Larry Liza: Poetry is my refuge in times of sorrow, and joy too

Wednesday March 18 2020

Author and economist Larry Liza during an interview with Saturday Nation at the World Customs Organization offices at Corporate Business Park, Upper Hill in Nairobi. Right: his book. PHOTOS| COURTESY


American industrialist Henry John Kaiser once said that problems are opportunities in work clothes.

This saying fits the life of poet and customs officer Larry Liza. Although his life has not been an easy one, he has managed to turn most of the experiences he went through into opportunities that have since made him who and what he now is.

Raised with his three siblings by their single mother, Larry spent most of his childhood in a makeshift home in Nyalenda slums, Kisumu.

Life there was hard but Larry managed to turn his tribulations into a celebration, which comes through his poetry anthology, Irresistible: Where Agape meets Eros, to be launched today at St Andrew’s PCEA church next to the University of Nairobi.

Larry takes the reader into a poetic voyage, with some of the poems recalling his own life’s journey and experiences.

Irresistible is a collection of over 100 thought-provoking and emotional poems that evoke feelings of love and sadness in equal measure. But it is at the same time easy on the eye and enthralling to read.

It brings to the fore the alluring possibility of having both the love of God — agape — and the love for humanity — eros — together in the course of an individual’s daily life travails. The result, as the title suggests, is an irresistible outcome.

The 126-page book is inspired by both pleasant and not so pleasant life experiences that the author went through, such as losing his mother at a young age, struggling to make ends meet and almost losing his life before eventually triumphing by finding love and purpose in life.

Indeed, love is the central theme in the book, with a number of poignant poems that are a subtle take on life struggles, high and low moments, all wrapped up in simply-written but emotionally complex free verse.

The book also comes with illustrations that appeal to the visual sense of the reader, making it easy to appreciate the import of the poems.

Larry tackles questions close to the hearts of the children of single parents, particularly the whereabouts of the missing parent, mostly fathers. The poem also exposes the pain children with missing or dead parents go through while also giving insights on what the children experience emotionally in the phase of seeking validation.

Some of the poems explore the hypocritical tendency of individuals who only turn to God in their time of need — fasting, going to church and feigning love — but quickly forgetting the divine providence after success comes their way.

The joy that fills a woman when she gets a child and the unconditional love given by mothers to their babies is subtly captured by the poem, ‘My Angel, My Everything’, as the mother in the poem goes through the thrills of having a new member in the family.

Part two of the book focuses on the love between individuals, opening with a short, romantic, two-stanza poem dedicated to Lilian Pieltjes, praising her enthralling beauty.

Another poem, ‘He Won’t Just Propose’, brings to the fore the dilemma that many young women face when their lovers are too blind to read the writing on the wall when it comes to popping the question. ‘Her Hips’ and ‘Her Waistline’ sing praises about a woman’s beauty, describing a woman’s endowment as a brooding nest of love and a fountain of passion.

‘When it Comes to Pass’ is a poetic prayer from a lovebird who opens up his or her heart about a desire to have a partner in the future with an illustration of a man and a woman engaged in a symbolic embrace.

The author has also dedicated a poem, ‘Woman of My Life’, to all mothers but especially his mother, who passed on when he had just finished secondary school, exalting her virtues and singing of the unrivalled love of a mother.

The last part of the anthology has a poem titled ‘Breasts of October’, which is dedicated to breast cancer awareness. It laments how the disease devours the breast, symbol of womankind, robbing a woman the ‘mangoes of the countryside’.

Liza says that Irresistible, a culmination of 30 years of writing poems that started when he recited his first poem at the tender age of four, revolves around love, serving as an emotional outlet of deep guarded shades of love and loss.

“I was born in 1982 and started poetry at the age of four where I was performing during school festivals and national functions right from nursery to the university,” he says.

His performances in various countries led to him to appointed a Global Goodwill Ambassador in 2010 for White Ribbon Alliance, an organisation championing maternal health.

Liza wrote his first poem, ‘Mother’, at the age of 10 and dedicated it to his mother. He went on to write over 500 poems between 1997 and 2008.

“‘Victors of War’ is the oldest poem in the book and was written in 1997,” he says.

‘The woman of My Life’ and ‘When it Comes to Pass’ are some of his favourite poems in the anthology.

The book has so far sold over 1,000 copies on pre-orders, retailing at Sh500. After February, it will retail at Sh1,000.

“I decided long time ago to launch the book in February, the month of love, because the theme of the book revolves around love,” Liza told the Saturday Nation.

Liza is now the director of the World Customs Organisation in East and Southern Africa, heading 24 countries.

The organisation is hosted in Kenya.