Poetry, Prose and Lines in Modern Rwanda
In one poem, from May 2016, Sudi Nshimiyimana (RIP), a Rwandan blogger and avid poet, contemplates on what keeps us unfree and unaware of the power within us, the distraction of looking away from ourselves. “But the truth is we always had the choice,” he writes in the last stanza of “Can We?” one of the poems on his blog. “To define happiness and to what we rejoice / Can we chose to see love and ignore hatred? / Can we be for each other, the joy that we so much crave?”
In another poem, called “Amen”, Sudi expresses wonder over the beauty of a woman.
Legs of a goddess, are you Cleopatra reborn?
Hi am Caesar, can I have that dress torn
So that I get to write the greatest of speeches
And tell my legions of the greatest of conquests
Much of what he writes — like so many other young Rwandan writers — preaches peace, love, resilience and change.
It is no secret that I enjoy reading poetry way much more than listening to its recital. Partly because reading its lines only gives me a chance to de-dramatise the process of thought, of its prose, its message, substance and its purity. Poets are free thinkers. And young Rwandans have skilfully used poetry to think, create, and express even when no one is really listening.
One of our renown poets is Eric Ngangare (or 1key). So talented that his presence at local poetry events consumes every heart and corner, Eric finds a way to live through his craft. In one of his poems, “Unbroken,” he explains what it means to him:
Isolate all my pieces, I’m broken;
Put em together, I’m a whole poem;
I write bits of my wrongs hoping I’ll be all right;
For every answer I find at daytime,
More questions arise at night;
Sometimes I feel like the tip of my pen is fire and my ink is gasoline;
At times it seems like my hand is the only thing I’m burning.
Glued to poetry, I’m unorthodox, I get high on my own truths;
And, perhaps, in “Disturbing Reality,” Eric explains that what really matters in life is to achieve a greater goal.
The dumb with smart things to say
The crippled who never stop moving ahead
The illiterate who write their own history
The mentally-challenged who challenge our reality
The blind who see a bright future
The sick who bite the bullet without denture
The deaf who listen with their heart
The heartbroken who always loves art
I want to tell you…
We’re not the same. You are better.
I once asked a colleague and friend why she writes poetry. She told me it’s her way of “pulling out what’s in me,” that it’s her way to think deeply and carefully about herself and subjects that matter to her and her life; that it helped her think and grow.
But poetry has also played a pivotal role in helping us heal and think through the aftermath of the genocide. Many young Rwandan writers have used the medium to write about genocide, war, peace, unity, reconciliation and various other themes related to the events of 1994.
In “All Your Names, One by One,” Gratia Bamurange writes about the need to remember and remember the names of those who perished.
From those distant and lost looks
May your names flashback
All of them —
One by one.
In resemblances and stories by old friends
May all your names come up
One by one.
And forever, may eternities dance and delight
In the beauty of all your names
One by one.
All your names, one by one.
Poets have also used the medium, in recent years, to write about healing and moving on. In a poem by Queen Mutoni, called “Rwanda: le sourire retrouvé,” she writes about Rwanda’s recovery:
Oui a un pays uni et mobilisé contre le mal
Nous ne dormirons plus la mort dans l’âme
Nous ne nous réveillerons plus en sursaut
Nos songes ne seront plus peuplés de démons
Nous ne serons plus jamais ce peuple aux rêves brisés.
But I’ve also enjoyed reading poems written by Rwandans living abroad. They are generally passionate and fierce, and emotional. Like this poem by Mpinganzima, called “I Miss the Rain in Africa,” in which she expresses her nostalgia for the rainy seasons back home.
The birds singing their wake up call
The flowers and trees rejuvenated and fragrant,
Exploding with life and blinding hues
And that first scathing sip of pure arabica coffee,
freshly brewed and home ground.
A warm hug from the other side of your bed
A good morning text from the other side of your dreams.
Or another one by Vanessa Nzabamwita, titled “Little Raindrop,” in which she describes the fortune of rain.
The wind is blowing,
The birds are flying,
The trees are swaying
To the rhythm of the leaves,
The leaves are rustling.
The grass is spring green,
The wind blows right,
Taking everything light
It makes a beautiful scene.
And there goes the first drop.
Through poetry, many Rwandans have also dared to dream, explore reality and illusions. One particular poem, “Aint It Funny” by Natacha Umutoni, an entrepreneur who runs a café, talks about the sense of renewal that comes, say, with the excitement of making a new friend.
Aint it funny how we try to hide
Promise to never embark
On a journey of love and war
And just when we think we have
We meet someone who makes us forget
The sound of our resolution
And our resilience is knocked down.
There is one amazing poet, however, whose craft and ease have always fascinated me. Her talent and honesty reminds of the innocence of many of the writers I have worked with, many of whom you will never meet online or at public events.
Here is Jocelyn Karita in “You in I”:
I had been naked before,
But I never felt so until you…
Undressed me with your eyes
Caressed me with your voice
Kissed me with your words
Shook me with your laughter
Fucked me with your silence
I cannot put every poem ever written by a young Rwandan I’ve read into perspective but the more I read the more I learn to appreciate the power of words. Poetry has provided a deep and conducive avenue for storytelling and creative expression.
There are so many talented young Rwandan writers and poets out there — writing in Kinyarwanda, English and French, or Swahili — and we ought to listen to their voices.
Happy World Poetry Day!
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