21-year-old Olivier Tuyisenge studied Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics for his A Levels at Groupe Scolaire Kigeme A in Nyamagabe District.
But that is not to say that he has his eyes set on any science-related vocation.
And Tuyisenge proudly wears the tag of “umusizi” (poet), so much so that on his social media profiles he goes by the name Umusizi Tuyisenge Olivier and indeed he introduces himself the same way at social events.
And he seems to have all the reason to bask in that title. At just 21 years of age, his exploits on the local poetry scene so far are quite enviable, for an art form that is widely perceived to be the preserve of senior citizens.
“I discovered that I wanted to be a poet when I was in P5 at Remera Catholique School. When I was still young I loved expressing myself by writing something and singing songs of different singers,” he starts.
That year, he won a poetry contest organised by the school where participants were asked to write poems under the theme of fighting poverty.
“My teacher told me he saw I had a talent for dancing and singing and writing and asked if I would try writing a poem and participate in the competition. I went home and that night wrote a poem called Ndakwanze uruswa (I hate you corruption), and it was selected the best in the whole school. My teacher encouraged me to continue reading and writing more poems and told me I had the potential to become a great poet.”
At school he started composing theater pieces which his classmates would try to act out.
“I knew that if I continue with this kind of writing it would help me to become a poet.”
From then on he embarked on improving his craft as a wordsmith and particularly took to writing poems called Amazina y’inka at weddings, while also MC-ing at different cultural ceremonies.
Learning the ropes
Tuyisenge did not content himself with just the school performances though, and he explains:
“First I decided to meet with the old poets who are known by everyone in Rwanda for example Kalisa Rugano and other people who are considered living monuments of poetry in the country. I made interaction with them and they gave me everything that I needed to know about poetry.”
So what does poetry mean to him anyway?
“For me I consider poetry as my wife because for example when I’m very sad I have to take a book or a piece of paper and write a poem before I can become normal again,” he states.
“Poetry is the way to express my feelings and the way to change the world because I believe that poetry can change the world.
When a poet sees a bad thing happening in society they address it through a poem and if people really listen they can change voluntarily.
The reason I do poetry is to create change.”
Tuyisenge is also the project manager at Transpoesis, a social enterprise with the aim of promoting the culture of poetry in Rwanda.
“The word can be broken into two; transform, and poesis to make transpoesis so the whole idea is that poetry can transform you. Our work is to search for young poetic talent and try to help them to make their poetry shine,” he further explained.
Early last year, Transpoesis organized the first Kigali Vibrates With Poetry event at the Landstar Hotel in Remera and Tuyisenge emerged winner.
This secured him a fully-paid trip at a hotel in Gisenyi where he spent four nights composing poems.
To date, he has more than seventy poems and is still counting. He has also written two story books that have been published in Kinyarwanda.
“After winning that competition Andrea Grieder, the curator of Transpoesis approached me and asked me to join the Transpoesis team.”
He performs at any event where he is invited to perform here in Rwanda, for a fee of course.
A couple of his poems are about commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
For this year’s commemoration he wrote a poem called Wihogora ndahari.
“During commemoration periods I usually perform at national and district level.
Business depends on the time of year. June is peak season because of weddings. I can perform ten times in that single month, and in the worst month I may go without a single performance.”
“I believe that everyone has a story to tell. I write to tell my story.”