Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kistrech International Poetry Festival, Kisii, Kenya: Day one, 31 July 2014

Kistrech International Poetry Festival, Kisii, Kenya: Thursday, July 31st, day one

Breakfast at Hotel Dados offers something for everyone’s taste. For the hearty eater, there are sweet potatoes and boiled bananas, in addition to sausages, choice of eggs (boiled, scrambled, fried, or an omelet), brown and white bread, milk coffee and milk tea. One can also have a variety of fruit (papaya, banana, pineapple and water-melon). After walking down the three flights of stairs (something we will adjust to) from my room and walking down to the dining area, I go for a simple breakfast of toast, boiled eggs and milk coffee. We do not have a lot of time. Registration begins at 8:00 a.m.

Chrisotopher Okemwa, Professor Kayode Adebanji

Our sessions take place in a conference room on the ground floor of the Dados Hotel.

Christoper Okemwa, the director of the Kistrech International Poetry Festival, welcomes students and guests poets and opens our first session with a prayer as all faciltators will do in programs that follow.

Dr. Michael Oyoo Weche

Dr. Michael Oyoo Weche, (Kisii University) the facilitator, introduces Professor Animasaun K. Adebanji who speaks on Communicating Change: Maximizing Poetic Potentials, like songs, for Global effect.

Professor Animasaun K. Adebanji

Professor Animasaun K. Adebanji's paper advocates Pidgin poems as a means of reaching the masses. “Though pidgin poems may appear humorous, it is a medium to accurately capture and articulate social…issues. Since pidgin poem possess the tendency to be musical, where definite rhythm schemes are maintained, it can engender dance. 

This is why it has easily become the dance medium of club culture because its music is pervasive and everybody can enjoy its rhythm, age notwithstanding.”

Althea Romeo-Mark
I follow Prof. Adebanji with a poetry reading that gets into the marrow of the ordeal of immigrants. The poems depict the psychological state of feeling “naked” in a foreign culture. This state of mind includes fear, alienation, loneliness, and depression. “In this place there are/no monuments to my history/no familiar signs/that give me bearings/no corner shops where food can take me on a journey home.”

Buried in a Bunker

My mother’s arms
are not enough
when bombs thunder
and lightning missiles,
strike from drones above.

My father’s hugs
are not enough
when blasted buildings
rain upon the ground.

My world lies in rubble.
Souvenirs of war
cover the streets
of my present.

Memory is shrapnel-pierced.
Love is not enough
to drag me out
of this bunker.

Jenny Maria Tunedal
Jenny Maria Tunedal then presents a paper on Poetry as a Way of Singing Without a Voice. The subject generates much discussion about the voice in poetry and how it is brought to life with imagery, tone, patterns of sound, rhythm, alliterations and diction

This reminds me of a Poetry group I recently discovered that call themselves Poetry is the song your heart sings when your voice can’t. And Jenny sings for us in the excerpt below:

A sun that rises every day
Not one power, but two
It is not I
It is the light behind me
It is not peace, it is war
And there is no other world
There is always someone
Like a hawk

All I could have given for love
For the sake of love

I can’t help being frightened
I can be your best friend ever
If I go first I will wait for you
On the other side of dark waters
Be with me

Because follow-up discussions exceed their allotted time, we are way behind schedule and it is already time to leave for Kissi University where we are scheduled to do a reading. Session B and C are postponed until after the Kissi University performance and a visit to Kissi’s largest market.

At the university, we are taken to wash our hands and then to the dining room/cafeteria. We eat another traditional lunch of rice or maize, kale and meat, after which the University reading takes place in front of a large audience.

Tendai Maduwa

Tendai Maduwa, a young performance artist from Zimbabe, is first to take the stage.

He is followed by a Kenyan beat-boxer-rapper-poet from Nairobi. Other young, blossoming Kenyan poets get the opportunity to share their craft.

Traditional poets also perform. I must apologize to some of the young up-coming poets whose names I cannot remember.

(Agnes Nyamoita, student, Kisii University)

Constany Mose Oteki, student Kisii University

Some are featured in the Kistrech Poetry Journal. They include Amos  Marcel Nyongesa Tabalia, who is about to publish his second book of poems, Agnes Nyamoita, a university student, Constany Mose Oteki, a university student and Josephat Ndege Mauti, a university student.

Mariam Mpaata Melloney, Uganda

Of the guest poets, Prof. Adebanji, Jenny Maria Tunedal, Laus Strandby, Erling Kittelsen, Michael Obediah Smith, Godpower Obiodio, Mariam Mapaata Melloney and I also read.

