By Frank Watson
What is your background?
My name is Ndonwie Muma Alain, and I’m a 25-year-old Cameroonian writer and poet who writes using the pen name N. Muma Alain. I have been writing since I was fourteen and see writing as both a hobby and a profession. I also have a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Your background of living in Cameroon and writing poetry in both English and French is unique. How has this influenced your perspective, themes, technique, and technique?
Sometimes, when the inspiration comes, I know the only way to get what’s inside me out on paper is if I write in French; if I try to use English, I get stuck. So for me, the writing process sometimes involves translation and having written poems in both French and English, I’ve come to believe that some ideas can only be accurately expressed in one particular language, as translated poems will never convey the same magnitude and quality of ideas as the original.
When did you start reading and writing poetry? What attracted you to it? Who are your favorite or most influential poets and genres?
I only started reading poetry when I was eleven, and only read it because we were studying it in school. I was never really attracted to it until my father passed away and we studied Tennyson’s poem “Crossing the Bar” in school, a poem which has death as its theme. Naturally, Alfred Tennyson became my number one poet. I also like the works of Maya Angelou, Arthur Rimbaud, Edgar Allan Poe, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali among others, many others.
What are some of the differences you notice as a regular reader of French and English poetry?
Well, I’ve read that French poetry has a difference in syllable or meter count or something like that. [chuckles] Believe it or not, I don’t even know what “meter” really is in poetry and to be honest with you, I don’t really care to know. So personally, I think the difference is that French poetry tends to be much more flamboyant in its expression than English poetry though.
Are you involved in any other creative or literary arts?
Yes, apart from poetry, I do write fiction and I am currently working my debut collection of short stories “Fables à-la-Kind”. I also have plans to write novel-length stories but that’s a discussion for another day, I think… [smiles]
What’s the background of your winning entry, “Irony?”
I wrote “Irony” at a time when I felt betrayed by my own life. I was looking at the people around me and was like “OK. Which one of you lied to me when I was young that things were going to be better when I grow up?” [chuckles]. I was bitter, bitter at all the broken promises in my life, promises made to me that were never kept, promises I myself had made and failed to keep. I decided that when writing, I’d depict that bitterness using a troubled relationship and take a neutral stance…you know, write the poem in a way that anyone, whether male or female would read and connect with. Which is why the first line of the poem reads “My lover…”. A lover that could be male or female.
You published a poetry collection called Grey Mornings, Black Noons and White Nights. What brought about that collection? What are some of the major themes you explore?
I didn’t even know I was writing a poem when I wrote my first poem “Reverie”. So when I came back to it years later, I was so struck by how good it was that I told myself, “This poem does not deserve to be alone. I should write others.” And just like that, my collection began to come together piece-by-piece.
Grey Mornings, Black Noons and White Nights is a collection about life as a whole so it explores many themes. There’s betrayal, there’s boredom, there’s doubt, addiction, joy, hope, despair, paranoia...just many many themes. The collection’s divided into three sections: those times in life when life is neither good nor bad, those times when life throws misfortune when good fortune is expected, and those times when all hope is lost and life…decides to start giving you good things.
You submitted some very interesting poems from this book in earlier contests—“The Widow” and “A Ngraffi sage's poem of Adages.” What is the background to those poems and the stories in it? How much are the stories embedded in your poetry drawn from life experience, fictional creations, or legends? What other inspiration informs your work?
I like to think of my poems as my coded autobiography; my poems are actually a way for me to convey my raw emotions as I go through everyday life. My poetry is about my past, my present and the future I either wish for or dread. Of course, sometimes I add fictional elements into my poems, but those are usually to accentuate whatever it is I’m trying to say with the poem in question.
How do you decide on the form or shape of your poetry?
A poem is right when I feel emotionally-spent after writing it. It is right when I come back to it after a few days or weeks and its form (line breaks, stanza breaks and all that…) helps me experience again to some extent what I was experiencing when I wrote it.
What is your philosophy in writing poetry?
Personally, it’s all about honesty. Poetry is one literary genre that should convey a whole lot of honesty on the writer’s part. I believe someone should be able to read my poem and say “oh, yes! This is exactly how I feel” or “this is exactly how I see it” things like that. I believe if you convey honest emotions, the reader will form a genuine connection with your work.
What is your writing process? Do you set aside a block each day or write when the inspiration hits you? How important is revision to you versus capturing your first inspiration? Do you usually start your first draft on pen and paper or go directly to the computer?
I prefer to wait till the inspiration hits me. At least, then, I can tap into emotions I feel are real when I write. And what I call my ‘first draft’ is usually what we call a ‘seed’ in writing, something that’s maybe just a phrase or a sentence at the beginning, but gets developed into something fuller and more meaningful. Then whether it’s my computer I’m using or pen and paper, I use whatever medium best ‘extracts’ the ideas from inside of me. That medium’s usually the good ol’ pen and paper, though . [smiles]. And revision to me is as important as capturing that first inspiration and using it to write the poem itself, because upon revision, the poem has to perfectly capture what I was trying to say when writing it.
How do you see yourself developing going forward—poetically or otherwise? What publishing goals do you have?
Well, I just hope that in the future, I experience much more in life than I already have, so I can be inspired to touch on many more themes with my work that people can relate to. I do hope to publish more collections—and would love to see my work circulating in print someday.
What advice do you have for beginning poets?
Read good poetry that you connect with and write honest poetry, poetry that looks and sounds and feels like you, regardless of how weird and different it seems compared to what’s already out there.