Storyteller turning the page on poetry

While others recite, Nduta Waweru handwrites her poems

In Summary

• The boredom of Covid awoke the creative within, now she writes and edits poems

Nduta Waweru writes and edits poems
Nduta Waweru writes and edits poems

Nduta Waweru, formerly Nduta Poems, is a page poet and storyteller inspired by the experiences of teenage girls. 

Page poetry is poetry that is written specifically for the page, unlike spoken word poetry, which is written with the intention of being performed or spoken aloud.

Nduta is passionate about teens' experiences with their bodies, Africanness, vulnerability and the confessional aspect, as well as giving these experiences a life.

She shared her poetry journey in the interview below.

How did your creative journey begin?

I started writing at a tender age. I found myself alone most of the time. My mum did a great job keeping me occupied with storybooks, which piqued my reading interest.

I did not have much access to the television or digital gadgets. Most of the information I was consuming came from written material. I remember my mum getting me a small Oxford Dictionary when I was in Class 2. I had access to the meaning of words, and I began to write things. I did not know then what I was doing was what we call journaling nowadays.

My creative journey was honed in high school, when my English teacher noticed how well I interpreted poems and stories in literature classes. He challenged me to write a poem and after reading, he asked how long I had been writing. That was the first poem I ever wrote.

 Do you have the poem?

No, I have no idea where the poem is. All I know is that he loved the poem and since then, I have never stopped writing.

What is your favourite poem and who is your favourite poet?

Oh my God! I hate that question. Because it’s very hard. There are several.

You can mention several.

That is also tricky because I am still very much green in my reading journey. Perhaps I am yet to encounter my next favourite poem.

But to mention a few, I love 'Laura: An Ode' by Jeremy Karn in particular because I feel the poem presents the analogy of the body biblically while still maintaining the profundity of a sensual poem.

'Today I Love Being Alive' by Alex Dimitrov. Ama Codjoe's 'On Seeing and Being Seen' makes me cry.

My favourite poets include Clifton Gachagua. When I read his poem with my favourite line that goes, "When you touch me at night/I think of mass graves/in Benghazi," I cry at the beauty.

Roseline Okorie. You should read her short story, 'Souvenir'.

I also love Samuel Adeyemi, Donte Collins, William James, Mary Oliver, Lalpo Melzi, Ocean Vuong, Jakky Bankong-Obi and Obasiota Ibe.

Why poetry? Do you wish to pursue other forms of art?

I think poetry is a personal affair. It allows me to be honest and entire without saying much. Like, I can give you 10-15 lines of sh*t that is happening.

I can give you those 15 lines of a whole episode and feel like I have given enough. I find poetry calming whatever the degree of heaviness there. I have tried a hand in other forms, such as fiction and personal essays, but poetry remains the central thing. I can always go elsewhere and still return to it.

What was your thought process when writing 'Sanctum'?

That story, the way it happened, away from the page, is that I had a friend. We were not that close but she was in my space as much as I was in hers. At some point, she was diagnosed with cancer. She was in and out of school. I found myself in this space where people expected that those who were close to her were the only ones affected by this even after she died.

When I was writing the story, I decided to use a poetic approach. I built the story in a way that allowed me to exploit the characters as I was familiar with them. I felt I had the wealth of knowledge to write it this way because I was very much in touch with the happenings in the story. Everything was meant to present to the audience this other side to grieving the people we’ve interacted with that is rarely applauded.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

Courage. I’m putting myself out there. If you met me a few years back and told me you read a poem I wrote, I would tell you that was not me. I was not courageous and I did not believe in my work.

What would you tell someone who just read their first poem?

Hmm, I think I’d tell them welcome to freedom of expression.

What advice would you give a poet who just wrote their first poem?

I'd say, congratulations. Keep writing.

Nduta Waweru says community is key in building page poetry
Nduta Waweru says community is key in building page poetry

What are some of your other poetry goals? Since you’ve achieved putting yourself out there.

I am aiming to refine my voice. I feel like I have been writing the same thing over and over. I am looking for other meaningful approaches to explore the themes I am keen on addressing.

Basically to tone down on the redundancy.

I noticed you handwrite most of your poems. Not just your poems but poems by other artists. Why this unique approach to poetry?

This idea of handwriting the poems came out of boredom. Somewhere in 2020, with Covid and all that. I had just completed my internship and was at home.

So I realised I had tonnes of screenshots of poems on my phone. I also had two empty notebooks. I realised that if I lost my phone, I would lose all the screenshots of these poems.

I thought, why not write them down to preserve them? Writing the poems was therapeutic. When I find a poem I like, for it to stick in my memory and for me to have a personal encounter with it, I just have to write it down.

You will always find a notebook and pen in my bag. I feel naked if I leave the house without these. Adedayo Agarau recently curated a 31-day African Poetry challenge under the hashtag #AfricanPoets2024 on Twitter.

I was posting images of these handwritten poems. He tweeted and said he liked that I handwrite the poems. I'll send that tweet. It made my whole year.

Do you think poetry has a future in the Kenyan art industry?

I think the future of poetry can only exist if we do it in a community. Especially page poetry, which appears to be silently operational in Kenya. If you look at the page poetry culture in other countries, it is thriving on community. And they do wonders in the propagation of a transcendental and vibrant poetry culture.

What inspires you to keep creating art?

Poetry is my breathing act. When I write, I feel like I am sustaining the life of something. I do not think I am stopping anytime soon because poetry is something I experience personally with my whole body.

Do you have another career or is it poetry and poetry alone?

I wish it was poetry and poetry alone.

We are forcing you to slave for capitalism.

(Chuckles). I work in insurance. I studied actuarial science for my undergraduate programme. I have a colleague of mine who keeps telling me, "Quit your job and just be a writer." But I tell her if I quit my job, what will I eat?

Let me just stay here, you continue to pay me. I promise I won’t quit poetry. The way the world is designed, let me just keep doing this and getting my salary and keeping myself alive.

I also have a customer service role, and I'm looking to advance my customer service skills as well if we are talking about certification and professionalism in that field. 

Tell us more on TVO tribe and Ibadan Art.

TVO TRIBE rebranded to The Tribe. A collective of storytellers and creatives. I serve as their poetry editor. The backstory to my joining in as editor: I was having a convo with Frank Njugi and he suggested that I should try reading for a magazine.

When I saw that The Tribe was hiring a poetry editor, I applied and somehow made it from the pool of other applicants.

We have a number of creative-oriented programmes, such as a poetry reading, which I host on Twitter spaces. I like to believe I'm part of a vibrant team. The few months I've worked for them have been transformative.

IbadanArt is a literary magazine. I serve as their poetry editor. I helped put together the poetry of our second issue on the theme of 'Liberation'. Working with the team here in coming up with a theme, getting submissions, and reading has been a mind-altering process.

It did well in reorganising my schedules to do what matters to me, and that is getting to showcase beautiful poetry.

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