The Mundane, Sublime and Fantastical: 165 New Poems (91-95)

2014-08-03 11.18.32

91.

with hands on my shoulders

the man led me backwards

down a long hallway

past the rooms where women come undone

past christmas

& used wedding gowns for sale

past rooms with old laughter

sweating up the walls

he led me backwards

all the way down to Eve

who sat nude

& declared

that mercy was for losers

& condemned me

to liberation wars of convenience

 

2014-08-02 20.54.12

92.

the man led me

backwards

into a wooden chair

he removed the blindfold

 

what games are these, i asked

chance, liberation, war & mercy

 

you’re now mine, he said

you’re now mine

along with spike milligan & the goons

tattered manuals

& old love poetry

you’re now mine

i found you a spot on the shelf, see?

 

2014-08-04 15.47.32

93.

another man

a masked man

demanded all

one hundred & sixty five kisses

if i had any expectation of release

 

so i told him what i know to be true:

a lipsticked mouth must never be kissed

a lipsticked mouth is not for kissing

a lipsticked mouth is art

is protection

is political statement

is the distance between now & never

 

2014-08-02 20.25.13

 

94.

I’ll love you in a minute, you said

blue on brown, blue on brown

I’ll love you in a minute

you said

 

& in that chasm

nature unleashed itself

— lightning struck countless times

earthquakes, firestorms

children died & were born

died & were born again

 

in the minute I was waiting

terror smiled

blue on brown, blue on brown

waiting for the world to settle

 

2014-08-04 16.58.39

95.

& then there were three men left in the country.

Actually, strictly speaking

there were two & a boy

but we called all of them men

 

the boy to remind us how to have sons

which was to say

that having sons was not like having daughters

 

the other was

pure & unadulterated pleasure

which was to remind us how to have a man

which was to say that having a woman

was not the same as having a man

 

the third was a man of the old kind

who was there to remind us

that we needed a man to tell us what to do

to remind us, we reminded him

it felt necessary

because he had no other use

because we did what we needed to do

whether or not he was there

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Great Conversations at the Uganda International Writers Conference

http://www.africanwriterstrust.org/great-conversations-at-the-uganda-international-writers-conference

Written by Juliane Okot Bitek

Juliane Okot Bitek

Juliane Okot Bitek

 

When Professor Zakes Mda gave his keynote speech at the conference, he beautifully lined out and linked the theme of his speech: “Autobiography, Memoir and Memoires” to the conference theme of “Truth and Memoir”. Writing from memory, he told us, requires emotional truth whereas autobiography calls for provable facts. Writing a reflection from memory a couple of weeks after the conference (having lost my notes on the last day) means that this reflection is a product of an emotional truth and there was plenty of that during the African Writer’s Trust Uganda International Writers Conference, which was held at Fairway Hotel in Kampala, from 1st-6th March 2015.

The conference brought together 30 writers from many parts of the world, including the USA, the UK, Cameroon, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, most of whom had only hitherto been preceded by their work or social media presence. Goretti Kyomuhendo, the director of the African Writers Trust and her very able team brought together a week of text, body, mind, heart and a spirit that drove the theme through the week. There were panels and presentations in the morning and in the afternoon, powerful binding and rebinding of relationships over drinks until late. To begin, Dr. Susan Kiguli (Uganda) presenting on a panel entitled: African Literary Renaissance: Return to Glory or Superficial Gloss? gave a brilliant and brief history of the 1962 Makerere conference to this moment; it was a powerful reminder that the same questions of power, authenticity, writing, and the role of the artist still dog us today.

Susan Kiguli, Juliane Okot Bitek, Susan Nkwentie, Jennifer Makumbi, Louise Umutoni, and Noo Saro-Wiwa.

L-R: Susan Kiguli, Juliane Okot Bitek, Susan Nkwentie, Jennifer Makumbi, Louise Umutoni, and Noo Saro-Wiwa

 

All mind-eyes listen to Oduor Jagero

All mind-eyes listen to Oduor Jagero

 

In that single week, writers that live in Uganda and writers that live outside Uganda and writers that live outside Africa became one; defined by vocation and not location. Shadreck Chikoti (Malawi) illustrated how some publishers discourage African writers from contextualizing their work outside of the continent while Melissa Kyeyune (Uganda) provided examples of the ways in which digital publishing can ameliorate the need to define one’s self by location – her e-novels are set in cities around the world and they sell very well. Jagero Oduor (Kenya) bravely dove into and introduced the green shade with which African writers abroad can be considered while Chinelo Okparanta (Nigeria/USA) reminded us that exclusion and derision against Diasporan African writers was self-defeating for us, African people. Glaydah Namukasa (Uganda) presented her experience of winning a writing award as a very positive experience.

Left: Glydah Namukasa, Mildred Barya, Emma D'Costa, Juliane Okot Bitek, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Jackee Batanda, and Chinelo Okparanta.

