Literary Gangster: Smitta’s poetry book

Saturday, November 10 was a big day for Tony Mochama. He was launching his book What if I am a Literary Gangster? – a collection of poetry – at the Goethe Institute in Nairobi.
With such a defiant title, you almost guessed what is contained between the covers of the book. Well, one thing you are assured of is that this is not going to be your ordinary goody goody conventional poetry. You also know that such a book will not find its way to a classroom, as a school text – the guys at the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) would have recurring nightmares would such a thing happen (but I am sure they would love to read it in private.)
Having said that, let us now examine the logic behind the title. Apparently, the title was inspired by Dr Egara Kabaji, who teaches at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, in Western Kenya. Writing in the Literary Discourse section, in the Sunday Standard, Dr Kabaji dismissed Tony Mochama as a “Literary Gangster, whose godfather is Binyavanga Wainaina.”
To some extent I agree with Dr Kabaji, but without the Binyavanga rider. To me Mochama is a literary gangster of a different type. The product of his “crime” is one that really appeals to my literary buds. And for sure he shoots from the hip.
Sample this:
When I run out of poetic tricks
I shall commit syntax
Ferry my body in a verse
And bury me, in the symmetry

Witness how he effortlessly plays around with the words syntax/sin, verse/hearse and symmetry/cemetery. That verse is picked from the poem titled The Poetry Police.
Now, Tony Mochama is not your everyday writer. To me, he is the very exemplification of the title wordsmith. At the Standard, where he writes, Mochama has about four columns, the most celebrated being Scene at, in the Pulse Magazine, which comes out every Friday.
As a journalist, I will tell you that maintaining just one column is hard enough. Writing four columns week in week out is a different thing altogether. And he still spares time to write poetry, and drink some Vodka, lots of Vodka!
Speaking of Pulse, I think I will not be contradicted when I say Mochama, who writes under the name Smitta Smitten, is the very pulse of that magazine. It is not very difficult to see his wicked and wacky sense of humour, in most sections of the magazine, even without seeing his byline.
I came to know Mochama in the late nineties. Then he had a terrible afro hairstyle and still he was a poet. His fans called him The Mad Poet – what else did you expect?
Later he would be a contributor in the earlier edition of Expression Today (ET), published by the Media Institute. He later wrote the arts for Daily Nation, but it was not until his former boss at ET David Makali dragged him to Standard, that his star really shone. At the Standard, Pulse to be precise, he was given the freedom, nay latitude, to bring his latent talent to the fore, and it has shone ever since.
Pulse in itself has been a revelation in Kenyan journalism. It dispensed with the status quo kind of journalism long practiced in the country and brought out an explosive mix of bold and exciting entertainment reporting that really appeals to the targetted audience, the youth.
Simply put, it has been a breath of fresh air.
And did I mention that Mochama was once denied entry into Russia? Perhaps the first African to enjoy that rare “honour”. What crime did you commit against the Russians Smitta?
Back to gangster poetry. Well, a lot has been said about poetry being difficult, elitist and that kind of stuff, but Mochama in his book brings it down to the level that it can be enjoyed by every person.
The topics are as varying as the world is big. In the poem titled Trading Places, the poet takes a mischievous shot at the social, political and economic differences between Africa and the West. It also addresses the double standards employed by the West when dealing with Africa.
But coming from Mochama, it has to be different. In his poem, the tables have been turned. Africa rules the world and the West comes begging for aid.
And Libya invaded America to
topple George Bush
“the tyrant,” and “restore
democracy and freedom to the long-suffering people of
United States of America!”

From war to freedom and love, to the philosophical musings of life and death, Tony Mochama addresses these topics with the same happy-go-lucky manner that is the hallmark of his writing. His poetry is full of mischief and is in many instances fired off from a cannon loaded with irony.
That the gangster is also capable of being soft, reveals another side of his pen not many are aware of, partculary in the piece, Whispers.
Laughter and your stories, lingers,
Like a silver cobweb clings
On a broken wall lit by silver moonlight

The poem is dedicated to the late Wahome Mutahi, another wordsmith, of the humour variety.
I was especially intrigued by his pieces on love and heartbreak. They are refreshingly real and could only come from someone who has been through such emotions and trust the Smitta to have gone through all those.
However, careful editing of the book would have taken care of some annoying typos occasionally appearing in the book. Maybe that has to do with the fact that it was published in Russia.
Well, a literary gangster? The “celebs” who are always on the receiving end of his pen every Friday would rather use the word terrorist.
The book is Published Brown Bear Insignia
What if I am a Literary Gangster is distributed by Suba Books and Periodicals based at Hazina Towers

  1. Hi, Ngunjiri.
    It is always enjoyable and extremely refreshing to read your views on any book, or topic for that matter. And on the literary gangster, you obviously have not dissapointed. Your intro leaves me hungering for the book, as i know it will leave many others.Keep up the good work.
    I would want to know why the heck Tony was denied entry into Russia, though i have a few guesses of my own. Could anyone shed some light please!

  2. Wow!!
    ok, Ngunjiri, I LOOOOVEEE the review, if i may say so me-self. It was extremely important for me that this anthology be an intellectually stimulating one without being dumbed down – and although it will be no set book probably, i’ll be happy if the ‘poetic masses’ find it both muses and amuses. Hugs, Tony ‘smitta’ M.

  3. Thanks Atebe and Smitta for the kind words. I really appreciate your support. However, Smitta you you did not address the small matter of your … erm “deportation” or is it “rendition” from Russia he he. As you can see Atebe really wants to know. Maybe he could hazard the guesses?

