MARIA KAKINDA BIRUNG is an unabashed lover of literature. Her poem, 'I am not sorry anymore,' was amongst the Top five in the #Babishai2016 poetry competition. Here, we explore more about her literary life.
If you had a choice of only one sentence in the world to describe yourself, what would it be?
A selectively curious girl who revels in introversion and sporadically explores literature.
What are some of your sources of inspiration?
Experiences, not necessarily my own but other peoples’. University has so far been a pool of encounters. My interaction with more people has been helpful especially since people have varying versions of what they consider to be reality. Sometimes the versions are not dramatically contrasting but are often revealing.
When it’s difficult for me to write, I try to read books especially fiction. I have a habit of re-reading parts of books that strike me the most. I do that a lot with ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah’ and ‘Tar Baby’ by Toni Morrison.
In your #Babishai2016 shortlisted poem entitled, ‘I am not sorry anymore’, you express, through the persona, an unveiled discontent at the hypocritical and changing worldviews towards women. Why was this poem important to you?
There’s a certain pressure that comes with youth. For women, it is to look and act in a certain way. Apparently there is a norm to which we must submit and even then our response should be measured.
But I think deep down each of us is struggling with some existential reality to which its ultimate fulfilment eludes us. And I always think about how amazing it is that sometimes you look across the street and see a lady or gentleman, very well put together. Even I, am a culprit. I am not saying that there is no need to apply reason for sanity’s sake but we should recognise that within each of us there is a storm. My professor calls it dialectics; that even when one is still, the respiratory and circulatory system are in motion. Perhaps Nikitta Gill’s quote can best summarise what I am trying to say; ‘Whilst somewhere the water is calm, in another place in the very same ocean, there is a colossal storm.’
Is it important for poets to always have an angle, as they write?
I think it is mostly important when we embark on a deliberate journey to address a specific issue, when we are aspiring to be agents of change. But there are times when poets are writing to discover themselves, to find answers within themselves to questions which they have constructed. And even then, the questions are never definite.
What are some of your favourite poems?
In no particular order;
Five Stations for Various-Richard Ali
Take over-Melissa Kiguwa.
The Kingdom of Gravity-Nick Makoha.
Quarantine with Abdelhalim Hafez-SafiaElhillo.
The poems in ‘Salt’- NayyirahWaheed.
What do you think a poet should do, when readers respond violently to their work?
I think that a poet in writing not only aims to express him/herself but also to illicit some sort of emotion from the reader. The poet’s control is and should only be confined to what is written and how it is moulded. The greater adversity would therefore be no response than any response at all. A non-response may presuppose that one’s work is detached/pretentious, you name it. A violent response on the other hand may reflect truths and what is a greater aspiration than truths’ revelation?
As poets, how can we separate our work from our personal lives?
I think our personal lives inform our poetry and as a result our poetry is more honest. But if we must separate our work from our personal lives, we could immerse ourselves entirely in the events of our lives. What I mean is that we would have to be ‘entirely where we are’, making a deliberate choice to fully experience something. If we must say words or do actions or respond to certain things at those precise moments, then we should. Because poetry is very reflective and sometimes when we write, it is in response to what I would like to call a ‘subsequent reaction’. We are going back in time and saying, “This happened and I did this but I would have liked to do that.” Or “I felt like this but I should have felt like that.”
This would then be accompanied by editing the poetry and extracting those things that we think we’d not like the whole world to know.
Our third Babishai poetry festival runs from 4-6 August, starting with a poetry trek across Mabira Forest, Poetry@Mabira. Will you join us?
It would be lovely to join you and I hope to be there.
How best can poetry be celebrated for those who find it elitist?
I think that people who find poetry elitist should first recognise that writers are human and not superhuman. Sometimes the expectations of the public on the writers is superficial. That because one is a writer (poet), one should always be reasonable and very, very dignified. Yet poets struggle with the same things as you. From personal crises to ‘simple’ things like vocabulary. But I think that perhaps it is a cycle. That sometimes the writers also sub-consciously emulate these expectations. So personal, ‘face to face’ interaction with the poets would be ideal.
In Uganda, one cannot fail to recognise that there has been a re-emerging focus on poetry in our indigenous languages, almost like a shift back to those days of folk-lore and storytelling. This has helped poetry become more relatable and encourages a wider group of people to come up with their own creative ways of poetry.
Any parting remarks?
I would like to thank the team of Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation for giving an opportunity to African emerging poets to interact and learn from each other.
Thank you Maria
I am not sorry anymore, world.
The internet you shoved down my throat
And the grotesque knowledge you dropped
Onto my stunting spine taught me that
To be a woman, my forte would be,
Not a sharp mind but a sharp tongue.
That I had to spit-
Lewd and rude from pretty lips with lipstick mounted on them.
It is you,
You who taught me that-
Woman was acronym for; War Over Males ANew!
That we had adopted new tactics against men.
The strength of womanhood placed on a weighing scale,
Would be measured by the kilogrammes of
How many pillows I had lain on
And how many men’s mattresses had dipped with the weight of my body.
That the coveted for trophy would be presented to me,
With the measure of how many drops of tears my cup of vanity had collected,
And how many hearts my overgrown fingernails had scoured.
Isn’t it you who taught me-
To scrub the melanin off my skin?
For the fire in me would be revealed
Through the beauty of my newly acquired light skin.
Isn’t it you who whispered
That my femininity was evidenced by
The number of Instagram followers
Who unlike the disciples to Jesus, would hang onto the gospel…
Of the edges and curves of my body
And the wit of a sexually induced mind?
How dare you change your mind then?
And tell me that the price of femininity had changed…
That I had to grow the branches of a discerning mind and heart…
That ladies like Maya Angelou and Malala Yousafzai…
Had taken the mantra from the hands of women
Whose nudity and sexuality was weightlessly carried through
The air for all to see….
How dare you turn your back on me
Seeking to un-teach all the things;
That you had buttressed into my being?
Kakinda Maria Birungi