Featured Interview with Marthé Ndongala

1. How did you discover you were a poet?

I have always had what my eldest brother says is a gift for words. I could always articulate myself and my thoughts cohesively from a young age. My mother thought I was a smart ass and thought I spoke way too much and would always say I could argue my way out of hell and back. But I never really understood the power of what words could do to the soul until the age of ten. I was watching a Tyler Perry movie, I think it was Family Reunion. It was starring an all-star cast, including the late Maya Angelou. She was starring in the film as one of the ancestral mothers. A great great in some sort-of small role, but nevertheless powerful and memorable. Now, I was a ten year-old African girl who had never heard of Maya Angelou, so I didn’t know that this beautiful old woman was a literary legend. Either way, I was absolutely enchanted with her, especially her voice.

Fast forward to the end of the movie: a wedding is taking place and the wedding hall is reminiscent of something Botticelli would have painted. Ethereal and angelic, light lavenders and creamy blues yet that was not what moved me. It was the moment when Maya Angelou began reading her poem “In and Out of Time.” She began reading in that voice and I remember thinking “Wow! Now this is power!” I felt time stop and the poem stretched on for a seemingly-perfect eternity. I didn’t know when I did it, but I had gotten up and walked right in front of the TV and started crying. Even from behind a screen, on a television, years after the original poem was written, she moved my soul. Her words touched my very existence and I knew right then and there I had to become a poet.

2. Where is your favorite place to write in the Denver metro area?

Personally, there’s no set location. I love going to parks, riding the 15L bus or sitting up in bed. Yes, there is something romantic about laying under a tree near Sloan’s Lake writing poems to the water, or driving to Lookout Mountain and watching that famous Colorado sunset that makes a tear fall. But it’s every where for me. Denver’s energy as a whole inspires me.

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3. What role do you believe poets should play in today’s society?

Poets should be storytellers most definitely. In my culture, we take care of our elders because they hold memories and experiences from a time before us. American culture doesn’t have that. They throw away their elders. They forget their ancestors, and they leave out pieces of their legacy for fear of who-knows-what. Judgement, maybe. But it is up to us to tell the stories of love, revolution, revelation, peace, war, and what happens after. We are the bridge between this world and the next and we build it with our words.

4. Who is someone you consider inspirational to your life/work and why?

Maya Angelou because she spoke like God lived in her. bell hooks because she wasn’t and never has been afraid of lifting the veil. Warsan Shire because she writes poems for African girls living in a world they gave birth to but denies them. Then, I would have to say Nayyirah Waheed. She made poetry less about a face and more centered around the voice. I honestly believe she changed the way poetry today is written. Her two worded poems give a deeper understanding of singular independent thought and emotions that just exist.

5. How does your personal story influence the themes and content of your writing?

My personal story has a lot to do with my writing. The background to my upbringing is very long, so I’ll spare you, but the more summarized version is I was a child denied the comforts of childhood and was forced to grow up too soon. My struggles with worth and body image came from what I saw in the women who raised me and the men that failed them. So I write to them and I write for them. I also try to incorporate the religious and mythical beliefs of my people in my writing, as the parallels to black womanhood and American identity.

6. What fictional character do you most relate to and why?

I would have to say probably San in the Hayao Miyazaki movie Princess Mononoke. She’s a girl who doesn’t belong to the world of the gods who raised her nor to the humans who abandoned her. Both worlds are dependent on the demise of the other, yet here she is, a human-god fighting for truth and understanding, living with eyes unshrouded by hate. She is both human and god, savage yet merciful. Her character reminds me of the power of remaining who you are and holding steadfast to what you believe in, but also embracing who you are becoming. Miyazaki creates his female characters as the masters to their own fates. San’s character represents balance and growth, things I’m always working on.

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Marthé Ndongala is Punch Drunk Press’s first Featured Woman Poet this August! She is a local creative residing in the Denver Metro Area. She works with various non-profit organizations teaching disenfranchised youth about writing, self love, and identity in the diaspora. Some of the organizations she has partnered with include Denver Children’s Home and SlamNUBA.  Born in Congo, Kinshasa Marthé believes in incorporating African identity in modern society by means of literary expression, videography, photography and other artistic expressions.  When she isn’t working with children, you can find her reading, painting, and learning Italian.  You can follow Marthé on instagram @m.t.nd.  Currently, Marthé is constructing her own brand as well as self-publishing a body of poetry titled Making Kindle Wood with My Mothers Legs.

Featured image by psychoballerina photography

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