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Interview with Nick Makoha, Writer and Poet

As a young boy, Nick Makoha fled Idi Amin’s dictatorship in Uganda and has since resided in Kenya, Saudi Arabia and currently London.  His debut collection Kingdom of Gravity was nominated by The Guardian  as one of the best books of 2017 and his poems have appeared in The New York Times and Poetry Review, among others.  He is a Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Goldsmiths working to create an in-depth online digital archive of the Metic experiences of Black British Writers. 

Nick will host the spoken word event ‘The Power of Poetry’ on Sunday, 19th May at Dulwich College.


Tell us a little about your experience as a young child, fleeing from Uganda with your mother

It was not something at the time I actively remember. I was four years old at the time. My Mum as any mother would, tried to protect me from the events that were occurring in my country.  I remember the sensation of being on a plane. I also remember travelling on the underground and being interrogated at Heathrow. It was not till I was much older that my mother shared how she smuggled me out of the country via matatu (bus). Listening to her courage and determination inspired me to write the play The Dark(Oberon 2018) that describes the night we fled the country. The play was produced by fuel Theatre and directed by the genius Roy Alexander-Weise.

Has that experience had any impact on your poetry and was poetry a way of coping?

Well the simple answer is yes. In many ways the poet emerged because I had to leave my country. England became my country of exile. I am proud to be both Ugandan and African. However much of my life and particularly my formative years have been spent making other countries my home Kenya, Saudi Arabia and England.

You started writing poetry as a child for a hobby, when did you realise that it was going to play a much larger part in your life?

Poetry was always important in my life but as a child there was nothing to show me that one could make a living from it. There are probably easier ways of existence that would have left me incomplete. Becoming a poet was a leap of faith. As a child I naively thought that everyone wrote poetry. For me it was a hobby I could not shake or get tired of.

At what point did you take the decision to leave your banking job to pursue a career in poetry and why did you burn your suits in the process!

My life had come to a crossroads either I conform and complain that my life never turned out the way I wanted to or I make something of the forming passion for poetry. If I fail then I would know that I put my all.  The two books that inspired me wereLetters to a Young Poetby Rainer Maria Rilke and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Successby Deepak Chopra. Burning my banking suits was at the time me displaying my anger that I had let my life coast by. In hindsight I realise it was a symbolic metaphor of burning my fear of failure.

What themes do you explore in Kingdom of Gravity andtell us about your journeyin producing the book

Caryl Phillips made a great point at the 2019 Bocas Lit Festival in Trinidad. He said no writer should start his enquiry by theme. You first have to have something to say, then you have to find the right voice to say it with. I wanted to tell the unbiased story of the Ugandan people during the Idi Amin dictatorship.

Poetry in the form of spoken word seems to be on the rise and gaining in popularity, why do you think this is?

Spoken word goes through phases as each generation finds its voice.  What you call a rise is the knocking at the door of a new generation asking questions about the world and their place in it.

Tell us about your role at Goldsmiths University where you are creating a digital archive of the Metic experiences of Black British Writers

I am investigating the Metic experience of Black poets. Poets who are resident aliens. In other words poets who belong to more than one geographical place. How do these geographies impact on the way they exist and write poetry?

What advice would you give to any aspiring poets?

Be open to learning and reading. Build craft over finesse. Live your life because that is where the stories are.

The Power of Poetry: Caleb Femi, Yomi Sode & Guests

Hosted by Nick Makoha

Sunday, 19th May 3PM, Farha Auditorium, Dulwich College


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