In 2009, in my initial days as a ‘Lantern Meet Poet’, I went to Dr. Susan Kiguli’s office to deliver a copy of a poem she had asked for. The poem I DID IT FOR ME, written by Lillian Kampororo, had been performed by Jason Ntaro at the Uganda National Theatre. The audience had literally run berserk! Its animation was so uncontrollable that perhaps they heard only a third of the whole performance. The other two-thirds were drowned in the ululating crowd. Dr. Kiguli, who was in the audience, was unamused by the audience’s reaction hence the desire to interact with the poem in print.
After I handed it over, I shared with her our desire as Lantern Meet to publish our poetry in an anthology, to which she replied (with a slight grimace), ‘Why the hurry?’, before adding that perhaps it was too soon for us to think of publishing. I acquiesced to her thoughts and the publishing embers in me briefly waned. But not for long.
You see, as Lantern Meet, our vision was to ‘restore the epoch of Uganda’s literary greatness’ and we knew publishing our works was vital to that process. After all, the poets we looked up to for inspiration had all been published. We just didn’t know where to start.
We always believed we were ready and we were determined to get our works produced by a reputable publisher. Between 2009 and 2011, Wobusobozi Amooti (our resident chief editor) and a select team of ‘Lanterners’ compiled a number of poetry anthologies for submission to publishers to produce, but all the submissions were rejected. Even Asiimwe Deborah GKashugi helped us submit our manuscript to a publisher abroad but, wa! Oba they only liked at most 3 poems out of the whole batch?For poets whose hubris had had us believe our works were of the Penguin Publishers calibre of this world, since we shunned anything related to local book production, and we thought of Fountain Publishers as our last resort(!), our spirits were crushed. We had admired the banana when it was still on the stem.
The Basoga say nothing occurs by itself, the dancing of the chin occurs by eating. That’s exactly what we did in 2012. We realised if we were going to get our works in print, we had to do it ourselves. We folded our sleeves and hit Nasser Road. BROKEN VOICES OF THE REVOLUTION was an instant hit! That book is an indelible mark on the contemporary Ugandan poetry scene. That year, with incredible help from Patrick Massa Birabi, I also published and launched my first students’ poetry anthology GATHERING GRAINS OF THE WIND.
It had taken us 3 years to realise that if you want your poetry to get into print and you’re in Uganda, you better prepare to do it yourself. Nobody cares that much about poetry, let alone ‘your’ poetry. Mu Yuganda twezalawa.
So, when do you know you are ready to publish your poems? My answer is, you are ready when you feel you want to publish, even if you have just written a one-line poem under one minute of your writing career. You will not get everything right at the beginning (even Anena changed the cover of the first edition of A NATION IN LABOUR) but you will get going and experience and perseverance will train you.
Dr. Kiguli had a point: three good years of rejections forced us to wait but they did our ‘Lantern Meet’ writing good: by the time of producing BROKEN VOICES, collectively we had matured and most of us had found and mustered our ‘poetic voices’. The quality and direction of the work was definitely better than it had been three years earlier.
Waiting is good. But when, then, will you know you’re ready to learn how to swim? How many good writers have given up because they feel ‘not ready?’ From my Lantern Meet days, those of us who are still active poets are countable on our fingers.
11 years since ‘the I DID IT FOR ME delivery’ (with 4 personal poetry collections and 13 poetry anthologies and collections I’ve produced), I run a poetry Publishing House meant to bring to light Uganda’s best contemporary poetry works. My team and I now deliver poetry books, not poems on paper. So when I meet a poet and they tell me they want to publish, I do not ask, ‘Why the hurry?’; I ask,
‘What’s stopping you?’.