I started collecting and memorizing poems for fun when I was a teenager. It was a habit I copied from my brother (now pastor Isaac Waiswa of Christ’s Heart Ministries). He was the first person I came across in flesh and blood who was a poet. We spent much of our high school vacations hunting for the best and most anthologized English poems.
Our inspiration had sprung from a book we had at home entitled ‘The Top 10 of Everything’. It was an encyclopedia of British culture that, among other fascinating things, listed (according to a census that had been carried out in 1998 on World Poetry Day in the UK) the top 10 most popular and the top 10 most anthologized British poems.
And as we set out to read and document these poets and their poems, many other essential poems/poets also crossed our paths and indeed inspired us to muse more on our essence of existence.
By the time I joined that poetry club at the Uganda National Theatre called the Lantern Meet of Poets, I had not yet realized that there were many Ugandan poets I did not know of as well as I knew of the British or American poets, besides the ones I had met through my high school literature lessons.
Even the poetry books featuring Ugandan content that I could access were not as many, and those available already had the reputation of being ‘ the boring classroom poetry kind’.
But the Lantern Meet introduced me to a different kind of Ugandan poet and thus a different attitude to the Ugandan poem. Cool, immediately relatable, performable and fun.
It was at this point that I started to personally collect and memorize poems by Ugandans I came across in my various poetry endeavours. Be it in newspapers (Daily Monitor and The East African newspapers once had poetry columns), on poetry stages, or the poetry sessions I conducted in various high schools, I would endeavor to keep them all if I could. If I landed on a Ugandan poetry book I had not read before I would happily delve into it.
And they would raise my self-esteem the same way the poems from Europe and the Americas would. They would even go further by speaking about my immediate conditions. Through these poems, I would see and feel myself reflected.
How I wished others would read them as well!
Back then, even as members of the Lantern Meet, some of us hoped that one day we would see our own names in print. So we collectively archived the poems we wrote and critiqued when we met bi-weekly at the theatre. In fact, for some good years, I was the group’s poetry archivist.
Our dream was to be published by the same publishers of the poets we idolized. We wanted the Penguins, Macmillans, and Bloomsburys of this world as our publishers as well. And if we ever lowered our expectations, it was to reluctantly consider Fountain Publishers as our last alternative.
But before long, reality set in; that our poetry was not as important, never mind good, to others as it was to us. With time, it quietly dawned upon us that there was hardly anybody interested in publishing Ugandan poetry.
So we took the only option left available to us and that was to publish it ourselves. After all, there was an audience already demanding to read our works. We swallowed our pride and hit Nasser Road.
It was during those days I daydreamed of us publishing poetry books by Ugandan poets in a serialized form. Like Achebe’s AWS or EAEP series, but for Ugandan poetry.
Honestly, I thought that in the Lantern Meet, we would be able to do so. But that was not to be. Not everyone in the Lantern Meet wanted to be a published poet.
Even by the time I left the group, my dream of bringing to the public cool poetry by cool Ugandan authors that deep down I felt deserved the light of day was still right by me.
I didn’t how I was going to do it, but I knew deep down it was possible. Many poets had entrusted me with their works.
But the money to do this incredible work had to come from somewhere. Otherwise, many of the poets would not be interested/in a position to see their works become books.
The AFRICALIA grant came in handy. And that is how in 2020 Kitara Nation launched 13 poetry books AT A GO!
The process was not without mishaps; mass production has its pros and cons. But against all odds, we finally did it. We produced really cool poetry books by really cool Ugandan poets.
Now I’m happy to see more young Ugandan poets familiar with Ugandan content. In fact, the ‘boring classroom poem’ is now a far cry for a poetry lover.
And to all those who have supported us to this point, thank you so much!
We plan to bring you more prose, poetry and drama titles in the near future.
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