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New Poetry, Fiction, Essay

Dave Kavanagh interviews our fine new poet Faith Atuhumuze

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When did you start writing and what do you think attracted you to poetry?
I remember reading Harlequin romance novels in my teenage years and
thinking ‘this is so easy, even I can do it’. I started drafting in my exercise
books though I was never serious about it until in my early twenties when I
felt there was a story or rather stories I needed to tell. Poetry appealed to
me more than other forms of writing because it challenged me to tell a vast
story in a confined space, much like most stories I lean toward.

What motivated you to go on to focus on preparing a collection of your
writing?
Initially, I was publishing my works (one piece at a time) online through
blogs and other websites but after some time, I realized that all the pieces
were a part of a greater story that belonged in one place. There was a
recurrent story that had to be read in its entirety to be understood. With
regard to publishing, it is my belief that words should be felt with all one’s
senses including touch. There is also a certain longevity to writing that is
guaranteed by paperback that I wanted my writing to have.

Can you tell me about your journey into publication?
It wasn’t easy is all I can say. What made it possible is a number of friends
who pushed me on. One was an old pal and devoted reader, Brenda
Asiimwe who constantly reminded me that my work was worth a wider
audience and the other was Dave Kavanagh, the proprietor of the Blue Nib
Publishing who first and foremost assured me that publishing is hard but
then went on to walk with me through the entire process of compiling the
collection, editing and more editing until the last stage of publication.
Though writing is to some extent an individual process, I believe that
publishing takes a village.

How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer over the years?
I have stopped with the madness of trying to find “my voice” and now
pursue a greater madness of trying to tell the truth. I have become more
confident with the story I am telling, no longer afraid of how it will be
perceived—as long as it is true, then it deserves to be told.

One area I struggle with in my poetry is editing my work. Could you tell
me a bit about your own editing/rewriting process and do you have any
advice?
Ay, I think that was the most hectic part of making this collection. Writing
was a bit easier because it was for me…when you get to the editing part,
you have to start thinking of the readers, of how certain phrases might be
read differently, how a wrong line break might imply a whole different
meaning—it gave me a headache…luckily for me, the editors at the Blue
Nib Publishing were there to carry me through. Shirley Bell did an
incredible job editing this collection through a back and forth
correspondence. As writers, at times we become so familiar with our own
work that we cannot see anything wrong with it and we need an especially
critical eye to help polish our work for wider audiences.

I was really interested in your poems about life experience and family.
How do you approach writing about someone else’s experience and how
do your family react to your poetry.
I grew up in a small village where everyone felt as close as family—as
such I became too familiar with many people’s stories as if they were my
own. Most times, we get too close to circumstances we don’t get the
chance to feel the joy or lack thereof—that is how I felt growing up where
I did in the rural part of Uganda. Now that I have grown up and left, I get
to feel the inadequacies and suffering associated with that life and I try to convey
that in my writing. With regard to my poetry, for a community that
doesn’t believe in or further t
Good poetry should be a vessel— it should communicate something. It
should arouse discussion, make people feel something. But mostly, it
should inspire people to do something.

What’s the best experience you’ve gained through your writing?
I think it is that satisfaction that comes with knowing that I have written
what had to be written. That I am a part of something bigger. I might be
telling the story of one person but the thought that many who read the
story will relive the experience either in sympathy or celebration or
whatever feeling it arouses in them is what keeps me writing.

Which poets or poems most inspire you?
I read as much as I can afford to but the poets who have left the most
impact will be Terrance Hayes, Claudia Emerson, Joy Harjo, Stephen
Vincent Benét, and some classics such as Sappho’s works, Rubáiyát of
Omar Khayyám, Juvenal’s satires…

Whose work would you recommend with regard to contemporary poetry?
Hands down, Terrance Hayes.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Stephen Vincent Benét’s John Brown’s body. It’s one of those
books that makes you scratch your head in awe. It makes me see poetry in
his words as possessing “Enormous power, ugly to the fool, And beautiful
as a well-handled tool.”
Do you have a particular process or place where you like to write, and
does a poem start life in longhand, notes, or straight to the computer?
Often times I have the story map in my head for a long time before I write
anything down. My process often starts with one or two precise sentences which
I write down in my computer/phone depending on where I am at the
moment and then build the story around that. In stories that revolve around
specific people or instances, I even try to incorporate verbatim statements.

How do you respond to writer’s block?
Whenever I feel that blocked feeling, it’s mostly because I have become
too familiar with what I am working on. I often step aside by working on
something entirely different or taking a day’s or week’s break so that I get
a new outlook and fresher ideas on what I am working on. I consider a
little procrastination vital to the creative process—but that’s just me.

You’ve just had your first collection of poetry published, where do you see
yourself going next?
I am already quarter way into the next collection so we’ll see how that
goes. But mostly, I hope to continue growing and learning as a writer and a
reader. Further, I intend to support causes in my country particular by
raising awareness on child hunger. It is my sincere desire that no child ever
gets too familiar with hunger.

 

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