Editor’s Note: Today we’re bringing you the work of Cameroonian poet N. Muma Alain. Because we don’t see much work from overseas, we asked the poet to answer some questions about his writing process, and share some photos from his home. We hope you enjoy. —Eds.
The Rambler’s Critique of a World of Magnified Trivialities
So, as it happens, I’ve come to see that knowing a lot is not knowing enough: hypocrites everywhere teaching what they preach and failing their own tests; ignoramuses ignorant of their own ignorance wading in mires of misconceptions, moulding mountains out of mole hills in which to entrap the virtuous intellects; tiresome debates here and there persistently aggrandising so-called controversies, burdening burdened masses with ear-bleeding sing-songs of the glaringly-obvious goods and bads of a rapidly-changing world—and yet, from who knows when until today still, the majority sins, the totality suffers. But as always, few care! Loudest are these incessant whines about the state of affairs of a today that seems to be tumbling hopelessly down the drain. I give an ear and wonder when it is that the realization will come at last and expose the true archenemy lurking under the skin. Perhaps that would put an end to this viral preference for keeping busy tracing figure eights in pursuit of the arbitrariness that’s perfection. Irony of the sort: it’s this ever-lengthening chase that carves out a path-of-no-return from the darkness that is not knowing at all and knowing too little—reason why today is better in more ways than yesterday, though this better today stands and is continuously being built on the porous foundations of yesterday and its age-old woes. No wonder all these virtuous intellects—the true, heedful architects, here and there, time and again, shouting out to call attention to the flaws under, and still managing to get themselves heard—at times—even over the technological roar of the age. I watch this all come to pass and come to think that perhaps—perhaps—why this dysfunctional world even still exists is because it’s in some unconventional kind of balance. Or, perhaps, it is just I, whose wisdom needs questioning.
A Ngraffi Sage’s Poem of Adages
It is happening, O!
It is happening!
What I dreaded most is happening!
My gong is growing dumb and my voice is cracking!
I am becoming nothing but an ordinary Ngraffi man
One of arguable substance
Whose passing shall have little consequence
But I have walked enough of this long road to know the worth of my words
So even with this failing voice I must give you my counsel!
“A child carried on its parent’s back has little concept of how long or tedious the road is!”
Pay heed all you who hear
For I shall soon be gone!
Be careful what you say
For your tongue is a wand that casts powerful spells
Spells that build, spells that destroy
When I was a boy my father said to me:
“We humans were created with two eyes, two nostrils and two ears but only one opening for a mouth so we could see many things, smell many things, hear many things, but not speak of all that we’ve seen, smelled or heard.”
Be careful where you look
For the eyes that show your body the light
May also guide it to the darkness
There is a reason why the elders say:
“Don’t run after a fowl and lose a cow!”
“The tongue cannot pretend not to know what the teeth are chewing!”
So be careful how you go about and sniff
For not every odour that shall answer your nose’s call will be pleasant
And never forget:
“When trouble comes visiting, it comes along with its chair.”
Be careful how you listen
For not everyone who smiles with you and croons into your ear is an ally
Beware the words of an enemy—they are the seeds of a thorn bush!
Keep in mind that no one can ever be praised by all on this road
This is why my mentor always warned:
“The clever ear expects to hear not only the comforting cheers of acclaim but also the shrewish snipes of criticism.”
Be careful what you feel
For what you feel may be your salvation or your damnation
“If you make yourself into a sweet potato you will be eaten up raw by the moles!”
I tell you:
“If trees could bear money, many would marry monkeys!”
“No matter how fertile a plot of land is, it will never sprout a home!”
Be ever careful, therefore, but never impenetrable
Or you shall block out those precious specks of virtue
Blown with the dust by the winds of fate across this dusty road
“A bird may look down at the land with pride as it flies, shunning it, but it is on that same land that it will find a tree on which to perch.”
I have journeyed far from whence I came
I tell you: my eyes have seen that all one needs, and all that one can ever need can be found on either side of this road
And what you say, where you look, how you go about and sniff, how you listen and what you feel
Decide which side of the road you shall choose to go to seek what you need
For this is no easy road
Nor is finding what you need easy
The weather, too, shall not be on your side always
The storms and droughts shall come
With mercy and with cruelty
And how or if you survive them is dependent on the side of the road you’ve chosen to walk
Choose wisely, tread carefully!