  4. It’s not so often that literary clowns like Tony enjoy such unflattering reviews. Thanks the blogosphere or call it intellectual freedom if you like. But of all the culture writers I know (and they are not few) it is only Joseph Ngunjiri who has the courage to pluck a Kwani? rebel from the obscurity of Club Soundd and give him a comfortable abode in the literary mainstream.

  5. Ngunjiri,

    No one else would have done a better review. This brother, Tony, is an inspiration to some of us. He is a genius when it comes to writing and he has proved that he is not all about the clown people think he is.
    People, get yourself a copy, it’s worth every shilling!

  6. Otieno, Muthoni, I am flattered by your kind words. But I guess I should not let it get into my head

  7. lets support Mochama and get out of this school of poetry is from another planet. poetry is about our everyday encounters in life. keep it up

  8. Mochama’s Mirage- Gangster-hood with no Guns

    Munene wa Mumbi

    That Tony Mochama is gaining status of a celebrity writer in Kenya is not in contention, especially with his weekly gossip column, but rumor and literature and more so poetry are two worlds of the same solar system if you like.
    Of course defining poetry is intricate and hence to say whether one writes poetry or not becomes a matter of –almost- faith.
    After reading What if I Am a Literary Gangster there are things that one observes without necessarily undertaking Post Graduate Studies in Poetry – say in St Petersburg University to misquote Mochama’s refrain.
    One is that Tony Mochama the poet is not Kenyan, Ah Ah… he must be Russian or Spanish or from Serbia Montenegro (a country you use lenses to locate in the world map) or I-don’t-know-what… some hybrid!
    Wait… post- colonialists will shout from the rooftops that post-colonial is hybridity, yes with no doubt, but it is the kind of amalgam that is penning eulogy to minor identities like Mochama’s Kenyan and by large African. It is indeed a conspiracy authored in the Western… oops sorry Russian Metropolis.
    The very first poem in Mochama’s collection has concepts that are strangely Siberian, Russia, St. Petersburg, and other –vskys-kaya-nevski words litter the page as if they were coming from a literary Stalin!
    Wasted White Nights, Wasted blackgods…must be commended for almost-racy wit and subtle treatment of gist, but since this is not praise and worship let us interrogate the cultural relevance of this piece as regards to putting Kenya in the literary world map. It scores zilch! But it is successful as an exhibitionist verse under the category of travelogue. In fact -let us be honest to a point of going to heaven- it is the best recommendation for a preface of the Russian Tourism Board Newsletter, if it is there.
    It echoes another one Knowing How to Travel, you can not fault this poem for being fresh but it is on the other hand more of a Richard Quest business travel magazine with a special edition of memorabilia from different countries. But it is only Tony Mochama who can go to Beirut and bring back Hezbollah antique bullets-Very good, in my view the poem ended there (fullstop) But Mochama had to put his trademark Russian Town, you guessed right St. P…
    This particular town- or is it a city Tony? Is a hanging shadow in most of the pages, a re-reading almost convinced me that it has some mysterious metaphorical consequence until I remembered the word infatuation and I shut my brain up, you see I …I …I … is irritating as this paragraph fails to demonstrate.
    This is the second thing you observe after reading the collection. Mochama is not a gangster, (it is not clear whether he misquoted EGARA KABAJI -apologies to the good old critic his name was Russianised in the book, the publisher who also happens to be Russian translated it to Egaji Kabira- typical typo) he even has no idea what gangster-hood is. He, of course, is fascinated with gangsterism not surprising for a person awestruck by overseas travel.
    The closest he comes to that gangsta-whatever is wanksta! Characteristically narcissistic, overly indulgent with his mirror to a point of being irresponsible to Pro-creation- if a Pro is a person who has mastered his craft. This aspect explains why ‘I’ is the most common word ahead of Russia and St. P….
    There is in the very least a standard to which poetry is valued. That is why clipping lines of a short story does not necessarily render it a poem….

  9. Munene wa Mumbi is a mean-minded midget whose brain is as puny as his body!! I do not mind objective criticism, but as anyone who has actually read the book will observe, the Russian poems are just three of the one hundred in the collection, as are the personal (I) poems.
    Travel, death, art, love, loss of love, comedy n tragedy, angst and time, heroes like dedan and all these themes feature in the collection. You do not mention them AT ALL?!
    The use of the first person singular (I) in all the other poems, eg in Poetry Police is the universal devise in poetry called the PERSONA, which even wa Mumbi would have known in form One had he been listening to his English literature teacher instead of snoring & farting the hot afternoons away (or whatever it is Frodos do when bored out of their numbskulls in class). I suspect that munene is simply petulantly hitting back at me for refusing to review his exhibitionistic play ‘Black Maria strippa’ a few months back, when he displayed it to the public. I did you a favour by not reviewing that play, mein friend, because even none other than playwright John Sibi-Okumu thought it had gaping holes in fluidity and credibility. Amateurish … and before even reading a page of this book, you had told me you would ‘buy it to tear it apart.’
    Not so? I urge bloggers to ignore Munene’s ‘Short Man’s Complex’ review applied in literature n judge for themselves. As for this pathetic adolf hitler of literature, i’ll happily refund your 500 bob for the book because .. i do not like to see a jewel in the snout of an unappreciative swine (in your case, piglet). Look at that daft last sentence in your ‘critique’ for instance, ati, ‘clipping the lines of a short story does not render it a poem..’?? What on earth are you talking about, dude ??????????????

  10. Well the pens of people who have written pieces vast and varied that hem in what can be contentiously called as Literary criticism have not also failed in certain situations to stain Literature with various types of dubiousness. Well, perhaps one such type that we are readily familiar with is that of making criticism of a text you havent experienced (read ‘read’). I havent yet come across a copy of Mochama’s new book, naturally because the six bookstores here in Leipzig only have Grisham and Harry Porter in English.

