Phyllis Muthoni & Njeri Wangari’s Poems Unveiled at Goethe – NAIROBI

By Khainga O’Okwemba

Last Saturday I walked into the library at Goethe-Institut where AMKA women writers are hosted at least once every month, just to learn that Dr. Tom Odhyambo, the moderator, had infact introduced the poetry and prose session by providing copies of Pheroze Nowrojee’s piece on poets and society which was the subject of my cheerful polemic a few days ago.

The idea was to encourage discussions on the role of the poet/writer in society. I missed that bit as did Tony Mochama. However, I had arrived in time to follow discussions on German literature. Normally, the sessions begin by reading an English text from German literature.

Yesterday (Monday) though, I met Pheroze, we shook hands, hugged and I conveyed the same to him. He acknowledged the beautiful gesture from the young literati and the organizers, “thank you so much,” he offered.

Interestingly, the poems read were from two fresh books; Lilac Uprising & Mines and Mind Fields: My Spoken Words, newly published poetry anthologies by two remarkable young Kenyan poets.

The first poem to read was “My Mother’s Tongue,” from Njeri’s anthology, which condenses Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Remembering Africa prose work into a few stanzas. What? The interaction of the African with the European did dismember Africa. One of the major casualties was the adverse effect on language and culture;

My mother tongue –
A tongue that has created a sound to the maker of Culture
A tongue that has created words whose proverbs
Made warriors of men
– My Mother’s Tongue (from Mines & Mind Fields) – Njeri Wangari

Second we read “Face of Africa,” from Phyllis’ anthology; a poet’s musing on how the Western media portrays Africa in unlike human experiences. You have read Phillip Ochieng’s (one of Kenya’s foremost journalists still active) column on Sundays on Eurocentric speech of Africa, or Binyavanga’s essay “How to Write About Africa.” Listen to this;

In a previous frame my skin stretched taut
Over a belly distended with kwashiorkor, —–
In this shot it sags over a skeletal cranium
– Face of Africa (from Lilac Uprising) – Phyllis Muthoni

After the readings, it so happened, quite inadvertently, that I began by asking, whether or not the Negritude Movement has got not heirs to its memory? This question is informed by a claim, I need to qualify, that critics of the movement were quiet admirers of the philosophy, if in their creative works. Still, is there anything like African literature? What is African literature? This was one of the issues arising from the discussions.

The discussion was as explosive, as the divide between proponents and opponents of African languages as the medium in which our literatures need to be preserved.

Hear Mochama, “we have lamented about the ghost of our mother tongue, must we go to the cemetery and exhume the body?” Tony is not about to start writing in Kisii. A good number of those in attendance believed otherwise. They would readily embrace writing in their local dialects. “My friend, is it a poet’s busyness to spend their time trying to save some language?” Mochama again.

AMKA, like the flagship FEMRITE in Uganda was founded on the ideal to; discover, horn and promote young women writers. The group started by holding readings at the Wasanii Restaurant at the Kenya National Theatre. It would then move to Goethe. The group’s first anthology will be out very soon, and as it were, poetry, occupies more space than prose!

Did not poet Sitawa Namwalie, say that “Kenya will be known as a land of poets and not just of athletes and fake politicians!”

Well, the AMKA poetry and prose readings at Goethe-Institut takes a sabbatical this August because, Goethe, as is tradition, will be closed for one month. The forum is held every last Saturday of the month and it attracts students from the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, authors, journalists, budding writers and the general public. Also attending was Linda, the motherly force behind AMKA and Riva an administrator at KenyaImagine online magazine.

Eliphas Nyamogo, our host at Goethe, did make a passionate request to the poet-authors of Lilac Uprising & Mines and Mind Fields to find some spare time and join their fellows in September when the sessions resume. It is hoped that this will inspire budding writers. It is a wonderful forum interspersed with tea and snacks, and that I would encourage us to attend.

Mochama and I then left for San Valencia, where we met investigative journalist Parsalelo Kantai, forgot poetry, and talked journalism and media houses. Dr Tom would join us shortly. There were cigarettes to be smocked, enough triple, more vodka, mh, and sodas.

Trust Tony and PEN, the last Saturday of August we shall have a literary event at the Professional Centre. Will keep you posted. I leave you with one of my poems. Read on.

Words Come Calling
By Khainga O’Okwemba

There goes yesterday
With a peer, to stray,
Moving in monody today
Is a pal with a little to say-

Those of us born
Have a place on earth
And a world to watch
Those not born to feel

Talk, make this an awesome bon’
And halt that deafening dearth
Unprecedented refusal to touch
Tomorrow, and your heart be still

If you are a believer, pray
For ambition to be kept away
Quite many have joined the fray
They know not where to stay.

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