Wednesday, April 30, 2014

To Answer the Question, how to become a poet.


first seen in Prairie Schooner Magazine

What paths will you follow into your unconscious self in order to begin to answer the questions about how to become a poet?

Every morning that the sun rises in the east is another morning that modernity’s interest in the poetic imagination has yet to reach its full flower. The pressures of everyday life seem intent on vaporizing the images and words of your dreams along with the terrors of your nightmares. The pressures of everyday life seem uninterested in your lusts and memories and all that makes up the deep reservoir of your creative mind, including the unconscious little dwellings of fantasy and insanity that lurk beneath your daily existence.

It’s as if just sustaining the tribulations — and, yes, the joys too — of domestic and family life or tending to your (even good) job or navigating all this (amazing) technology where the newest upgrade yet again promises an even better experience all conspire to drain the wells of your poetic imagination.

Given how your daily life can careen between needs and necessities, from nurturing your inner life or raising children to enjoying friendships, from shopping for lightbulbs to reheating dinner, from doing the laundry to saving for a trip — and even given the times when you find yourself caring seriously for the ill, elderly, or young in your life — you know all too well that the rampaging exteriors of the modern world seem intent on smothering the inner life of your poetic self whenever and wherever it can.

Of course it can’t. Your inner life is inextinguishable.

So to become a poet in the modern world is to trust that a poem is one of the essential messages you send right back at modernity. A poem is a means to define modernity. And it’s your poems that remind us not only of our individuated ecstasies and trials but also of the shared and granular images and stories of human experience.

But a very curious battle does take place, no? An ancient and noble battle, yes? We all sense it.

For one thing, accessing your poetic imagination doesn’t require a password — and neither will there be an upgrade next year. For another thing, your inner life subverts the turbulences of modernity, and the open fields of your imagination will not be fenced in by the onslaught of day to day existence.

On the contrary, your poetic imagination represents a compassionate and cultivated defense against the brute forces of modern living. Because, as if on cue, as if also at war with modernity — as if in the very moments that daily life seems most successful at crushing you as a creative individual — some odd aroma will trick your true poet’s self to embrace the imaginary along with the inventive forms and auras of language, of rhythm, of literary echoes, and of patterns and orders of the words and images that comprise your poems.

Monday, April 21, 2014


KAMPALA, UGANDA – Award-winning Ugandan poet Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva is dedicated to preserving and advancing Africa’s tradition of oral expression. In addition to writing her own poems, she established the BN Poetry Award to encourage African poets to emerge and flourish.

In an interview with Global Press Journal, Nambozo talks about how poetry empowers readers to transcend suffering, to deepen their capacity to love and to spark social change.

Apophia Agiresaasi: I understand you became interested in poetry early in life. Was there a poet in your family, community or in Uganda who inspired you to start writing poems?

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva: I was actually a child when I became interested in poetry, or, to be more specific, interested in the musicality of words and the rhythmic ability of prose. There is no poet in my family, but my father was very artistic, being a diplomat who was very well-traveled, and he translated his explorations into the home, which influenced me. My mother and siblings also have creative gifts in various fields.

The schools I attended supported writing and reciting during assembly, in class and even in the dormitories. I often composed raps or poems for my dormitory or class and weaved them into dance routines.

Coincidentally, my husband too is an artist, and so are our children.

AA: Among the poems you have written, which one do you like the most and why?

BN: One of my favorite poems is “At The Graveyard,” first published in my chapbook collection, “Unjumping,” and also in The New Black Magazine. It is about my father’s passing and how his immediate family was affected by his death and started to act so lovingly towards his memories in the hope that he would be able to cherish and take part in their ritual of loss and love.

I read it because memory is what we have when people we love die, and we can re-create these memories to make the loss more bearable and to strengthen ourselves to live large and to love large while we are alive. The poem has taught me that love knows no bounds and the heart is disobedient to rules because, in my own life, I have loved and continue to love in the true belief that light trumps darkness.

AA: Your poetry speaks about a range of issues, from sexual harassment to motherhood. Do you see your poetry as a way of promoting social change?

BN: For me, that is the epitome of writing. If my poetry can inspire, sow a seed, change a thought, and point an idea towards social change, then I will say that I have lived and have left a legacy to my children. Poetry is sacred, and I still believe that it is the highest form of literary art. I highly respect all other forms of literature ­­‒ prose, short stories, plays and novels ‒ but poetry is loudest in its stillness and silence. Poetry takes us to our primal world and our highest intellectual form through its creation and understanding and impact.

I desire my poetry to create discourse that will elevate female prisoners from the bedrooms of their woes, from the homes of their estrangement where their creative expressions have been strangled by traditions that disallow them to speak boldly before their grandfathers and uncles. I want my poetry to teach women to dance until their belly buttons form into lips of praise.

“At the graveyard I sit on my father’s lap. Where we can talk. Of what could have been but was not. Here he has many friends, Even his mother-in-law brings him flowers. Now I understand why he has to write. It keeps him alive. We saved him by killing him. Because now he writes. He recited a poem for me And my mother discovered my frozen tears on my father’s stone ”

AA: Do you write your poetry for a particular audience?

