Inès Giramata is a young and talented Rwandan poet. The Development Economics and Gender Policy student at DePauw University in United States is also a blogger. During a recent interview with The New Times, she talked about a range of things from her background to her love for poetry.
Below are Excerpts
Briefly describe yourself?
I am an African narrator by profession. I say this because in both my blogs and poetry, my goal is to portray the African experience. You know when Chinua Achebe said, “Until the lion writes their story, the tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”? Well, I consider myself the lion he was talking about.
How long have you been in poetry?
I started doing poetry in 8th grade (S.2) but it was only personal (diary) poems. I moved to family events like doing poetry at weddings of relatives and then to church events.
I made my first big public performance four years ago at the 19th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Washington, D.C, alongside Malaika Uwamahoro and Natasha Muhoza. I continued to do poetry with them at different events such as 2015 Rwanda Day in Atlanta and the 20th Liberation Day at Amahoro stadium in 2014. I also performed at the UN in 2016 and did solo performances in Portland, Maine in 2016.
It’s been a tremendous honour to work with such strong young women because they continue to teach and push me in various ways.
In your view, what is the status of poetry in Rwanda?
The relationship between poetry and the Rwandan community is one that is complicated and vague. It is considered a hobby. It’s not taken seriously until some people need you to do something. Even then, you are not paid like you would if you were doing something perceived as a job but rather portrayed as simply “a performance.”
People make a living out of this. Poetry is some people’s source of income. It takes emotional labour and other forms of energy to produce art in general. I do not think we understand how essential art is in sustaining culture, and mostly in Rwanda. Poetry is a language. Poetry is culture really. People do not understand how fast a culture can disappear without art especially a country whose culture is art in itself.
How have you been able to track the impact of what you do?
There is a statistics page for my blog, and actually earlier this year (the second year of my blog) I hit the over 30, 000 viewer mark. Moreover, I have colleagues who are teachers in the states that have shared some of my material in their classrooms. My blogs have been featured on various African news portals as well.
I also meet people when I go to social gatherings that recognize me and my work and it is always shocking, but I am also thankful for that. I get to be invited to places to talk about the experiences and perspectives of a young social pan-Africanist womanist and it’s always a privilege. Even for the impact I am unable to see, I hope my writing can help people to see life in a different light and encourage mental emancipation.
Poetry is increasingly becoming popular locally. Do you think this is something anyone can consider pursuing as a lifetime career?
Same as any other professional field, poetry takes hard work, dedication, passion and skill. If it is something you are passionate about, I encourage you to pursue it. I also know that there are already people who do poetry as a career. However, there needs to be reciprocity between the audience and the poet. The audience needs to recognize poetry as a career and not something everyone does for fun.
If you are considering it as a profession, I also think working with other poets who mirror your thematic nature and doing performances with them is key in an artist’s growth. Build a network, build a platform and share your art so people know you and know how to reach you.
Where do you see the future of poetry in Rwanda?
As we have seen with performances in spaces like Spoken Word Rwanda, poetry has the ability to open up the space for many Rwandans to participate in conversations about social issues, mainly those that are taboo. It allows for young people to be well informed about the culture and their history. Poetry can push our boundaries of “speech freedom”, which will allow us to encourage a generation of critical thinkers.
I slowly let the water drip down on me while I wash my body,
I fill my hand with cream and carefully rub it my body,
Or should I say my skin?-My black skin.
Like it is never enough to have contact with it EVERYDAY,
They feel the need to remind me of it as often as I breathe,
That I am that color USUALLY ARTISTICALLY COMPATIBLE with that of ancient the walls.
I feel the need to say I AM NOT COLblog 5OR BLIND-Usually it is apparent.
At the start of every day,
I walk out with confidence and joy,
It turns out to be a shock
To embrace “WHAT” I AM TO MANY NOT “WHO” I AM.
I never was oblivious to why I seemed different,
But why wouldn’t I be proud to the Black?
I won’t deny history,
I am a product of the hurt, chained, restless and once hopeless
But your grammar is wrong, there’s no full stop so don’t force it
I am also a product of
Rosa Parks-the mother of freedom movement
Bessie Coleman-The FIRST AFRICAN American to hold pilot license
Thurgood Marshall-the FIRST AFRICAN American in the U.S supreme court
Dr. King- the Father of the civil rights movement
And that’s not even QUARTER OF MY EXTENDED FAMILY
I am a product of greatness.
My ancestors are the VEINS of this America,
The PIONEERS of the economy we want to believe as greatest,
Is rooted by day and night CULTIVATION AT THE FIELDS
Every day they spent working as slaves
Made them the GREATEST laborers
Withstanding all norms of UV light and poisonous particles,
So, while you remind me of MY EVIDENT BLACK,
I will remind you that the greatest weapon ever made,
Is the black man.
If this was ever denied to be universally true,
Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, Dorothy Height
The only definite uniqueness of America,
Despite of the obvious danger,
They gladly walked into the mouth of the dragon
To free you and I and give us platform to exercise our rights.
America’s branding solely imbedded in the black man,
Oprah, Mae Jemison, Maya Angelou
Flawlessly spitting out courage,
And polishing off the self-inflicted dirt on our skin.
But it’s a shame,
That I can name,
How many have gripped the fame.
Given in to the construction of boundaries to my abilities,
Based on my skin-my poor Black skin.
Forgetting we are the foundation that our ancestors built,
To form the world in which we are forgotten.
Does that sound peculiar?
Yes, because a house is nothing without its foundation.
The roof will never look down upon the walls, because without them, it would never stand.
Same way branches of a tree don’t deny their roots because they hold them up.
We let them call us lazy,
Yet they say those who go through trials come out as triumphs.
You can’t blame them sometimes,
One drop of unclean water contaminates an entire ocean (But this is a story of its own)
We walk the same distance using different paths, (which I thought was LIFE)
I walk on thorns while you walk on pavements
Put aside that injustice, and realize that’s the pride in being black.
I have a history of victory.
You are a rose in a cacti garden
Your skin is no symbol of weakness,
Nor is it a cloth of shame,
I am not an empty frame, I am a platinum painting that you see and realize I am more than Mona Lisa
It should be your motivation to build a vision,
For though we swam this far, we have longer to go.
Aim not for being an exception,
Or one of the collected data in Statistics for profession,
Celebrate not only what was done,
Until all grass is dead, celebrate what is being written.
For change not instantaneous, change is progress.
Change is a process.
Change is not turning white,
Change is flaunting your black.
Posted on January 10, 2015 by Amata