A poetry anthology is a collection of poems by different poets, whose purpose of selection, arrangement, editing and publication is normally determined by the person who selects, arranges and edits the poems, known as the anthologist. The motivations for anthologizing poems, of course, vary from anthologist to anthologist, after all, an anthology is a reflection of its anthologist’s poetic taste.
Maybe David Rubadiri would want to anthologize poems to be used to teach poetry in African High Schools; maybe Benge Okot and Alex Bangirana would want to “lay bare (our) nation’s soul” through the poetry in their compilation. Maybe Danson Sylvester Kahyana wants to “imaginatively understand why an elected government could bomb its own people to ashes” and document “how it happened” and how, through poetry, we can understand what it means “for the affected people” and “democracy”. In short, to use poetry to document a historical event… Maybe the Lantern Meet of Poets’ poetry anthology (the one with an esoteric title) is motivated by documenting its poetic Odyssey; maybe Femrite Ug’s Poetry Anthology edited by Susan Kiguli and Hilda Twongyeirwe wants to show off the poetry works of Uganda’s young but vibrant poetic millennials. Maybe African Writers’ Trust wants to manifest the potential of East African literature to the global literary market. Maybe Beverly Namboozo of the Babishai Niiwe poetry fame wants to reflect on Ugandan urban life through poetry in ‘Boda-Boda Anthems’. Maybe yours truly, with the Nabisunsa Girls’ School poetry anthology, wants to prove the future of Ugandan poetry is in the young writers..
Point is, reasons vary from anthologist to anthologist for why they select and arrange the poetry they work with to produce their texts.
While poets reflect the poetic feelings of their times, anthologists reflect the poetic taste of their times. The two go hand-in-hand to make poetry popular-culture of their times. ‘Kinda’ like what music deejays do with music, or what visual art curators do with visual art.
Unfortunately for us Ugandans, while we do not have enough poets, we even have fewer anthologists (alive) today. An anthologist is like society’s ‘poetry influencer’, a poetry version of a Bernard Olupot Ewalu or a Nimusiima Edward.
I am not certain of how much critical study has been made of Ugandan poetry anthologies and by whom. Hell, I am not even certain we have enough poetry anthologies to critically study Uganda’s poetry culture!
Anyway, anthologies are a great way of shaping the poetic taste of a generation. The same way an era needs good poets to have good poetry, this era needs good poetry anthologists to introduce society to its good poetry. Our society needs its ‘poetry influencer’.
The story of the English poetry anthologist and influence(r) Francis Turner Palgrave is well known in the poetry anthologists’ circles. It is said this gentleman had the “unusual gift for interesting people in all that he himself admired – a gift of enthusiasm which, regulated by his purity and independence of judgement, was to make him an exceptional anthologist.”
With his best buddy Lord Alfred Tennyson (imagine L.A.T. being your best friend!), while at Oxford, they compiled “the best original” poems in English language in 1861. The use of the word ‘best’ in their title raised eyebrows but, to date, as they say, the book has passed and stood the test of time.
That anthology revived William Wordsworth’s reputation as a classical poet and it also brought forth John Herrick, William Barnes and Henry Vaughn the reputation they enjoy till today.
I wonder how many Ugandan poets, anthologists, readers, viewers (read influencers) are interested enough in Ugandan poetry to help Ugandans unravel the QN of how to make Ugandan poetry a cultural trend … Maybe someone (a social media influencer) should anthologize Uganda’s best performance poems… After all, there is ‘a poetry audience’ out there…
Anyway as we ponder on that matter, I want to share with you ‘My Favourite Top 10 Opening Lines From Ugandan Poetry’. Why? Because I feel like we should read Ugandan poetry that closely, regularly and repeatedly; because it is excellent work. Maybe other poetry lovers can come up with their own ‘anthological modes’ to popularize Ugandan poetry. In the meantime, here goes my list:
1) Today I did my share in building the nation2) Ocol rejects the old type3) Perhaps it was his Ugil shirt4) I love you, my gentle one5) The State is my Shepherd, I Shall Not Want6) The dog in Kivulu7) You’ve seen the heaps of rags8) I cannot walk the ways of my mother and her mother before her9) On the beach, on the coast10) The Headline that morning (**yeah, I know this is an opening line of a poem I wrote and thus I could be biased; but honestly I do not know any other Ugandan contemporary poem’s first line more referenced than this one: I stand to be corrected.)
What are you favourite poetic lines?
Img by BENSON MWANGI