Today we shall listen to poetry
While seated comfortably
Peter Kagayi’s first words in his first poetry collection which are published by first time publisher Sooo Many Stories. There are so many good starts, good firsts to write about this book.
If you have by any chance heard of the Lantern Meet of Poets, or The Poetry Shrine, or generally are in any of the poetry circles of Kampala, then you have heard of Peter Kagayi, his audacious words as well as his impassioned performances. A man possessed by the richness of the world of artistic words, Peter delivers in this book some of his best work to date.
The collection is as much a political dirge and exposé, as it is a social commentary and lament; and not to remove from the poet, it is also a journey into the intricate pains, tribulations and conquests of human emotion which is not limited to love.
The 51 poem-filled collection has five sections all named after poems in the collection. The first “How I Grew Up” is telling. It’s a mish mash of poetry that seems to pay tribute to heritage, tradition and parentage. In “Tap The Floor Tap Tap Then Go” there is an allusion to the culture of traditional healers who were the go to for serious problems, in this poem the problem being barrenness. The theme in the poem seems to go from regret to hopelessness and despair.
“Leave the broom
In the corner of the room;
When your shadow’s behind your heels and the moon is full
You’ll hear the song of the ngaali at midnight
Then go to the well and find a Blackstone;
Pick it up and move and don’t look back
Don’t look back
And don’t look at your heels or the face of your shadow;
Say these words once
The stone in your right hand…”
In this section however, what seems to tug at my heart is not “Family Portrait” which is a short poem about domestic violence, divorce and the effects on kids; neither is it “Feeling For Home” that shares the emotion of longing for home; it is “The Village Is Saying”. This poem’s rhythm, repetition, conversational tone and simplicity adds to the heaviness of what it is delivering – the stigma of living with a socially unacceptable disease for children especially.
It is notable that a lot of the poetry gives a child’s view of things. It is not queer because Peter doesn’t seem too far removed from his work with the younger generation, personally working with younger poets in, to mention but a few, Nabisunsa, St. Mary’s College Kisubi, Makerere University, to build their skill and esteem.
“How I Became The Night Wind” is the section that broke my heart. In the poem “Never Forget”, it reads,
That here once stood I
Waiting for you
Here once stood I
And when you feel white shadows stroll around you
It is I
And the rumble in the thrush of tree leaves
It is I,
Always remember the dark thrush your rejection brought me
That is how I died.
To get the potency of this poem, you’d have to read it from the start. The imagery Kagayi chooses draws a picture of utter loss, damage and despondency. I am a romantic, so I understand what he is talking about, the gravity, the emotions. The way his words are crafted are not only aesthetic but deep.
This section has some of the most heart rending words in his entire collection. For example when you read “Last Night I Told A Stranger About You”, you cannot help but want to ask Kagayi, “Are you okay my brother?” I would ask him because I do understand what he means when he says
You on a train
And I still here,
Telling strangers about you.
He talks of loss, dejection, rejection, pursuit and moving on from love. A high five to Kagayi on his poem “Emaciated Hope”, perhaps it will give hope to the lovers caught in a rut, that the extortion of emotions can be overcome.
Sections “You Hurt My Toe You Idiot” and “The Headline That Morning” have some of Kagayi’s most popular and most powerful poetry making it to print for public consumption. He takes on his culture and its demands in “No, I Have No Culture”; attacks lawless and immoral Patriarchy in “If It Is Yours, Touch It”; mourns the continually degenerating parenting culture in “Stand Up And See”; paints a dire colour of Western Imperialism and Colonialism in “Have You Heard The News”, “The Modern King Leopold”; and reviles the state and its authoritarian rule with “Nightmares”, “The Country You Would Rather Not Know About”. These are not the only poems talking about these issues, in fact,
it is very limiting to review a poetry collection like Kagayi’s as one entity. Each poem has a life of its own and needs its own review. If this were possible!!!
I was impressed with the print work, I cannot say we are there yet but Sooo Many Stories has started its journey in leaps and bounds. The cover design, the font, the binding all set a new mark for books done by Ugandan publishers. I can only expect high quality work from Nyana and her team.
For the audio production, I think we can also aim higher, and also aim for a more authentic Kagayi sound. Kagayi toned down a little on the audio so his “on the stage” person still seems better than his recorded person. I know this because a poem of mine he did on stage became alive with his touch!
Overall, I am very happy with this work. Proud for the impact poetry is making on the Ugandan and African stage. And there’s never a better time to celebrate poetry because
And tomorrow, we may also listen to poetry
But shall we be seated comfortably?