“If you hurry, you will go late!”
I have neither wealth nor monolith in my honour
No family or friend with either of those
Even so, as I leave now, I leave you with my wisdom
True beyond the truest of truths, false beyond the falsest of falsehoods
Disregard it now or keep it with you always
A Ngraffi Sage’s Poem of Adages was previously published in The Kalahari Review.
A typical Ngraffi landscape. The word “Ngraffi” is a local, Cameroonian moniker for “grass field.” The word is also used to describe the people who inhabit the dubbed “grass field” lanscape (Northwest region of Cameroon), regardless of their tribes.
In my mind, I am somewhere
Somewhere far away from here
Someplace, anywhere but here
In that place, there is respect
In that place, there is peace
In that place, there is love
In my mind, I am somewhere
Somewhere only I know
Someplace I can run to
Reverie was previously published in The Kalahari Review.
My lover gave me another promise today,
So fake it’s almost authentic
Fit to be hung on the wall,
Right next to the others before it,
Ready to be dusted and left unused.
Funny how that one wall stands out as beautiful
In this downright ugly house!
Shed my grandmother uses as her three-stone fireplace kitchen. This shed provided part of the inspiration for the poem “Irony.”
An interview with N. Muma Alain by Easy Street’s Angela Kubinec
Kubinec: Welcome to Easy Street. It is fascinating to hear from a poet from such a great distance. I am delighted that you found us. So, how did you find us? We are not a huge internet presence.
Alain: Thank you, the pleasure is all mine. Well, I had poems that had been previously published but I felt those poems still needed to be shared to as many audiences as possible, so I embarked on a search for literary magazines that accept previously published poems. Easy Street Magazine came up among the search results.
Kubinec: Was there something special about us that made you want to send your work our way? Is there something about America itself that prompted you to submit your work here?
Alain: Apart from the fact that there was a chance that Easy Street would publish my previously published poems, the name of the magazine also piqued my interest. “Easy Street” instantly called to my mind the word “easy-going.” You know, I consider my poetry to be easy-going in the sense that readers don’t need to break their minds to understand what I’m writing about. And so because of its name, Easy Street Magazine seemed to me like the kind of easy-going magazine that my poems could fit into. Which is why I ended up submitting more poems than I’d originally intended. And I found it even better that it was an American literary magazine, because it’s no secret that if there’s anything you want to share with the entire world, the best way to do that would be to get America to help you do it.
Kubinec: Your poetry is deeply personal and introspective in a sense. Please share with our readers the emotions and philosophy that you express through poetry.
Alain: My poetry is actually a … coded autobiography. It’s my past, my present, and the future I envision. It’s the pain, the joy, the fears, the securities … I write poetry to express the raw emotions I feel as I go through every day life, emotions I hope the average, everyday person can easily relate to no matter the situation or mood they’re in when they come across my work.
Kubinec: I have read that the country of Cameroon, while relatively small in geographic area, is home to over 200 linguistic groups. This is incredibly diverse, so I am interested in knowing if English is your primary language, and what other languages you may speak. Do you write poetry in languages other than English?
Alain: Yes, English is my primary language, but I also speak French, Cameroonian Pidgin English, and I also have basic skills with the vernacular of my tribe. My writing, on the other hand, is not so flexible language-wise. I only write in English or in French.
Kubinec: Tell us a bit about your approach to writing poetry. Do you write poems in a “favorite” language and rework them for English or some other language, or do you just write a poem in whatever language suits best?
Alain: I wouldn’t say that I have a “favorite” language when writing; English is just the language most of my poems happen to have been written in. Language to me is just a channel through which the inspiration and its accompanying emotions come out. Sometimes, that channel is English, sometimes it’s French.
Kubinec: Are there any special qualities of English that make you want to write poetry in English? How does English sound? I like to listen to French and I do not understand a word of it, but there is a melodic nature in it that I enjoy.
Alain: Special qualities? [smiles] Nah! I think the reason why I write in English a lot is because I’m almost constantly speaking English. And you’re right about French [laughs], it’s magical—when used right, which is why when it comes to sound, there are ideas I actually prefer to express in French, rather than English. For example, there are poems in my poetry book that were originally written in French which I then translated to English for the book; one of them, titled “The Joy of Life,” I think is actually really good, really really good, but whenever I read its French original, “La Joie de Vivre,” I’m forced to admit that when it comes to the showcasing of melody in poetry, French is just a superior language.
