At Philip Matogo’s book launch a few weeks back, one of the members in the audience put up his hand and said, currently there is what he called, “a publishing fever“ among poets in Uganda.
However, he was ambivalent about the content they served. He went on to say that while of recent he had been buying books to support his friends, and that his home collection of Ugandan books had grown, for a number of them he had only read halfway and discarded.
That this was because most of the books were, for lack of an alternative term, not good enough, to sustain his interest in them to the end.
Of course, he ruffled feathers. He had touched a nerve.
He put the blame for this on the writers who he felt were not doing enough to understand how to appeal to their immediate audiences.
But which writer likes to be told their works aren’t good enough? Which leopard likes its “ni-ni” to be poked?
Before he concluded his submission a series of hands had shot up and he was asked to explain himself again and he did, unshaken. But it turns out he is not the first in line to note how average some Ugandan poetry content is.
Incidentally, a week before that launch I had been reading the scholar Ernesto Okello Ogwang’s 1995 essay ‘Ugandan Poetry: Trends and Features’ ( Uganda‘s Cultural Landscape; p. 114).
He treads carefully in his cartography of a “Ugandan poetic tradition“.
In his conclusion, he lists “examples of verse in which the craftsmanship needed serious revisiting”, although he also cautions against their “premature disqualification“ from our literary canon as “their creation is important as part of the description of the Ugandan poetic tradition and processes that have gone into its construction.“
It is on this note, dear friends, that I table my modest proposal and move that as a group, we consider introducing a “description“ of Ugandan poetry called “mediocre verse“.
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