Kayo Chingonyi was born in Zambia in 1987 and came to the UK in 1993. He studied English Literature at The University of Sheffield where he completed an undergraduate dissertation on the work of Saul Williams and co-founded a poetry and music event series called Word Life.
His poems are published in City Lighthouse (tall-lighthouse, 2009), The Shuffle Anthology (Shuffle Press, 2009), Verbalized (British Council South Africa, 2010), Paradise By Night (Booth-Clibborn Editions, 2010), Clinic II (Egg Box Publishing, 2011), The Best British Poetry 2011 (Salt Publishing, 2011), The Salt Book of Younger Poets (Salt Publishing, 2011) and Out Of Bounds (Bloodaxe Books, 2012). He is an emerging writer-in-residence at Kingston University and works as a freelance writer, performer and creative writing tutor.
He has performed his work across the UK at such venues and events as The Big Chill, Larmer Tree Festival, Essex Poetry Festival, London Literature Festival, Sheffield Poetry Festival, Contact Theatre, The RSC Swan Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, The University of Bradford and Buckingham Palace. In 2010 he was a touring artist with the British Council as part of Verbalized, a collaborative tour of South Africa and the UK.
“Some Bright Elegance captures those moments of transformation when people, places or objects take on new significances. In the book this is explored in relation to bereavement, the transcendental qualities of music and the search for spiritual understanding and connection.”
“More than a title, Some Bright Elegance is a statement of intent, a promise that Chingonyi delivers on.”
– Jacob Sam-La Rose
“This is the work of a strong and passionate new voice in UK poetry, made even stronger by the contrast with the ‘bright elegance’ of the style.”
– Dr. Nathalie Teitler
“Chingonyi’s poems have a permanence about them that belies their dark fragility. Some of them even approach that supposed impossibility: an investigation into the nature (spiritual and physical) of things. Chingonyi’s opening salvo reminds us that to be fully human is in itself an act of being fully observant.”
– Roger Robinson
‘It is possible for you to reach it but you will grieve a great deal’
– The Gospel of Judas
Imagine the husk of a man who knows
his son will die before the week is out.
You ask him why he sings, no doubt, baffled
by the faith it takes to open the most
stubborn of hearts, make a bloom of gently
insistent beauty. This is when your own
newly sprung bloom would shut itself again,
afraid that get well cards are only empty
measures of sentiment, the weight of a word.
You’re sorry with no answer to this obscene
riddle: a stubble headed boy whose scream
fissures the night ward watched by a just lord
who won’t intervene, for all this man stops
to find the tune that, even now, isn’t lost.
Some Bright Elegance
For the screwfaced in good shoes that paper
the walls of dance halls, I have little patience.
I say dance, not to be seen but free, your feet
are made for better things. Feel the bitterness
in you lift as it did for a six year old Bojangles
tapping a living out of Richmond beer gardens
to the delight of a crowd that wasn’t lynching
today but laughing at the quickness of the kid.
Throw yourself into the thick, emerging pure
reduced to flesh and bone, nerve and sinew.
Your folded arms understand music. Channel
a packed Savoy Ballroom and slide across
the dusty floor as your zoot-suited twenties
self, the feather in your hat from an Ostrich,
the swagger in your step from the ochre dust
of a West African village. Dance for the times
you’ve been stalked by store detectives
for a lady on a bus, for the look of disgust
on the face of a boy too young to understand
why he hates but only that he must. Dance
for Sammy, dead and penniless, and for the
thousands still scraping a buck as street corner
hoofers who, though they dance for their food,
move as if it is only them and the drums, talking.
When they laid our father out, mwaice wandi,
I want to say, I’m meant to say, soft light
played the skin of his spent face and the sobs
were, of course, a jangling kind of song.
If I could take you where the sandy earth
meets his final stone, tiled and off-white,
we might have learned to worship better gods.
He was known, in the shebeens, as long John.
At the wake relatives tried variations
on the words of the day: I am sorry
for your grieving/your trouble/your loss.
I’ve been weighing these apologies for years
that pass and retreat like disused stations.
I think of his walk becoming your quarry,
his knack for beguiling women, your cross.
It’s enough to bring me here, past tears
to where his face simplifies to a picture:
the shrine in Nagoya, him stood, Sequoia
among lesser trees, looking good in denim;
every inch the charismatic spectre.
In his memory my voice bears his tincture –
saxophone played low slash boy raised on soya
porridge, chloroquine, a promise of heaven.
There are days I think I’m only a vector
carrying him slowly to my own graveyard
and, standing at the lectern, rather than my son,
will be another copy: the same sharp
edge to the chin, that basso profundo hum.
Kid brother, we breathers have made an art
of negation, see how a buckled drum
is made from a man’s beating heart
and a fixed gaze is a loaded weapon.
from Some Bright Elegance (Salt Publishing, 2012).
Order Some Bright Elegance.
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Read more about Kayo at Poetry International Web.