Naipanoi Lepapa is a journalist and poet. Her evolving poetry is suffused with passion, self-exploration and a kind of truth; raw depths only the gifted among us dare to plumb. Lepapa has inner conflicts and pain that she is unafraid to tap into in her work, and where many poets seek compression and conciseness, she unshackles her worlds and sets the word free to roam wherever it can evoke wonder. Sometimes known as Liz Leppy, a pen name she dropped to fully embrace her Maasai heritage, Naipanoi Lepapa has had poems published by Lawino Magazine, Artsheba and a handful of other websites. The health and fitness enthusiast blogs poetically at www.lizzleppy.blogspot.com
Sola Osofisan: I’ve come to understand you have a dual identity of sorts; business journalist by day, poet whenever possible…Do the two ever intersect or complement each other?
Naipanoi Lepapa: You must have seen two or three business articles online, but I’m not just a business reporter. I haven’t yet picked a specific area to specialize in. I cover arts, sports, nature, health and anything of human interest. I love features and profile writing the most. I always wanted to be a journalist to change lives, but I needed to be a poet to save myself. Journalism and poetry are not just arts, mirrors, they complete each other – both can muse me to write about the other.
Sola Osofisan: Your poems are often intimate and personal. I read them and I feel as if I’m eavesdropping at the confessional. Is that what they are…mostly confessions? Are these voices and personas yours or merely existing in your imagination?
Naipanoi Lepapa: I used to be in love with the feeling of feeling pain. When you fall short a lot in life, you become okay with disappointments. I was obedient to pain. I pushed myself to extremes just to feel pain and write. Behind my voice is my pain, inner ruins… I don’t normally engage in real conversations. I am this independent young strength yeasted up by conversations I can only share with my paper and pen… I write myself into any persona as long as my emotions are represented.
Sola Osofisan: You know you can’t say things like “My 19 piercings are sites of wounds that won’t sleep” as you do in an online profile and not expect us to ask you to elaborate on it. I’m of the view that it is difficult to write with the kind of passion discernible in your poetry without a deeper story behind it somewhere. So, are the Naipanoi piercings representatives of the Naipanoi story? Tell us how you first found poetry – or was it poetry that found you?
Naipanoi Lepapa: Again. The investigator. This information we put on the Internet will one day be our ruin. I have 19 piercings, 18 on my ears and one in my nose, each the result of something damaging that happened to me at a certain period in my life. My most important and recent ones represent the death, suffering and healing from my dad’s death; and for the rest, that’s my secret. I met with poetry when I was a total a mess. I had a tendency of failing in life. I needed an output. Poetry came along and picked me up and tucked me into its claws. We can never part now.
Sola Osofisan: How did you come about using piercings to reflect certain periods of your life? And why piercings, when one of your poems could have recorded the moments just as well? Why use pain to memorialize pain?
Naipanoi Lepapa: I don’t know how it all started, but I remember feeling like the world had pushed me away from the glittering sun. It must have been somewhere in my mother’s house…I needed another sensation similar to what I was feeling – or a destruction – something that would pierce my pain and infect me with a different kind of charm; an identity to identify myself because I knew these moments were going to reoccur and one day when I was almost crushing to ashes and rejecting myself, I’d need the signs to remind me of the places I have been and why I should keep going. I saw pins lying in a part of my window as I stared outside with fresh tears… I knew this was the unspeakable pain I needed to calm my pain. As the piercing tugged in my ears, people questioned; my mum did that a lot because piercings weren’t that common like they are now, but I didn’t care – piercing was protecting me – and I was not like everybody else. I knew I was a mystery even to myself so giving people that power of observation and questioning was quite something. With time and increasing failures, I needed another language to empty myself, and that’s when words began to appear in my head. There was usually an unusual piercing satisfaction after writing and there, I took the language of poetry because even my ears had run out of piercing spaces and I hate tattoos.
Sola Osofisan: I visited your Instagram pages where you have these little sticky notes like snapshots of thoughts. They made me think Naipanoi is a walking, talking greeting card factory. They come from a deep place, don’t they? What are they exactly and what inspired them?
Naipanoi Lepapa: Like most of my poetry, the smell of my father’s memories torches and adorns the borders of those pieces. I tried everything but I couldn’t move on one and a half year after he died. I thought someone else could fix my broken heart so I threw myself into some violent arms. I was wrong. I was badly ruined. I had to walk away and turn back to poetry and fire myself back to life. Poetry helped me break the ice in my heart. It took a long time but I was finally able to move back into my own self. Only poetry has such power. People don’t save people but harvest people to torments.
