Let’s simplify this poetry, shall we?

Sunday April 04 2021
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By Andrew Kaggwa

For years, almost every person who can read feels like they have something to say about poetry.

Because words, rhymes and prose usually get people excited. But above it all, since poetry is something at least many did during nursery and primary formative school days, everyone convinces themselves that they understand the game of wordplay.

That’s why it is not surprising that every time a topic about poetry arises, everyone will want to have an opinion.

For instance, there was a time someone argued that poetry is not supposed to be written or published in books – “it is an art that is published on the mind, we should keep it that way,” they argued.

Then there is a never resolved debate on how the art should be delivered, this has even created sections; the page poets, those that read their performances and well, those who memorise and recite with all the emotions punctuated.

It is an on and off debate that was upon us when Amanda Gorman delivered that powerful performance of The Hill We Climb at Joe Biden’s inauguration early this year.

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People argued that she read the entire poem! Yet, when you look back at 2020, it is a year that denied us the luxury of sitting in a dark auditoria to wait for a poet to show up and immerse your soul in spoken word.

For a big part of it, much of the poetry we consumed was happening in our heads, from the pages of different anthologies.

Don’t Love Me in English
Bridget Ankunda’s Don’t Love Me in English was one of those books that many Ugandans badly wanted to get their hands on, that is if social media is anything to go by.

A student at the  School of Law at Makerere University, Ankunda has always been a poetry buff. For instance, her poem Rooms and Dust won the Best Recitation at the ACDEG Poetry Award in 2019. While at the National SWAS Convention 2017 and 2018, she wrote the winning skits.

She is also a member of poetry outfit Kitara Nation, who also happens to be the publishing house of her book. It is part of the industrious poetry series they are outing.

Like many poetry anthologies, they do not follow a specific storyline, what they have is a theme. Some can be political, about love, addressing injustices, while others, like Ankunda’s in this case, talks about life through her eyes.

Ankunda’s Don’t Love Me in English is a poetry anthology that seems to document her life so far, talking about her beliefs, day to day struggles, her relationship with God and, of course, love.

Through the pages, we see a story of a young woman who questions part of the past but still ambitious of what lies ahead. In each of the four chapters, you will learn about the child who jumped into puddles after the rain, her generous father who would offer a smile, joke or a story to a stranger and the anger towards boys  who laugh at women in pain.

It is not a specific story line, yet with each page turned, her poems seem to let you into the kind of young woman she is to what she truly believes in.

And she does some of this by taking very bold measures, she understands that a poem is not necessarily a masterpiece because it occupies more space, but because of what it says.
Some of the poems such as What They Did Not Teach Me In School, for instance, are less than 30 words long. The poem basically says, Laughter is fuel, but sometimes the journey is too long.

Yet, in her other works such as Lent, she gives us a blank poem with a note, “The poem was abandoned due to insufficient knowledge owing to irregular church attendance and dozing through sermons in the mentioned period.”   Surprisingly, according to many, this is their best poem in the collection.

Title poem
The title poem, Don’t Love Me in English, in simpler terms is her attempt towards decolonising our love story. As a young woman, she talks of a boy who has promised heaven on earth and uses all the wit he can find to woo this girl.

However, even when both grasp the Queen’s language, they do not interpret it the same way, which makes his choice of words a danger to the relationship.
In the poem, she tries to talk about the things she easily relates with, comparing them with what he said about her, for instance.

“You compared my smile to a midsummer rain/me, who only knows about/boda boda men tripling prices/susu from city trenches remixing oxygen…. How was I supposed to know the rain you meant was a dance of two lovers, droplets skin and skin saying thank you.”

At a time where many people are considering themselves poets since they are storytellers, Ankunda is an amazing one in the pack, though, even when it is her style to keep it simple, sometimes she gets a bit too playful with her language, maybe someone may even swear some poems were as casual as a social media post. But probably that is what will attract those “I hate reading Ugandans” to go through it in one sitting.

The book is only 64 pages, small enough to go through at a weekend and for ardent readers, a single sitting.
According to poet Peter Kagayi, the founder of Kitara Nation, the books from the Kitara Poetry Series are meant to be small with the best material that people can entirely read.

Tit bit
“You compared my smile to a midsummer rain/me, who only knows about/boda boda men tripling prices/susu from city trenches remixing oxygen…. How was I supposed to know the rain you meant was a dance of two lovers, droplets skin and skin saying thank you.”

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