    Yet, I still dare venture into the insides of the halo created by the poet and his collection of poems. Within this halo, whose margins are now being defined by Toni and his readers, I venture this rare words from a critic familiar with his words: move on Tony. Naipaul played the Literary James Bond and served HM in the province of Literature well. He got knighted and bagged a Nobel. What is wrong with you being a Literary Gangster? Whatever that really means?

  11. hi Jngunjiri, i finally get to see what u’Ve been upto lately…goodstuff…as one who’s not read any of the books,can’t comment on them.would be nice if there was a way i could read them though… but i guess we shall arrange that some time…very informative views…how interesting…

    (an excerpt from my dormant blog!!)

    WHY DOES reading Poetry have to be such a tiresome exercise? Do you have to get a POUND-ing headache just by going through a poem(if so then it is easier for me to bang my head on the wall, its faster, gives a more thorough headache) Do you have to spend hours trying to figure out what each dialogized word means, as it can mean 150 thousand things? (what a WASTELAND of brains, filling a crossword takes similar time and is more refreshing and not so frustrating) Do words have to be cryptic to be poetic?

    I must confess that I have resigned myself in the last couple of years reading poetry that doesn’t kill my brain cells from over exhaustion. Weldon Kees collection of poetry is a favourite, dark though not depressing (unlike, lets say, Philip Lurkin’s) and simple (not simplistic), vivid, dramatic, almost like watching a play (let the stage reveal the logic of (my) destiny). My most favourite is Muhammad Al Maghut, whose Fan of Swords doesn’t kill but cools my brain from metres and stanzas and everything. Even in translation it still is poetry. And Caroline Nderitu. And rap/genge/bongoflava from Dandora and K-south and Dar. And Smitta’s literary terrorism.

    I guess then for the love of the overtly rebellious poetry (both politically and artistically) I am a pessimistic person, and yes, I believe art can’t save anyone and anything and that so far it has been over rated (as the solver of worlds problems,) but isn’t it refreshing to read poetic prose and prose-sounding poems(proems?) That are colourful in language and vivid and direct rather than mull over a phrase for years just because it is ‘classical poetry?’ That excite my passions and sentiments into quick action and/or excitement rather than make me spend the whole month sitting in a daze trying to figure out what the meaning was? Performance poetry that tingles my senses not by the sweet voice of their performers or their movements at the podium but by the fact that I understand them the minute each flowery sentence is uttered, like an instant dose of caffeine? Hip hop chants that tell me cat throw your hands up and tell me all about the Game and we Ride in the same wave, One Blood, and I feel happy spitting staccato bursts of rhyme rather than agonise over a Mr Prufrock (or was it?) who life is measured in teaspoons or agonise over an Eliot cat?

    For those who love such, I have no qualms and no quarrel. (Munene my former room mate being one.One day i know you will win a ki-award somewhere since there is a genius in you.)But as for me, poetry similar to rocket science can as well gather dust in my shelves-quantum physics in shortened, rhyming sentences simply gives me a headache. I confess, then, that I am lazy. For Smitta Mochama and Caroline Nderitu and Mwas and UkooFlani and all those writing un-poetic poems, (who comes up with such classifications anyway?) you have a client in me because I got the disease too. Poetic Laziness.

  13. Mochama’s Mirage Part 2: Gangsters are Six-Foot Tall and on their Way to Literary Heaven Praise Mochama? Amen!

    … this must be the beginning of this overly humble apology to Mochama, the best thing to happen to poetry on earth since… i forget who.
    I remember all my English teachers and Professors, especially their thoughts on poetry, i do sincerely apologize to them, and whoever it is that paid my school fees, for forgetting that poetry is a fluid -read open air market- art in which every Tony, Dick and Harry can churn out classics by clipping sentences of unfinished editorials.
    While in a moment of unwelcome hallucination i thought poetry is economy of words, Mochama (Thank you, i should pay you some fee) re-educated me in this mysterious art, that poetry is extravagance and scatter like a fake Chinese warrior playing Drunk Master- after mastering enough Pushkin eh.. Vodka- in a Hollywood movie. Take the poem Black Mischief for instance, i thought the first stanza, according to my illiteracy was great:
    Sisina’s sin, it seems
    Is that he had no idea
    Where Naivasha ends,
    And England begins.
    Poetry being Chinese- sorry Russian- to me, i believed that was the end of a powerful poem, but new education according to a new guru- after writing a thin collection and contributing a lot to newspaper anthologies, WOW!- is that poetry must have appendices, explanations and commentaries, actually footnotes,- which ends up looking like a column in a high school magazine- which is what the rest of the stanzas do effectively. It looked to me (sorry for using me and I like one POET i know it is only that i want to make clear that my teachers have nothing to do with it) like a man or a woman who is stark naked in a desperate bid to catch attention. Or insulting the literary minds of the consumers… i don’t know which, the all knowing omni- whatever Adams can tell us.

    In Wellime’s Posthumous Job the first stanza goes like this;
    Wellime was appointed treasure of WUCST
    Western College of Science and Technology
    by Kibaki
    only, he’d been dead and buried for
    a fort-night.

