Kayombo Chingonyi

- United Kingdom -

Kayo Chingonyi is a fellow of the Complete Works programme for diversity and quality in British Poetry and the author of two pamphlets, Some Bright Elegance (Salt, 2012) and The Colour of James Brown’s Scream (Akashic, 2016). His first full-length collection, Kumukanda, was published in June 2017 by Chatto & Windus. As well as being widely published in journals and anthologies, Kayo has been invited to read from his work at venues and events across the UK and internationally. He was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize and has completed residencies with Kingston University, Cove Park, First Story, The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, and Royal Holloway University of London in partnership with Counterpoints Arts. He was Associate Poet at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from Autumn 2015 to Spring 2016 and co-edited issue 62 of Magma Poetry and the Autumn 2016 edition of The Poetry Review. He is now poetry editor for The White Review. Kayo is also an emcee, producer, and DJ and regularly collaborates with musicians and composers both as a poet and a lyricist. He holds down a fortnightly show on Netil Radio called Keep It 100 which is a celebration of groove and feeling in music spanning from rockabilly ditties to afrobeats (with regular forays into R&B, Hip Hop, and House).

Kayo Chingonyi is part of a generation of BAME poets (British. Black, Asian and minority ethnic) who have re-energised the British poetry scene. Donald Futers, Penguin’s editor for poetry, has credited the growing presence of BAME poets as an “important” cultural current behind poetry’s growing audience. "Diversification, experimentation, radicality, craft, and concomitant buzz” are a handful of the factors contributing to the uplift, he said. Chingonyi is a fellow of the Complete Works programme for diversity and quality in British poetry, alongside poets including Karen McCarthy Woolf and Mona Arshi. According to Sasha Dugdale editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, “This project has brought a number of poets to the attention of publishers and prize juries and has made some small beginning at the adjusting the balance of published work...the project has simply made us more aware of all the different and compelling voices around us.” Dr. Nathalie Teitler who was involved in this dynamic initiative writes, "On the surface Kayo Chingonyi’s poetry is beautifully structured, almost traditional work which fits well into the traditional British Canon. Closer reading, however, reveals a complex and sometimes subversive approach. The work references African cultures to address areas of youth, race, urban life and loss. 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."

As an associate of the ICA, Kayo Chingonyi programmed an event called Poetry and Sound which featured poets who use the sounds of words and their textures, as well as their meaning, to inform the composition and performance of their work. He says, "When I read something I hear a voice in my head reading the words aloud, so it's all auditory for me...some poets think of print as the best mode of reception for poems. I'm inclined to disagree since I have always been most moved by poems at the level of sound first before looking at their propositional content. If a poem has a brilliant sense of narrative but it sounds bland, I am never going to enjoy it as much as a poem written by someone who has thought about how the thing sounds as a way of telling a story. So, yes, this interplay between speaking and writing is at the heart of what I do."


Chingonyi's performances have a calm and measured quality, which conveys a deep sense of music in the words. There is an intensity that seems to build imperceptibly as he speaks, drawing the listener in. There is an utter confidence and a supreme sense of rhythm, as Judi Sutherland describes, ‘When Chingonyi speaks his poems; he has them all by heart, a relatively rare skill which allows the poet to connect more completely with his audience. The same vibrant personality comes through on the page with language full of internal rhyme and complex rhythms. But it is the subject matter that most enthrals; I’ve heard several poetry grandees bewail the reluctance of British poets to tackle the ‘big issues’, but these poems do exactly that; issues of life, death, race, faith, family and authenticity are raised and meditated on here." Chingonyi performed his poem Some Bright Elegance at The Southbank Centre in London with a dancer and choreographer Sean Graham - the movement and the words were completely interwoven and the resounding audience applause at the end spoke for itself.