BULAWAYO – Philani Amadeus Nyoni is widely regarded as one of the most gifted poets on the Zimbabwean literary scene with some calling him a Dambudzo Marechera reincarnate.
Bulawayo-based award-winning poet John Eppel actually rates him higher than the legendary author of “House of Hunger.”
Eppel once remarked, “Of all the second-language poets I have read, including Marechera, none has Philani Nyoni’s control of English rhyme, metre, pun and paradox.”
Three months ago when Nyoni won a National Arts Merit Awards (Nama), he walked off the stage without saying any word, in a move that left many perplexed.
Our Bulawayo reporter Jeffrey Muvundusi (JM) recently spoke to Philani Amadeus Nyoni (PAN) on his life and career.
Firstly, may you describe yourself in a few words?
I am a wordsmith, an alchemist who turns a heaven from hell and a hell from heaven with words. I am all- the poet, the fiction writer and the screenwriter. I am a madman in search of wisdom and beauty and where I find it, I share it selflessly.
What drives you to succeed and in particular what has motivated you to write more sonnets than Shakespeare?
When I started writing books, I found Shakespearean sonnets to be among the hardest forms but now I find it enjoyable hence early this year I broke the world record of the highest number of Shakespearean sonnets in a manuscript. It is all about pushing myself in form and discipline.
If there was ever a secret to obtaining anything it’s desire. Many of us are afraid of our dreams. I am not afraid to want. I am not afraid to seek. I am not afraid of scars; in a nutshell, I think I have come so far through desire and courage.
You have won NAMA awards, which categories are those and tell us what the awards mean to your career?
At 23 I received my first one for my first book, 'Once a Lover Always a Fool' in the 'Outstanding First Creative Published Work' category. In 2015 I was nominated for 'Outstanding Actor' for my role in Qiniso.In 2016 I received the Outstanding Poet Award in the spoken word category.
I appreciate the recognition immensely. Art is not a template business; there isn't a formula for creating great work, in fact, art is largely a subjective interpretation of the world and when other people think well of your work it's encouraging.
Having awards makes it easier to approach people or institutions with ideas, especially if there is a record of consistency in excellence.
For example, the first purchase of my latest poetry book “Mars His Sword” was done by the Meikles Foundation.
I wrote to inform them I was putting out a new book and they did not hesitate to order. I am infinitely grateful for that order; it made the rest of the process easier.
Even outside the country, it sort of sets one apart from the herd, the sheep from the goats so to speak, after all, everyone is a writer.
Why did you keep mum after receiving the award? Was it a publicity stunt?
Recently, the Daily News described me as controversial and I am assuming you were referring to the honest vein in my work; the uncensored nature of my realism.
On a serious note though; there are a lot of reasons. Firstly, my job is talking, why should I talk after I receive an award for Spoken Word?
There is hardly anyone to thank, I write my material, I get on stage and spit it, walk away. Second I do a lot of protest art.
There is really something hypocritical about celebrating a victory born of such crude pain, especially if the things we protest about are still going on.
Tell us more about your latest piece “Mars His Sword”?
Mars His Sword will put a lot of poets in a comma! It comprises 308 Shakesperean sonnets which is double the number of English sonnets Shakespeare left. That's a world-record –setting manuscript.
Owen Maseko published it, John Eppel along with Burmese poet and teacher Maung Day gave glowing recommendations. I'm really curious to see how it will do. I think it's a fine product but no sane father ever called his son ugly.
Any collaborations with writers from out of Zimbabwe to expect?
It's too early to tell. We have some exciting projects in the pipeline but we can't say for sure when that will come out.
Tell us about your collaboration with John Epel. Since he is much older than you, how did you find common ground?
John is an amazing human being and writer. We have been friends for years now and “Hewn From Rock” was actually slated for 2010.
Unfortunately my publisher at the time wanted to publish it before publishing my first book because, naturally, John is an established name so it meant business for him but I felt that was a career suicide.
“Hewn From Rock” is the meeting of two cultures, two generations in the common ground of poetry. I think if more of us were more concerned with common ground than pointing out differences we would be better off as a country and a planet. It contains 19 poems from each writer, writing about this rock we were both hewn from, this house of stone.
You have been likened to Dambudzo Marechera .What is your take on that?
It's an honour really, because I look at Marechera as a phenomenal writer, uncensored with an amazing world view. We share a lot of that and not many have come along to break the mould.
There are acute differences in our work, but superficially you would not see the difference. There will come a time when the distinction is clear, when people stop repeating what they hear and actually read!
Have you made profits from your work or does your writing sustain you?
Who sent you?
My future mother-in-law or ZIMRA? Next question please!
Do you think the government is giving enough support to the arts?
Anyone who expects anything from government will be acutely disappointed, in most parts of the world. To begin to enunciate my grievances here would take an eternity; maybe if they were not so scared of us, they would understand our value.