    (PS The above lines are not clipped no… WUCST is…? )
    Wow this is poetry according to which Kindergarten instructor? Surely it looks like an intro to a poorly written feature story in a gutter publication. To say the truth and ashame the devil i thought Western College of Science and Technology as a line has no poetic value at all – in the context of the whole poem. I agree the idea is poetic but its treatment is pathetic. Another typo in -treasure cannot escape a class eight composition candidate, but making typos is postmodernist or something? Huh some education! The poem is a very good fact file, and according to my limited knowledge fact files are one million light years away from poetry- please give me your one cent education on this. I almost regretted to observe that it is a wasted page… that is until the psycho- analytic Professor Smitta Adams the poet came knocking at my ignorance.
    Hippo poetry is a good piece, a master tongue twister, but it has something hypocritical about it. It is i thought, before Mochama opened my eyes on the way to my literary Damascus- penned for the sake of mental jogging, and not in the style of Oscar Wilde’s art for art’s sake, no it lacks the patience. It is a deficient nursery school rhyme… but with potential to be a Sunday School memory verse.
    There is of course a good side to Mochama’s book; the illustrations by Jeff Muthee, thought provoking and ingenious concepts. Their only shortcoming is that they look smudgy on paper- even if a charcoal was used, a sharpener at any hawkers stand is ten bob- All knowing Smitta Adams should buy one before refunding me 500 bob for the book so i expect 490. But again you never know maybe the publisher sub-contracted a backstreet printer in St. Petersburg inspired by Pushkin… Spirit.
    There is according to the Saul-me before Prof. Adams Psycho- Analysis Doctor hits me with Paul light, one poem that Mochama wrote under the influence of thinking………


    I did not know that the book was meant for tall people ah…ah, i discovered a bit late, but i will make a point to recommend to friends i consider my height not to touch it lest they think anything about it and are branded Hitlers. I will also do a re-reading of it after i go to the gymn and acquire muscles because pysique is so important in any meaningful reading of this particular collection. ‘PLEASE’ i will beg them don’t take any intellectual muscle to that reading!

  14. I like the way this debate is going and especially Munene’s insights are quite eye opening though i do not necessarily agree with his barrel bullet approach.
    The concerns he raises on Mochama’s book are genuine – i now can see after reading again. His thoughts are definitely intellectual though his language may not be.
    It thus surprises me that Tony Mochama who i have respected for a while resorted to insults and unfounded psycho-analysis of Munene. For one the way Munene is addressed makes me fear to even give my comments because i am 5.6 ft tall or short, this kind of stereotyping of people, thin, fat, short, tall or others one does not consider attractive has nothing to do with appreciating poetry.
    When one writes the book becomes almost a public property to be criticized in any way you can not force people to see only the good side of the book neither can you limit others on what to think about it. That would be despotic the kind that Mochama accuses Munene of. Pray why do you call another one Hitler just because he thought your book had typos.
    When Tony raises issues about him and Munene that are not within the grasp of this debate it becomes a personal exchange that does little to advance the debate.
    By the way i watched Black Maria Strippa and i thought that it was a good play that took Kenyan theatre to another height. So trashing it just to get back at Munene is vanity.
    I encourage Mochama to write more books, i would be happy to buy another, and Munene to continue with his critique (and also another play). You do not have to agree.
    Good work Ngunjiri!

  15. Like a dumb retard who keeps repeating his own grounds-hog day, ‘Sir Frodo Henry’ just won’t quit. Let me reiterate that I am livid with him because his critique is as unfair as he warned me it would be (i actually thought the twat was kidding)…
    Since he is pretending to be as stupid as his jaundiced views (and wants to personalise what should have been a purely intellectual manner), I’ll continue the fake re-education of Munene (isn’t that name supposed to mean BIG man, or was it poetic irony on the part of your progenitors) …
    The sisina poem is a ‘Cholomondley Chronicle’ on that horrible incident by that white pyscho. how the poem escapes you, escapes me. The WUCST poem is an ironic commentary on the impersonality of government, famously, Kibaki’s, whose hands off vis-a-vis Moi’s strong arm approach i personally happen to like.
    The hip-hop hippo piece has nothing to do with sundays, it is deliberate poetic riff that is meant to be melodious and musical as a work of words ..
    Having said that, I too was reading TS Eliot, but at form two unlike your campus discovery of the man, and unlike your pained efforts in your play to stage psychological, un-African art full of repressed Anglo-catholic sentiment, I simply wanted to created a true Kenyan work of art that encompasses both our reality and that of the wider world. Before you even begin to imagine that that is a damning indictment of self, let me exonerate myself using the academic Qs that folk like yourself (nakujua vizuri) enjoy hurling at less ‘campussed folk.’ I was first in english in kcse in Kenya from starehe, did law as a regular in Campo and have a diploma from russki in jounalism, so don’t even try that academic BS line on me ( and by the way, the smudged coal look in the book is deliberate for art effect, and anyone who has actually SEEN the book marvels at its high print quality, so your St Petersburg back-street allegation is a petulant insult & exposes you for who you are – a small, mean man)
    My friend, for all your TS Eliotian pretensions, I suspect you are bitter with me for one and only one reason – your wide learning is far far abreast of your artistic talents, but don’t vent your rage at failing to becoming the respected creative artist you so crave to be on me.
    Blame that on the Munenes .. and grow up. and I mean that both ‘literary’ and literally. smitts mochama.

  16. (Inspired by Smitta’s photo on Pulse Mag.)

    *He sprinkles his ink on us,
    Every Fridays and in some book,
    His eyes facing the left,
    The fevent leftist literary Gangstar.

    Three feet tall on a chess board,
    Mildly clenched fingers ready to strike,
    With irony, humour he vomits,
    Making all hats fall except his.

    Shoes, pant and jacket,cover his book,
    Chess he plays, literally literary,
    Eyes, he sees beyond common words,
    Mouth opened loud, with a pen.

    Plain wisdom,black words on white,
    White T-shirt, black iris on white,
    A get-ready-for-it stance,
    To start the verse, gangstar salsa.

    A gangstar, on a chess board,
    Alone against the King and Queen,
    Sheakspeare, servant of Elizabeth,
    With communism playing around the verses.

    Of Smitta’s barracks, the poetry battalion,
    Chasing the gangstar in him, and,
    Checkmating the Smitta and Mochama,
    A new genre is born on board.

