THE POWER OF POETRY

POWER OF POETRY #123: RAY MWIHAKI

I remember getting my first book of classic poetry as a child and having my mum’s friend read me pieces every time they came around. I still have that book. It smells like old age and beautiful memories with the front and back cover held together with electrical tape.

When I started writing poetry, at about 7 or so, I believed I was writing music. I wrote every emotion, every observation down in verse and sometimes, there was some rhyme. As I grew older and had to grapple with being an outlier, I found my voice through poetry. A sort of a silent protest that lives on beyond the moment of temporary sanity or insanity- in some cases. I found silence when the voices in my head and those around me got too loud.

Spike Milligan’s manic pieces made me feel right at home. W.H. Auden spoke misery in beautiful flowing pieces, with words that I could reach so easily. Then I discovered Warsan Shire who taught me to free pain seen and pain lived into flowery formations. See, I’m the kind of person who bottles things up till they froth and bubble with the wrath of an erupting volcano yet, reading Warsan’s work, I realize more pain has been lived by those brave ones who choose to share their lives with us through art.

I can’t speak to the power of poetry if I fail to mention how my perception was shaped by the words of many varied poets I have read- Michelle Ang’wenyi, Clifton Gachagua, Alvin Kathembe, Christopher Krysztofowicz and Eric Onyango. How I learnt to protest because poets like Stella Nyanzi would not be kept silent.

In 2016, I published my first poetry book; Breaking The Epitaph, a book that carried a year of darkness and pain. It’s a haunting little book that brought me back to life. Two years later, I published another, Life Goes Round. This time, an illustrated poetry book for children and those like myself, who wouldn’t want to let go of our childhood because what is this growing up we’re asked to do and how does it benefit us? I like to think of it as a hug in a book. A reminder that life happens and It should be embraced as it does. Then last year, my third poetry book was born, Candles Along Ngunyiri Street. I like to describe it as my coming to life book. In it, I am more alive, more in touch with the little joys of life, more comfortable in my own thoughts and observations. These three books are just a fraction of the work I have put out but speak a lot to who I am and the paths I have taken. Diaries or memoirs- if you will.

Poetry has also influenced how I write my prose, the pictures I paint and how characters are portrayed and even down to how the narrative is formed. I’d go as far as to say that poetry gave me life.


Ray is a puzzle to herself and many others. She finds joy in words, wax, colour, nature and a wide-eyed little one who is always looking for ways to make her smile. When she isn’t writing, you’ll probably find her on a farm somewhere trying to make Frankenstein mint varieties. One day, she will be successful. That day isn’t too far off.

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