Country: United Kingdom
Musa Okwonga is an Oxford University graduate who since then has practised both law and football, with the emphasis on the latter. He won the Junior Bridport Prize for fiction in 1994, for poetry in 1995, and the WH Smith Young Writers competition a year later. He is 30 years old and lives in South London.
Okwonga considers himself a poet, a sportswriter, a PR professional, an author, and an occasional MC. Okwonga's poetry, which he often writes on London buses, travelling entire routes in order to be immersed in humanity, displays astonishing subtlety of observation. "The language has to be a vehicle for the story, the message," Okwonga says. "Otherwise, it's just intellectual showboating. People go to poetry gigs to hear intellectual honesty." In his poetry, as in his life, that is exactly what they get. Okwonga is also a founding member of Poetry collective A poem in between people (PIP).
My eyes open slowly -
As I lie there, I see by my bedside each friend who knows me closely;
So it's come to this. I'm aged halfway to eighty,
And through each year my heart's loved bravely, therefore unsafely;
I've 'faced fate down, led it a graceful dance,
As it's chased me, I've raced it hard, outpaced it till the last -
Till I'm aching,
Till the pain's invaded so many places,
I've had to stop accelerating.
I used to be so arrogant;
I thought I'd win life's marathon,
But apparently there are no prizes for pride, or ribbons for diligence;
In the end, there's just the end, which I naively didn't see;
I thought I'd easily persevere,
I thought they'd never send the hearse through here;
You see, I've experienced so much,
I've paid so many dues,
That I thought this was a game I'd never lose;
I started thinking I was immortal
But the second I thought that, God chortled.
They say God laughs when we make plans:
He's watched me trace my path away from war-scarred foreign lands,
Where AIDS cases and unmarked graves are common as grains of desert sand,
Where solemn bargains for slaves are made each day by neighbouring clans;
Where I grew up. Soon as I left the womb, I was running;
There was always something to escape, be it Ebola
Or just that drunkard driving that Range Rover,
Racing over potholes, ten shots from being sober...
That was me; ever escaping,
Hoping, praying and close-shaving,
Evading nature's worst and Mankind at its most perverse;
No helping hand to rescue me,
I was the perfect refugee -
See, Ive been arrested, beaten,
Seized by police for no reason,
Always fleeing by my teeth's skin,
Coming to Heathrow,
And finding work, and peace, and love
With running no longer in my blood...
Now God's given me this tumour,
Spreading through me at the speed of a sleazy rumour;
I've no anger at this cancer:
Thanks to it, I'm resting,
So I guess, though it's disguised, it's a blessing...
I look around me; my whole family's here,
My wife, standing here, my son, so handsome here,
And my best man; so how can I feel abandoned here?...
I'm walking towards the finish,
Glad I've had a chance to win this prize of such a fine final scene:
A smiling trio of the finest human beings there's ever been.
Nearing the end I think I hear a drumroll, and applause
The sound of a thousand angels stamping the floorboards?...
Of course, I could be wrong;
But I cross the line
To find sunlight beyond.