    A Maxist of strange humour,
    Skipping beyond pages and letters,
    Politics of grammar he brings forth,
    Arrested he is by Brown Bear Insignia.

    His mistake, to toss beyond Russia,
    A toss of verses in his Vodka,
    Sipping bit by sip on our minds,
    Dropping, with intoxication of literary soberness.

    You hit with learned softness,
    With a shovel on our brains,
    We arise from the sleep of our words,
    With the birth of a Literary Gangstar.

    Charles the Pulse, bakes them words,
    Doughs me minces,gossip with salt,
    His oven, full of contributors and cold heat,
    The cakes, come Fridays we miss not.

    Ingesting the Smitta and Tony flavours,
    Shape of letters and words inflate,
    Hygiene of mind and soul purifies,
    But what makes us be so Smitten?

    Mundia Mundia Jnr.

  17. Huh! never again have i read such an engaging and personalized debate on poetry. Let me say i stumbled on it and i will become an addict, I will visit this blog as long as we are going to have a battle of brains like the one between Munene and Mochama.
    Let me confess that i have not read Mochama’s book i am still hunting for a copy but i would like to make a comment regarding the exchanges here.
    First i must confess it is amusing to read Munene’s thoughts and the way they are put forward leaves you with a feeling of being with a person with mastery of language and a critical brain. Munene also seems to have independent and divergent expressions of all the comments it is him who has dared to point out what may be shortcomings in Mochama’s collection, that is what we need if Kenya is ever going to realize quality writings.
    Mochama is equally amazing, i have always looked forward to his articles in the Standard, but i wish he had taken the criticisms as a man, again you would not want every person to praise you like they do to the President without informing you where the fire may be burning, if i were Mochama i would realize that Munene is actually telling me the truth whether i like it or not and regardless of other factors- that is if the points he is raising are genuine.
    When are they posting other comments or the exchange between Munene and Mochama is over?

  18. wow!Lets talk about the literary gangster.He blew up the whole p-industry.I mean it is not always the case that you can enjoy poems like poetry police and trading places laced with humour but not simple as well-engaging minds literally.Who can say it is not poetry that you can enjoy.Big up Smitta.Omorwani Nigo akorwana n’eritimo erioge

  19. I read with enthusiasm Tony Mochama’s article (The Sunday Standard 9th 2007) and which was a reflection of his frozen past that is currently melting ‘beyond the river’.

    Certainly, the poet cum-writer’s ‘hit and run’ esoteric etymology of ‘The River Between’ is seen to be pseudonymously counterfeit.

    First, he chooses to make his mundane poetry works look abysmal an intifadal against other great reads, as Ngugi Wathiongo’s.

    Secondly, he introduces ‘literary botulism’ by cunningly re-constructing ‘The River Between’, to read ‘Between the River’. This he makes by making us believe that, ‘it is time to look beyond the river. My emphasis being, ‘beyond the river’. A writer of his genre would be smarter to rename that as ‘The River Between’, and not ‘beyond the river’ which carries a totally different meaning altogether. Or it is matter of poetic gangsterism? Or may be an obsession to confine and submerge oneself in the river or beyond”.

    On the other hand, is ‘what if I am a literary gangster’ an upstart indemnity for the post – (1978-2000) literary drought that comes with solace? Or are his untethered works archetypical that unrestrained or scathingly leftist than fascistic in constant and style?

    Even with his literary treatise around, I equally equate Mochama to LRA’s ‘Kony’ for his literary violence that is against a seemingly stable pre-millennium societal ideologies, no matter the trans-historical taste.

    Aren’t Kenyan teens yearning to conceptualize and understand better the climatic political underpinnings between the year 1978 and 2000 that clouded and prevented Kenyan youth from accessing the likes of ‘The River Between’ in schools?

    Believing that KIE is ‘forcing old work on young students’ is not only mischievous but utterly perfidious. Not having read and analyzed a pre-millennial by current youth not mean that the book should lose its relevance. Instead, the writer becomes inebriatingly partisan by flaunting the likes of Binyavanga Wainaina’s ‘Beyond the River Yei’ (that has a rather consorting poetic prose as his). Isn’t this literary escapism and defense mechanism taking the toll of a ‘youngster against his grandfather’, than a step-father a.k.a ‘literary godfather’.

    Or is it me et al getting stuck in the mud at the banks of ‘the river between’ of the 1960s and 1970s at this post-millennium age?

    Personally, I strongly feel that Tony Mochama is suffering from Wathiongo’s pre-millennium reverse social re-unification of our historical past and present.

    On a reflective pattern, Ngugi Wathiongo’s contribution has led to the re-assessment and (dis)-qualification of female genital mutilation (FGM). Issues involving ‘forceful circumcision of women, trusting a boy than a Kihii (uncircumcised man) and ‘tribal’ victories of one community over another/others only serves to re-educate ourselves in black and white terms than the same author’s ‘Petals of Blood’, Ngugi’s ideologies are as green as our cyber-lives through some of us would still be mowing in ignorance.

    Part of chapter 7 of the same book reads, “Circumcised in hospital under a pain killer……” chapter 9 “But we were soon intrigued, fascinated, moved by the entwinement and flowering of youthful love and life and we whispered; see the wonder-gift of God.

    Chapter 11, ‘she is the most powerful woman in all Ilmorog. She owns houses between hear and Nairobi. She owns a fleet of matatus, she owns a fleet of big transport Lorries “. Aren’t all these a reflection of our post-millennium lives though written in the 60s?

    One more thing, the book carries with it in its pages sex-episodes and scenes even in pyrethrum fields. Just what our youth do with a misconceived notion of having fun, only this time with a condom as a scare-crow for HIV/AIDS.

