Celebrating East African Writing!
The Storymoja Festival in conjunction with Hisia Zangu announced the Judges’ Choice for the 2014 Storymoja Festival / Hisia Zangu Page Poetry Contest at the Kenyan to the Kore Workshop Showcase.
The Winning Poem was:
In Second & Third Place were:
2nd Place: NAIROBI’S NIGHTLIFE – WANJALA NJALALE
3rd Place: PENDULUM, GO SLOW – ACHIENG EM
The Storymoja Festival is proud to be associated with all poets and the Judges who participated in this project. We hope that this can be part of a journey to get Poetry in Kenya to a class of its own, right up there with the very best!
Please find below the Judges Comments on the Contest:
Stephen Derwent Partington
I enjoyed reading them slowly and reflectively. But I also KNOW that the poems sent won’t be the authors’ best work, the poems they’re most pleased with a proud of, for poetry written for an ‘occasion’, or according to a ‘theme’, is always very difficult to write. And so, my comments shouldn’t be read as ‘judgments’.
The poems needed editing. I should say I had to format the text to a certain standard style, couldn’t deal with some of the atrocious font styles. I’m a bit concerned that I didn’t feel a particular poem jump out of the page and completely take me. I agree with SDP concerning poetry written for an ‘occasion.’ A call out like this one always presents challenges especially to the young writers who are desperate to be on point.
I don’t think guys read up to this point in the call out: Guiding Questions are only meant to guide your thematic choices, not dictate your poem’s topic, title and content. What’s this business when poets are asked to write about being Kenyan they must mention the colors of the flag, or even mention the name of the country?
I was looking for arresting images projecting what Kenya was, Kenya is, Kenya dreams to be. I was looking for layers of meanings (not obscuration), strong voice and definitive style. I was looking for something rebelliously different yet entreating despite the closetness of the callout. It was difficult to find such a poem. Most were mechanic and unimaginative but a few close-matches stuck on my brain and demanded a conversation.
Dr. Neal Hall
All were wonderful and very difficult to choose one over the others. Thank you for allowing me to have a voice. I am glad all 5 of these poems will be recognized at the Storymoja Festival.
COMMENTS ON THE WINNING POEMS
Stephen Derwent Partington
Storymoja and Hisia’s Richard Oduor were kind enough to ask me to co-consider (is this a word?) the submissions they’d received for the forthcoming SM festival’s competition. There were about twenty five poems, and the three considerers (my spell check seems to believe that this IS a word) spent quite some time looking at all of them.
I am one of those readers who wetly always says something to the effect of, ‘all of the poems submitted had something of value’, and I think this is true. However, some were clearly stronger than others; some didn’t really light a great spark with me at all. Obvious weaknesses included verse submitted that hadn’t been proofread at all by the submitting poet; checks on basic spelling and punctuation are, to my mind, a courtesy that any competition entrant should show to the competition itself, but there we are.
The primary weakness of the poems submitted, however, struck me as being not necessarily the fault of the poets themselves or even the competition setters – when competitions or even magazines are ‘themed’ (‘My Kenya’, or whatever) there is a great temptation that a writer must feel to overly literally interpret the theme and so write poetry that, say, contains those keywords or some overly affected patriotism of the sort that ‘restricts’ the writer. Many of the poems submitted suffered from this ‘I must write according to the theme, I must write according to the theme’ monomania, and so some fell short of feeling ‘honest’. Let ME now be honest: I often feel the same sense of being shackled when I myself write to themes or topics – it’s not easy at all.
A shortlist of five poems was agreed upon by consent, and the favourite of each of the three considerers (a word I now like, although it reminds me of George Bush, Jnr) appears in this shortlist. However, only three of the poems in this shortlist were (oh, statistics, statistics) ‘liked’ by two or more of us. Two poems, ‘An Urgent Poem’ by Sanya Noel and ‘Nairobi’s Nightlife’ by Wanjala Njalale, were liked by all three of us, differently.
‘Nairobi’s Nightlife’ struck me as having the strength (in relation to other submissions) of suggesting that the young urbanite who enjoys the capital’s nightlife needn’t necessarily feel herself/himself a traitor to ‘roots’ – it played with tricky old concept of cultural ‘authenticity’, and stopped short of being conservative on the one hand or flippantly street on the other. If I had one main concern about this poem, it was my own personal prejudice against excessive use of adjectives in verse – to the other considerers (actually, I’m becoming bored of this word now) I expressed my feeling, on reading THE FIRST STANZA ONLY, that I was wading through treacle-thick adjectival description; it felt very foreignly ‘Victorian’ at that point, but soon eased up a little. Perhaps this was deliberate, but I didn’t think so. So, some interesting cultural crossover things in this poem; but for me, still the occasional caveat.
My own favourite poem was Sanya Noel’s ‘An Urgent Poem’. Since this competition’s result was decided upon, I have come across more of Noel’s poetry, and like it – open, accessible, genuine. ‘An Urgent Poem’ initially worried me – I did find it ‘platitudinous’. But then, a few lines in, it ironically poked ridicule at itself and so the excessive sweetness-and-simplicity revealed itself to have been deliberately employed. The two-column layout was interesting, as was the refrain, repeated slightly differently each time: ‘It is urgent’ and ‘It is of importance’, for example. It struck me that this poem worked well, and had more potential for being employed in fascinating ways, than some others – for instance, while this is a clear from-the-page poem, working well in this way, I imagined how it could be recited by multiple voices, all joining in the general call for ‘getting along’. Liked this.
Indeed, I liked the whole privilege of being allowed to read all of the entries, and always admire people who put pen to paper – so, congratulations to all, but especially those who were shortlisted, and the ultimate winner.
And, thank you.