Geosi Gyasi: When did you fall in love with poetry?
Chichichapatile Mangochi: It was a spontaneous start. I believe I fell for poetry even before I knew how to write coherent words. I used to write unintelligible words on the ground as soon as I started learning to write. That to me was poetry only that it needed further explanation. My absolute resolve for poetry came whilst in high school. I published my first poem, Better the Same Old Song in our school’s newsletter. In it I satirically attacked the pedantic new headmaster, who came and enforced on us twenty-one school rules on top of God’s Ten Commandments. Since then I have never looked back.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you start a poem? How do you know you’ve arrived at the end of a poem?
Chichichapatile Mangochi: I follow no rules. A poem may start at any time. There is no announcement, no preparation. Its ending comes just as effortless as it started. It is not about lines but about impact. It ends when it has expressed what it must.
Geosi Gyasi: What does it mean to you to be a poet?
Chichichapatile Mangochi: It means a lot to me because I am able to convey my sufferings, thoughts and experiences concisely with precision. Poetry is the only medium of communication whose beauty of language and use of words strives to convey its message with clarity and precision.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write from your own personal experiences? How did your poem ‘A train to Work’ come about?
Chichichapatile Mangochi: I write from personal experiences as well as piecing together loose ends from what I see and hear wherever I go. A poem ‘A Train to Work’ came about out of my own experience. There was a time I used to take a train to Maitland at Southfield station. I stay in Grassy Park so I used to walk twenty-five or thirty minutes to and from the station sometimes through the rain. It was a great experience because on a train one meets people of all walks of life – old, young, poor, rich sitting and standing side by side heading to one destination.
Geosi Gyasi: I wonder if you would recite your poem, A Train to Work?
Chichichapatile Mangochi: Of course: Thirty minutes of walking in rain/ Takes me to Southfield/ To catch a train/ To work/ And not in a field/ In a house to clean and make beds/ Until the sun hits the western horizon/ The train is full/ Youngsters are dangling like monkeys outside/ A young pastor without a beard or crown bald/ Reminds us of our real destination.
Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary influences?
Chichichapatile Mangochi: My friend, brother, Auspicious Ndamuwa is a great influence, without him my literary career would have died a natural death. We used to hole up ourselves in a room reading, writing and reciting the poems we had written. I used to copy A.E Housman’s style but I couldn’t match with his ingenuity of choosing a right word. Another young scholar asked him how he managed always to select a right word. He said he didn’t bother trying to get a right word but getting rid of the wrong one.
My wife always pushes me to write something new every week. And I don’t forget the day my first short story appeared in the local newspaper whilst I was in high school. My illiterate mother, showing her appreciation ran her fingers across the story as if fingering every word, smiling ear to ear.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you think of yourself as a poet as well as a writer?
Chichichapatile Mangochi: I am both. Poetry brings sanity unto my life whilst prose is the icing on the cake. I switch from poetry to prose in the same way that a motorist flashes lights to indicate where he/she is going. I think a good poet should also have a good knack in prose even though it is not the case for most writers.
Geosi Gyasi: Is writing a means of survival?
Chichichapatile Mangochi: Yes and no. Yes, because I believe reading and writing completes man’s well-being hence enhancing mental survival. Writing edifies, instructs and teaches.
No, because my bread and butter comes from other sources. Writing is that necessary hobby that I find time for even when I have strict deadlines to beat in tasks that support my daily financial needs.
Geosi Gyasi: What influenced the writing of the Poor man’s Fears?
Chichichapatile Mangochi: From my personal point of view, I was born into a poor family and with my father around as a child I didn’t know that we were that poor, until the time my father died when I was 21 years old doing my ‘A’ Levels. I dropped out of college and trekked to South Africa to look for work so that I could fend for my destitute family of five.
I consciously know what it is like to go to bed on an empty stomach and not knowing from where the next meal would come from. It is so disheartening that a poor person must worry about his next meal and the day he would die.
Geosi Gyasi: What kind of books do you often read?
Chichichapatile Mangoch: Mostly I read classics. I greatly admire works of W.H. Auden, George Herbert, Mathew Arnold, Thomas Hardy, William Wordsworth, Ted Hughes, Francis Bacon, David Rubadiri, Don Mattera, Jack Mapanje, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, et cetera.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you keen about style in poetry?
Chichichapatile Mangochi: Well, style is not everything in poetry and a poet must not be bound by it. A poet’s greatest strength is to communicate, not what he should but what he must. One needs to roam freely, unrestricted without the dictates of style. Style should come in naturally. I mean, it mustn’t be the poet’s major concentration. With style, a poet writes what he SHOULD and without style what he MUST.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you commit your poems to memory? What time of the day do you write?
Chichichapatile Mangochi: Mostly, I do. I find so much solace to write in the stillness of the night when the world goes to sleep. I get much inspiration when I make the pen talk at dawn…when the day is being born, when light begins its relentless assault on darkness. It is therapeutic fodder to the brain.