During my several years as an Arts journalist in Kampala, I don’t remember ever interviewing a single poet or covering a single poetry event.
Moving to Kigali a few years ago, the story has been a little different.
Thanks to Transpoesis, a not-for-profit poetry collective that organizes monthly poetry slams at different locations in Kigali, I have had my fair share of poetry events and interviews with local poets.
And Kigali being a relatively small city, niche art forms like poetry are easy to review.
Generally speaking, poets are neat and organized in their work, as compared to their compatriots in other art forms like music and visual art and the fashion industry.
When you ask for three or four sample poems from a poet they will send you a cluster of the entire works or three quarters of it.
Delice Mukazi, a 21 year-old budding poetess decided to do it a little differently when we sat down for this interview mid this week, just like a few other local poets I’ve dealt with so far.
Other than give me her poems to read, she just read them out to me, actually gave me a mini performance.
She reveals that her first piece took three days to complete without doing anything else.
It was a motivational poem called Speak your Mind:
It opens thus;
You have a message to me
You have a message to the entire world
You are not here for nothing
Your creation really means something
Open your mouth and utter something
Your mind is always full of thoughts
You are writing in your mind but you can’t say a word
Because you are afraid that your words might not be strong and wise
That the voice is not attractive
That you are a cheap person to be heard
But you seem not to be aware of what you mean on the earth
“I was motivating those people who fear to express what they have on their mind, who fear to stand in the public and tell the world, I was telling them to speak their mind and open themselves to the world,” she explains the inspiration for the poem.
The soft-spoken Mukazi is a Year Three student of Business Information Technology at the University of Rwanda, College of Business and Economics.
Earlier this year, she embarked on another journey – that of pursuing her passion for poetry.
Mukazi started off as a fan of reading books:
“After reading a good book I always felt I had something to tell the world. So apart from reading books I always had a diary by my side. I also loved writing my feelings and what I see in the world.”
One day she wrote a French poem called Notre vie (Our Life) and, satisfied with her work, decided to make an audio recording of it using her phone.
“After recording I replayed it over and over again and it sounded good and I decided immediately that I wanted to be a poet,” she reveals.
“After writing that piece I realized that everything in life is a poem to me. From then on whatever came to my mind I would write it down.”
She has fifteen poems to her name so far, and apart from poems also writes short pieces and short stories from her different experiences.
“I may write about dreams, about life, silence, anything that crosses my mind. I’ve created a blog where I post my poems and other writings.
Recently I approached one of my friends who is a poet and with his help I managed to participate in a competition called Kigali Vibrates with Poetry earlier this year. From then I realized that I was touching my dreams of becoming a real poet.”
Transpoesis was her first and so far the last performance she has had on a major stage.
She cites the lack of ready and regular poetry events and competitions in the country as one of the greatest hurdles she has so far faced.
Away from that, there is the issue of language, where she is more comfortable writing in French as opposed to English, yet her crowd is varied and multilingual, and hence the need to communicate in both languages.
Poets and public opinion
“When I wrote my first piece of poetry, my own family could not believe that I could do such a thing. Actually they were laughing at me and telling me that I would never be a professional poet,” Mukazi recollects the initial hurdles she had to overcome.
“But as the days went by and I wrote more and more poems and shared with them, they started to believe in me and to give me a chance to chase my dream. Up to now they believe in me and help me in every way that they can.
I think the benefit they get from me doing poetry is that they are happy with what I’m doing and to me that means a lot.”
The writing process
When asked what formula she employs to put together her poems she explains that “it depends”:
“I’m a self-motivated person. Before, I was afraid to stand in the public and talk because I was shy. So I thought that I could only communicate all my thoughts through writing. Then afterwards I realized that most people, especially Africans are not interested in reading.
I also realized that people who talk are more easily understood than those who write. That’s what motivated me to write that poem and I really believe that there are other people who are like me.
That gave me all the inspiration that I needed.”
She informs me that the poem she just read out is four minutes and six stanzas long, and it’s obvious she wants to continue.
You seem not to be aware of what you mean on the earth
Don’t be afraid
Feel free and open your mouth
To speak your mind
To hear the word
To embolden the hearts of some of us
And to raise confidence in those who feel incapable
You can be people’s daily song
Yes, you obviously can
You are capable of inspiring them
You are capable of boosting their lives
Because you are sent for them
We heard about Jesus Christ
We heard about Martin Luther King
We heard about many more heroes and great people who made positive changes in our daily lives
Why not you?
They have nothing you don’t have
It’s all about a willingness to hear the word
Courage and self-confidence
“I want to do poetry all my life because it’s my way of expressing myself and giving out a message to the people. I like it, I feel it and I will never stop doing poetry,” she vows as we wind up this interview.
“I’m not directly focusing on making money out of it. It’s something I do because I like it. It’s not a business to me. The money may come somewhere in between, like in competitions but that’s not my overall objective at the moment.”