ON AN early Sunday evening young poets have converged at the National Theatre in Kampala and each that takes to the stage recites a poem critical of societal ills, injustices or pouring out their love.
The brave and provocative poets, who recited 29 poems on the night tackled issues related to African leaders that are clinging to power, human rights abuses, love, hate, beauty, ugliness, the influence of foreign cultures on the local heritage, poorly researched facts on Facebook, the power of words in language and environmental degradation, among others, at the Lantern Meet of Poets event.
“…We are not mere walkers to work
Whom the powers that be
Can but simply fold under their arm-pits
I am telling you, no one will stop our march
Because no ear has heard, nor any eye seen
What will happen to this nation tomorrow
For they will say
“That is how it started”
And yet that’s not how it started
We shall be like a storm
For they know not whence we come
But tomorrow, we shall turn this nation on its head,” a poem titled “A Change So Fundamental” by Zak Tiberindwa Zak and performed by Zak Tiberindwa read in part.
The organisers of the August 24th event held under the title “Waltz of Words” said the meeting was an idea where they always knew as Lantern Meet had to generically grow into - where they engage intimately with the audience during the intermissions that follow their bi-annual Poetry shows at the National Theater.
“The objectives of this poetry night lie safely far away from the place where the activity familiarized with those in attendance. The Lantern Meet intends to restore the epoch of literary greatness in Uganda. That is always our objective,” the president of the Lantern Meet, Peter Kagayi said.
“The aim, for the night was to reach out to a new audience, and at the same time giving our writers and performers more visibility as artists. We are a large family of writers and performers and the self-containment (some thought it was ambivalence) wrap around ourselves had fortified our resolve about what exactly we want to achieve, and how,” Kagayi added.
Although Kagayi acknowledges that there are many poetry recital events in Kampala today, he contends that this does not mean this art form is developing. “The presence of more poetry events in Kampala town surely is a sign that the poetry movement is gaining its stead. But I suggest it is not necessarily sign of ‘development’ of the art. There seems to be progress - the signs are many, from the number of poetry events, the culture of poetry performance in secondary schools - the arts festivals in Kampala now have poetry too - to the prolific writing of poetry itself in society,” he argues.
“But to understand the progress, we need to understand ‘what’ and ‘where’ we are progressing from. The poetry culture in Uganda has two polarities - the various cultural poetic expressions which have been part of our social entertainment and war-cries on one hand, and the anglophile extensions of colonial education on the other. …Thus when talking of the poetry progress in Uganda today, it is important to separate the two and know the one we refer to.”
“For the Anglophile writers and their ‘progress’ here is also not necessarily even ‘improvement.’ What has ‘progressed’ is that poetry seems to be taking more of the semblance of the traditional values indigenous poetry embodies than the hitherto prosaic features most of us were taught by uninspired and untalented literature teachers the British colonial education system gave (and still gives) us,” Kagayi adds.
“Poetry in our indigenous languages is now more palatable to some and in fact is now integrating audiences, the performance of it is better appreciated than the written (oral tradition taking it place again) and the book-publications, albeit still valuable, are no longer of that much value as poetry now seeks more trendy forms of publication through social media, stage, television and radio,” Kagayi observes.
“Is this progress? Yes. Development? No! We as poets today have the unique chance that the Sedar Senghors had: to start a real poetry movement that changes the political stratosphere. But we need a common ideology because that is exactly what first got destroyed by the colonial Divide and Rule Policy,” he adds.
Lantern Meet of Poets was started in April 2006 by four poetry geeks, Ojakol Raymond, Asiimwe Colins, Sophia Alal and Guy Mambo who would gather in Africa Hall, Makerere University in Kampala and talk about poetry.
The Lantern Meet of Poets now sits every two weeks at the National Theater, in a gathering now named ‘The Meet’ to discuss poetry, and other ideas as they arise.
Every two or so months the poets either hold a Grand Recital either at the National Theater or help teenagers in various schools stage their own poetry, during which the appropriate works resonating with the theme chosen, are recited. The group has been holding recitals since 2007.
As to the importance of Lantern Meet celebrating eight years of existence, Kagayi noted: “…It's been eight years of writing, critiquing, performing, and publishing poetry at all fronts. It is also eight years of thriving with zero funding - a deliberate stance in order to stay true to our purpose as writers for a cause greater than ourselves... and internal capacity-building on the foundation of passion before we venture into expansion.”
“…We also task time to remember our struggles with those who thought we were wasting time, doing ‘useless poetry things,’ and also remember how we almost believed their cowardice, and lack of interest on our passions. Lastly, it is a celebration of what we have made of ourselves; the very thing society did not intend us to be – writers,” he adds.