BN: I usually have a handful of people in mind, but after I have performed it or it has been published, I come to the daunting realization that my audiences are as visible as my nose and as obscure as a revolution. They are the invisible power that makes me write. The more I write, the more I don’t know my audience. It is usually when I am not writing that I am conscious of an audience that I imagine is belittling my creative work.

AA: You have mentioned previously that Uganda’s culture is founded on oral expression and that poetry is a way of preserving morals, history and values. Why do you think poetry is a powerful form of oral expression to preserve culture in Uganda?

BN: The reason that poetry is a powerful form of oral expression in preserving culture in Uganda is because our lifestyles are created through the things we observe and the manner in which we speak. As we tell stories, share news and gossip, we are creating a Uganda that we live in, that we have lived in, and that we desire to see. Stories and songs are expressive ways of sharing our deepest knowledge and truths based on morals, celebrations of thanksgiving, mourning [the] death of a loved one and making announcements. It is these oral gifts that bring communities together, and we should never lose that.

We should never stop speaking of what we are because if we do, the mouth grabbers will steal our speeches and turn them into their own. I believe that oral forms, if they are strengthened, should blend and become hybrids. Let our words drift into other lands so that they can learn and love us, and let our words mingle with people from far away so that they can blend with theirs and become richer.

AA: You have said that poetry is essential to bind Ugandans together. Do you write poems in local languages to preserve the culture and promote unity among Ugandans?

BN: I write quite a lot of poetry in Luganda, which is my mother’s language. My father was a Mugisu. And traditionally, I come from Sironko in eastern Uganda. I desire to become a perfect wordsmith in Lumasaaba as well. In addition, I am learning to speak Runyankore and Kiswahili to make my poetry richer than it is through the fusion of local languages, whose abilities supersede certain phrases in the English language.

AA: How has poetry defined your life?

BN: The truth is, poetry has been a lifesaver for me. Yes. I have gone through ripples and storms through my interactions with people, and it is only poetry that has brought me calmness as I wallow and weep. Poetry absorbs the tears and turns my self-pity into sweetness. While people take alcohol to rid themselves of misery, I write or read.

The Bible is very poetic, especially the story of Hannah, who was mocked by her co-wife after failure to give birth, but when she did, hers was a child of promise. Her song of thanksgiving is one of my favorite spiritual poems.

We have all been in situations where we are treated so unfairly even though we have loved so dearly. And then the promise we have been waiting for comes its way. We are so filled with gratitude that we can’t even gloat but just rejoice.

AA: You started the BN Poetry Award to promote the genre in Uganda. What has been your most rewarding experience since you started the award?

BN: Being part of a growing revolution. Watching people like Lillian Aujo flourish into award-winning poets. Witnessing strong revolutionary voices like Sophie Alal and Sanyu Kisaka. Being part of a young poet’s dream like Susan Piwang and Rashida Namulondo.

I have also been extremely blessed to find firm friends in the poetry fraternity: well-wishers, literary organizations and international writers who want to be a part of BN. It’s incredible.

AA: What can other poets do to encourage other people to read and write poetry?

BN: We can invite them to our readings; organize reading clubs of poetry; conduct poetry workshops and poetry camps to instill a disciplined and persevering spirit of a poet who reads a lot; and supply them with all types of creative literature.

AA: Where do you see the Ugandan female poet 10 years from now?

BN: That is a lofty task. I hope that my vision is too limited for that. I hope that no one is able to see the Ugandan female poet in 10 years because they will be in a universe that has not yet been created. In 10 years, I am sure when you conduct a similar interview, you will agree.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014


Passion. Charisma. Captivation. Vivacity. These are just a few of the words that can describe Mrs. Beverley Nambozo Nsengyiyunva; a Ugandan writer strongly affiliated with the arts and women’s rights activism. After her undergraduate stint at the prestigious Makerere University, and further being awarded a distinction in Creative Writing from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, Beverley took the world by the horns. Armed with a quill and ambition, she scooped a number of bulbous accolades as she went along. In 2010, she emerged first runner-up in the ErbAcce-Press International Poetry Awards, which led to the publication of her first chapbook collection titled ‘Unjumping.’

She went ahead to start the Babishai Niwe (BN) Poetry Foundation, formerly known as the ‘Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award,’ for Ugandan women. In 2013, she was shortlisted for the Poetry Foundation Ghana Prize, and also long listed for the Short Story Day Africa Prize. Her short stories, poetry and articles have graced local and international publications like Drumvoices Revue, Kwani?,Reflections, Poetry Foundation Ghana 2013 anthology, Copperfield Review and Feast Famine and Potluck anthology amongst others. And it is with that that I decided to catch up with this amazing lady so that we could introduce her to all of the ElleAfrique readership.

Who is Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva? A writer, poet, activist, actress, world traveler, explorer, teacher, trainer, learner. When did you first realize that writing was your calling?

