“The English language is nobody's special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself” – Derek Walcott
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About Nick Makoha
Nick Makoha is the author of ‘The Lost Collection of an Invisible Man’ (Flipped Eye Publishing, 2005), ‘The Second Republic’ (Slapering Hol Press, 2014), ‘The Kingdom of Gravity’ (Peepal Tree Press, 2017) and ‘Resurrection Man’ (Jai-Alai Books, 2018)
A Ugandan born poet and playwright, he has been awarded the Brunel African Poetry Prize (2015), the Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize (‘Resurrection Man’, 2016), the Ivan Juritz Prize (‘A Low Pressure System’ 2021) and his play ‘The Dark’ has been featured at The Columbia University School of the Arts International Play Reading Festival 2021. He is also a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, Malika’s Kitchen Fellow and Complete Works Alumni. An excellent speaker, his work has international appeal, and he has toured for the British Council in Finland, Czech Republic, the US and the Netherlands.
Makoha is known for works that use poignant imagery to capture significant moments (historical, personal, often both). In ‘The Long Duration of a Split Second’, a powerful piece that speaks to the transformative nature of tragedy and tyranny, he demonstrates his mastery of context. Responding to Forensic Architecture’s project of the same name, his writing is itself forensic, meticulously disentangling every detail of the moments leading up to the killing of Yaqub Musa Al-Qia’an during the 2017 police raid of Umm al-Hiran. It is not at all surprising that Makoha has also found success in playwriting, as he reveals here a firm grasp on the nature of drama. Every object has a clear role to play in the slowly unfolding scene; “A car horn shrieked like an unfed / child to introduce the theory of infinite endings.” and “four gunshots made visible by a cloud of hot air invent a new kind of time.” Despite painting such an evocative picture, Makoha is persistent in reminding the reader that we are ourselves witnessing the scene through camera lenses, our understanding made imperfect by our limited perspective. This brings a sense of urgency to his precise and insightful writing, as we attempt to make sense, through language that itself “lacks fluency”, of these disquieting images.
‘Basquiat asks the poet about Death’ is another poem which demonstrates Makoha’s discerning awareness of people’s relationship to their circumstances and surroundings, as he invites us into a more personal snapshot this time. The poem provides a reminiscent illustration of the sense of not belonging, as Makoha walks us through the dichotomy of his inner and outer experience (appropriate in a response to Basquiat) at this lavish rooftop party. Fellow poet Richard Scott described how Makoha’s writing “never reaches for exact answers” and instead unearths “a sheer resonance in the perhaps shared symbols of life creating a tense and important kind of empathy”. This piece is a perfect example of just that, as Makoha glimpses his country, weeks away from bankruptcy, reflected in the shine of his cutlery. In listening to Makoha’s recording of this poem, we can feel the internal struggle he experiences here, “as if I needed the reminder of how one can be in two places at once.” A soft solemnity can be heard in his voice, as he speaks of “watching death” in this party, in his country, and in himself.
Makoha’s poetry carefully constructs images which are likely to sink deep into the heart and mind of the reader. The inherent turbulence of his work resounds through the body, stirring up the important questions that aid us in our search for meaning amongst chaos. This collection, filled to the brim with exquisitely crafted metaphor and syntax, is bound to both devastate and enthral.
Recordings made on 1st October 2021 at Spiritland Studio, North London.