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Fragmented Echoes in the world of the word in Uganda:

Poetry has long been a vibrant form of expression yet, beneath the surface of this seemingly united artistic community lies fragmented echoes of division and individualism. The poetry scene in Uganda, once a beacon of collective creativity, now finds itself struggling against internal discord and external pressures. How about we talk about these pressures openly and stop meeting through corridors and whispering so that Metternich hears;

Firstly, we cannot talk about poetry and forget the prominent names in poetry in this generation. Individuals who have humbled themselves to mentor young people and create platforms that have raised powerful and eloquent voices. Names of people like Mark Gordon who was the brain behind the first all-female poetry group, Kagayi Ngobi who heads Kitara Nation, Ssebo Lule, Mitch Isabirye, Devis the Poet who leads Luwafu Press, Allan Odong who was the brain behind poets having a uniting association and Femwrite. Now, these names are not perfect of course but they have done their best at least to the point of letting go of people to fly with their wings. But we ought to recognize that some of the misfits have not been in their control. Humans are prone to mistakes.

One of the most concerning aspects of the poetry fraternity is the pervasive harassment faced by young poets attempting to break into established platforms which has been continuously addressed with less success despite the existence of platforms like UPASHASAR and the Ugandan law. Instead of nurturing new talent with the humility it deserves, some of the poets within the scene resort to gatekeeping tactics, erecting barriers that on the contrary stifle them. It is disturbing that even though the world thinks that it is the older ones asking for sex in return for platforms, sometimes it is the young people who approach with these offers or place the older ones in scenarios that will cause these. So, before believing a story from a young poet and judging the older one harshly, it is wise to first listen to both ends of the story.

Poetry is clearly a not so much paying art in Uganda and so when a promoter calls a young person to perform and promises to pay after the collections, the possibility of getting paid is a peanut because in the mix, there are expensive service providers and venue owners that have to get paid and are a priority over the performers. This has caused a lot of marginalization and loss of respect as claims like no pay and being used later come into public and tarnish the names of both the harassed and the ones who harassed. It is because of this that we should talk about events organization.

Failure to organize standard performances for the audience has greatly chased audiences from the different poetry shows. Starting with posters that have selfie photos (so unprofessional) to the dates of poetry events clashing, the microphones sounding terrible because a technical rehearsal was not done, to performers arriving late for their performances. The poetry scene needs a lot of organization right from creating a calendar to workshops on the organization of events to avoid performers going to stages hungry, service providers not being paid, and having clashing events. We could also create better performances if our target went broader than paying rent for the month. Part of the organization includes poets understanding that their work needs to go through a process to get onto the stage. Performing a piece that has not been rehearsed even once or received feedback could mislead the author into presenting immature work. No wonder half-baked poetry collections have been released over and over again, performances that could have been better with some knots tied and the same performances being staged over and over again with no artistic additions made to them.

This could be achieved through having a central body that ensures that all this is done but at the heart of these issues lie the failure of the Poets Association of Uganda to uphold its fundamental mission of fostering a supportive and inclusive community of poets. From its inception, the association was meant to be a guardian of the art, nurturing talent and promoting solidarity among poets. However, as time passed, it became mired in internal politics and power struggles, losing sight of its original purpose. If only the leaders allowed correction and did not suffocate the ideas of the young people they are assigned to work with. Today, the Poets Association of Uganda turns out to be a mere WhatsApp group where the gossip happens and a slaughterhouse for every individual who tries to point out the problem and seek a solution for it. It is so beautiful how articles with photos of poets are published in the Daily Monitor but the same space cannot be used to address what is happening in an association that is not legally registered and operates with a null and void constitution despite its years of operation.

Instead of a cohesive collective which should be the Poets Association of Uganda (PAU), the poetry scene resembles a fractured mosaic, with each poet vying for attention and recognition in an increasingly competitive landscape. Rather than collaboration, there is competition; rather than unity, there is division with poets tearing each other and brands striving to stay relevant and do what is right. Maybe the founders did not create a system that could sustain the poetry scape earlier but if we are to trace the steps back, one cannot help but ask oneself, “Are the self-proclaimed founders the actual founders of the Poets Association of Uganda and these different poetry houses?” “Were they ready for what was ahead?” “Was it just a stepping stone to receive COVID relief money which they have never fully accounted for?”

Yet, amid this discord, there are glimmers of hope. A new generation of poets, disillusioned by the failings of the establishment, is emerging, determined to forge their path. They eschew the traditional hierarchies and cliques, instead embracing a spirit of independence and innovation. Poets who are being groomed and are learning by the day to become bigger and even better brands. Poets who are taking the journey of growth one step at a time without compromising their values and doubting the work they are doing with attachment to mentors they believe are the best fertilizers for their artistic growth.

These enthusiastic young poets are turning to alternative platforms, from social media to underground events, where they can freely express themselves without fear of judgment or reprisal. They are sending their work for criticism and comments to mentors they trust and know can help to make their work even better. In doing so, they are not only revitalizing the art form but also challenging the status quo, demanding a more inclusive and equitable poetry scene that they are gradually getting. Poetry is being fused with different art forms like music, dance, theatre, and others and this is a ray of hope for the young poets of this generation.

However, true change cannot come from individuals alone. It requires a collective effort to dismantle the barriers that divide us and rebuild a community founded on principles of respect, collaboration, and solidarity. The Poets Association of Uganda must reclaim its role as a union of the art, actively supporting and empowering poets of all backgrounds and experiences, forging a way for collaborations and training to equip poets on how to become professionals at what they do and build their brands to be recognized and earn their worth.

Only then can Uganda’s poetry scene realize its full potential, becoming a source of inspiration and enrichment for generations to come. Poetry, at its core, is not just about words on a page but about the connections we forge and the stories we share with the audiences we interact with. This would enable us to unite our voices and reclaim the power of poetry to heal, to challenge, and to transform.

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Written by Bansi At Bansi (1)

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