L-R: Glydah Namukasa, Mildred Barya, Emma D’Costa, Juliane Okot Bitek, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Jackee Batanda, and Chinelo Okparanta

 

Distinctions emerged from the different genres in which we work. There wasn’t much on playwriting, as Charles Mulekwa (Uganda) noted, but when he introduced Zakes Mda, with a call and response that electrified the room with the power of performance, our echoes welcoming Professor Mda would remain, even when we were gone – a powerful reminder that art is nothing without the people who live it, consume it, remember it, think about it, talk about it and bring it to life.

Women’s writing communities from Malawi, Uganda and Rwanda were introduced to us by Timwa Lipenga (Makenawa’s Daughters) Hilda Twongyeirwe (FEMRITE) and Louise Umutoni (Andika Ma); while Susan Nde spoke about the complications of writing, reading and getting published in a minority English- speaking Cameroon. Peter Kagayi (Uganda) introduced us to Lantern Meet of Poets, a community of poets who have reimagined poetry as a social and communal space. So having poets and prose writers reading together on the last evening at Kati Kati Restaurant was the practice of a new community.

Group picture

From left front row: Chinelo Okparanta, Godfrey Byaruhanga, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Zakes Mda, Mildred Barya, Jackee Batanda, Charles Mulekwa, Susan Kiguli, Timwa Lipenga, Hilda Twongyeirwe, Emma D’Costa, Glydah Namukasa, Juliane Okot Bitekt, Peter Kagayi, Beverley Nambozo, Diana Santiago, Dilman Dila, and Danson Kahyana

 

We went to the FEMRITE offices in Kamwokya, where we interacted with beginning and established Kampala writers. In the comings and goings, we were immersed into writing culture and thinking about writing and writing about thinking; Jennifer Makumbi (Uganda/UK) gave a hilarious account of her first attempt at self-promotion on social media.

Michela Wrong, Shadreck Chikoti, and Noo Saro-Wiwa

L-R: Michela Wrong, Shadreck Chikoti, and Noo Saro-Wiwa

 

Two nonfiction writers, both journalists talked about the work of writing about political figures and events. Michela Wrong (UK) and Daniel Kalinaki (Uganda/Kenya) spoke about the process of working with material that for the large part was already known and may have been published in the media before. Michela presented her insight as the fact that her third book: It’s Our Turn to Eat (2009) found the narrative which connected the news stories and pointed towards corruption in Kenya. Like Michela, Daniel’s book on Uganda’s opposition politician Kizza Besigye also used previously known material but he also spent much time and travel seeking to interview Besigye and his wife and others, who he says were very generous in filling in the blanks and humanizing the man beyond the politician known as Besigye.

Left: Beverely Nambozo, Goretti kyomuhendo, and Juliane Okot Bitek

L-R: Beverely Nambozo, Goretti Kyomuhendo, and Juliane Okot Bitek

 

I laughed far too much, I learned a lot. I discovered connections that I might never have imagined. The next time I’m in Gulu, I’ll go visit my father who lies at St Phillips Church and tell him about the conference. I will also look for the grave of Michela Wrong’s aunt who I understand probably lies close by.

Juliane Okot Bitek was born to exiled parents, both who hail from Gulu, northern Uganda.  As such, the notion of home as a place that one belongs to by virtue of birth, has always been elusive.  She currently lives and works in Canada. Juliane holds a Master’s Degree in English and a BFA in Creative Writing, and is currently a PhD student in the Interdisciplinary Students Graduate Program at the University of British Columbia’s Liu Institute for Global Issues. Her doctoral research focuses on post-conflict narratives of formerly abducted women in northern Uganda. Her work has been anthologized and published widely on-line, in print and in literary magazines such as Arc, Whetstone, Fugue, and Room of One’s Own. Notably in 2004, her short story Going Home, won the Commonwealth Short Story Contest, and was featured on the BBC and CBC.

Reconciliation through poetry

http://www.sfu.ca/dialogue/programs/blaney-award/reconciliation-poetry.html

Thursday, February 27, 2014
7:00 – 9:00 pm

Central Library, Alice MacKay Room, Lower Level
350 West Georgia Street

Admission is free
No registration required but seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis

Five diverse poets will unveil newly commissioned work exploring the concept of reconciliation in honour of Chief Robert Joseph, recipient of SFU’s 2014 Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue.

Featuring poets Jordan Abel, Joanne Arnott, Juliane Okot Bitek, Jordan Scott and Daniel Zomparelli. Co-hosted by SFU’s Centre for Dialogue as part of the 2014 Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue and Vancouver Public Library as part of the City of Vancouver’s Year of Reconciliation.

Guest of Honour: Chief Robert Joseph, Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, Recipient of the 2014 Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue

Click here for the poet biographies

In partnership with:

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Special thanks to event advisors Wayde Compton, Barbara Kelly, Megan Langley and Renée Sarojini Saklikar