Thursday, January 20, 2011

Poets I love you, but...

I am mortified. I attended the weekly readers-writers club of FEMRITE and I am still reeling with mortification. A young gentleman hands in a poem with the first verse copied word for word from a hip hop song and wants us to glorify his writing. Another lad hands in a poem which is not bad just rather confusing. The problem is not the pieces themselves because we all learn from sharing, it is the attitude of these lads. Why do you submit pieces if you cannot listen to unanimous and honest feedback from the people who have taken time to read your work? Why do you sit and defend a piece of writing and yet it is obvious from the fifteen voices around you that there is need for improvement. It is the attitude that appalls me and while the club is and will always be a brilliant idea, I hold my reservation. The readers-club reminds me how and why I started the BN Poetry Award for women. I find women much easier to communicate with in the world of arts. They are more responsive and teachable in my opinion. When I held a poetry training workshop last year in October and gave feedback to the participants of the award, it was easy to engage with the poets, not so for most men; and so I will not include men in this competition to answer many of your questions. However, men are always welcome in the workshops and other poetry events because I have met some very talented poets.
I have come to realize that poetry is a tough world to live in. Some foreigners to this exotic world think that it is about muse, inspiration and rhyme. Others think that it is about love, sweetness and mushy feelings and still others are convinced that it is about lyrics. The true dwellers, whose faces and minds have been hardened and sharpened from the wisdom that is poetry; know that it is Robert Frost’s Road Less Travelled. They know that it is the beard that shapes Jajja’s face after 5 decades of marriage. The true citizens of poetry land understand the rings around the trunk of the great oak that have weathered the years. Poetry is hard work. It is like selling a ten- year business plan. It is like convincing your child to take vegetables and cod liver oil. The muse and inspiration and feelings are fine. Then there is the research, the editing, the reading and re-reading, the memorizing and placing the words on the page with the right shape. Does the poem sound like a poem? What does it look like? How do I feel after reading it? How do others feel? I will think of all this before I call myself a poet again.


  1. GREAT observation, and inspiration. am sure had i been also around,(i always am when not in holiday) i probably would have been one of the 'victims.'

  2. Hillary it is safe to say that poetry requires as much dedication as the rest of the arts; if not more.

  3. True.... and we must love critics.

  4. Hi Nevender,, actually I was told criticism is harsh, we should use feedback. Actually this person said criticism is so eurocentric, but feedback is more positive.

  5. Criticism need not be harsh but whether it is criticism or feedback, the poet must embrace it to grow him and his poetry.

  6. Dear Beverley and the good people who have commented here,

    How nice, actually better than nice to find a poetic discussion and one among Ugandan writers. Much as I applaud and agree that listening to criticism is one of the most important bits of writing, I have to say that I find the way you expressed it very disturbing. Actually painful.

    The generalisation you made that you find male poets less receptive to being ‘taught and corrected’ comes down to the same thing as when it was long argued by male chauvinists that a good woman writer is a rarity. If not an impossibility to find. And reasons were advanced, for centuries, why women could not be good writers or even artists. I fear you are peddling the same argument in reverse almost.

    The other ‘thing’ I take issue with is your contention that all criticism (or feedback as you prefer it) is good. Not necessarily true! Sometimes ‘good criticism’ has been devastating. As any lover of the poetry of Emily Dickinson knows, how for almost a century her poetry as she had written it could not be freely available, it had to be edited to fit in how a poem reads and sounds like. If many of the so called best poets ever followed all the ‘feedback’ meant to improve their work, we would have no genres like romantic poetry, free verse, and yes, even multilingual verse and poetry, modernist poetry...really, yes, criticism (feedback) is good, but if you the writer know what you are after, follow your gut instinct first.

  7. There is also a famous slogan for bad writers (the kinds who steal from the real creatives...) SHOOT HIM FOR HIS BAD VERSE!

  8. Hi Iwaya,I cannot say I disagree with you. In reference to the 'male comment', I can understand why it came out all wrong. What I should have said is that women have for long been marginalised and so I will continue to work with them for the time being. Criticism itself is harsh but feedback is okay. just because I give you feedback, it does not mean that you have to agree with everything I say. I know I disagree a lot of the times with what people say about my poetry but the discussion is good unless of course there are obvious ill intentions. It is always good to have an artiste's work discussed because that is what art does, it speaks differently to many people. This does not necessarily mean that we all have to be boxed in from the many comments because that is impossible to achieve. If your art speaks very very well to you for yoiur own reason, then that should be as good a reason as any.
    Even the best artistes can always improve from healthy discussion or feedback. T.S Eliot said that free verse is not always free,meaning there are some things that have to be followed , even in the most creative of worlds.
    For the 'male' comment-I rephrase.