Writing can be a beautiful way of comforting oneself – in times of trial and sadness. It is also a wonderful way of expressing our personal emotions of all kinds. Today, we sit down to chat with a friend who has just released a book of poems dedicated to his late wife – as a way to celebrate her life, and befittingly, words he penned down as a therapeutic exercise to comfort himself during his saddest moments.
Mmhonlumo Kikon from Nagaland chats with us about his book, “The Penmi Poems: A Requiem” – a collection of poems dedicated to Penmi Phazang Kikon, his late wife and mother of his two daughters. The book also features the late wife’s paintings, prints, and sketches – a reminder of her love for art, which she dreamt of sharing with the world.
We chat with Mmhonlumo Kikon, author of the book “The Penmi Poems: A Requiem” – a collection of poems dedicated to his late wife, Penmi Phazang Kikon.
This book ‘The Penmi Poems: A Requiem’ is dedicated to your late wife. What was that one thing that really pushed you to write this book?
I was at the crossroads of grief and duty; grief-stricken at the loss of my best friend, my love, and my life, and duty-bound to take care of the two little angels she left behind. In between the endless days and sorrow-filled nights and on the verge of receding into chronic depression, I decided to do the only thing I knew would keep me in touch with my soul- scribble. It was cathartic and therapeutic at the same time.
What do you want readers to take away from this book of poems?
My late wife was a gentle soul and took her art very seriously. After she was diagnosed with her illness, she somehow knew her time was going to be short and decided to share her specific plans and dreams for our little daughters.
It was a conversation I was steadily drawn into and “The Penmi Poems” tries to capture her feelings and thoughts in the aesthetic articulation she painted it with. It was a memoir of her impending death and much like Paul Kalinithi’s “When Breath becomes Air”, this was her way of mourning her death and sharing her life with her beloved daughters. I simply had to recall and bring it to life by writing down the impressions she left me with on life and death and above all else – Love.
The book, “The Penmi Poems: A Requiem” by Mmhonlumo Kikon
Part-1 Penmi’s Dream; Part-2 Penmi’s Voice | The Penmi Poems: A Requiem” by Mmhonlumo Kikon
All our R&L guests/artists introduce themselves before they share about their work, how do you think your wife would introduce herself, her work?
While her body was failing her every day towards death, she focused on leaving something meaningful with the three of us before she left. She would have been modest about her work of art, some of which I have included in the book. She would have liked best to be remembered as the mother of Noying and Lumchi. She was vulnerable and strong at the same time, immensely courageous, and surrendered her life to prayers and faith in God. At least, I feel, that’s how she would like to be remembered.
How would you define Penmi’s art? Where did she draw her inspiration from?
She left her MPhil in Linguistics to pursue a four years course in fine arts. Such was her determination to be an artist. She put her heart into her work. As mentioned in the poems she could not find peace if she did not work on her arts. And her output was deeply influenced by her inner voice which pushed her every moment to express herself in colors.
Her art had very distinct expressions of her inner self. She drew inspirations from the fading seasons depicting the impermanence of life. She saw the world in colors just as much as I saw it in words.
The artwork featured on the cover of ‘The Penmi Poems’ is one of the many sketches made by Penmi.
A very interesting thing we noticed in her art – and something you mentioned in 2 of the poems as well, was her fascination with pigs. Can you share something behind this, and how that influenced her artwork?
Pigs are very important to our culture. She told me that she singularly identified the place it has in our cultural practices and yet it was not displayed in our expressions of culture and art as much as it should. So, she decided to put it at the center of her work. You would find it in her major oil on canvas work and also her sketches.
“Pigs in my art” – Poem from “The Penmi Poems: A Requiem” by Mmhonlumo Kikon
Art of a Pig by Penmi from the book
Art of a Pig by Penmi from the book
There is one poem titled “Mekong to Machu Pichu” Can you share the significance of these two places (for her)?
She had two bucket lists when it came to traveling. It was disheartening and interesting at the same time. The first was to traverse the course of the Mekong River on a backpack. We did that together crossing three countries. The other was the wish to climb atop the Machu Pichu when the tragedy of her illness struck her. When I was invited to attend a Dialogue on Climate Change at the COP summit in Peru, we could have gone and ticked the list but her health did not permit her to visit places with high altitudes. So it remained a wish and thus the significance.
“Mekong to Machu Picchu” – Poem (First part) from “The Penmi Poems: A Requiem” by Mmhonlumo Kikon
“Mekong to Machu Picchu” – Poem (second part) from “The Penmi Poems: A Requiem” by Mmhonlumo Kikon
Finally, what do you think Penmi would say after reading this book?
I really wish she could read it. I feel that she ghost-wrote it with me so that her precious daughters will understand her and remember the fathomless love she had for them when they grow up enough to comprehend what had happened while they were still babies.
Beautiful (Late) Penmi Phazang Kikon, wife of Mmhonlumo Kikon
Mmhonlomu Kikon with his late wife, Penmi Phazang Kikon, and their two daughters, Noying and Lumchi
Also, would be great if you can share a personal note for R&L folks who buy this book from our shop. Do you have any thoughts on what you would like to sign in on that note? Do share.
Everyone in this world goes through the grief and pain of losing someone near and dear at one point in time or the other. Readers will identify with that spirit of sharing the memories of someone they lost and how it is etched in our hearts forever. The Poems will reinforce the readers with the beauty of life and the need to make it more memorable than ever. How fleeting life is and how unforgettably painful death is will be the reflections on one’s mind upon reading The Penmi Poems.
One interesting and common response of the readers I have received is the uncanny fact that everyone thought that the poems were written by my late wife. I derive great pleasure in having incited such an impression on the readers. That itself has been my reward besides the uplifting experience it gave me.
To buy the book, “The Penmi Poems: A Requiem”, Click HERE!
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