Poet of Honour: Nick Makoha

Nick Makoha

Pythagoras Theorem 



Remember that summer when
edges went? The whole night
became concentrated darkness.
A neon moon against a pitch sky.
Not enough to light the backboard.
Bills not paid but we were up by
two in the third game of the best of seven.
Their point guard calling an illegal pick
as we double teamed, breathing like dogs
on a leash. I was staying in the spare room
of your house. Living below the line
like denominators until I learnt Algebra;
from the word Al-jabr – the reunion
of broken parts. Your nephew the third man,
floated by (a silver shadow) and drained
a three crunch through the chains.
His motto Those who lack the courage
will always find a philosophy to justify it.
It is a state of being unrestricted.
My wife’s fortnightly child-support cheques
last three weeks. All numbers are divisible
by one: the act of being divided. Isn’t the God
of the Hebrews also the God of Islam?
We are at right angles the sum of each other.
And then there is zero (that empty place)
where heat and light are meaningless.

The Shepherd…

“At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,.” – T.S Eliot – The Wasteland


…made no appeal. Spoke only of an assassination plot at
the diplomats’ independence party. Caught whispers among the
bushes. Four men making finger-maps in the dirt. Dressed in violet
house-boy attire. Can you believe that at this hour?
Continue! Height:  tall.  Complexion: pallid, body hairs sheared. When
asked, he mimicked how each stood in formation. The
only time they relaxed was in the drawing of guns. In the eyes
an expansion. Continue! They were ready to die and
watch the world burn with them. Questioned for hours on his back.
His right cheek on the tarmac of a dual carriageway, a turn
of the neck to watch the stars with his flock. Their gaze upwards
interrupted by a blast of diesel and cough of smoke from
the right. A base hum tickling his shoulders rising through the
road. Two Coco-Cola soda crates were used as a makeshift desk
to the left. Continue! The voice from behind asked and when
the only answer was a sigh… (a meter was running) into the
evening. The voice took a blade. You’ll always find a use for it. Humans
are pathetic. The voice asked another to dig some graves. Engine
off. This was not the shepherd’s war, but yet he waits
and offers his body to those who beat him. Their faces and hands like
flint. In the first grave his feet, now just cuts of meat. A
second grave his arms dying like the rusty flowers by the taxi.
In the third and fourth, his cracked skull and torso throbbing.
The goats, searching for a command, grazing at his graves. Waiting!


The Founder of Obsidian Nick Makoha is a Ugandan poet and playwright and based in London. His debut Kingdom of Gravity was shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize and nominated by The Guardian as one of the best books of 2017. A Cave Canem Graduate Fellow and Complete Works Alumni. He won the 2015 Brunel prize and 2016 Derricotte & Eady Prize for his pamphlet Resurrection Man. He was the 2019 Writer-in-Residence for The Wordsworth Trust and Wasafiri. His play The Dark was directed by JMK award-winner Roy Alexander and shortlisted for the 2019 Alfred Fagon Award. He was one of the 2019 T.S Eliot Prize Judges looking for the best new poetry collection written in English and published in 2019 (This was the first time that a Black British poet; Roger Robinson has won the prize in its 26-year history). He was a judge for Young Poet Laureate for London for 5 years and mentored four young laureates Caleb Femi, Selina Nwulu, Aisling Fahey and Warsan Shire. He has guest lectured at the universities of Suffolk, Greenwich, Goldsmiths and Roehampton. He has been involved in TV marketing campaigns for Voices Nationwide: Celebrating Fatherhood and the Gillette, Being A Man digital campaign for The Southbank Centre. His poems appeared in The New York Times, Poetry Review, Rialto, Poetry London, Triquarterly Review, Boston Review, Callaloo, and Wasafiri.

He has an MA in creative writing from Goldsmiths University where he was Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence. working to create an in depth online digital archive of the Metic experiences of Black British Writers. The term ‘Metic’, first used by T S Eliot, translates as foreigners or resident aliens whose allegiances are split between their homeland and their new country. Makoha is exploring how the metic experience of Black poets can develop our writing and career in a hope to de-homogenize the Black Metic experience.

Carol Rumens’s best poetry books of 2017 Nick Makoha’s first full-length collection, Kingdom of Gravity (Peepal Tree £8.99), was the 2017 debut which most excited me. Focused on Uganda during the Idi Amin dictatorship, his poetry is charged with ethical sensibility. The lines protest as they sing “the song disturbed by helicopter blades…” but they don’t simplify things: they explore, and complicate. Personal witness and artistry are one. – Carol Rumens – The Guardian


“Shepherd” by h.koppdelaney is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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