Poetry offers young Rwandan writers an essential platform for creative expression

For some, it was just a regular Monday evening, after work, in Kigali, but a few of the many roads led to Innovation Village, located at the rooftop of the Kigali Public Library (KPL) in Kacyiru. A crowd of young people gradually emerged from the dim light staircase and half-filled seats, attracted by a wall where a few poems, that form part of The Pen Review’s latest issue were being hang.

There could not be a better day to release this issue: 21 March is World Poetry Day. The two-hour event was organised to consist of three major parts: a brief poetry workshop, a reading session – where some contributing authors would read their poems –  as well as the opening of a week-long poem exhibition.

An initiative by YouLI, whose main mission is to advocate for writing, The Pen Review is a bi-annual literary journal publishing short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and short reviews. In its first issue, readers were taken into the discovery of what young Rwandan writers can do, what they see and how they feel – about certain subjects, such as love, education, writing and art. With this issue, 16 contributors use poetry to expose their literary and creative capacities. And it has been apparent that many of the writers are more comfortable writing poems.

Around seven, the crowd is led to sit in the mini-theatre where spoken word artist and poet Eric Ngangare (or One-key) conducts an engaging talk about writing and poetry in particular. He charmingly starts off with a recital of ikivugo that grabs everyone’s attention; to which the crowd loudly applauds. He goes on to pose the most important question about writing: “Why do you write?” he asks the crowd. And, he asks again, “Why do you write?”

Eric Ngangare runs a poetry workshop for The Pen Review

A question that bred a very interactive conversation; one that revealed the many reasons that inspire people to write and the links between poetry and other forms of art, such as photography.

What is remarkable about this, is seeing young people gathered, curious and discussing about poetry, but more importantly, eager to read poems written by young Rwandans.

The crowd also included blogger Thierry Gatete, who talked about how one’s writing should always be compelling, discouraging the fear of “offending” people that most writers have. Esther Kunda, a member of the YouLI board of directors, had a different way to put it. A writer shouldn’t be worried about offending people, she said, if their content is truthful and written with finesse.

To return to the theme of the day, Eric wisely concluded, pointing to our potentials. “Everyone is a poet,” he assured. “If you are true to yourself, if you are not afraid of putting out your mistakes.”

To move to the next session, the audience is led from the mini-theatre to another space setup for the reading session. Along the way, on the right, there is a gallery where the poems are displayed. And if you turn to your left, there are a few copies of the Review. Covered in grey – with a catchy image of a fisherman in a canoe, on a foggy lake Kivu – they are placed on a high display-table.

Participants in poetry workshop

To a now a curiously attentive audience, Bruce Murangira, 21, launched the part by reciting his two poems, A Letter To The Elders and Thoughts Of A Mess.

In the latter, an oxymoron he recited with a vivid tone, he draws more attention, especially through the closing lines:

You drown me in your love / You leave me so thirsty… / I am a mess / I am your mess, / I like it no less

“I write to liberate myself,” he says.

Facilitated by Caroline Numuhire, who also contributed with two poems, Bitterness and The Tree Kingdom, the session continued with  Sharon Bayingana, Hakim Nizeyimana, Alain-Pierre Sabineza, Sudi Nshimiyimana, and Jocelyne Karita reading – and putting more light to their published pieces – one by one.

Joceylne Karita, whose poem Tango appears on page 46 in the new collection, explained she believes everyone has a story to tell. “I write to tell my story,” she noted.

This article originally appeared on the website of The Pen Review.

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