Michelle Angweny is a Kenyan writer who explores time and memory. Her inspiration comes from her childhood, dreams, and music from all over Africa. Her poems have been published in the Enkare Review and her fiction is set to be published in the Short Story Day Africa’s ID anthology.
She talks to us about her poetry and being shortlisted for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize.
Face2Face Africa: You have been shortlisted for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, how does that feel?
Michelle: It feels quite validating, and especially to be on the shortlist with some incredibly brilliant poets that I deeply admire. I’m very honoured to be in such good company.
F2F: Could you tell us a bit about the collection you submitted?
M: The collection I submitted was a random gathering of poems that I really liked (and some that I don’t like that much now, as it turns out!). I find that some of the themes that run through them, and perhaps a lot of my writing, are time, death, and memory (and associated thoughts – longing, God, etc).
F2F: Do you have a particular process or place where you like to write?
M: Not really, in the true sense of the word process. I find that for me, the writing takes place over a period of time, recording a line here, a phrase there, a thought now and again, and then one day all these fragments come together in the right order.
As for place, a lot gets written on my phone when I’m in bed and too lazy to reach out for my laptop.
F2F: How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer over the years?
M: I think my writing has become more targeted (although to what, I cannot tell). It has become more deliberate, finding my own words and voice, even if I feel this is something that does not ever come to a definitive end.
F2F: What do you see as the role of the poet in today’s culture?
M: This can be a difficult question to answer, especially because for me, my poetry has always felt a little self-indulgent, and of little to no value to anyone else. However, I feel like today as always, the record-keeping in poetry is meaningful.
In poetry (as with many other disciplines), you can get a sense of what’s happening and what’s important, but also, what could have been missed when we weren’t looking, whether it’s on something big like war or on an insect that happened to be crawling up the wall at a particular moment.
There are also things that cannot be said any other way but through various forms of art. The detail and compactness of a poem make it an especially suitable medium for these summaries of place and time and seeing what changes and what stays the same or finds different ways of expression as humanity moves along, especially with regards to everything else that’s happening at the moment. I think this can be said of any art.
F2F: Which poet’s work do you continually go back to?
M: This would be Franz Wright. His poems tend to be quite stark, and very quiet, such that you almost miss a kind of violence in them. Even the titles of his collections reflect this stillness e.g. ‘God’s Silence’, ‘Walking to Martha’s Vineyard’, ‘Kindertotenwald’ (Forest for Dead Children).
I like them because they’ve got lots of room for wandering around in, for contemplation, for deep feeling, and for conversation both with myself and with a greater world that is constantly taking (and changing) form around his words and my thoughts. The themes Wright addresses when I first came across his work were also quite important to me at the time, and I feel like that moment of recognition on his pages has stuck, and follows me to date.
F2F: How does your use of social media fit into your writing life, if at all?
M: I use Twitter to share my new blog posts, and to share poems or parts of poems that I like or find striking. It also keeps me up to date with new developments on the writing scene.
F2F: What are you reading right now?
M: I’m reading Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy because lately, I’m quite interested in the war novel, after reading Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged. I’m also interested in how English can be written in other ways, and Sozaboy is a self-proclaimed “novel in rotten English”.
Going along the tangent of not-so-English English, I’m also reading Ntozake Shange’s Nappy Edges, which I fell in love with from the first page.
Here’s a poem from Michelle:
it is absurd to keep the bones
to be in awe of those that lack the benefit of blood; the benefit of night––
who might still be making use of that still space inside rose-coloured blunt force trauma. now
trapped between times, ugly, changeless, prosecution that continues long after death––
not that we know enough of cameras, but
it is absurd to keep the bones.