Someone in this country is lying that poetry is irrelevant. You should have been at the Uganda Germany Cultural Society to see how many people turned up for Assoc. Prof. Susan Kiguli’s Reading with FEMRITE. What a better way to escape the grim pictures trickling in from Rukungiri!
It is Wednesday evening. We are seated in the Goethe Zentrum Conference Room. It is a few minutes into the poetry athletics, and the room is already filled up. The event was earlier changed from the Library to create more space but see! The audience is a cocktail of academics, notable Ugandan writers, lovers of Art, university students and several most recent Ugandan poets. There are faces of different colours. Old and young. Some people manage to sit down on cushions like around a bonfire. The rest are leaning against the walls. Like Kiguli herself later on says, ‘this is serious. Very serious.’
The attentive silence and timely thunderclaps at Kiguli’s English reading and Dr. William Wagaba’s German translations is remarkable. Sensational performance at its best! And friend, there is wonder working power in translation. I am yet to find another poet who ably performs in the comfort of a chair like Kiguli does. Besides owning words, she is a landlady of imagery. Her poetry is emotionally rich yet simple. And like she relates in a conversation after her reading, the desire to see, touch and feel informs her writing. She views poetry beyond that which is performed in the elite spaces. And her Ugandan pride is esoterically wove even in the most sarcastic of poems read about her country.
Undeniably, Kiguli is the finest Ugandan English poetry performer. But friend, you haven’t heard her recite in Luganda. The lady is an utter gem. The moderator, Dr. Danson Kahyana is moved to ask her to write more Luganda poems. At ease, Kiguli twirls hula-hoop with syllables. She spins words on her tongue like the Harlem Globetrotters with their basketballs on their fingers. The audience can’t help but cheer up, and later join her in reciting a soft hearted poem, ‘The Anthill.’ Kiguli’s poetry is what Robert Frost denotes in saying that poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. Poetry to her is pencil on canvas. She uses it to draw her people, her experiences and her longings. Kiguli’s poetry sanitizes, enthralls, inspires and replenishes. Kale I wish she had made an altar call. Truly, words are her weapon. ‘People may fight with their guns!’
In the conversation, Kiguli shared her rigorous writing process- scribbling, revising, crossing-out, and sometimes working on a poem for months. And she too holds the view that East Africa is not a literary desert like Prof. Taban Lo Liyong would like to insinuate. ‘It is just a matter of cultivating a culture of mutual respect for the writers who came before and those after.’ She went ahead to cast hope on the future of poetry written in the mother tongue since ‘…our language is still here with us.’
On an evening that was graced with the presence of renowned Uganda writer, Gorreti Kyomuhendo, I was humbled to read my poem ‘Lessons Well Learnt (A Poetry Puzzle)’ dedicated to the great teacher that Assoc. Prof. Susan Kiguli is. It was a nervous moment for me. I am still awestruck. I felt like an example of the legacy Kiguli said she was building from her Poetry classes at Makerere University. Whilst an undergraduate, the lady really opened my eyes to the sight of sound verse.
Man, Susan Kiguli is something! Her poetry pulls you from your seat, suspends you at the edge and suddenly releases you. You either tumble to the ground in exhilaration or stand up like we all did and make an ecstatic applause for the Heavy Weight Poetic Champion.