19 January 2010

uganda's year in books: 2009 edition

Thanks to the Literary Saloon -- the daily blog of the complete review -- for bringing my attention to Emmanuel Ssejjengo's piece in Uganda's The New Vision summing up the year in books, "Poetry Ruled".

As is noted in the Saloon piece -- and in references to Ssejjengo's piece elsewhere on the web -- the final verdict is less than happy: "In volumes, 2009 was good. In quality, it was terrible."


But it calls into question Ssejjengo's opening line: "Several high profile figures in Uganda, proved they too can write." Well, apparently they can't (and The New Vision needs a copy editor).

Ssejjengo's overview provides little information of note about the individual works cited, offering instead a rather uninspired listing of works released and events of note (sometimes the two are one and the same). I tried to track down reviews of as many of the books mentioned as possible. And here they are (five reviews of three titles):
Ssejjengo himself reviewed at least three of the books:
Pretty slim pickings.

Ogoola certainly got the bulk of the attention -- perhaps stemming from his position as Principal Judge of the High Court of Uganda? Well, Drakard can't seem to heap praise enough (his evocation of Herbert, Hopkins, and Eliot -- while not factually incorrect -- is laughably transparent), Ssejjengo calls it "good" at one point (though it seems a little forced), and Kigambo dances all about, conjuring larger issues of artistic production and suggesting that Ogoola's editors and readers be honest with him: perhaps telling Ogoola that the poetry isn't all that good so that Kigambo doesn't have too? Too late...

In his review of Jabo, Ssejjengo takes her to task for not offering readers "direction" in how or what to read but little in way of substance with regard to the verse itself.

FEMRITE's Poetry Poster Project is the most intriguing. I'd dearly love to get my hands on both of the currently extant volumes.

So we are left with a few bones and little meat. There's no reason to doubt Ssejjengo's conclusion but also nothing much we can use to corroborate it.


Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm going to Uganda in May to lecture on American poetry and read my own, and was wondering if you could help me educate myself about Ugandan poetry, particularly any connections it has with American poetry. My email is ladin@yu.edu.


Joy Ladin
David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in Poetry
Stern College of Yeshiva University

mark l lilleleht said...

I'm really not sure what has been the impact of American poetry on Ugandan poetry. I do know that a number of Ugandan writers (poets among them) have participated in the University of Iowa's International Writing Program over the last 40+ years.

If you haven't read Okot p'Bitek, I think that's where you start: both his poetry and criticism. I saw Susan Kiguli read in South Africa in October (@ Poetry Africa 2009 in Durban); she's marvelous.

But anyone else have additional thoughts on... the influence of American poets & poetry on the Ugandan scene? Who do you read to get a handle on Ugandan poetry, past and present?

mark l lilleleht said...

Scanning my shelves back home there are two volumes you might want to take a look at if you can get your hands on them: the Uganda Poetry Anthology 2000, edited by Okot Benge and Alex Bangirana (ISBN 9970022032), and the "Poetry" section in Uganda: The Cultural Landscape, edited by Eckhard Breitinger (ISBN 9970021591, though there are other versions available).

The essays in the latter -- there are 3 of them -- will only take you up to the mid-1990s (it was published in 1999/2000). The former includes poetry from 1948 to 1999.

I'll also send you a copy of Evan Mwangi's "Hybridity in Emergent East African Poetry: A Reading of Susan N. Kiguli and Her Contemporaries" from the journal Africa Today (Spring 2007).

Still, there's a hell of a lot out there we don't know -- and I'd like to learn. Thoughts, anyone?

mark l lilleleht said...

Oh, and as an aside... If you search for contemporary Ugandan poetry in Google, you get the following:

"Did you mean: contemporary Indian poetry Top 2 results shown"

As if what you were querying was a mere mis-spelling. I'm past getting my dander up over such things. It's just silly.

Dumb algorithms....