August 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Nick Makoha by Rhianna Simpson
1. What was the first poem you read? How did it affect you?
I was always reading Shakespeare in school. I think at 6 years old I read my first poem. At 8 years old I had my first collection of poetry. In terms of how it affected me, I was mesmerised by rhyme and psychology through language. I think language teaches you.
2. When did you decide to call yourself a poet and why?
Good question. Ooh that’s very difficult. I remember finishing my degree and I was working in a bank. I was thinking to myself I don’t know why I’m here. I also read a quote by Deepak Chopra which said “The best way to make money is to do something you love.” I left my job that day. I said to myself, I’ll never do something I don’t love again. I also became a poet because I wanted it to be on my passport, which I was going to renew. I wanted it to say ‘poet’, I wanted people to ask me what I did so that I could say “I am a poet.”
3. How did you get your work published or heard? Did you confront any difficulties?
I actually had a crush on a girl and I wrote poetry for her. She told me to perform it publicly. At the time I was more interested in literary poetry than performance poetry. I was attending a group every Friday where I would share my work. One of the lead founders said to me “Nick, are you a performer or are you a poet?” From that point, I had to stop and think about what that meant. He said send me your best work and I sent him a poem I wrote about being from Uganda. He looked at it, helped edit it and that resulted in the first chat book to be in print. Technically I didn’t have much difficulty, but initially I was in limbo and didn’t know where to go as there was not a lot of support for black writers. I found an article called free verse which talked about this, and the kind of support that black writers get, it raised questions like “how come there aren’t many black writers being talked about and supported”. It made me aware of things I wasn’t doing which also made me a more confident writer.
4. Do you have any regrets as a writer?
I wish knew what I know now, 10 years ago. Now I have more responsibility and I don’t take as many risks, because I am a father and a partner. I wish I knew some of the people I know now, back then. I would’ve done something more English/arty at Uni to clear my doubts while learning the craft, a lot of people think it’s not a craft, but it is a craft.
5. Which other poets inspire and/or influence your writing?
Oh there are loads. Kwame Dawes, he is a black poet who really understands the craft and the process. Jo Shapcott, Mimi Khalvati who is like and earth mother/princess/queen. She uses a technical and natural process and is like my spiritual guide. Li-Young Lee, who I’d like to meet. Also, T.S. Eliot, was a touchstone who built upon Dante, Shakespeare.
6. How do you see your work as different from other contemporary poets?
I thought I was original, then thought I wasn’t. I said to myself am I writing about things that matter to me? The answer was no, that’s when I changed. Now I have something worth writing about.
7. Is there a particular process you use when writing poetry?
I like having books around me, with other poets guiding me in a way. I observe the world and my son and daughter. We all have a poetic mind that I think is awakened as we grow. You put aside a lot of your ego in the process.
8. Where and when do you write, especially when writing about strong emotions – is it immediate, or on reflection/from memory?
Anywhere and everywhere. Now I try to capture ideas and open them in my mind and in my thoughts. Even if I hear a conversation. Moments of brilliance happen all the time and I think poetry is a receptacle of that.
9. What inspires your poetry the most, and why? Is there an aspect of your life that is particularly influential on what you write?
My friend said to me why do you write? I said because it’s something I love doing. I also read an article that said what would you do if you stopped writing? It explained that if your life carries on as it did before, you weren’t a writer in the first place. My 2 children inspire me and influence me as well, as I want them to follow their dreams with me showing them how I did, rather than telling them.
10. How do you avoid clichés?
Show your work to good writers, get them to tell you and read ferociously!
11. At what point do you decide that a given poem is finished?
When it’s published! If it’s on your desk, it’s not finished. Otherwise it’s like saying oh I wrote a shopping list, anyone can do that. A poem is not finished until it’s shared; it’s a living thing, a communicative device.
12. What advice would you give a young person who may be discouraged from pursuing poetry for fear of ‘street credibility’?
Take it seriously. Poetry is not about being glam or stylish. All fields have a level of hard work and self sacrifice. If you really want to do it then you have to give more than charisma and style. I would also say think about whether it’s something you want to do now or maybe build upon in the future.
13. And finally, if you can choose one, what has been the highlight of your career?
Good one. Erm, I would say, living in the moment, my theatre show. It utilised all the best parts of me, written word, my performance self, my individuality and my need to connect with the world. It was definitely my biggest triumph.