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  • Writer's pictureNeema Komba

I miss poetry!

Updated: Apr 23

Can we still say Happy 2024 in April?

The last year or so has been the most hectic yet exciting time of my life.  Although my pockets (or bank account) don’t reflect it, I feel as though I have made massive strides in my academic and writing careers.  When I think about what it is like to be working hard on both my doctoral studies and my novel, it feels like running two marathons in different directions, simultaneously. I am not complaining, after all, I chose this life. But it’s tough.

The toughest thing is, I miss poetry. When I write poetry, I do not feel like I am in control. With poetry, the subconscious part of me works harder than the conscious part, I think. I feel like a vessel, and the words pour out of me. Lately, all I do is write prose. These words do not pour like a nice cup of tea – I am vomiting them and sweating them. I squeeze them through my pores, landing on papers, keyboards and monitors – bucket loads of them. They come out tangled with fermented dirt, and I have to detangle them, and rewrite, and rewrite until something comes out of them. Sometimes, I feel like I am building castles with my very bones. It hurts.

I am both creator and murderer. In a great labour of love, I give birth to wonderful characters. And in the same labour, I kill them. It’s not always easy to kill a character. Sometimes, it is as easy as a short arm-wrestling match between me and the character, and whoever is strong enough wins. At times, it is a dirty job that involves a machete or two, a hacking, a goddamn funeral, and the suckers still refuse to die. They come back to life, in the middle of my sentences. They pop up behind shelves in a crowded but silent library, and shout - Boom!

But I love it.  I want to do this forever but with a little bit more poetry.

Yesterday, I was lucky to be invited as a guest in the Commonwealth Poetry Podcast hosted by Gyles and Aphra Brandreth (my episode will come out in a few weeks, but you can check out the others). I got to talk about my journey as a poet and poetry in Tanzania. I also got to read one of my favourite poems: Are You Leaving Al-Kindi. It was a wonderful experience, making me miss poetry even more.

It made me think about last summer in Tanzania when I read my unpublished collection to my father, and he was bawling through it all (my dad cries easily), or when I read a piece, and my friend Nicholas Calvin filmed me reading it (I will share it sometime soon). Or just hanging out with my poetic sisters, Nancy Lazaro and Keziah Ayukoru. Or leading a UMBU poetry workshop for Tanzanian women poets with Esther Mngodo.  I miss congregating in Waka Poetry meets (thanks Gervaz Lushaju for keeping these alive), and the glorious days of La Poetista open mic nights. I miss having great conversations with my friend Amiri Sudi Andanenga (the famed Swahili poet behind Diwani ya ustadh Andanenga). Mzee Andanenga, who is 90-something years old, recites poems from memory. I can barely remember my poems, but he remembers all the poems he has read and loved. It is like sitting with an encyclopedia of Swahili poetry. It’s a wholesome, soulful experience.

In the novel I am writing, poetry pops up now and then. It started with one when I was thinking about one character, and a poem just came to mind. So, I use poems, sometimes, as my guiding post for my prose to arrive at a feeling. I am not sure it works since no one has read what I am writing yet. Someday, you will get to see it (after it has been doctored by a good editor who will make me look brilliant :D)

A few years ago, I was going through a serious bout of writer’s block. So, I wrote a poem to plead for poetry to come back to me. I called it Haunt Me.

Haunt Me:

Haunt me – 

Rise like a spectre from the graveyard,

Burst into a scary symphony,

Possess my every fibre,

Drive me crazy with your ghost music,

Let me touch your elusive muse,

Haunt me again, 

for I have missed your curse.

The idea of being haunted by poetry seemed so nice when I didn’t think about the spirit world (which writing this novel has forced me to).  Before I started writing this novel, I wrote a letter to Ms. Toni Morrison (I know she has passed, and she doesn’t know me, but I still did it). I was on the plane to Songea (shout out to Air Tanzania) to research the Majimaji war (the subject of my novel). I asked her what she would do if she were to write this story. The plane shook a little as I was writing this (just turbulence guys, right?), and I realized that I was asking the wrong thing. It's not about what she would have done, but what I wanted and hoped to do – (in Ms Toni's words, to write a story I would like to read that's not been written yet). Anyway, I didn’t ask Ms Toni’s spirit to possess me either (obviously, do you think heaven would let their greatest storyteller go that easily?) Anyway, I am on my own for this. And for the record, I haven’t asked the spirits of any ancestors either (despite all the rituals my research led to). In Songea, one of my guides offered to bring a diviner that could let me see the spirit of Songea Mbano as a large supernatural snake living in the caves of Chandamali. Although I was curious. I still haven’t taken up the offer. Now that I have been an "observer" of many traditional rituals that call to spirits, I am a bit cautious about wishing for it. Who knows what will happen, right? Oh, me of little faith.

I heard, in Tanga, there is a place where a ghost of a German soldier from World War I still roams around, and those who have seen it, say he has on his uniform and all that jazz. I wonder if he is lost, or that because his people couldn't do the proper rituals for burial, his spirit is stuck there. If there is some kind of nether world, do the spirits still have to face off their enemies? Wouldn't it be nice if there were some kind of justice there? Where the weak become powerful and they can do whatever they want to the ones that oppressed them? Do you think they would forgive them? I mean think of the millions dead at the hands of oppressors (like in Palestine), just waiting for their retribution. Would they forgive, forget, and enjoy heaven after dying so unfairly? There is probably a lot of drama in the afterlife.

But, I digress. The point is, I don't want to be haunted anymore. It is perfectly okay if poetry doesn’t come from me. I am just as happy to read it.

One of my favourite poets is Remi Raji. When I was visiting Lagos some years ago, he gave me a copy of his book, Sea of My Mind, and it just blew my mind! Whenever I miss poetry, I go back to his book, and this poem always reminds me that to be a poet is to be deeply human.

The poet – Remi Raji

The poet too is a mobile prison,

The rough rhombus of colourful tales.


The poet is the flimsy energies of the blind seer

Free but chained to the recalcitrant image


of memory, of blood of birth and death

of the mating cry and the battle cry.


The poet is married to the rainbow of words…

Scavenger and hunted, also a lover loosed upon the world. 


The poet is your voice, silenced but alive in the streets

the chameleon and the mask, the incurable child.


The blood and the wine of experience…

I think the poet is not

where the is nothing to live for.


The other day,  I read Gloria Gonsalves's poem, The River to Her Lover and it was just a beautiful experience.

Have you read (watched or listened to) or written any poems lately? Please share them with me 😊 


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1 Comment

Apr 07

This piece is poetry in itself…. ❤️

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