|Interview by David Wesonga and Ogova Ondego
Published July 16, 2007
Poetry, to most people, is a drab, abstract form of writing reserved to a few eccentrics. But this view may hold true only before one watches Shailja Patel, a spoken word artist, bringing poetry to life on stage.
You recently premiered a performance in Kenya referred to as Migritude. What is it and how has it been received?
Was your mother a poet, too?
Where else has Migritude been performed apart from Kenya?
Why do you refer to Migritude as a journey? What inspires you to do it?
What is your take on pan-Africanism that Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi is championing?
Say something about your background.
You have talked of fusing Asian and African elements in your poems. How do you do it?
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Your performances have so much energy, especially with the fusing of colours. How do you manage to get to appeal to senses in such a short poetic oratory?
Say something about your heritage in relation to the works of art you create.
What do you tackle in your poems?
The spoken word performance is beginning to take its place in Kenya. What do you attribute this to?
Caroline Nderitu may be considered a leading performance poet in Nairobi. Have you ever worked with her?
Critics have dismissed Nderitu’s poetry as not being serious work of art. What do you think of her works?
Some of your works border on mime and stage acts; do you set out to mime or is this just part of your stage presence?
Some of the concerns raised in your poem border on female issues. What is your take on the spoken verses, “Vagina monologues,” by Eve Ensler?
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What do you think is the major undoing for poetry in East Africa?
Publishers refuse to sanction works like poems on the grounds that they don’t sell. How commercially viable is poetry in the written form?
You seem not to be averse to using obscene and four letter words that many Africans find offensive. John Sibi-Okumu brought this to your attention during your Nairobi performance of Migritude.
What don’t you address in your poetry?
Why are you in art and not the field of finance in which you worked previously in London? Would it be accurate for any one to describe you as a failed corporate player masquerading as a poet?
What do your parents and sisters think of your work as a poet?
What, so far, do you consider to be your achievements as an artist?
What are your failures or regrets?
If you had it to do over again, how different would you live?
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Why do you think black East Africans appear hostile to Asians?
Despite European colonialism and oppression, black Kenyans and Ugandans, for example, are not hostile to them as they are to Asians. Why do you think this is so?
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When her “Africanness” was questioned during the launch of African Woman magazine in May 2007, former Miss India Kenya Pinky Ghelani vigorously defended herself saying she was born, raised, attended school in Kenya and holds a Kenyan passport besides representing Kenya as a judge abroad.
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What can black Kenyans learn from the Asian joint family concept that is both a source of strength and restriction?
Are joint families still as important in Asian community as before?
All pictures courtesy of Shailja Patel