In 2009 I was a law student when I started writing and performing poetry. That was after I had joined the really cool, talented and humbly ostentatious group the Lantern Meet of Poets. We were mostly in our early 20’s. Poetry was our passion. We shared weed, books, poems, poetry videos, movies, music, documentaries; we lent each other our tastes. The Uganda National Theatre was our home. You could bring a poem and the group would hungrily ‘delve into it’. We spoke our minds. Iron sharpened iron. It was a spectacle both empowering and disempowering. If you never saw poets debate, agitate, praise, grimace, cry, decry, shred, stand in ovation, defend all in the name of a poem, then surely you missed the lantern Meet!
When I joined the group, their influence on me grew, but poetry was only my weekend’s pre-occupation; a thing I took seriously but wrote about lightly. It was for individual pleasure. I could write a sonnet every now and then, perform a poem here and there, attend a few poetry events and at the end of the day, read my law books; basically, poetry was plot for leisure.
But before long, as many of us left university, the question of purpose arose and became the epicenter of the group’s existence. Why did we write poetry? What legacy did we want to leave? Where should we focus, on writing or performance? The answers varied as our road shattered and split. We knew what we were, not what we would become. Personally, by then I had been inspired enough to resolve poetry was my calling.
By 2012 I had shelved my law degree. I was now a full-time poet with the Lantern Meet, a high school poetry coach and poetry teacher. That year on 9th October, Uganda was to celebrate 50 years of independence. With a lot of talk going around on the question of how truly independent our country was, 50 years on, we were inspired to contribute to the debate. That zeitgeist changed us. We wrote like we had never written before. The political had become personal. In November we staged our show BROKEN VOICES OF THE REVOLUTION. The stage roared. The show had a unique resonance on us all. Newspapers called us many great things. My favorite was ‘the walking wounded.’
That season helped me reflect on the poetry road I had taken. Looking back, it was the night of that recital I grew more guts to write and recite the way I feel like. After I saw how the audience and my friends reacted to my poems, I began looking out for more poetry in everyday life. I ditched the iambic pentameter stuff and versified rhythms within my surroundings.
When I left the Lantern Meet in 2015, I was still writing and reciting poems. Poetry was my therapy. But I had to make it work. I went to different spoken word poetry platforms that had now mushroomed around Kampala to vent though my verse. Not satisfied with the environment, with the help from dear friends we started THE POETRY SHRINE, a poetry night where we experimented with various forms of performance arts and merged them with our poetry. That period was inspiring. We gave birth to and popularized the one man/one woman poetry show concept in Kampala.