A short biography of Kechi Nomu
Kechi Nomu writes from Lagos. Her poetry chapbook Acts of Crucifixion (Akashic Books, 2018) was published as part of New-Generation African Poets, Tano. Her work has appeared in Inter|rupture, Bangalore Review, Enkare Review, Saraba Magazine and elsewhere.
Congrats on the publication of your chapbook, Acts of Crucifixion, can you tell us a bit about it?
Hey thanks! I’ll need to get past over-identifying with what I have written to talk about it with any clarity really. It’s always too close. But I can say that writing the poems of this chapbook was a kind of passage through memory. I wanted to access a language somewhere between the limits of silence and speech.
What brought you to the notice of the publishers?
You get a chance to submit if you are a Brunel finalist. So, I took the chance.
What is poetry to you, and how long have you been writing?
Poetry, for me, is need. And this is what I like about the form: how the whole thing stays elusive until it is done. And whatever relief you get is always momentary. Language is formless , every time you begin to write it starts to become something unwieldy, and mastery is not possible.
This way that language stays out of reach and all you have is this need, that is what poetry is to me.
I have been writing for as long as I have been reading. But meaningful, sustained engagement with whatever I was writing, and any kind of claim to the word ‘writer’ was tied to finding communities where conversations were happening about writing on the continent. I have found these spaces in writing workshops in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Entebbe, Kampala and online. Lagos can be insular in the literary communities that it nurtures, but it is an amazing place to think of oneself as a writer.
Now that the chapbook has been published, when are we expecting a full collection from you?
I’d like to say I am working on a defined collection, but writing happens for me somewhere between the most gnawing forms of anxiety and distraction. These states are normal and unalterable. Part of the process, I fear. So that when the writing happens at all, it is always a surprise. What I am most certain about is reading. The feeling that I am reading what I am meant to be reading at the exact time when I should.
As dramatic as it sounds, reading is very spiritual for me. The writing comes from an accretion of need, anxiety and a necessary passage through the surface of my life until I find the corners. So yeah, I can’t talk about a collection but I can say I have been feeling my way through the thick of things.
What do you have to say about the new generation of African poets, some of whom are your colleagues in the chapbook series?
To be honest, I’m not even sure where the generational lines that separate the poem Kinaxixi by Agustino Neto from Maputo Olive by Tade Ipadeola and A Search for all Things Yellow by Zainabu Jallo begin and end. What I do know is this: there is no better time to be writing poetry than now. And every chapbook in the Tano New Generation Africa Poets series reinforces this as fact. Each poets narrative emboldens my own. I read about worlds that overlap with mine and worlds that are a revelation. I find courage and comfort in these voices.
Now that the chapbook is out, what next? More poetry? Nonfiction? Fiction?
Last year, I travelled through 12 Nigerian cities with writers, photographers and filmmakers for the Invisible Borders: Borders Within II trip. What that makes you aware of is the urgency for a certain kind of non-fiction that concerns itself with the hyperlocal psyche. Or what my friend James Bekenawei calls the Nigerianness of things. When I talk about this, I have books like Low Life, The Other Paris by Luc Sante in mind or Every day Is For The Thief by Teju Cole.
As a culture writer, I write film and theatre reviews when the work moves me. I have written a non-fiction chapbook based on my travels with Invisible Borders. I’m never not writing poetry, but I am writing more nonfiction.
Finally, if it won’t be too much trouble, can you give us a small poem?
This previously appeared on Dami Ajayi’s Tuesday Poems:
It begins with Kahlo in a picture.
Here, she is letting her eyebrows grow
into themselves. And here too, a boy
does not see how he breaks your heart.
He citizen, you foreigner, standing only inches from him.
Like the necessity of shadows overlapping,
he says into Kahlo’s face,
the lighting here is good for pictures,
so that inside you feel what it is:
your ship sinking . . . sea caving under
the weight of dreams,
and these waterwalls in a chest of flesh.
Some days, they rise so high
it is impossible not to feel what you are or
see, again, how a Pharaoh drowns running away
from his waterwalls towards you,
without chariots, how a woman waits at the border
to cross a red (already) sea
without her staff & papers.
You see this, standing
so close to the length of your own shadow,
so close you know what it feels like:
All the caves of a body’s silence . . .
Photo credit: Kenechukwu Nwatu for Invisible Borders: Borders Within II, 2017