The roses and thorns in Rwanda’s budding poetry industry

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Poet Olivier Tuyisenge (left) and his team reciting some pastoral poems (Amazina y'inka). (File photo)

There is a poet in every one! The poetic instincts manifest in every one at some point in life. It could be that love poem you received or sent a loved one. It could also be that you went online and searched for an e-poem to recite on your special day-a wedding, anniversary, birthday, graduation or engagement proposal. It could also be in times of sorrow like death of a loved one or an issue you feel strongly about in society.

In schools, during music, dance and drama competitions, reciting poems is high on the list.

However, today poetry has moved from just a social act done for entertainment to a flourishing career that many are earning a decent living from. 

Poetry is mythical work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm. It has been used all over the world since time immemorial.

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Artist Kaya Free recites a poem during a Spoken Word event . (File)

In Rwanda, the art is picking up fast. With platforms like Spoken Word, many youngsters have embraced the art and poetry is now picking up the pace in the country.

But who are the poets making a mark today?

18-year-old Sharon Bayingana started poetry in 2012, and it was her love for literature, reading and listening to poems that inspired her.

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Sharon Bayingana

“Poetry is something that I am passionate about. I do it when I am free and relaxed and I think I will do it for a long time,” Bayingana says, adding that more needs to be done for the poetry industry to grow because it’s part of Rwanda’s culture.

But she wonders why poetry is not given the value it deserves yet it is part of culture.

“Many people don’t recognise the efforts and investment put into it. They think it is all simple work. I wish we had more platforms for poetry. So far we have only Spoken Word,” she says.

For her, poetry is a platform that gives a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves.

“So many times after reciting a poem, people come to me and say, ‘You literally spoke my mind.’ Not everybody is eloquent or brave enough to express themselves. So through poetry, we are speaking what they feel but can’t say. Poetry is a voice for the community,” Bayingana adds.

Olivier Tuyisenge’s first poem, Mukumbure mukure he, was about the death of his mother. The tragedy inspired him to pursue poetry.

“I joined poetry to express my feelings and also, find a way to make a change in society,” he says.

Tuyisenge says that the biggest challenge he faces is misinterpretation, mostly on the audience’s part.

“In Rwanda, people don’t value poetry as much and so our efforts are taken lightly. They do not know that poetry is an art like any other,” he says.

Tuyisenge also says that promoting one’s work is also hard because even with events, it is rare to have poets there.  Getting funds to produce audios and videos is another challenge, he points out.

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Co-founder of Spoken Word Rwanda Diana Mpyisi. (Net photo)

He says poetry should be given a stronger platform because it has the potential to make a positive impact in society. He also says that this can be possible if society attitude changes and people start taking poetry seriously, like any other art that needs development.

“Poets themselves need to make the industry shine, they have to believe in themselves and make more audios and videos,” he says.

In 2005, Amina Umuhoza embarked on a journey with a team called Utunyange led by Mariya Yohana. At the time, she mostly wrote her pieces in Kinyarwanda, but later started writing in English too.

Umuhoza says, “Poetry is the best way to express myself, it is unique and it is my passion to inspire people through poetry. 

“People don’t really understand the impact poetry can make in our daily lives. They don’t think much of it, like the fact that poetry takes time and passion, they only think that we do this for fun. But we do poetry because we want to encourage others to join and also, take it to the next level.”

She says that event organisers should try to give a platform to poets in order for Rwandans to enjoy the real flavour of the spoken word.

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Natasha Muhoza is a passionate writer, poet. 

“Parents and schools should understand that poetry is the best way to let a child develop their thinking, it would be nice if there were poetry clubs in schools,” Umuhoza adds.

Poetry is about the life around us, about our own lives, about what illuminates us and what makes us sad. At least that is how some poets explain it.

Sammie Asiimwe started poetry in high school in 2012 and he has been in love with it ever since. He read a poetry book and never looked back. Eventually, he set his sight on the field and has been determined to leave his mark.

“I am not into poetry to just pass time, I am doing what I love and I think I will do it for long,” he says.

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Sammie Asimwe

He says that some of the challenges he faces are the fact that some people think poetry is for girls, others undervalue it saying it can’t take anyone anywhere and that some people use their work without permission to do so.

But like it is with any other art, Asiimwe, who won the Best English Poet in Transpoesis Season 5, last year, believes poetry should be given a platform because it informs people, and it also causes positive change when they listen to a good message. It is also entertainment.

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Rwanda's Spoken word artiste and Rapper Angel Mutoni

As a song writer and gospel artiste, some people may not know that Brenda Indekwe has another passion, poetry.

She has performed at major events in the country like the Groove Awards, Christian Film Festival, and the Twamamaze Yesu Concert.

She is of the view that poets should write about their surroundings because this way, one would be expressing something they are familiar with and that for one to come up with a nice piece, they need meditation to be able to impact and change society.

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Eric 1Key reciting a poem at an event last year. 

Placide Iradukunda Munyaneza was still in high school when he chose to become a poet, and that was two years ago. He started out with writing small pieces but now, he has progressed to pieces that touch people’s lives.

As a student and a photographer, he also had love for writing stories, but one day when he read a poem, he got interested and realised that poetry could tell his stories better.

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Placide Munayaneza 

Munyaneza has attended several Spoken Word editions in Kigali to introduce himself to the world of poetry. He has also participated in the “Kigali vibrates with poetry” competition.

Munyaneza is of the view that poets themselves should fight to raise the flag high if they want the industry to grow.

“First of all, poets shouldn’t be shy, they should be eager to express what they want. This way, more platforms for them to express their talent will be created, and like that, people will develop interest in poetry,” he says.

Junior Kanamugire, one of the organisers of Spoken Word Rwanda (SWR), says that as far as SWR is concerned, it is improving.

“Many people are getting more comfortable to come in and perform and express themselves on stage. One of the things Spoken Word tries to do is provide a stage for poets to come and share the art. We encourage everyone, every age to come and participate.

“Personally, the best way to improve poetry in the country is to support the youth. We have more and more young people below the age of 25, professionals or amateur poets, come and share. And I think that it is a very good way of keeping the state of poetry and the spoken word alive in this country,” Kanamugire says.

Asked about the future of poetry in the country, Kanamugire says, “Our ancestors used to share stories through some form of poetry called ibyivugo. So the future of poetry in this country will require pushing it through the young generation so that they can carry the art forward.  I do believe there is a strong future for poetry in Rwanda which is the reason why we do all that we do as Spoken Word.”

How can poetry in Rwanda be developed?

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Gakire

I think the industry can be developed through education, for instance, through workshops and training on how to write poetry. Also, holding a number of competitions with awards can also contribute a lot, as well as public poetry events.

Dieudonne Gakire, Author

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Munyaneza

The public should try to understand poetry because this way, more poets’ work will be appreciated. Also, just like it is with other activities, organising competitions for poets and awarding winners can be a big motivation for them.

Rodgers Munyaneza, Banker

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Gakuba

I think it should be given a wider platform and also given enough publicity, this way, more people will get to know more about this form of art and also, more aspiring poets will get the courage to engage.

Mutabazi Gakuba, Student

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Asiimwe

I think putting emphasis on instilling a reading culture can be a basis of building a generation of good authors and among these, poets can rise too.This will be the basis of building a strong poetry base.

Ambrose Asiimwe, Intern

editorial@newtimes.co.rw