Kubinec: Do you share your poems with English-speaking countries other than the U.S.? Do you share your poems with other countries that are not primarily English-speaking?
Alain: Yes, my work has appeared on a multi-national African literary platform and an American literary magazine before. I’ve also submitted to several other English-speaking countries around the world including Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand etc., though I cannot say that I’ve shared my poems in those countries since my work has yet to be accepted for publication there [chuckles]. I also make an effort to share my work with other countries that do not speak English; my work is getting published this mid-year by an Indian literary magazine. Of course, the work’s going to be published in English, but it’s great to be given the chance to share your work with readers in a country that is predominantly Hindi-speaking and see how they connect with it.
Kubinec: Some of your work could be considered a kind of warning, for instance A Ngraffi Sage’s Poem of Adages. I found that Adages provided me with a number of useful words that address the nature of being human. I imagine you sending your words out toward others with hope that they will make a change. What changes do you feel are most needed in our world as it exists now? Do you consider your work to have a global message?
Alain: I feel if there’s any change that’s going to make the world better than it is now, it’s positive individual change; become a better person then you can make the world you live in better. That’s the reason why I try to make my work introspective. I’m just trying to use my work to tell the world that regardless of who or what you are, the bottom line is we’re all human beings, what I feel is what you feel too, so complexes should be gotten rid of. I also want my work to show the world that poetry isn’t the labyrinth of words you assume it to be; poetry can also be simple to understand and yet powerful enough to leave its mark on your life.
Kubinec: What methods or practices do you use when writing, such as where, when, how or why? What inspires you?
Alain: I take weeks to write a single poem and don’t write anything until I’m inspired. I usually just wait for the inspiration to come spontaneously. The trigger is usually memories of the past, and more often than not, it’s the sad memories that have the best effect on me. You know, when you remember dark times in your life, powerful emotions—not necessarily dark emotions—well up inside you and because of that, you feel more strongly about what’s around you in the present and about what you would want your future to look like.
Kubinec: Have you been inspired by other writers? Other poets or, perhaps, mentors?
Alain: Well, there is a poet whose work influences mine, in a way. His name is (or was) Alfred Lord Tennyson and his poem “Crossing the Bar” is virtually the reason why I started writing poetry. I remember studying it in school as a boy, a few days after my father’s burial, and because of the poem’s theme, I instantly connected with it and I remember challenging myself back then to see if I could create anything as good as that poem. I think I’m still trying to do that with every poem I write.
Kubinec: As I mentioned earlier, Cameroon is extraordinary in its linguistic diversity, but it is geographically almost as incredible. It is slightly larger than Sweden, yet it possesses coastlines, deserts, mountains, rainforests, and savannas. You mention in one of your poems the desire to run to a special “place.” The special place may be a state of mind, or someplace visually beautiful, or both. Does the natural world inspire some of your poetry? What would your special “place” look like, and how would it feel?
Alain: I love nature, and that’s why it almost always makes its way into my work. I get inspired by things like beautiful landscapes and the sounds of the natural world around me. My special, ideal place is both a state of mind and a physical place. In it, there’s a whole lot of space [smiles], a whole lot of green, and a whole lot of respect, peace and love around me, as mentioned in the poem.
Kubinec: What advice would you give to poets, both in the U.S. and around the world?
Alain: Keep writing. Due to the fact that poetry is so underrated, your work may not get the magnitude of attention you feel it deserves, but your work still has the power to positively affect the lives of the few people it reaches. So keep writing and be honest when you write, because it’s the honesty you put in that gives your work the power to touch someone’s life.
Kubinec: Thank you for sharing so much with us. Again, we are extremely pleased that you found us, and are honored to introduce you to a new audience. Are there any additional words you would like to add?
Alain: Again, the pleasure is mine. I appreciate the time and effort you put in to showcase my work and the work of other new writers like me who need as much exposure as they can get. Thank you very much.
N. Muma Alain is a Cameroonian author and poet. Being one who loves to experiment with set/trending standards, he sees everything as a source of inspiration and tries for his work to be as universal and uncomplicated as possible, while still remaining relatable. His work mostly explores life and its different facets, and has appeared in the Kalahari Review and Subprimal Poetry Art. His first collection of poetry is titled Grey Mornings, Black Noons, and White Nights.