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What publishing my poetry has done for me

What makes a poet? Is it the ability to write poems, because if you do not write, how can you be a poet? Is it the ability to orally perform poems? But if you do not orate your poems, how can you be a poet? Or is it the action of print-publishing poetry, because if you do not, how else does the literary (or ‘oratory’) world ‘legitimately’ recognise and access your works?

What I know is, for the past 10 years the poetry culture in Kampala has taken a trajectory that appears to say, ‘Just do your thing and let the world be the judge.’

After all, what is in a name?

I made my poetic bones in the Lantern Meet of Poets, a poetry group that 

  1. wrote,
  2. critiqued,
  3. archived, 
  4. orally performed and 
  5. occasionally print-published poetry. 

The first 4 stages were inextricable of each other. Before joining The Meet, I was mostly a lover of reading and memorizing poetry for pleasure, but it was the oral performance of poetry that birthed the poet I am. After watching the Lantern Meet recital entitled TALES BY THE CAMPFIRE at the Uganda National Theatre, I joined the poetry group and began taking writing, critiquing and performing poetry seriously.

We were good. We were ambitious. We were arrogant. We believed we were the best collective of poets Uganda has ever had (hahahaha!)

We filled the national theatre auditorium with eager audiences, made people connect and love poetry in a way it had never been possible for them to. Our oral performances were something to look forward to.

But people always asked where they would access our works beyond the stage performances. I remember in 2009 Dr. Susan Kiguli asked for a copy of a poem Jason Ntaro had recited at the recital A FRESH COAT OF PAINT (I Did It For Me, written by Zindzi Kampororo) and I had to deliver a printed copy of it to her office a week later.

The question of publishing our poems came to the fore as we asked ourselves how to go about it.Yet when we thought of publishing our works, we only wished to be published by Penguin, Macmillan and Fountain maybe (hahahaha!); only the cream of deals did we envision.

Of course, these were (some of our) pipe dreams, because soon we realised, as a friend put it then, “we were very popular in our small circles” and nobody was willing to work with us. All the publishing houses we submitted to rejected our manuscripts. Then it dawned on us that if our works were to get into print, we had to do it ourselves and our own way.

Fast forward to 2016, and SOOO MANY STORIES (started by a Lantern Meet Fan) publishes and records my works in a book and on an audio CD called THE HEADLINE THAT MORNING AND OTHER POEMS.

Now my works are available in print, audio and visual versions. This has helped my works reach out to many people when I am not physically performing.

Nowadays whenever I perform and people ask me ‘Where can we find your poetry?’ I know where to direct them.

This is how I have made a living on my poetry.

Thank you to all who have supported, encouraged and inspired me. Even the doubters, thank you; you made me believe in myself more.

About that question of who is a poet, and what makes a poet, I say, a poet is a poet who says (s)he is a poet.

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Written by Kagayi Peter

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