-//-Marthé Ndongala-//-

Can you start by describing your work?
I would say that my work is an extension of my inner truth. It’s everything that I was never brave enough to say before in my life. I think that it’s just the dark truth of all of us, that deep wanting or that unveiling or that revelation of self that most of the world doesn’t understand because it’s too twisted or too misunderstood or too woman.

So a lot of my work comes out very metaphorical and very layered and very colorful. I use those metaphors to speak other people’s truth and to speak my own truth. That pain deserves to be felt and pain wants a voice, even if that’s a whisper, it’s still a voice and I want to give that inner voice to people. Some of my poems I write for me and then some of my poems I write for my friends, you know I’ll just feel everything that they’re going through.

Or like my mother’s experience, her telling her story I never knew exactly what to do with that, where to put that energy inside of me so I wrote her pain in poems. I think in that way too I am giving them back to the earth and giving them back to the ancestors so that they can move it and do with it what they need to and kind of relieving it from that person as well.

When did you start writing about your mother?
When I was ten. I just felt so frustrated with her, so angry because she was just so hard all of the time and I understood that why she had to be hard but she never had the space or the room to crumble or to be soft. Her bitterness with her relationship with my father and that toxicity and how she just spread it to all of my siblings like watching it poison us and watching it change us.

She didn’t realize how we would grow up and it would affect how we loved her as well. And I didn’t know how to communicate that like not only the fact that she grew up in Congolese culture where children don’t tell their parents that what you’re doing is affecting me psychologically because they don’t understand that they don’t see any physical pain so how can I be hurting you, everything I’m doing is in order to make you happy so how am I hurting you?

And so I stopped talking from the age of nine to twelve. I just rarely talked and it was only to talk in class, and that was only to answer questions, because I couldn’t have failing grades.

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Why has poetry been the main medium that you used?
I think I was 11 when I really got into poetry. One day I was watching a Tyler Perry movie.

Maya Angelou was in that movie and she was reciting a poem and it was her poem “in and out of time” and the way her voice sounded, the way it reverberated inside of me, my body just started moving in and I was in a spell almost, and I could see and feel every single moment of intimacy that she was speaking of, and the part where she was like “you released your hair from that knot and mm god I loved your hair” like the way she felt in those moments I could feel it, I could see it and I could taste it and I was like this is powerful, she has a voice.

And for someone who felt like I was voiceless and I felt like I was powerless, like what could I do to be more powerful what could I say to be more powerful. I was like this is power.

So I started playing with poetry and trying to understand how I could use words to truly convey how I felt and be able to dialogue the pain because saying in English “I’m hurting”, that’s not enough.

There was always something when I was reading poetry that made me feel more spirit than body, and I wanted to keep living in that because I wasn’t comfortable in my body. My mom was really fucking mean about my weight and my body.

My brothers would bully me, your skin is too dark, you’re too hairy, you’re too fat. I never felt like this body was home, I felt like I was passing through but I didn’t want to just disappear, I wanted to find a way to anchor myself here and I think that poetry helped me do that in a lot of ways.

What do you think the larger implications of poetry are in the world?
I think like any art it has the power to awaken something that most people don’t even know is there and poetry when done authentically when done in truth and without fear, poetry can light up the soul, can change the way that we understand love.

I learn that reading Rumi and Hafiz. Grabbing conceptual things like god and love and illuminating it, throwing it up into the stars, making it so big and so great you realize this moment is more than what I thought it was, this feeling is more than what I thought it was, it ties people together in a way that they never thought that they would be able to be kindred souls.

Not all of us can vocalize it and the power of the poet is cementing in time our feelings, putting it in a book and making it the earth's so that it is all of ours.

Do you think that poetry or art has brought you closer or deeper into your spirituality?
I grew up really spiritual and what poetry did is have me understand, god, the universe, as poetry. Understand that everything, even divinity is an art form.

The Koran reads as poetry and when you’re listening to the rhythm of Sanskrit it it poetry and you start to understand that the people who understood god understood poetry and they understood the power of spirit and invoking it in words, they rhythmic power changes the way that our molecules function. Older languages like Sanskrit, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic have higher vibrational frequencies that affect the very molecules in bodies.

