The BN Poetry Foundation has made leaps since its inception. It has transformed from awarding prizes to only female poets in Uganda for their creative skills, to spreading its wings to other countries on the African continent in 2014, and awarding both male and female poets. This year’s winner was a male poet.
The foundation also published its first anthology in 2014 titled, A Thousand Voices Rising: an Anthology of contemporary African poetry. It is a collection of 121 poems from over eighty poets, spread on 171 pages, by poets from Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malawi, Algeria, and Democratic Republic of Congo. The book serves as a converging point of different of the different poets as depicted with the foot marks on the front page.
The collection features all the winning poems of this award since its inception, apart from those of 2014. It chronicles the awards’s journey since its inception.
The book opens with Clifton Gatchagua, winner of the 2013 Sillerman Book Award, with his poem, Crash. He is one of the several poets and authors of repute in the anthology. Others include Nii Parkes, Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, Beatrice Lamwaka, Mildred Kiconco Barya, Dr. Susan Kiguli, Jack Mapanje, and Justice James Ogoola among others. I’m also privileged to have my work featured in this collection.
The anthology puts to test the talk that the meaning of poetry is lost in translation. A number of poems written in the native languages of the poets have translations in English, and versa. Nakisanze Segawa’s “Zibogola!” a poem in Luganda, comes off as a powerful poem with wonderful imagery in both the Luganda and English versions.
N’ga ekisikirize kibutikidde ensi nyaffe
Nga ekifananyi okuva mungero ensonge,
Sekiwugulu akungula eri ebbanga
The English version bears the title, ‘They speak!’ The same section reads:
When a shadow clouds mother earth
Like a figure out of a folktale
An owl howls at a poisoned sky….
This is one of the numerous poems that have translations. This means that the poetry will also be consumed by people who might not understand the English language.
This anthology is diverse in the themes tackled, from music, love, politics, heart breaks, sex….the list is endless. The book has powerful poetry like Paul Kasami’s ‘Africa in the news’. A few lines from it appear below. It deals with the issue of photographers that capture images of devastation in different parts of the world, for the western media.
A faceless child lays in a
Lake of blood,
Its toothless mother tries
To bite into a tree trunk
Just to get the last sap
A colourless camera man incessantly clicks
For his modern world to see.
Michaella Rugwizangonga’s poem ‘Night of Sorrow’ uses nature to depict the gravity of the 1994 genocide:
I knocked at the moon’s door,
She did not open for me
I knocked on the stars’ door,
And they told me ….
Do you not see what is happening?
I try again, I knock harder, Nothing,
For in the sky of April 1994
Even the stars were mourning.
In Beverley Nambozo’s “Sseebo gwe wange ” we encounter a woman’s praise of her partner’s sexual prowess.
You pound me like engalabi .
I slap the walls to your rhythm.
Sharp: Unforgettable; you are lightning
Subdued; I moan like thunder.
Lovers of poetry will move from one poem to the next, one country to the next, because this is not just a collection of poems, it is a gathering of minds. Those who love short poems are cattered for. The lovers of long poetry are also not forgotten. The anthology is a testament that humble beginnings eventually bear large fruits.
Mulumba Ivan Matthias