Celebrating East African Writing!
It was in the 60s and 70s, when we had vibrant and great East African poets like Taban Lo Liyong, David Cook, David Rubadiri, Okot p’ Bitek, Jared Angira and many more. This was the time many great poets released works and were published in large numbers and in anthologies. Back then, there were no open mics but the intellectual debates were lively. In fact, many of us can attest that these are the poets we read in school ;they are read and studied in school even now.
Come the late 80s, there was a sudden death of poetry and other intellectual activities in Kenya partly because of political reasons. Kenya then experienced massive brain drain. Nothing can be written home about in this period. The sudden resurrection of poetry again appeared in the late 90s and the post 2000 in the form of open mics.However new poets are hardly read in schools nowadays because they have not been published in large numbers. And they are many. It makes one wonder what their destiny ism if not to be published. May be their obsession is to have blogs where they rest their hopes of getting published and to read some of their poems in entertainment venues.
Mainstream newspapers in Kenya publish poetry but they give very little space. But this poetry helps one to make a name and not fortune since it is claimed to be a hobby. Well,why is poetry regarded to as a hobby that cannot earn money, if other hobbies are the biggest earners for the many people who engage in them? Here, we are talking of hobbies like cycling, football, golf, volleyball and athletics. Even writing is a hobby that is earning people a lot of money. The fact that now every other pub in Nairobi has a poetry night and patrons are parked inside shows that poetry is a popular form of entertainment that does generates money.So,who contributes to the growth of poetry in Kenya and at the same time killing it. We all may be responsible.
Publishers in Kenya are responsible in the lack of more poetry books since they are not keen in publishing poetry citing that the public does not read poetry in Kenya. Their lust for money is fulfilled with the publishing of school texts. Most poets with resources opt to publish themselves like Tony Mochama and others. But what happens to those who are unable? Their work is resting under the comfort of their beds. Only fate will decide their destiny. It is very interesting that it isn’t to publish in Kenya.
Hence my saying that poetry is alive today, in terms of reading and open mics, but to disappear again is something to take note.In fact poetry in Kenya in this case is no longer ailing, but it is recuperating. Among the poets who have emerged lately are Tony Mochama, Caroline Nderitu, Imani, Masese, Andrew Odongo, Tim Mwaura, Njeri Wangari, Cindy Ogana, Muki Garang and Terryann Chebet among others. Forget that the new poets have been labeled literary gangsters by the poetry police; they are earning their sweat the hard way.
So who is contributing to the death of poetry? I think we are all playing a part in the killing and the executing of poetry. From the poets, organizers of open mics to the media. As for the media, they are not treating poetry as a strong form of art, but just as a pastime and hence they are not giving it the coverage that it needs like they do with hip hop, kapuka and genge which are offshoots of poetry. It is interesting to note here that lewd poetry in the form of kapuka and genge continues to dominate airspace in Kenya than any other form of poetry.
Most of these poets have not been published at least any where apart from there blogs. For them, the only forum they have is to read to the audience and then keep posting their pieces online. Very good poems have been read and why they can’t be published is a question I will not answer in my position.
© Dennis Dancan Mosiere 2009
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