“I have become really good at listening to people and often times I try to write the things they are not telling me about what they are telling me.”
Paper Dolls (Akashic Books, 2016)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
My first encounter with chapbooks was Warsan Shire’s teaching my mother how to give birth. I remember one of my friends in varsity had a copy and she lent it to me for a couple of days and in those couple of days I read and re-read her poetry over and over again. That would be my favorite chapbook. But then there is also Safia Elhillo’s chapbook Asmarani (which was part of the collection mine was in), she writes and I am in awe.
I wouldn’t say that chapbooks influenced my writing. I remember being asked once what influences and inspires my writing and it is often other people’s stories. I have become really good at listening to people and often times I try to write the things they are not telling me about what they are telling me. I do not know if that makes sense.
What’s your chapbook about?
My chapbook has been about different things to different people. But I think, looking back at the poems now, they have been about discovery, discovering myself in a society with a culture that does not allow for anything different. It has also been a journey of understanding and accepting myself as well as the people I have loved.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The poems in this collection were all written at different points in my life. They were not written with the intention of being part of a collective. In fact a lot of them were scribbled in my diary or on my computer as separate non-related pieces.
Each poem has a different memory attached to it. Because they were all written at different times they were inspired by different things. But mostly they remind me of my lovers. I came to realize after it was done that each poem was about a man or woman that I had fallen in love with at some point in my life.
The oldest piece is “Flowering.” Basically through the memory of scents and familiar flowers, it tells the story of a young girl who is raped and made to marry her rapist. I wrote this when I was in varsity. I wrote this for me.
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
That poem would have to be “Pursue.” I’ll just write it out here for you and you can figure the back story on your own. 🙂
I say, “I love you. And I would have followed you anywhere you went.”
You say, “If you had stayed, I would have swept you off your feet so hard,
We would be married by now.”
I’m swept off my feet.
But I’m a woman.
And so are you.
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
That would have to be “Prodigal,” that’s mostly because it’s the only piece that isn’t about a lover. It is about my father, not really about him, but a result of some trouble I had gotten into with him and he was rather disappointed. We were countries apart but when he called I could hear the disappointment in his voice.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
I don’t have a writing process. Not a fixed one. Apparently as writers we are meant to write as often as every day. But my work comes differently to me, poetry that is. I can’t force myself to write it. Short stories and articles, I can write those up at any point, but poetry has been more delicate and I write it only when it comes to me and this is often when I am alone and I am not alone now as often as I was previously.
What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Kwame Dawes was my editor and it was a rather interesting experience. I should probably start by saying that when I started writing it was for myself. It was for me to cope with my life experiences and it was never with the intention of becoming a writer. In fact at that age I didn’t know that I had the option to become a writer.
I remember in one of our first edits I cried, in a poem that was in the manuscript but did not make it to the chapbook he scribbled, “this is not a poem. These are notes!” But I think it was my ego that was bruised. When everyone tells you your work is good and you meet that one person that tells you otherwise, of course it will hurt.
Getting edited by Mr Dawes was the hardest thing I have ever experienced. I found myself having to question my choice of words, my motive with my work and my future as a writer. But it was all worth it in the end.
What are you working on now?
God I wish I knew. I am mostly just reading now and working to save up for a trip I can take where I can write more. It’s hard to write in the city. It’s hard to write well when you have a full time job.
I am dabbling with short story writing. I can write short stories, it’s just the time it takes, you know? Poetry comes much easier to me, it rushes into my head, I pen it down and that’s it. Stories require time, revision, and searching.
So far I have stories I want to write. I have about five of them. I already know what happens. It’s just the time that’s holding me back.
What is your favorite piece you’ve written? Why?
I am American in this country.
I am European, Kenyan, South African.
I am every country they consider better than their own.
But I am never from here.
Never Tanzanian enough.
Never Swahili speaker enough,
Or even cultured enough to know the ways and traditions of my people.
Where is your father from? What village? What language do his people speak?
Tanzania. I do not know. Jita.
And even then I am not sure if Jita is spelt with a “g” or a “j”
I think this is my favorite piece right now. It’s not part of the collection. I wrote it recently and I like it because in it, I am awakening to the lack of effort I have put in knowing my own people. We grew up away from our birth country and my excuse to not know about my father or his people has always been, “but he never talks about his people or his past,” but the truth is, I have never asked.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
Definitely music. In a parallel universe I am a dub step DJ. In this universe I have always secretly wanted to sing in a lonely bar in the middle of nowhere that houses like five regulars, one of whom is my secret lover with a mysterious past. I don’t know what I’m talking about. But yes. Music!
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
There are no rules to creativity. There is no right or wrong. Experiment with language, with structure. Experiment with yourself and your emotions.
What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?
I think one of the challenges I have had, especially now with getting published is, who I write for. I wish that someone would have told me that I will begin to write less and less for myself and more and more for an audience. Much as I would like to think and keep thinking I am writing for myself in the same way that I used to, I can no longer write without thinking of my readers, I can no longer write without thinking of potential publishers. This saddens me and makes me very anxious.
I have not arrived at any “wisdom” yet. I am still struggling with the idea of who to write for, and whether I can still write for myself.
Nyachiro Lydia Kasese is mostly a writer of poetry but has dabbled in short story writing and is working towards mastering the skill of writing stories. Her chapbook Paper Dolls was in 2016 published by the African Poetry Book Fund in their New Generation Poets chapbook series. Her works have appeared in Jalada, Writivism CACE , and BNPA.
There is a tired silence between my father and I as we ride home from work.
Tired as in: all that has been said has been said.
Tired as in: all that has been said has somehow always hurt.
Tired as in: all possible apologies have already been used on other people.
So we ride on home in a silence we both use as an excuse for our lack of original apologies.