I find myself in are about these topics, so these questions bleed into my writing. I am also a big believer in writers writing about the times they are living in.

We are living at a time when the voices of ordinary people are being amplified, thanks to online platforms and it's been interesting to explore what that means for advocacy and Pan-Africanism.


The African


You are a Christian until you want a second wife

And then you suddenly remember you’re an African man

You will not be denied

This is your culture

These are your traditions

Existing long before you knew who Adam and Eve were.

Who are you to overrule your ancestors?

These ancestors who you hardly know anything about?

But no matter, their blood runs through your veins

And so their thoughts must as well.


Michelle Angwenyi

The last poem I wrote was about music, as a way of exploring the connections it fosters between friends, between generations, between experiences.

Michelle Angwenyi. PHOTO| COURTESY

I wrote it as a birthday gift for a friend. I think one becomes a better poet by not being afraid of language in all its forms.


word for this. there is only suspension, there is skin: to mean—you are held. but held where. to be uncertain, to be in no moment after; there is no real question, there is no list, no unfinished letters, no spread to a middle; if there, no cold tea, no black-outs, no empty shelves, no glass bottles. to give name to what is [not] would be to obliterate it, as in the dispossession: but held where. a preference for this no candle-lit nothing.


or (whichever works for you!):


your turn on the edge of obsession, limitless in its particulars,

has you there.

whether it is rootless anger, or within the reaches of

unspecified oblivion, this haunting – cool, coastal:

and you are there,

since that first roadside word whispered years ago,

places ago,

even when in rhythms danced to alone, but pulsed to together

in the deep blue of vanishing,

it is now your turn, and you, in this world, there or not, are, anyways.


Anne Moraa

How much of your life influences your poetry?

I write in different genres, but poetry is the most personal. The form demands the personal.

A poem insists you get to the centre and allows me to write about things not just as fact, but as feelings.


My first ever spoken word piece, my first poem, one I still love and perform, is about Premenstrual syndrome.

People consume more poetry than they realise, for instance, beautiful lyrics are a form of poetry.


he chases distance like it is oxygen.
home suffocates as often as it heals.

he chased it by drowning his ears with sounds made of thrashing.
he chased it by sleeping all day and waking only at night
and roasting whole chickens, a soldier portioning rations.
you can make even your bedroom devoid of home
if you try hard enough.


Mumbi Macharia

This day reminds us that poetry is not an outdated form or art, and that it still has a place in our creativity today.

It's also an important day because it promotes the importance of reading, writing, and literacy in general, and important skill today given that technology has taken over our communication skills.

Mumbi Macharia. PHOTO| COURTESY

Through my poetry, I try to express the truest version of myself. Some people like it and relate, others don't. I am trying to push an agenda of expression without fear of judgement.

I have always been very shy, but somehow when spoken word poetry found me, it came with a confidence that I never knew I had.

When I perform, I don't think about the audience. I think about myself and what I am about to say.

I am in my own world when I perform, and you can't tell me anything when I'm in my element.




A word invented by men who would rather refer to themselves as a “boychild” rather than take

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A word invented by men who are intimidated by a woman who can see right through their

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Slayqueen, a word invented by men who expect a woman to lower her standards so that he can

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been a gross misunderstanding of what being a slayqueen entails.