Young Writers get a rough guide into writing at POWO Writing Workshop

The Panel of Facilitators, from left; Jackson Biko(bikozulu), Tom Odhiambo and Tony Mochama(Smitta)

POWO February Writing Workshop @PAWA254

After a long holiday, the POWO Meet-ups resumed in the month of February
This month’s POWO Meetup was at the creative hub, PAWA254, off State House Road Crescent. PAWA 254 is a collaborative space for the creatives, journalists and community organizers in Nairobi, a first of its kind in Africa …“PAWA254 derives its name from a combination of “power” in Swahili and 254, Kenya’s country code, as a symbol of national strength and unity”

Located on the 2nd Floor of All Africa YMCA building, the space oozes of ambiance and creativity with graffiti art of inspirational leaders of our times and a well stocked library.

The meetup which was set to be a writing workshop was hosted by an able duo of Wanjiku Mwaurah and Richard Wanjohi. The event organizers kept time which from my opinion was commendable.

The facilitator panel was made up of Dr. Tom Odhiambo- a literature lecturer at University of Nairobi and a well known literary critic, Tony Mochama (Smitta Smitten) author of ‘What if I am a Literary Gangster and The Road to Eldoret and Jackson Biko- a feature writer and well known blogger.

The sessions started with an impromptu performance by Wanjiku Mwaurah who’s one of the emerging talents in Spoken Word and performance poetry. She did two pieces before the sessions started in earnest.

Dr. Tom Odhiambo during his session on finding a personal writing style

Dr Tom was the first speaker engaging us in a session on developing a personal writing style. He emphasized on the continual development of our own style of writing and urged us to avoid forcing ourselves into writing like English writers.

“Stories are all around you open your eyes and give them life. We need put thoughts down in writing and relay to others. For you to develop a writing style, pick a genre that you are comfortable with and passionate about. The passion you engage should be whole -hearted as this will be expressed in your writing.”

Tom also challenged writers on marketing their work noting that most don’t engage the same community of writers once their books have been published in trying to sell to them. He also rebuked most writers for not reading as widely thereby limiting their imagination.

Tony Mochama came up next giving us a brainwash with some pieces from his poetry collection What if I am a Literary Gangster? . He performed the first piece ‘Whack’ – one on smoking crack and another on how revolutions lead to a mirage of change to stability with an example of the Libyan revolution.

The forum broke into two sessions with one going in for Poetry Writing with Mochama while the other group stayed in the main room for an open discussion on Feature Writing with Jackson Biko.

Jackson Biko having a discussion with some of the attendants after the sessions

Biko’s emphasis in his writing is “the shorter the sentence the better”. He threw in some pointers for us.
1) Write as if you are being paid
Most of us wait for inspiration to write but as expressed through out the talk, inspiration come at a one off session in our lives if you wait for it you will never write. Write as if you are being paid even if you are not being paid. If money will motivate you to write, pay yourself. Eventually it will pay off.

2) Be consistent in writing
Decide on the genre you wish to be writing. Editors are looking for writers who will consistently deliver great content at specified time frames.

3) Send sample to the editor directly
Sending our resume to an editor is pointless. Send a feature, a sample of what you can do directly to the intended editor. Be aggressive and get direct information.

4) Train yourself to write
Writing should not be a tedious chore. It should be something you do with ease and confidence that what you have is worth it. Train yourself to write. Take a random topic of choice and write. Just write.

Some religious readers of Biko’s articles on True Love noted the shortening of the column in comparison to his blog articles. This is due to the change in consumer behaviors and readers prompting a more visual page layout with shorter word interplay.

Tony and some of the participants in the Poetry Writing workshop

Tony Mochama’s forum started off with a writing exercise, where participants were given 5 minutes within which to write about the moment, that particular moment in time, in the room. Some of the participants would later read their poems out loud towards the end of the session.
Some of the main things that came out during the session with Tony were;

1) Poetry will not change the world
This he said despite noting that many would want to challenge it, he therefore sought to clarify that many aspiring poets go into poetry with a bravado mentality on what Poetry is capable of doing, one of them being to change the world, he quoted a famous poet who once said

“ I have never seem war tanks stop on their tracks because a poem was read it nor have I ever seen poems bring peace in the face of war”

Poetry changes minds, inspires, invokes thoughts which does not mean that it has less potency, just not in the way that most poets would want to take it.

2) It is possible to define what Poetry is and what it is not
Tony warned against trying to pass off any type of prose writing as poetry. He noted that many writers come up with what should ideally be essays but because they were too lazy to give it an essay structure, call it a poem.
He also sought to refute the ‘excuse’ that most writers use when passing off some type of writing as poetry with the phrase “It came from inside my heart”. He lamented that, every writing comes from the heart but that does not necessarily make it poetry.

He advised the participants to read poetry by T.S. Eliot who was his greatest influence in poetry and one who helped him understand what Poetry actually is. He recommended one particular poem by T.S Eliot – The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock.

3) Poetry Performance
Tony talked about his long feud with one of Kenya’s poets and the difference in their opinions. He emphasized that his bone of contention with the poet was on how her type of poetry has time and again been used as a reflection of what Kenyan poetry is all about which according to Tony was a gross misrepresentation of many talented Kenyan Poets and the growth that poetry in Kenya has undergone.

He termed that kind of poetry as pop/bubble gum poetry that dwelt mainly on the feelings of happiness, joy and marvel even when the subject matter called for a somber almost rebuking dramatic effect.
Tony also noted that, not all poets who write can perform and not all poetry is meant to be performed.

The sessions came to a close after a question and answer session to the 3 panelists from the audience. During the Q and A, Biko posed it to the audience, come to think of it…is it that anonymous bloggers are cowards? He insisted that if one felt convicted to write about something, then they should not be afraid to reveal their identity.

The next POWO Meetup will on 21st April at the same venue.

Enjoy some of the moments captured by Boniface Mwangi of Picha Mtaani. He is part of the team behind the PAWA 254 Hub

Review by Robert Mahebo

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