“As poets it is our duty to feel, to learn and unlearn, to be present and not absent and to remind ourselves and those around us of our very human nature through our gift of words.” Those words by Beverly Nambozo will carry refreshed meaning and significance during the World Poetry Day celebrations in Kampala next Wednesday.
Celebrated every March 21, World Poetry Day was inaugurated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation in 1999 to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry as well as to reflect on the power of language and development of creative abilities in individuals.
Uganda’s poetry is thriving like never before, arguably. Storms have come and gone without extinguishing the poetic candle that Okot p’Bitek lit with Song of Lawino (1966), an epic that won him plaudits as the finest East African poet of the 20th century. The classic was followed by Poems from East Africa (1971) a powerful collection that includes some of Uganda’s finest poems. More poetry collections of distinguished quality such as Dr Susan Kiguli’s The African Saga (1998), Prof. Timothy Wangusa’s Africa’s New Brood (2006), Augustine Omare Okurut’s Songs of Rage and Other Poems (2009), Mildred Barya Kiconco’s Give Me Room to Move My Feet (2009) and Beverly Nambozo’s Unjumping (2010) testify to Uganda’s gift of poetry.
It’s on days like World Poetry Day that such works are celebrated in form of discussions, readings and recitals in honour of exceptional talent and to inspire budding others. Preparations are underway in some circles already. The Femrite Readers/Writers Club will for example celebrate the day on Monday during the club’s session.
“We shall be celebrating by reading poetry only, so come with your very best poems to read,” says Tino Akware, Femrite programme assistant. “You can also read poetry from your favourite poet.”
More recitals are expected in schools, in what should pass as a resurrection of the country’s oral tradition of poetry performance. In fact, this beautiful form of expression is back and vibrant, when you consider the grand recitals by the Lantern Meet of Poets, and what happens during the Spoken Truth night at the National Theatre when rap is amalgamated with spoken observations about life in our society.
So, remember to write or read a poem on Wednesday. For as Unesco’s former Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura observed, poetry must be celebrated because “it offers a multitude of ways and actual forms of writing, is an area of research and experience that enables the human condition to be reviewed in its entirety ... it designs the contours of possible forms of dialogue among cultures, histories and memories.”