    Thus, as Mochama wants to entangle us in a ‘fast and forwards’ generational discourse, we should desist from defacing Ngugi Wathiongo’s literary bust from our school shelves. With sex and circumcision tools, why doesn’t Mochama see Wathiong’o as ‘young at heart but wise of mind’?
    Instead, he brings conflict to the same younger generation by playing a ‘literary gangster’, thus going against his godfather’s ‘Beyond the River Yei’ that carries cross-border peaceful identity. If in fact it is now raining heavily in the literary community, then clouds, drowning and collapse of infrastructure and subsequent ‘drought and a desert’, from the likes of Mochama should await us big.

    In Ngugi Wathiongo’s piece (Sunday Nation; 9th December, 2007), titled ‘Why I maintain faith in my Country’. He reminds us of his commitment to citizenry. In his words he starts by stating that, ‘I celebrate with my fellow Kenyans the present moment in our country.’

    He challenges us with his concept that, ‘The party represents the leader, not the leader representing the party. Or rather the leader is the party itself’. Coming to Mochama, is the teargas book, ‘What if I am a Literary Gangster’, a representation of his character, or is he the subject of his poetry book’? Mr. ‘Taban Lo Liyong’ of armed alphabet!

    Mundia Mundia Jnr.

  20. Hi Ngunjiri, kwani you have closed this debate i do not see Munene and Mochama contributing. Why is Munene not responding to Mochama. It was becoming interesting and i wish they would continue. Waiting to have another experience.
    Thank you.

  21. No discussion or views regarding What if I Am a Literary Gangster because the pseudo-poet prefers praise and worship… hallelujah? Amen.
    I find it quite insipid to engage a jester who thinks that the best literary debate must be laced with high school ‘mchongoano’ obviously literary maturity does not come with age as Mochama clearly demonstrates.
    Pretenders to everything- my grandfather used to call them ‘much-knows’ are in the very least irritating and they do expose their ignorance whenever they open their mouth and brain- if they have one. But like the Jewish Messiah i will forgive Mochama for not ever attending a literature class other than High School Comprehension class which he mistook- characteristic of him- for literary discourse.
    Any self respecting thinker- in this case anyone with a sense of responsibility abhors gossip and rumors- in our village it is left to dunderheads and idiots. Apparently that is the only thing Mochama has mastered especially the kind of gossip that peeps at ‘celebrity’ genitalia and who is sleeping with whom (mind your own business dude). But of course his obsession with “celebrity-hood” the Kenyan village-like-one can be explained by psychiatrists-take to the couch and if you can not afford it call a harambee-apparently you are philanderer of money and common sense. Wannabes behave exactly like you, the only problem you are a wannabe in everything from a theater critic-give up man you know nothing about theater-, literary critic- after interacting with a few- a psychiatrist- although based on rumors, football commentator- suits you it entails a lot of guess work and lastly a wannabe Russian!
    Wannabes, Mochama being one of them remind me of the plastic products made in China, or swimming in the shallow end of an intellectual pool.
    Inferiority complex has made Mochama overly narcissistic, even close to Dorian Gray Complex that is why you will see him trying to deduce what people say according to their height and whether they are big or small. It is as a matter of fact combined with his fanatical admiration of local celebrities who apparently are celebrities by the right of their bodies and not talent, and so Mochama very aware of his two-inch stature and bad dental distribution must assuage his ego by first associating himself with them and secondly become hostile to criticism, finally he has to write a book then proceed to pretend to be its greatest critic – having his own cake and shoving it up his mouth.
    When i was in school- not Starehe- there was something called Reader Response Theory and another one by Ronald Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ I would highly recommend them for Mochama so that he can stop behaving like a watchman to his book. But since Mochama is only exposed to PULP… sorry i meant PULSE literature he can never meet such theories, do not worry dude i will invoke one of Chaucer’s peer and tell you… please pass through my house when i am not there my house girl will show you the books to read and she will bookmark for you the chapters to MEMORIZE… and i am sure you will have enough brain to sustain a mature discourse.
    Sorry for not touching on your books i am sure if and when i point to you the three cases of plagiarism that i noted in your book you will be up the roof calling me unprintables… if only you had finished your degree at the Parklands Campus you would have met a chapter on intellectual property law and of course you would have met maturity. But now you remained sophomoric with High school mentality but i appreciate the humor in your declaring that you were the first in English in Kenya and you went to Starehe ha ha ha ha! Did anyone send you a success card…. what about KCPE you could as well post your result slip in this blog, and next time send your book to Kenya National Examination Council perhaps they will give you an A.

  22. Munene wa Mumbi, it seems that all this is turning out to be personal. Why are you obsessed with this jama? I was forced to seive some of the stuff that you put on this page as I went through it….leave the genetalia-celeb propaganda to the ‘worshipers’ and bring us your stuff…about the literary food and all its tastes….I can see where the heat is…..old-school!

  23. As we ponder literary gangsterism in Kenya, let us beware of political gangsterism and its consequences especially when its practised by those holding some of the highest offices in the land. God Bless Kenya.

    Where Our Land Once Stood…

    stood here upon these hills
    what yesterday, was our land.
    On these slopes we stand today
    Stood that which you and I,
    Side by side
    Brought burning down
    By our endless
    Furious ethnic
    Fists and blows

    grey smokes of sadness
    spiral off these ruins,
    where piles of your crushed bones
    And mine,
    Forever sleep side by side
    next to the river of blood
    in this vast valley of skulls…
    Wild winds of regret
    Whistle here
    And whistle there…
    Spreading the sad news of
    Of our fallen hopes
    And burnt homes
    To shocked homes
    Across the whole globe…

    The soothsayers’ll say
    in folklore of years to come,
    You and I
    Failed to abide by the Law
    choosing instead blow upon blow
    smashing our past, present and tomorrow
    until all that remained was only sorrow…

    as now…
    Our ghosts
    Will stand side by side
    upon these ruins
    Of our failed State
    and hear them tell
    And retell with regrets…
    The teary tale
    Of how you and I
    Blinded by ethnic hate
    Sealed our national fate
    By killing the State.

