• It lazies your mind on a cushioned chair of vivid imagination as you recollect life times
Martin Kiregi, To Be a Writer: A Poetry Collection. Embu: Starletz Theatre and Books, 2020. ISBN 9878 – 9966- 138-94-1
In December, yet another Kenyan poet emerged from the eaves of writing poetry as a hobby to the light of publishing. Martin Kiregi is a secondary school teacher in Tharaka Nithi county. He teaches English and Literature, having graduated from Kenyatta University a few years back.
To be a Writer (2020) is his debut collection of poems. It carries 72 poems in about 96 ably illustrated pages. The book falls under the list of several other first books of verse that launched last year. This include the nouvelle poetical works of new Kenyan poets, such as Atori Mwale, Jacob Oketch, Paul Ngotho and Benny Wanjohi.
Lately, writers from Meru county have been quite active in using poetry as a vehicle of literary expression, as is evident in the verbal art of Jerusha Marete and Nkirote Kinoti. Devolution in the Mount Kenya eastern region is a boon as counties advance the cause of youths in art.
Young artists such as Martin Kiregi are exploring the publishing opportunities that have come with devolution. In Embu, for instance, the county leadership has set up a talents’ academy to nurture the youth of the creative arts industry.
Kiregi is an emergent verbal artist, and his major inspiration is clear. In the frontal pages of his book, he pays homage to two important creative artists from Kenya. The first one is his varsity poetry tutor Dr Mark Chetambe. Many recognise his name especially in circles of theatre and drama festivals in Kenya.
Dr Chetambe has directed and produced award-winning plays for years. His children’s literature and young adult literary works have earned him several prizes and accolades. In this seasoned wordsmith, young Kiregi found a consummate mentor, whose breadth of art knowledge has helped shape the finer corners of his mentee as a poet.
The other influence to this new poet is the more established and internationally acclaimed Jephtha Malela. He is a gifted spoken word artist, and his famous poetry work is titled, Pieces of My African Soul: A Poetry Collection. It was published in early 2019 to much acclaim.
Malela writes life vignettes that form remarkable capsules of the everyday. This is one grain of style that a keen eye traces in the various pieces collected in Kiregi’s new book. Mentor and mentee appear to be dancing the waltz of intertextuality.
To be a Writer bears a promise and its realisation in equal measure. Here is the tangible product of one who grew up with a dream on his tongue. Kiregi welcomes the readers to his book with recollections of his poetry odyssey. He speaks of a time in his formative years where he discovered he can write. An avid reader of biographies and poetry, he kept a diary of juvenilia even in his secondary education phase.
With an old computer that lacked the key letter in poetry “P”, he would listen to music as he strived to enhance the euphony of his free verse. Coffee shops, rural arcadia, noisy city streets and the solitude of library study times, all provide ambient settings for his rumination on the art of poetry.
In one poem, (p8), he admits unabashedly that “poetry is my love/it’s my life.” Reminding one of J Alfred Prufrock, the man made famous by his creator the venerable poet TS Eliot, in the poem, “The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock”, a persona in Kiregi’s book speaks of coffee shops, poetry and vignettes of city life.
It is this ability to lazy your mind on a cushioned chair of vivid imagination as you recollect life times in cups of tea or coffee, that gives poetry it’s unique thing. This is so, too, as one imbibes Kiregi’s art. One of his personas confesses that, “I dream of writing/of conquest/of soaring with words!” (p28). This is exactly how one feels as you hop, step and jump from page to page of this offering.
However, it is not all bliss in this work that reminds us of the vicissitudes of life through verse. Some of the poems bear an eerie atmosphere and remind us that each coin has two sides. In the poem titled, “The Dark Within,” the following words profess this reality thus:
There is a darkness within me/Pitch and dark/ Almost tangible/It creeps in on everything/Devouring every ray of light/of goodness within me.“ (p 58).
This week, as our nation digests the bizarre news of a familicide, murder most foul in a farmhouse in Kiambaa, allegedly committed by a youthful son inspired by literature and television, the spotlight falls on the enduring philosophical questions around the nature of creative imagination and its artistic products.
Is poetry, or art in general, the mirror of society or is it a window through which one can peep at the soul of a nation or its microcosm — the individual?
To be a Writer is a book to set your year off in search of these answers and much more. One can purchase the book from bookstores countrywide or order it from the poet at [email protected]
Dr Makokha teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University. [email protected]