As long promised, a follow up on that poetry workshop I attended on 1at October, that had me wondering, really, really, really?
Workshops tend to be dreary affairs, poetry workshops more so than others. A workshop that begins off by daring to ask if Okot P’Bitek is really Uganda’s most important writer is therefore bound to be interesting. I mean, when was the last time you heard anyone dare wonder if the poet who crafted The Song of Lawino is Uganda’s most important writer? It seems so obvious that he is. After all, Song of Lawino is recognised world over as one of the poems that broke new ground in 20th century African literature.
|Main speaker Ife Piankhi with Bev in background|
Apparently there are some people in Uganda who not only doubt Okot P’Bitek’s credentials for that post, some even believe he is overrated. Such a workshop would be far from boring, as the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award workshop organised to follow up the poetry awards that have become an annual event. This was poetry making a difference.
Held on 1st October at Makerere University, the BNP workshop attracted a surprisingly big number of participants. On top of the two previous winners of the BNP awards, the workshop saw over 30 poets and writers gather to discuss the finer details of writing poetry in Uganda. Hosted by BNP award founder Beverley Nambozo, she described the workshop as an attempt to, “Bring poetry into mainstream discussion.”
Nambozo explained that she was inspired to begin hosting poetry workshops on top of the award because though the award was beginning to draw out more writers, few could actually tell the difference between poetry and prose. There had also been requests for more activities apart from the award which happens once a year though it is in its second year. Supported by the Bayimba Cultural Foundation, BNP awards felt able to hold this first workshop the organisers promised would be the first of many to follow.
Chief Guest at the BNP award workshop was Ife Piankhi, a spoken word performance artist of Caribbean ancestry currently based in Uganda. Participants who included Sophie Alal, 2010 BNP award winner, actress and writer Cleopatra Koheirwe and Suzan Kerunen representing Bayimba Cultural Foundation asked Ife to explain how a poet can go about earning a living from the craft.
To the surprise of many participants, Ife candidly admitted that she does not make her living from poetry alone. She encouraged the poets to ensure they have, “Multiple streams of income coming in. Move around. Don’t stay in one place. Don’t expect anything to just come to you.”
Other spirited discussions ranged around questions like is poetry only about feeling, poetry with rhymes is better than poetry without, poetry must be performed to make sense and of course, is Okot P’Bitek the finest poet Uganda has ever had?
Then there was the choosing of poems, and some of the poets preferring to read their own poems... I don’t have the permission so I will only quote a verse or two of Qrea-us I.B’s poem Maybe Tomorrow that had all of us in that room in raptures...poetry and performance in perfect fusion...
.....Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow,
Education will be a blessing.
Maybe we shall graduate from the dungeons of frustration
To dine with success, at the high table of employment.
Maybe jobs will be created
And maybe evenly they will be distributed.
Maybe merit will be rewarded, talent appreciated
Maybe mediocrity will not be tolerated!
Maybe three-years-experience will not be expected,
Of fresh graduates before recruitment.
Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow,
Accountability will not be an exception.
Maybe we shall have the power to question
Every policy and decision without fear or oppression.
Maybe the police will not be barking dogs, which actually bite
So that peacefully we can take to the streets and the city square
To exercise our right to crowd.
Maybe then we ask questions like;
Why our roads prefer pot holes to tarmac,
Why it is very expensive to access free medication,
Why everything else increases, except the police and teacher’s salaries!