This review was written by Lule Raymond, for Turn The Page.
Although the collection wasn’t written under a single theme “The Headline That Morning,” there’s a certain unbelievable way some, if not most poems point, with the most lucidity, or by murky allusion, at a particular headline. After coming to terms with an unheralded exhumation of a headline that befits the story of our life or a moment we’d rather forget like in “A Family Portrait” (a headline of divorce), or a heavy headline of self-analysis and effusive divulgence in “How I Grew Up,” the poet leaves us with a pile of bitter truths to haunt our innermost emotions with. But this does not make him a robot. He too is agonized; he weeps, he dies, he mourns, until another poem gives him a kiss of life. Or, gives us. We cannot be fully alive reading a book of poems which make us question who we are and the various comfort zones we “helplessly” decay in.
In “Saagala Agalamidde,” a reprehension against laziness or indifference which starts with a repetitive call or random appointment for someone to run very fast and tell another that he’s in trouble, the writer is multi-tasking; he’s fleeing our animosity, he’s warning us to wake up and check ourselves, and he’s also telling us where we have suffered inflection. “Saagala Agalamidde” is a special drum known to the Ganda people of Uganda which was ceaselessly beaten over a particular area/community early in the morning to mark the commencement of communal work. The phrase can be translated as “I will see no one lying asleep”.
During a Turn The Page book club meeting I attended with Peter Kagayi, he was asked to comment on his ability to predict the course of this country in futuristic poems like In 2065, 2031 On History Channel, and The Headline That Morning, and he said he wrote those poems “with a bit of cynicism” but nevertheless, it’s easy to make prophecies in a country like Uganda. But which kind of country is Uganda? Is it the kind where you “Stand up and see that here morality does not always prevail/ Here things are done in reverse”? Is it rather one where “The headline that morning/ Had heads in lines seated in Serena, / Nodding in correct choreography/ At the conductor’s sleeping instructions”? Or is it “Here we are victims of questions with no answers/ Questions which ask:/ Did we ever resolve the Asian question?/ The land question?/ The constitutional question?”? Maybe we could enjoy a little optimism. Something like, “The president had died of an incurable jigger/ We were so hurt we went nowhere for a month”. But I am in no position to make such a fruitless suggestion.
Since the book came with an audio CD containing about a quarter of the poems, I cannot deliberately ignore this fact. What the CD does, I think, are two things; act as a side-option, and also serve as its own conveyer of language and sound. A great number of things have been said about it, including it catering for people who are so lazy to hold a book of poems and read. And there was a claim that this laziness is because poetry is esoteric. Well, maybe. Maybe not. I think often poetry is misjudged before it’s even read or consumed in any other form. The elitism associated with it is but a prejudice. Maybe it’s all because of language: English. It’s been connected to a despicable sense of superiority, to hovering. But I disagree that that’s the aim of a poet in “Nightmares” for instance because anyone with knowledge of the political history of this country could ask Ben Kiwanuka not to go to work that day. And their choice of words or skill of presentation would hardly vary. This is also evident in “You Name It,” a poem which serves as a flying mirror. I think the reason for choosing “You Name It” as a title was to transfer the rights to say those things about man from the poet himself, to the readers. It’s hence a piece of work guided by continuity; the views are infinite. In this case, a reader’s failure to “name it” means the writer has failed to bridge the gap, to erase a misconception. And that’s as far as I stretch this view.
In the majority of the poems, we are driven into questioning our present situations by visiting the past and our future by dissecting the present and taking note of the heartbeat of everything that defines us. For futuristic poems, it’s upon us to normalise the flow of blood, the fatal accumulation of fat, and to cut out the diseased organs and substitute them with implants (or our true selves).
One thing to commend about Kagayi is his ability to be ubiqitous whilst retaining his seemingly simple but far-reaching lyricism. The imagery through which he gets his message across is unpredictable; it could start in panting and end in feeding the readers with dust. Yet even when one is able to trace the trail of one poem, the next opens a completely new place. I think this is the magic of poetry, the teleportation of emotions, the tinning of warmth.
“The Headline That Morning” is undoubtedly a fine way for a poet debut in a country where poetry, like rap music, still has to prove it isn’t just another delusion of grandeur through which the youth waste time and effort. We can experiment with poetry. Poetry can move society. Poetry can accomplish a great deal.