In 2009, a spirited woman named Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva started the annual BN Poetry Awards, to stir Ugandan women poets to write more and better. In just five years, the yields have got the whole continent feasting.
A Thousand Voices Rising –an anthology of contemporary African poetry, compiled and edited by Nambozo herself, is the latest of the yields.
Never before has a poetry collection brought the mighty and the budding, the old and the young, male and female, the bold and the subtle poets of the continent together, as this anthology does.
Poets from Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Tanzania, Liberia, Algeria and DRC, tackle all the imaginable and tangible subjects under the sun, with such power as art for social change, in varied styles as will meet the varied needs of the varied readers that will buy the book.
The 122 poems are divided in eight parts comprising poems of related themes.
The varied subjects are of course inevitably linked with the temperaments and experiences of their individual authors.
For example Beatrice Lamwaka’s “Acoli Dirges” is a barb aimed at the modern generation of Ugandans who have been so influenced by western education that they speak English with a twang in imitation of their British or American counterparts.
The poet observes that our mother tongues have become too ‘difficult’ that we now “speak Acoli with a twang like we are speaking English…/We speak English like we are eating sweet potatoes/ No one can defeat us/ We defeat the English in their mother tongue!”
The poem basically laments the breakdown of our cultural authenticity.
Another poem that depicts the poet as a keen observer of modern society is John Kariuki’s “Silenced Forever” about outspoken analysts and critics; often the voices of the voiceless who go silent as the graves as soon as they get jobs from the government or other establishments they had previously severely criticised or spoken up against.
Some poems are about the ugly past or things we would rather forget such as Susan Kiguli’s “I laugh at Amin” or Ivan Okuda’s “Kyadondo, July 2010” which recalls the black day terrorists bombed soccer lovers in Uganda in 2010, while some, such as Eugene Mbugua’s “My Village Crush” brings back memories in some of us who went to village schools.
It’s about the poet’s childhood sweetheart whom he meets many years later when she’s married with several children and is shocked at how changed and altered she is from the village beautiful sweetheart she was back then.
The anthology also contains all the winning poems from the BN Poetry Awards, starting with Lillian Aujo’s inaugural winner, “Soft Tonight” (2009), with imagery in all its sensuality.
But its erotic nature pales compared to Beverley Nambozo’s highly rhythmic “Sseebo gwe Wange” with its colourful and picturesque lines like “…you pound me like the engalabi/ I slap the wall to your rhythm…I moan like thunder…”
Poetry enthusiasts whose love for the genre was particularly evoked by the classic anthology, Poems from East Africa (1996) will especially love A Thousand Voices Rising, for its significance and relevance.
It’s an anthology that is as provocative as is evocative; simple yet complex, plus you will be impressed by the sheer potential of the up-and-coming poets whose works give it its uniqueness.
As award-winning Malawian poet, Prof Jack Mapanje lauds the anthology, its “original, fresh and represents some of the best African minds.”