BY THE BOOK: Anthony Wesonga Oduori

Poet Anthony Wesonga Oduori. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • I will not shame traditional publishers and printers
  • I don't draft notes, I have no laptop, I do not journal
  • Our society has become sensitive and people so impressionable to a point where not offending someone or anyone is no guarantee

Anthony Wesonga Oduori describes himself as a nobody who worries about the effects of climate change, plastic on the ocean floor, tax evasion and the casual use of digital platforms.

He muses that it is ironical because there are people who get paid to worry on our behalf.

Oduori, whose first poetry collection was published in 2014 under the title Jam on Our Faces— also says this is the very time he formally began to write had his intricate 327 Thousand Feet High launched in July 2019.

It is a collection of poems that jolt readers into awareness of social, political and economic predicaments, some of which are of their own doing. The lines of his poems gives one an impression of well-thought out concerns but ones that make you reread.

The title of the anthology carries a number of implications. One of them is the author speaking from a vantage position while looking down on and addressing the audience which, he explained, was for safety reasons.

In his reply, he made reference to the epilogue a few times:
“I imagined myself as a court poet lamenting from the safe distance (100 kilometres away from the earth's surface); the edge of space; safe from the wrath that comes with shaming corruption overtly (read ‘wajinga nyinyi’).

You will be savagely attacked by a squeamish society that has twisted its definitions of decent behaviour and the work ethic.

So timid but with a waning sense of responsibility I perched myself on the precarious edge of space thus the dizzying height of 327 Thousand Feet High.

Our society has become sensitive and people so impressionable to a point where not offending someone or anyone is no guarantee. Digital platforms give us the tools of expression but we wield opinions and exhibitionism with reckless abandon.

Metaphysics and Astrophysics mesmerise me, in my books you will find pockets of my navel- gazing on the size of the observable universe, man's fate in the larger scheme of things and of course the overview-effect, which inspired the title.

The overview effect is the profound connection and affection, the attachment astronauts experience on seeing the Earth from space. They talk of an uncanny sense of revelation as the Earth manifests itself before one's eyes.

During which, they explain, one instantly takes in the 'bigger picture' of things on the planet, their connection to the floating moat in the middle big never ending space (a line from notes on page 245) and the insignificance of our differences as humans!”

What attracted you to poetry?

The sophistication that comes with word play. Safety too.

Remember the recent backlash that followed King Kaka's Wajinga Nyinyi? That is what happens when you communicate plainly to a society that is naive and simplistic.

How did research inform your poems?

I relied partly on insight from podcasts (especially Joe Rogan's-an American stand-up comedian and martial artist), TED talks and books (I am currently struggling to finish reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair by Robert M. Pirsing)

Can you talk about your editing or rewriting process?

Editing and writing are one. I have written a single poem in five years.

Because I keep, I kept reworking on it to make it universal and timeless. Failure to which I feared I would set it up for irrelevance.

What was your journey to publishing like?

I will not shame traditional publishers and printers.

They insist they are in business killing any discourse that can begin to fix the permanent stigma on their reputation for lack respect toward people's manuscripts.

Most have no time for poetry. Neither do they even want to talk about it.

Do you think poetry has a purpose? Which one?

Yes.To cultivate critical or rather intellectual thinking.

When we start getting excited by phenomenon like the Githeri man then it means our daily grind and our national psyche is way offline.

What should good poetry do?

It should provoke one into self-examination with the larger ambition of becoming a better human being.

Secondly it should connect you to what is happening around you, make you a better listener. It should stimulate your higher consciousness.

The best experience you have gained through writing?

Writing is therapeutic.

Yes, there is a way the putting of your emotions on paper calms your nerves. You somehow manage to paint and tame your demons locking them up permanently in the literary universe for reference.

Which poets/poems most inspire you?

The German-American poet Charles Bukowski (1920-1994).

I will reluctantly liken my style to his. Check out his Roll the Dice. He wrote for the wretched; a good human being he was. I write for Africa and the rest of the world from right here in Kenya.

Whose work would you recommend with regard to contemporary poetry and why?

Me! I talk about things Kenyan which I believe should resonate well with the rest of the continent and far beyond. Intimate things that are universal to mankind.

Do you have a particular place where you write and do you follow a process?

Honestly I prefer my desktop computer. I don't draft notes, I have no laptop, I do not journal.

I just experience life, life happens to me while I take it all in then in the evening after a workout of shadow-boxing I sit at the PC and let it all out.

How do you respond to not knowing what to write?

I sit it out until a disturbance in the cosmos jolts me into action. I am told the universe is one breathing being where everything is connected.

The butterfly-effect perhaps.

What are you working on right now and where do you see yourself next?
A novella, maybe a full-blown novel by the time I am done.

Oduori, who is a banker based in Eldoret, concluded our conversation by mentioning that his current employment is the last brick he needs to complete his passion.


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