    JKS Makokha

  24. JKS Makokha, That was a beautiful poem.
    As for my nemesis, Munene, happy new year – assuming you are not one of the ‘piles of bone’ crushed over the holidays, ‘lying silent – (blessed relief to us) – in the valley of numbskulls …’
    It almost feels good to come back to this blog and wallow in the Hen Man’s stupidity, after the atrocity that have been visited without pity on our land ..
    Now, where were we? Ahh, yes! Munene was claiming that my last interaction with literature was a high school comprehension class ..
    I donno about you. Me, I (to talk ‘Kenyanese’) don’t comprehend this man!!
    Hen Man, even a midget like you with a miniscular medullar must know that it is important for one to comprehend pulp and theatre, football and the globe, if one ever intends to be a writer of literature – serious or otherwise – and to create credible characters …
    Keep up with that sex-starved seminarian’s stentorian tones and all your plays will be linear failures, like black maria strippa was…
    I don’t mind you calling me sophmoric (very high-brow of you, bro) but to impute even an ounce of plagiarism to me is merely laughable. I daresay I have more creativity in my little finger than you have in your,erm, ‘whole’ body. In fact, why don’t you put your brain where your big mouth is and we can have a ‘creative burn-out,’ from quick poems to little theatre skits soon .. instead of just quarrelling on the blog like old academics? Or are you afraid to be exposed as a creative/critic-al fraud, Frodo??
    As for your associations with your house-gal, my little pal, some things are better left unsaid .. and un-blogged! But as Shakespeare once said – “a chamber-maid, in the dark, is as good as a duchess”- I suppose. Every man, and dwarf, to his own. What’s your motto? That, ‘all cats, at night, are colour gray’? Kind regards to you .. and your house-girl. TM. ‘SS.’


    Tony Mochama’s ‘What if I Am a literary Gangster’ seems to have been written by accident. A literary traffic accident involving reknowned writer and lecturer Egara Kabaji and Mochama as the victim of the carnage on paper.
    I may be accused of squishing Mochama’s thumb and index finger into slivers on paper wrecking him though the culprit remains the instigated ‘ghetto’ fetish by the writer himself. Surprisingly, the likes of pen-buddies who enjoy his writing only make him dive into the realm of victimhood even as the prose-poet has the reverse proclivity to laugh them off.
    Certainly, mine is not Chaucerian criticism but archeology or pornography of literary violence that comes in form of verses in books even as the luke than warm strokes of Mochama’s big pen delight in a harsh into the book chain.
    But why to join the wrong gusto literati? The literally sniper, that is comforted by some literary police & prosecutor. This ought to be a reflection of the book Song of Solomon that partly says ‘Satire me with flaglons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love’.

    With a breezy tune, light touch and a penchant for turning old forms inside out, Mochama as a provocateur re-invents new rhymes by intoxicating old rules. Cleverly, tongue-in-cheek clichés like ‘allegorical doors’ and outlandish lexical findings like, ’cooky mathematics’ are deployed in his ‘Formulating Metaphors’ verse. The verse thus is characterized not by poetic thoughts but thoughts translated into the language of poetry or romanticized prose. Although his poems’ evocation of defiance may not dispel the sense of warmth and plenitude that waft through this book, his drawback as wanting is the relish of literary science and substance. This intercourse with the busy world and collision with the ‘literary law’ on paper, seems to brace the sinews of his understanding. A rather unrestrained indulgence of utter defiance. But is Mochama a reformer of literature in Kenya? What would we observe in case he ‘paints’ his poems on canvas with his artful brilliancy?
    Surprisingly still, Mochama is being regarded rather as a youthful poet than a scientific one. May be a poeta or nimis poeta. In fact as I close my inner eyes I look upon his poems rather as venerable relics, than as finished patterns. His rather mature chivalry for pieces is furnished with the discrepancy between his, intensions and the readers’ inclinations. Though some may sample the pieces as wholly unchallenged by reading them just for the story and the poetry. Sadly, Mochama uproots intellectualism from its true soil and plants the same in a cemented floor of knitting style and humor.
    Not that humor is bad. No! The pinch only comes when he throws the soul of humor into his verses leaving behind ‘ substance’. A lack of scientific allegory. More so, he succeeds by decorating images instead of creating new ones. The images of verbal masks and sculptures than societal moral assimilation.
    Why read a book while readily armed with literary helmet and bullet proof vest? Deft repetitions of sound query meaning and a supple , the all-purpose pentameter like in the ‘Formulating Metaphors’, the verse only gets submerged. A mellifluous to the latinate book!
    Even with his moral morass, Mochama is brought into conflict and dilemmas of his own and into mortal danger. Is it not right to be governed by justness of the moral? Why to rebel against the commune’s proletarian poetic recipe? I strongly believe that his ‘counter-conversation’ poems mimic the flow and sideways drift of talk in their structure. They move by association may be through the poet’s life challenges.
    Again many pieces by writers represent ‘class’ while Mochama’s pieces represent a ‘class-of-shallow-manners’. With his vein of humor, although conspicuous, his book comes out to be useful but as a scarecrow.
    Some Aviation Magazine publisher Paul Sinclair, was once told by his charismatic psychiatrist, Dr. Wilder Penrose, that ‘meaningless violence is the true poetry of the new millennium’. Again it is said that violence brings with it more hard violence. This then should remind us of Mochama’s book, especially its harsh title. I see defiance, arrogance and gangsterism though I still refuse to play a subversive, carousing-self to his wordsmith.

