This photo is from the GZK-UGCS page, Kgafela oa Magogodi, Ermildo Panzo, Roshan Karmali and Carolin (director of GZK-UGCS).
After being a part of a fabulous poetic panel with Warsan Shire, Dr. Neal Hall, Wally Serote and then Prof. Kwame Dawes, Nii Parkes, Fatou Were and Clifton Gachagua, I did not think that Uganda had anything to teach me. I had already crafted my official email to the spoken word performers to let them know beyond any reasonable doubt that Ugandan spoken word performers are above all, weak, unable to learn and just wasting time.
And then I attended the African Spoken Poetry Competition where I was a judge with the charming Pamela Acaye and difficult to miss Peter Kagayi. I listened to them talk and swallowed all my pre-judgements. A line-up with Mark Gordon the indomitable, Winnie Apio the unforgettable, Rehema Nanfuka the lady who lives in a home called poetry and Slim Emcee. When I heard Slim, it was like I was seeing him for the first time. I listened, felt, triumphed and mourned as they performed their lines. Oftentimes I forgot I was a judge and just wanted to dream away with the poets’ words. The power of the performances on 24th September at the German Cultural Center was astounding beyond any performance I have seen in Uganda. It is incredibly difficult to combine poetry with spoken word. Rehema Nanfuka and Slim Emcee, first and second winners overall, outshone and demystified all theories. Their word power bore the strength of a mighty army of images. Have you ever been tugged into the jaws of a cake shop? You don’t want to go in because of all those calories and yet its sweetness is so compelling that you have no other choice.
These poets can sit comfortably at the table of other greats because they are part of Uganda’s greats. I’ve said it. May they never falter or doubt their poetry abilities. May there be more opportunities for poets of the written word, poets of the stage and spoken word performers to sit together at the same table of poetic joy and just eat and dance together.
Maritza, the third overall, was stunning. Her ending of the second poem almost made me fall off my seat. The way she held that imaginary gun and fired at us-that’s real poetry right there. The Goethe-Zentrum Kampala, the winner from Angola, Ermildo Panzo, and the patron of the Spoken Word project, Kgafela oa Magogodi from South Africa, you are all incredible. Thanks to Poetry in session for em-ceeing and planning and making poetry real once again. Natasha Emily, Rashida Namulondo, Shan Walugembe, Black Poet and Tina p’Achan-you are unforgettable. Continue blazing that trail.
What can I add? Write these poems down. Can you imagine if Prof. Awoonor never wrote down his poetry? Or Okot p’ Bitek? We would have missed out on a lot. Write your poems down, so that the world may know of your power.
These photos are from Storymoja facebook page.
BNPA will return to the Storymoja Hay Festival in 2014.
This year’s Storymoja event was planned for poets to experience what is close to literary heaven, with carefully selected poets like Prof. Kofi Awoonor, Nii Parkes. Prof. Kwame Dawes, Fatou Were, Clifton Gachagua, Warsan Shire, Dr. Neal Hall, Sitawa Namwalie, Wangane Wally Serote and Michael Onsando. From the moment Warsan read from her collection, teaching my mother how to give birth and shared how words enable her to understand her own home and identity and Wally Serote on how poetry was all he had while in solitary confinement during the Apartheid regime, we knew there was a lot to learn.
Prof. Awoonor’s death in the hands of such brutality on 21st September 2013 is a reminder of how fragile our lives are and how we should seize moments that come our way with liberty, strength, joy and peacefulness.
The BN Poetry Foundation will continue working with Storymoja. In 2014, when the poetry award will include all poets from the continent and the winner will be announced at the festival in Nairobi. We will continue with literature’s celebration, poetry’s manifestation and honour the lives of those who paved the way like Prof. Awoonor, Okot p’ Bitek and many others.
We stand with those giving in Kenya and the entire world. Every day, people are killed and we feel helpless. There is strength in comfort and joy in knowing that there are others standing with us. May we always have literature as our comfort and the words of poetry to help us make meaning of those times.
Warsan Shire and Beverley at the storymoja hay festival, Nairobi. Photo by Juliet Maruru
I have cried so hard because of the situation at Westgate Mall in Nairobi where many people were held hostage, others killed and scores injured in a grim, horrendous terrorist attack. It’s not because I was at the mall at the time. I was at the the Storymoja Hay Festival just minutes away. I have cried for the children shown on the media, being carried away to safety, mothers covering their children and the entire scene of horror, uncertainty and blood.
I have cried because I realize that some of the sentiments from people in my past filled with, wish we could grow old together and love you always fizzled in the face of today. In Nairobi. They either conveniently forgot I existed or something else was trending, like a video of a celebrity’s post pregnancy body.
Despite this, the festival was a raving success especially at a personal level because I met Kwame Dawes. What a profound poet. A genius. A man. I met Warsan Shire. Glorious. Gifted. Dr. Neal Hall. Strong. Convicted. Teju Cole. Enigmatic. I was able to reach my own depths and rip out the enemies of success, or at least discover where they lay. Lots of the sessions amongst poems carried sentiments on healing and forgiveness and how poetry plays a role in dealing with trauma. It resonates heavily after the terrorist attack.
In no uncertain terms, 21 September 2013 will be embedded as a horrific reminder of this seige and at the same time, when I laid off the clutter in my life of excess people, pretenders, no-gooders. I’m done. I will return to the Storymoja Hay Festival next year most definitely. I pray now that those injured are healed and that the comfort that only come from a spiritual source connects with those grieving over the loss of loved one. May this uncertainty become clearer to all of us and may Nairobi, the entire Kenya and East Africa, never have to be a part of this again.