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New Poetry, Fiction, Essay

A Meet the Poet Special: Faith Atuhumuze, by Samantha Maw

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Samantha Maw is studying a Creative Writing MA at Lincoln University in the U.K. and is a member of Lincoln Creative Writers and Outspoken Poets. A qualified teacher who has worked in primary and secondary schools in the UK and in Africa; she has now gained the confidence to impose her poems and blogging skills (couragechasers.com) on the general public. She lives in Lincoln with a scruffy golden lurcher and two ridiculously cuddly cats. In her spare time she likes to tread the boards at her local amateur dramatic society, and leads story time at the local village library.

 

Last week I returned from Kampala, Uganda after a couple of weeks reconnecting with my previous life and all the wonderful people in it. This time I was fortunate enough to make a new connection with the Ugandan Poet, Faith Atuhumuze over a couple of glasses of wine at Lugogo Mall. Her debut collection where the night sings is soon to be published by the Blue Nib Literary Journal.

Faith is a twenty-seven year old researcher at Makere University, Kampala. She comes from the Bushenyi district in Western Uganda and moved to the city ten years ago. She speaks fluent English, although her home language is Runyankole. She has been writing poetry for about four years, although she says it is hard to remember her first composition. She started off writing an online blog – but began to feel uncomfortable about the amount of time she spent talking about herself! Poetry began to spark her interest because of the way it told a story using few words. It `packed a punch`. It was accessible to any reader and didn’t waste words, `Essays don’t attract the audience like poetry does. It is short and easy to read – much more entertaining than an academic paper`.

Faith began to see poetry as the perfect medium for conveying controversial and difficult issues, but at the time very few poets were actually writing material about what was going on in their country. She started to write about the situation round her – the hunger; the misuse of Aid; the corruption. `All this money is always coming in and yet people are still starving. People need to know this.` There are some Ugandan poets who stress the importance of addressing these issues in their own local language. Earlier in the week, I has seen Lule Raymond perform pieces from his recently published OGENDA WA? in Luganda. Lule was passionate about relating to his own people on their level, even if they didn’t speak English. While seeing the value in this, Faith’s passion is to communicate with people in and outside of Uganda and raise awareness in the international community. `People are becoming more engaged in poetry as an art form and more people read poetry here than read the newspapers,` she commented, `Yes, it is important for poetry to be accessible to local people, but you can reach a wider audience if you write in English. I like writing in my local language because often the phrases flow better but then how many people will be able to read it?` Uganda has about 40 different dialects, with English as the official national language – a reminder of its colonial past. Understandably, this legacy still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth for some.

For Faith, writing poetry is a way to let go of strong feelings; to get things off her chest. She describes the setting occasionally, but her main focus is on real life situations. Her three part poem yowanina tells the story of a young girl she knows personally, although the issues in the poem are common to many young girls growing up in the village:

yowanina

i.

at thirteen, her chest is starting to swell
with every word she would yet learn to speak.
the rosary sinks inside the ridge
digging between her rib-
cage; her aunts are getting infatuated
with the idea of cows, they
poke fingers in her growth
she hides beneath ripping cardigans
and discusses rain that locates her skin-
her mother teaches her to build
fences in her mouth- her sighs
are barbs atop kneeling strangers in transit
where her heart pastures

she holds her foot mid-step when they call her name
yowanina; mother taught her to be a lady
her mouth is a shelf for things dying
she grows out her dread-
locks to hold between her teeth
she was told a lady must never speak back
she laces her body into tongues
her walk is a sound of church drums

ii.

her father wishes away the moon
in his obsession with breaking things
he throws empty bottles into the night
for their crack, crack, cracking then
tiptoes to her bedside, his hushed tones
cutting through the dark like bread knives
he talks about god and his friends who’ve died
sniffs escape his throat like orphans in a lone city
she doesn’t want her mother to wake
her chest is a cemetery she buries her father’s head in
but graveyards are our way of never letting go
he rises like ghosts of things that still ring true
in her grieving ears; they mind-fuck her into believing
nothing is ever really dead
when father draws breath from her mouth,
worships the empty graves in her body
with his wood                                    (en) god

 

she turns her face to her younger sister,
a penitent choking down creeds,
she peers through the dark teeming across her bed
she can hear her youth breaking on knuckles of moans
her faith gritting its teeth
through blood as a kind of sainthood

iii.

she mascaras her eyes not to blink,
her stare is a fortification
of secrets
asking the clouds not to spit

she swallows the silver spoons in her mouth
that force-fed her ghosts
‘til she was obese to her throat,
her ears drum, drum drumming stoic desolation
into hymns, her body is an empty church
calling a wanting man to his knees

screamed-out nights build walls
up her vagina, her legs creak
like revolving doors
opening into sore epiphanies

**********************

the night couldn’t sleep.
i stood by the window
unconsciously stroking my pen
just so it didn’t weep

the air was filled with cricket song
street lamps and neem

beyond a cloudless sky
stars purred
like a symphony orchestra

i felt myself belong to
a tangible heaven

where the night sings

I was interested in whether Faith had ever performed her poems on stage but so far, she says she has been hesitant to do so. She has recorded on soundcloud.com, but wonders whether her poems are suitable for the spoken word setting:

`A lot of the spoken word performers here perform in a similar style. They memorise their poems and they dramatise them on stage. I don’t know if I want to do that. Sometimes when you memorise your work it loses its impact – it becomes a bit forced. Everyone reads a text differently so if you read it for them first you are imposing your interpretation and tone on them. If you let people read the poem for themselves they may see something different in it. Each person can have their own perspective.`

Faith met Dave Kavanagh on allpoetry.com. He took an interest in her as a developing poet and gave support and advice on how to edit and restructure. She was thinking about self-publishing her first collection but had feared it might restrict her, so when Dave offered to publish it through Blue Nib she was delighted at the opportunity to reach a wider audience. She is already working on her next collection:

`The second book I am working on will be focused on the situation in Northern Uganda and parts of Sudan.  I visited Northern Uganda to understand to be close to the situation and understand it better. It was difficult to write what I saw straight away. I had to return to Kampala and process it. I have a friend who is working with an NGO in Northern Uganda who I stayed with. In one poem I write about a certain family. There are certain conditions you have to meet to get food – you have to be recognisably malnourished. So the family kept one kid seriously underfed to stay on the list. It’s been like that for many years. I wanted people to know this kind of thing is happening here.`

My final question was what advice Faith would give to other poets who are considering publishing a collection for the first time. She said this:

`When you are starting out don’t keep your poetry to yourself. You need to get experienced readers to give you advice so that you can grow and improve. Shirley and Dave worked with me through the editing process and I learnt so much from it. Before you think of self-publishing get your work out there and do your best to find a good editor.`

After our conversation we both attended INVERSE; a poetry performance by the Potter’s Clay poetry troupe at Smokey’s Restaurant and Lounge on Nakasero Road. It was an entertaining evening and made us both think about how we would like to present our own poetry in public. We noticed the complete absence of women from the line up, and I think this motivated Faith to develop her on-stage presence in Kampala in the future. It was a real pleasure to spend time with such a thoughtful, talented lady and exchange views on the nature and relevance of poetry in a culture quite different from my own. Watch this space as I have no doubt she is about to make a huge impact on the international poetry scene.

 

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Faith lives and writes in Uganda. Her work has appeared…