    On the other hand, a late poet by the name of Pope, once wrote in his verse that ‘fair to no purpose, artful to no end’. Thus Mochama’s lurid lyrical allegories should not only be confined to his poet-fiction ghetto but away from our socially moral veins. Let us cross the river rightly lest we remain stuck on the banks of the sensate focusing river.

    Mundia Mundia Jnr.

  26. i’ve been closely following the hot debate mochama’s anthology has spurred on this blog. As an aspiring and unpublished wrter, it pains me that we seem to dwell so much on personal issues and completely loose sight of objectivity. Is it entirely impossible to comment criticaly on a piece of work without dragging in what can only be reffered to as personal feuds. I can’t help but feel deeply disillusioned.

  27. Thanks Tony,

    Lets keep it on and honestly I thik young Mureithi has a point there. Can we move away from personal stuff and focus more on the pen and its offsprings?

    Amani jamani

  28. wow, first am surprised and impressed. am trying to compile my poetry collection and head for nairobi on the road to a publishing com. i just needed this to keep me going. tony, let no one dicard yr peotry- poetry is style- shakespeare had his , i have mine , and you my friend HAVE YOURS!

  29. To me and those of my psychical/physical ilk, reading Tony Mochama’s pieces remain a must for any literary mind yearning to sprout. My blog pal Munene should learn to attack without getting literally outward. Tigers are recognized by the manner they respond not on how high the hype their “Tigeritudes”.

    I refreshingly reminisce barbs between Prof. William Ochieng and “his” progenitor crony Prof Ali Mazrui about who plagiarized the other “excuse my misconception I still have not come to the know of who among them inspires to claim the “patent rights” of the literary Godfather- and if chronological interpretation of ages is sufficiently deterministic factor to arrive at the apparent subjective conclusions”. From Munene’s emotional blurbs, Mochama seems to be that “bad lecturer” in Munene’s old school that no student wants to call the master and yet in private his sessions are unmistakably adored as exemplified by repeated full class attendance, he remains the dream of every dick with empty barrels.

    I must confess here, though a fast and selective reader might be attempted to deride Mochama’s opines at Munene’s physique, this feeling is hurriedly bottled by the literary charm that Mochama dispels it with the same literary cornerstone that critics eventually a case of interest. Read Munene’s re-posits above and you will with little resistance notice the naked differences hitting you back with thunder.

    An artist is recognized with the delicacy he mixes the stale literary recipes leaving his target audience “open and loud” mouthed as Munene vividly exemplifies. Literary Gangsta is here to stay and Munene dont stir the ant hornets if you are not ready to remain in the house enjoying the services of the literary maids.

  30. Smitta’s book is breath of fresh air in the poetry industry.

    Will someone please share info on how to publish poetry in Kenya?

  31. It has been intellectually engaging to follow, albeit with lots of amusement, the literal pugilism pitting fire-breathing Mochama and Munene. It would be interesting, however, to see what Tony has to say to the seminal points raised by Mundia Mundia Jnr, without losing his intellectual acumen.

  32. Such “critiques”! Must be four years since this battle happened. I just wasn’t there to witness it. But words never die, you know. I must be allowed to speak my mind on this blog?

    If I am, let me start by saying that Munene started off well – I would appreciate anyone criticising my works. criticism is not always negative. Likewise, it is not always positive. It simply means that someone somewhere spent money to get your work of art, and that is part of recognition. Mochama took it personal for reasons known to him. BUT if this was some kind of a feud between these two poets – for that is what Plato would call them – then they had a good duel, although they got so personal at times. Leaves you wondering who your real friends are because these two obviously had some kind of friendship. I wonder whether the ‘beef’ was settled. If it was then readers please tell me whether I am a poet, or I should start a chicken farm – of which I am more than willing. I sample two of my poems, and please be kind enough to visit my blog for more. Thank you.

    The Stumps

    For Mary

    Sitting in the trees
    Reminds me
    of days spent with you
    Tranquil and joyful.

    Their whistling in the wind
    Reminds me
    of your sweet voice
    So so melodious.

    The dropping leaves
    Remind me
    of how high you take me
    And leave me sailing down.

    The aged tree trunks
    Remind me
    of how our love
    I want to last.

    And the stumps
    The stumps, um, well,
    The stumps. They remind me
    That every journey
    Has a last step.


    The cold room

    Pa looks at the newspaper
    I flip the pages of my novel,
    No one is reading a thing.
    A minute later he flips the channels
    And I start typing a text,
    No one is doing a thing.
    One minute he grunts
    As if to clear his throat;
    I look at the ceiling
    Seeing nothing at all.
    The clock says past twelve –
    No one says a thing.

    We steal looks at each other
    No one says a thing.
    Though it’s hot outside
    The room is cold;
    Our hearts are cold.
    Mine is colder
    The past starts haunting me
    – again.

  33. Oh Wara,
    These two poems are beautiful – the analogy in the first one, the ’empty’ sentiment of the second ( although ‘again’ is unnecessary in the all important last line, how about ‘the past is looking – for a haunting’?
    On Munene, he seems to have vanished from the theatrical scene after his ‘Black Maria Maid Strippa.’ Today, I launch my fourth book since the War of the Words, ‘ Meet the Omtitas’ that is a 2013 Burt Award winner.
    So if this battle began at dawn, I guess I’m the guy standing at high noon on some hot forsaken clapped-up cardboard street, with a pygmy’s body going cold on the road ( sorry, ti hi, couldn’t resist).
    I’ll visit your blog, and keep up the excellent work.
    May the Chi be with thee, as Chinua may have said.

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