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BN Poetry Award opens its door to men, spreads wings to Africa

L-R: Third winner Clemence Taremwa, guest of honour Flavia Kabahenda and woman MP,Kyegegwa District, winner Rashida Namulondo, BN Poetry Award founder Beverley Nambozo and 2nd winner Pamela Orogot at the event on June 28 in Kampala. COURTESY PHOTO

What you need to know:

Making strides. After four years of exclusive operation in Uganda, the Award goes continental and breaks the female dominance by opening doors to men.

A poem had to be a poem in order to win.” This was the tagline at this year’s Beverley Nambozo Poetry Awards, themed -innovation. The 2013 event, held in Kampala, on June 28, was the last for Ugandan female writers as the Award started in 2009, spreads its wings to the entire African continent.
For male poets who have been dreaming of participating in the event, the award has also opened its doors to them.

The evening, which attracted a full house of literary lovers, saw emotions rise as poets, including former Principal Judge James Ogoola, recite their best works. Justice Ogoola, who dedicated his poem Colours of the Rainbow to Nelson Mandela, described the former South African President as “the colour of the rainbow nation”. Justice Ogoola, the author of a poetry anthology - Songs of Paradise – also shared what he called the 11th commandment of poetry.

“Thou shall employ imagery in abundance. Poetry without imagery is like food without spice and salt that has lost its saltiness.” Notable among other recitals was Harriet Anena’s Let’s Leave, Impatient Hope and We Arise, that won her a standing ovation and instant handshake from UPC party president Olara Otunnu, himself lately, a common sight in literary circles. If the happenings from that evening are anything to go by, then one can safely argue that the future of Uganda’s poetry is bright and destined for “big things”.

That a poetry frame of Unjumping by Nambozo can be auctioned for over Shs380,000, that having an evening out with performance poet and singer Ife Piankhi can be auctioned for hundreds of thousands of shillings, that a poetry awards night can go on into midnight and guests remain stuck to their chairs waiting for the last performance, speaks volumes about the future of poetry in a country once termed a literary desert.

Dr Susan Kiguli, a former judge in the awards and Head of Department of Literature at Makerere University says: “The awards going continental means stiffer competition, raising standards and attracting a variety of talent.” On if this will not water down the ideal purpose of the BN Awards of bringing out the poet in the Ugandan woman, Dr Kiguli, a published poet, says “people submitting entries will now have to think seriously about the quality of their poems and reflect on poetry as not just a Ugandan thing”.

In the end, Rashida Namulondo’s Time, described by the judges as “enchanting, thrilling and refreshing,” emerged first, followed by Pamela Orogot’s A face like mine and Clemence Taremwa’s Innovation in third position. As each poet recited their piece, one felt them appeal instantly to the judge’s yard-stick of poetic appeal, rhythm, originality, structure and thematic development.

The trio win $500, $300, and $200 respectively, a fully paid trip to the Story Moja Hay Festival in Nairobi and autographed copies of Dr Kiguli’s Home Floats in Distance, Diaries of a Dead African by Chuma Nwokolo Jr, Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana and Songs of Paradise by Justice Ogoola.

“These (the books) are a reminder to us as budding poets to read, read and read but I am excited about the award, it will help me in my work of communication using poetry, for example through the poem, I wanted to show that innovation is good but it can be dangerous,” Namulondo shared with tears of joy.

The food science graduate hopes to use the award as an ignition of her vision to cause positive change through poetry in her work as a mentor and life skills coach. For the BN Poetry Award founder Beverley Nambozo, “poetry is truth” and as the Prize goes continental, poetry lovers are sure looking forward to more truths.