Interview with Ngartia, the polyglot poet

Maneno Matamu: Tell us a bit about yourself and what you’ve been doing so far!

Ngartia: I am Ngatia Bryan. I attempt to write: I do a little bit of poetry. I’ve been writing for quite some time, since I was a kid, mostly creative writing.

I am also into other arts such as photography and theatre.

I mostly write in English but I usually perform in Sheng’ because I find it to be a more comfortable way to convey the message I put in my poems.

MM: Interesting! How did you find out that Sheng’ was your preferred mode of expression?

N: I started out by performing in English but I realized that I was talking about our real-life experiences and that by using English, I was alienating part of my audience. Most of them left English at school…when talking about something we’ve experienced, it’s good to talk in a language that everybody will understand.

Sheng’ is also a cocktail of several languages and that makes it a good language to play with.

MM: Are there any other languages you write in?

N: Oh yes! I am actually very lucky. I know Kikuyu and Kimeru. I’ve written in both, though I am better at Kikuyu which I learnt in class 1 and 2 [First two years of primary school in the Kenyan system]

MM: You were telling us earlier that you started writing from a young age. How has your relationship to language and poetry evolved over time?

N: At school, I used to be a very tiny guy and other students would pick on me. I couldn’t do much about it so I resorted to writing. I’d just grab a pen and rant and eventually it developed into an art.

I went on to write Swahili shairis but over time I discovered that I was not so keen on applying rules and shairis have far too many!

I read a lot of fiction as well and some of my readings inspire me.

MM: I hear that you are also involved in the Story Zetu blog…

N: Story Zetu is a pretty small initiative but we are hoping to grow. We are four of us, each blogging on our own, and we decided to come together to help upcoming poets to get noticed.

You see, some people write but they are too shy to perform and no one knows of them. Each week, a poet is featured, giving him/her a chance to showcase his/her work. The pieces are followed by a Q&A at the end of the week.

We alternate between lesser known and established poets. This way, we boost the upcoming artists’ exposure.

Another area we focus on is expression in African languages. We have a rich culture that we are wasting! I think if someone sees something published online in their language, they might be interested to share some of their own writings.

We are a young team writing stories about regular people: that student in Githurai, that mama who sells clothes in Kikomba, they are the essence of Story Zetu.

MM: You’ve performed at a few venues here in Nairobi and you’re known to at least some in the local poetry circles. What do you have in store for the future?

N: OK, first I’m not famous! (giggles) Let’s say a few people know me and I know a few.

I am thinking of recording my poetry which I am hoping to be able to distribute for free. That’s what I am concentrating on now. I am also looking at publishing a small book of poetry.


If you want to sample some of Ngartia’s work, do check out his personal blog. He can also be found and followed on Twitter !


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