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Nick Makoha - Kingdom Gravity Forward Shortlist

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Shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection

“Nick Makoha's poems animate in the space between story and song. His sentences unwind full of ‘axe heads, shanks, short rope, blades, some poison and all its animal understanding.’ His imagery and insights are strung along an electrified syntax. He writes, ‘You will try to make sense of the terrain, its limits on reality, its secondary sounds – the crickets speaking pure rhetoric.’ I find the terrains of his thinking and feeling breathtaking. Kingdom Of Gravity is truly an amazing debut.” —Terrance Hayes

In direct narrative terms the poems in this collection relate to the horrors of the civil war that ousted the brutal tyranny of Idi Amin in Uganda, a war of liberation that brought its own barbarous atrocities. In political terms the poems chart the impact of imperialism and neo-colonialism that lay behind those traumas in the life of the nation. In personal terms, the poems are framed between the contrary pulls of attachment and flight, exile and longing. At their heart is an unwavering curiosity about how people behave in extreme situations, and what this reveals about our common human capacities to indulge grandiose visions, betray them, dissemble, seek revenge and kill. There is no presumption of innocence. There may be flight, but there is no standing aside. The narrator can dream (but is it a dream?) of a “dead man/who has been stung by the invisible bee of my bullet”.

There is much darkness of reference in the collection, but also a hopeful search for truthfulness and trust as the only things that matter. The poems -- as poems of grace, control and beauty of image – demonstrate the power of the best poetry to speak of difficult things in a way that enlightens, not merely horrifies. The care in the making and shaping of the poems bears witness to the evident fact that for Nick Makoha poetry became “This rock […] a sanctuary from which I can repair the ruins”.

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