Poet Nick Makoha is a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow and a Fellow of The Complete Works in the UK. He won the 2015 Brunel African Poetry Prize and the Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize 2016 for his manuscript Resurrection Man. His poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, Rialto, The Triquarterly Review, Boston Review, Callaloo, and Wasafiri. Find him at www.nickmakoha.com
Geosi Gyasi: Following up on our interview in May 18, 2015, you said in one of your answers that, “I remember quitting my job and burning all my bank suits” when you realized you were not doing what you loved. My question is, do you now feel accomplished as a writer/poet?
Nick Makoha: The word accomplished suggests that I am an artist who is highly trained and skilled. However to be honest if we equate writing and being a poet to that of the martial artist I am only at the beginning of my training. What you see as accomplishment is my love and passion for the work I do. Think of Derek Walcott who passed away recently. Many of us remember him for his great work Omeros. This epic was published when he was 60 years old. Then there is my countryman Okot Bitek, his great work Song of Lawino was published when he was 35. You should apply the word accomplishment to these writers all the likes of TS Eliot, Gwendolyn Brooks, Terrance Hayes, Rita Dove. I am merely the student in comparison.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you know what specific ingredient(s) makes your poetry stand out from other poets?
Nick Makoha: Honestly no. Writing can be a wilderness or a black hole when faced with an empty page. When I write I cannot be certain of what I will create. But I know when I have stumbled upon something magical. That revelation does not occur at the point of writing. It occurs a few months later when I read the poem back aloud and I am moved. At this vantage I am able to engage with the poem the way the reader would, as I am detached from my writing self. The poem almost occurs as a new thing. Not all the poems that I write survive this process. The ones that do l keep and the ones that don’t l let go of.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell me about how you selected your ten poems for the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize?
Nick Makoha: With great difficulty. Many of the poems were not fully finished. I was still revising them during the last week of submission. Luckily for me I had just come out of a fruitful period of writing. Six or so poems from that period made it in plus four others that seemed to speak to the six.
…to be honest if we equate writing and being a poet to that of the martial artist I am only at the beginning of my training. What you see as accomplishment is my love and passion for the work I do.
Geosi Gyasi: You’re a Fellow of The Complete Works in the UK. You would do me a great favour by telling me about what The Complete Works is all about?
Nick Makoha: There was a report written on poetry called Free Verse Report, it found that less than 1% of Black and Asian poets were being published. When publishers were approached about this they all defended their position by saying it was a matter of taste. The Complete Works is a national development for 10 writers of colour. It is now in its third cycle. Each poet gets access to a mentor, workshops and a writing retreat. Each cycle culminates with an anthology called Ten.
Geosi Gyasi: How important is this year’s Brunel International African Poetry Prize to you?
Nick Makoha: As a writer of colour and as an African, to be acknowledged by an award of this magnitude would be a humbling reward in an industry that can be very difficult to navigate.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you make of this year’s shortlisted poets for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize? Are you familiar with any of the shortlisted poets and/or their poetry?
Nick Makoha: It is a great list. I only know one of the writers Kayo Chingonyi personally. But one of the benefits of this prize is that the shortlist introduces us the writers and the listening world to the voices across the diaspora.