From a young age as the passion grew, but I seriously called it my vocation when I turned thirty.

From whom or what did you draw your inspiration to write? What motivates you to keep doing it?

My father encouraged me to read from a very young age and, being a diplomat who travelled a lot, he brought home experiences of global cultures. I am inspired by deep emotions like betrayal, anger, heated passion, lust, parental love and social change mostly. I keep writing because I believe in writing for social change and that art does create important discourse and debate for shifting policies. I write for the aesthetics too.

Your brainchild, the Babishai Niwe (BN) Poetry Foundation. Tell us a little more about that.

It began in 2008 when I was a young mother and desired to create an impact that was close to giving birth to a child. Making the decision to become a stay at home mother, I invested a lot of time and resources to develop the project, especially since poetry was marginalized, hardly understood and women were constantly on the periphery. For five years, it has been the only poetry award for women in Eastern Africa. From 2014, it has grown to include the entire continent. The winners have performed on stages with world known poets and interacted with some of the finest poetic minds in the universe through festivals, workshops and publications.

A good number of people want to venture into creative writing, but are discouraged by the fact that writers get little pay or recognition for their work. What advice would you give to these people?

I would advise them to venture into it for the aesthetics first, to be drawn by such a hungry passion which alleviates their other causes. By doing so, even as they pursue income in other vocations, they will always come back to writing because that is what drives their creative soul. There will always be a place where they can make time for writing early in the mornings, in between breaks, write stories in their minds first and read a lot.

Do you have any personal projects in the works that you would like us to know about? Yes, in a few years I would like to start a leadership academy for girls and women aged 15 to 20 years. The goal would be leadership through readership. By focusing on reading, they will build confidence, character and charisma, thus creating a better environment for themselves for personal and global growth.

Recently, in light of the passing of the Anti-Pornography Bill, a young lady was publicly undressed for having been clad in what was deemed as “inappropriate clothing.” Do you think that this new Bill contains a form of bias towards women in this country in any way?

There has always been a bias towards women in varying degrees. If you are exceedingly brilliant, rich, good-looking, industrious or enterprising, sectors will regard you as unmarriageable or too manly, as if marriage is every woman’s goal. Many sectors also despise women who have made personal choices of entrepreneurship or vocation because their empowerment frightens their traditional and conventional ways. The bill is just a reflection of how structures intend to confine women to heinous and tiny constructs that are meant to belittle and torture them psychologically and physically. The bill is also concealing a bigger agenda of the policy makers. Men who are undressing women are just revealing their animalistic capacities which have always been there. The bill is an advancement towards a very unfortunate time when we should be celebrating women’s achievements and working towards improving health and the economy.

What do you do in your spare time, when you’re not indulging in your ‘creative writer juice?’

Swimming, dancing, travelling, parenting and reading a lot.

Many African women have looked to their natural side and embraced their ‘nappy,’ or natural hair, and you are one of them. What persuaded you to make that decision? It was more of convenience and experiment. I am blessed with good natural hair which grows fast so the decision was easy. It is also very convenient since I spend a lot of time as a stay at home mother as well.

What is your definition of a true African woman?

To answer that question, I will have to unravel the multiple identities from the continent and that will take more than a life-time.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

At 40, good things should start chasing me.

Candlelight dinner in Pretoria, at home and by the Lake Victoria

I am on one of the most rewarding journeys of my life. Last week, I was asked to write poetry which will be part of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This year, I’m working with fifteen fabulous Ugandan poets to participate in Prairie Schooner’s one in a million world-wide poetry projects. Despite the delay, the African poetry anthology, A Thousand Voices Rising, will be launched and excel.

A friend recently offered to support the BN Leadership Academy for women and girls which I am going to run with several partners Africa-wide and I am on a ten day Daniel fast. This outer cleansing is great for inner-cleansing. Also, writing someone’s memoir, someone who studied with Joseph Kony, lived the life of a child-soldier, was gang-raped multipally and now doing magnitudes for girl children in Uganda.

When I am forty years old, I don’t want to chase things . I would rather things chased after me. Not only if those things looked like Tyrese Gibson but I want to attract more good things for myself, my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The Leadership Academy should have begun in Uganda with plans of going country-wide. I should not chase jobs and people at 40 years, no. I have been a stay at home mum for over 5 years now, running an annual poetry award at the mercies of development partners and well-wishers. In between, completed my Masters and now I want to start a leadership academy for women and girls. I should not chase after things from the age of 40. Things should chase after me, good things, things with 7 figures and signatures on blank cheques, things with two iron wings flying in the clouds, things with kind faces. Those things. I have made some of the best decisions of my life this year, many having to so with letting go and thriving and soaring. I let go and the weight dropped off like warts off a terminal patient who rises up and runs to his freedom. I let go and my eyes saw clearly. The whining in my ears and the groaning in my head stopped. The callousness of cowards around me vanished.

I saw the sun. I created more suns around me. I became the sun for those around me and for myself.

At 40, things should start