These languages all date back further and older than the time of the messiah and each language speaks of God like a song a mother sings to her child. There’s no english equivalent to those emotive feelings and I think that that’s poetry.

Do you only write in English?
No I write in French and I write love songs in Lingala. I write so many love songs in a older style so it’s much more similar to what my mother would have listened to. Mbilia Bel “Nakei Nairobi” is a perfect example of a wistful girl pursuing something she thinks is love and singing the joys of the journey. It’s silly really but it’s also another art form that has played a role in my own creativity.

Do you feel restricted by English?
Yes, definitely. I feel like even learning small idioms in different languages can help you heighten your understanding of emotion and of relationships because there are things that you can’t say in English and sometimes too the translation is off. I talk about love in the english language meaning greed.

So then you have to look at what really means love? How can I convey to this other person that only speaks English that I love them, you have to start to look at it in the form of relationships, how does our language inform our relationships, how does the way that we communicate affect the way that we love. Maybe explore another language and explore a different expression of love in other cultures, explore different offerings.

There are so many things you can do but I feel like this culture, we limit it to holidays and birthdays and those small things but how do you show your partner that you love them in the morning? How do you do it before they go to bed? How do you do it throughout the day?

Heart emojis.
Yeah with the kissy faces.

What is the most important thing that other people’s art offers you
A window. It’s a window, and for someone who’s always felt like a wall between me and other people, it’s understanding, it’s a connection, and it’s a “aha, I see you”.

It’s that moment where I can finally grab onto something in someone else and see that, okay, me and you share this pain, me and you have gone through similar experiences. To be able to say thank you to another person for letting me sit at their window and be able to share that moment with them is really powerful.

Especially getting to hear other women of color who’ve gotten to experience love or life in a similar way and felt other as much as I felt other, it’s a kinship. Maya Angelou’s work especially, her voice calls to me, I can listen to the same poem a thousand times and it’ll still invoke the same power it’ll make me get out of myself, move around, be bigger, be bolder, be sexier, say the things that no one wanted me to say, but needed to hear.


What does beauty mean to you?
Being Congolese beauty means everything. When Leopold first colonized my country it was really strange for them how intricate women would do their hair and how colorful and bright fabrics were and growing up I always felt very not beautiful. I felt so ugly. I felt so other and everyone in my culture is so beautiful and their skin looks beautiful and everybody looked perfect and I was so painfully ugly in my own mind because I didn’t fit in.

As I grew up I started to understand it’s those contrasting features, the difference in people it’s that inner power that makes them beautiful. I think that when I started living and speaking from the most inner part of myself, the deep knowing, the part of me that says no, I’m going to walk away when love is not being served, when I started honoring that person, that version of myself, I walked different. I talked different and I dressed myself different. I started loving my body. It’s changing and always beautiful in the ways that it’s confident and it’s unabashed in its changes and its ups and its downs.

You know it’s curvy and full and lustrous and it doesn’t look at other people in comparison but celebrates other women. You know when a woman can say to herself no matter what age she is or how many divorces she’s been through, “bitch I’m fabulous” then I’m like that’s it, that’s her, she’s living, that’s the one.

I started this movement when I was in high school, it was just a small club of black girls doing really crazy fashion, I felt like everyone looked the same there was so much conformity where I went to school and I was just like let’s do it bold, let’s do it different so I would always have these really colorful shoes and these crazy outfits because I wanted to be able to embrace every single aspect of myself and love every moment of myself and make it memorable.

I had to really embrace that power, that freedom that we have as women to change forms, to just be different every moment of everyday. So when I started living in that energy I don't know I feel like for me the game changed and when people would say you’re beautiful I would actually believe it I’d be like ooh thank you. Because I’m finally living as myself. I’m finally comfortable with myself and that’s a celebration, that’s a 365 24hr party inside you like yes bitch, yes, finally. I want to invoke that in my family, in my pieces.

As soon as you come to peace with your body, all of the rest of the world stops going to war.