ROBERT Mugobi (RM) is an emerging young poet who recently penned his debut collection of poems, My Passion, My Voice, after several of his pieces were featured in an earlier, multi-authored poetry anthology. He speaks to NewsDay (ND) Features & Lifestyle Editor, Phillip Chidavaenzi on his work.
ND: At what stage in your life did you decide poetry was going to be your thing?
RM: That realisation did not come lightly. A heart break was the price I had to pay for that realisation. I had just gone through the first break-up of my life and I was angry, disappointed and I just needed to let all those emotions out when it suddenly dawned on me that writing was a form of therapy and immediately I sat down to bleed through my pen and then I realised I could write poetry. I wrote hundreds of poems on heartbreak alone then, and afterwards, I then ventured into writing social poetry covering a wide spectrum of themes and in this I found peace.
ND: You prefer written to performance poetry, why is that so?
RM: I find written poetry to be more challenging than performance poetry. I mean if one is on stage there are not so many restrictions as to what or what not to say or how to say it. I have seen people jump from Latin to English to Pedi and they always get away with it. But when it comes to poetry on page, one ought to be very careful that they do not commit cardinal sins like grammatical errors and I love that challenge.
ND: But don’t you think performance poetry is more lively and engaging?
RM: (Laughing) Of course, but it all comes down to one discovering and operating within your place or sphere of comfort as an artist. For most people, spoken word poetry is more lively, like you said, but for me, poetry on page is even livelier.
ND: Do you suppose poetry has the power to change individuals and societies, and in what ways?
RM: Poetry is a form of art and from times past, art has played a pivotal role in moulding society and its people. For example, if you would want to look at it from a theological point of view, you will realise that the Bible, which is used as a measuring stick for the way of life for Christians, has more than one poetic book. So, if books like Lamentations, Proverbs, Psalms and Songs of Solomon can bring about change in the Christian’s way of life, I then dare say that poetry can be used in spreading awareness, motivation and even edification within society.
ND: Your poetry has also appeared in a multi-authored anthology, doesn’t that drown the individual’s voice?
RM: No and yes. Collaborations, if done properly, have the ability to bring out what I call a rainbow kind of art; rainbow in the sense that we have different poets, with different styles coming together and beautifully creating a multifaceted piece of literature. But of course, collaborative efforts can be a bit restrictive and the next author’s limitations can become your own.
ND: Your poetry is largely Christian-inspired. What would you say are the strengths and limitations of such an approach?
RM: One can run away from this or that, but one can never run away from oneself. I believe that one can only reach their full potential as a writer when they can tell their own story. Someone once said the bitter the poet, the sweeter the poem. This I can safely say also applies to any emotion or message within any writing. Your voice is louder when you don’t move too far from where you are as a person. In my case, I have seen that the reader can put you in a certain bracket and expect you to operate within its confines, which will be a difficult thing the moment you want to tread on other supposedly sacred grounds (themes) because already in the world’s eyes, you have lost the way.
ND: As a Christian poet, how do you deal with subjects of romance and passion in your poetry? Are there any challenges associated with that?
RM: Fortunately, I have always shunned the idea of being identified as a Christian poet, maybe because from a very early stage I realised that the moment you are called such, then your wings become tied and you can no longer fly to the enchanted horizons of certain themes freely. Of course, I am a Christian and yes I’m a poet, but I’m not a Christian poet, rather I’m a poet who is also a Christian.
ND: How do you come up with a poem?
RM: My creative process is rather funny. I have trained myself to creatively write from my secret place, which I tried to explain in my upcoming anthology, and in this secret place I can draw inspiration from just about anything. I don’t struggle with inspiration. It can be from day to day experiences, it can be from music, it can be in church or from just observing the environment around me.
ND: You studied science and technology at university, has that in any way influenced your writing?
RM: Like they say; Once an eagle, always an eagle. I have at times written poetry using Computer Science terminology in metaphors, though I was heartbroken when my mother burnt my books, which had a whole series of such, because she mistook them for old books that were no longer needed.
ND: You have written hundreds of poems. Can you remember them all off-head?
RM: I remember most of them in full but what I know is that everything I have written has a signature scent that even someone else, not just me, who has religiously followed my writings can pick it up.
ND: What has the reception of your poetry been like? Do you find a lot of readers interested in poetry?
RM: Well, I can attest that at first it was a hustle just to get someone who is interested in what I had put on paper, but I kept pushing through social media. At one time I put up and ran a blog, writing poems and posting for free until gradually my readers increased, then I began to sell copies. I remember just last year, I went as far as Bulawayo to deliver copies and a few copies went as far as South Africa and the United States.
ND: There is a belief that poetry isn’t given the respect it deserves among literary genres. Do you agree with this sentiment, and why?
RM: Well, I believe it is the duty of poets to exorcise this ghost of a belief. I think it’s an excuse that poets give for their failure to make a mark that other artistic genres have made, either regionally or internationally. Look at genres like Zimdancehall. Nationally it has made a mark and some of the artistes are now knocking on international doors. If Zimdancehall can make a mark like that, then I don’t see why not us as poets. The journey starts with one step. Let’s keep pushing.
ND: Thank you, Robert.