Sola Osofisan: It sounds like you had a special relationship with your father…
Naipanoi Lepapa: Growing up, in my father I saw defects, alcohol; I saw a failure of a man. I fought and stood up for anything just to annoy him. I didn’t know how to love him when he was all these flaws. I felt like I was a slave of a love that wasn’t mine to give. One day, my mother said I should take another angle and then view my father again. Since then, he was my best friend. He taught me to value myself, to work out and never have a protruding belly – he made me my first Ab Wheel. His greatest gift was believing in me with his warmest love when nobody else did and constantly he told me, “people will show you white teeth, but that will never mean they love you” and daily I live through white teeth that chew hearts and laugh away in thick meat and it’s okay. My kindest man, he passed on in 2013, the same day I was to see him, but I never made it while everybody else did. Guilty. He was buried a day before my birthday and a day after my sister’s birthday. And I know I will never be the same person again and I’m 100% sure I will never in this life find my father in any other man who comes in my life; nobody will ever fill that void. I am who I am because of him; I melt, burn and walk away just because no pain will ever beat his leaving. The loss of my father affected me a lot because his death till now remains a mystery. He could have been murdered, some say, but definitely not by his immediate family – wife or kids as some claimed. Others say his death was by outsiders. Others say it was just a natural death, but we, the closest to him live by hope that maybe one day we shall find out what happened and maybe then, we shall be able to grieve because the society didn’t allow us to grieve then because guilty people don’t grieve.
Sola Osofisan: When you’re writing a poem, are you conscious of your word choices or do you just pounce on a keyboard and let your fingers do the talking?
Naipanoi Lepapa: Because poetry is a draining process and confronting myself is never easy, I wait for inspiration and when inspiration strikes, I rush to my notebook. It can be an entire poem, one or two lines. I revisit the line or lines after some time and build it up to an entire piece or edit it.
Sola Osofisan: Your poems bring to mind collections by Nayyirah Waheed and Warsan Shire. Are you familiar with their works? What poets do you read?
Naipanoi Lepapa: They are among my favorite and inspire me a lot. They are raw and soul-stirring. They force you to feel and act upon yourself. Not many poets can do this. My favorite poet is definitely Audre Lorde – she was a gem. My readings are from all over, from Yrsa Daley-Ward to James Baldwin to Andrea Gibson to Rumi to Sarah Kay to Safia Elhilo to Rupi Kaur to Sandra Cisneros. As long as it’s raw and fresh, I read it.
Sola Osofisan: Robert Lee Brewer says “The act of writing poems helps me tap into parts of myself that often don’t make sense until they’re down on paper.” What parts of yourself do you tap into with your poetry? And when you’re done writing a poem, are you relieved? How do you feel?
Naipanoi Lepapa: Poetry is therapy or a drug to me. Whenever I’m frustrated or at a loss, I tap into my wounds. I locate a vein in my system and try to capture whatever I’m going through. Of course it’s never easy. Cutting that vein and squeezing the content out is one hell of a journey. I’m not fond of locating feelings in myself. The bleeding is draining. It’s like bringing yourself to your own knees and admitting things; you tap into your most innermost parts and speak up stuck up issues or pain or express yourself or interact with yourself – and sometimes it feels like you’re doing a porn thing to yourself – because eventually you’ll feel exposed to the world. But because after writing you feel relieved, you just tap. Poetry is just like a map that lets you explore yourself and be honest to yourself. It helps you grow and understand you are the source of yourself.
Sola Osofisan: Yes, writing can be a vampire sucking our emotions and passions as it feeds itself. But the good thing about it is that in writing your emotions and passions, what you lose, you also gain by immortalizing and sharing moments with others. What has been your experience sharing your poetry with readers on and offline?
Naipanoi Lepapa: Of course it’s sucking like wtf. Whenever I find these messages that say my poetry helped someone through a certain situation or they miss my poems, or need some inspiration to tackle something – that’s an epical feeling right there. It inspires me to write more, to share. Of course sharing sometimes gets you negative vibes. Some think you want to write for money. But dude, I would want to earn a living from it, but there is no money in poetry. Sometimes people think they know you because they have read your work, so they judge you. It’s easy to get hurt…to stop the sharing, especially when someone extensively follows your shared poems and translates or defines you in whatever they read, or think you’re a love god and loving you will heal them. It’s crazy out there.
Sola Osofisan: Why don’t you have a book out there?
Naipanoi Lepapa: I don’t know. This question is hard. Publishing is not like breathing – it’s not necessary – for now at least. Writing is breathing – there’s always space to fall into. But I don’t want to think about it right now because I think, I haven’t explored myself enough. Whatever is out there is not good. And “good” is never enough for me. The moment I succeed in mapping and tapping into myself in places that refuse to be located, then I’ll call myself a poet and publish. Right now, I live to experiment and heal myself. I’m nothing but a mass of conflicts that need discovery and redemption.
Sola Osofisan: I believe you’re just at the beginning of what you will become as a poet and I wish you luck with your writing.
Naipanoi Lepapa: Thank you. Thank you for this chance, for always encouraging me. I believe with time, I’ll become someone I was meant to be; someone I will look at in the mirror and say this is the writer I was meant to be.