Prof. Adebanji, Nigeria

Michael Obediah Smith, Bahamas

Laus Strandby, Denmark

Godpower Obiodio, Nigeria

Erling Kittelsen, Norway
Althea Romeo-Mark, Antigua and Barbuda/Switzerland

After the poetry reading, the Kisii University bus drops us off near the largest open market in Kisii. We are free to explore, observe or purchase the interesting offerings.

We are paired with Kisii University students. My companion is a curious student, Debra Montanya. She is eager to learn everything about me and we chat non-stop as we walk along the rugged road.

On the way to the market, one can see that Kisii is a town trying to become a city. The hillside is covered with brand new, brightly, painted apartments and buildings under construction. Ragtag structures sit between the brand new. Uneven sidewalks follow the streets in some places. In other places, there are no sidewalks at all, so one must walk with caution.

Prof. Adebanji and I take a photo on a motorcycle, the commonest mode of transport.

The cyclist is kind enough not to ask us for money.

I have no small change to give him. I notice that many are eager to have their pictures taken and pose excitedly for the camera.

Other motorcyclists are parked on the roadside waiting for passengers. 

Many are rushing shoppers to their destinations.

The market is filled with vendors selling fruit and vegetables (orange, limes banana, sugarcane, boiled peanuts, potatoes, cabbage, avocadoes, greens), salt, locks, coal pots, second hand clothes, Masai blankets, and a variety of wares.

The walk to the market brings back memories of shopping at Waterside, Monrovia’s biggest open market in Liberia.
My feet hurt because I am wearing inappropriate shoes for this walk.

My young guide thinks I have never seen sugarcane, bananas and boiled peanuts and she tries to encourage me to purchase them. I explain to her that I come from the Caribbean and I am familiar with the fruit and vegetables. This leads to more conversation about Liberia, the Caribbean, its culture and my family.

A few marketers are fascinated by my light skin color.  This surprises me because I feel certain that they had seen light skinned people 

Laus Strandby (Denmark) says that as a tourist, a market place would not have been on his bucket list of places to visit, so this is an unusual treat. The walk through the market has become exhausting because of my uncomfortable shoes and as there are no sidewalks, we were constantly dodging traffic and interfering with the marketers and shoppers freedom of movement. 

Debra buys me boiled peanuts, and since we are not far from Hotel Dados, we walk back to it.  I hurry to my room to kick my shoes off and rest.

Session B and C Resumes

Florence Nyarenchi, a lecturer at Kisii University, is the facilitator of the evening session. Session C is program first, followed by B.

Poetry readings by Kisii University students and some lectures (Agnes Nyamoita, Constany Mose Oteki, Josephat Ndege Mauti, Ezra Nyaenda, Lamech Nyamweya) take place.

 Land of Turkana
It is not shower time
sadly I am completely bathed
not in cool clean water
but in dry choking sand.

(Agnes Nyamoita, student)

(Agnes Nyamoita, student in blue, center))

The Woman Who Bewitched Me

Even the sea spirits were
unable to sleep
They kept their eyes on her
Gorgeous flesh….

(Constany Mose Oteki, student)

(Constany Mose Oteki, student), Kisii University)

Pretty Queen

The forefathers,
Lived and moved like feathers,
Neither stagnant nor adamant
Except with mortality
Tamed the wild,
Natured the natural…

(Josephat Ndege Mauti, student)

Session B

Obediah Michael Smith (Bahamas)

ObediahMichaelSmith (Bahamas) presents his paper Out of What is Painful, What is Beautiful.” It is a paper about the trauma that inevitably results from being alive and about not attempting to avoid that suffering but instead going directly through it-through the truth of it. 

It is about the gift of art which makes it all bearable and makes it all worthwhile.  It shows how my art is the result of this writer becoming better and better able to turn the wrong side that is suffering onto the beautiful enjoyable right side that poetry offers the world.

We agree with Michael Obediah Smith, during the question and answer session, that poets do use poetry “write ourselves back together” when we fall apart.

Laus Strandby (Denmark)

Laus Strandby (Denmark) reads next and we find his “Exercises in Relativity” (1-4) quite fascinating.

Exercises in relativity (1-4)


Imagine you’re
lying on the sand
on a beach
and imagine
grains of sand
as big as clenched fists
sharp and round stones
among each other,
the crater of your travel

And what about the sea?
and the wind
tossing these stones around
they fly right at you
and they hit your eyeballs,
thick skin.

Lastly, it is Erling Kittelsen’s (Norway) turn. One of the poems he reads is “Day And Night Over Le.” (1981) Like Jenny’s and Laus’s work, it takes us into different landscapes and teases our imagination.
Day And Night Over Le (1981)

I’m running along a branch
that only the earth can see,
and because it is seen,
I am running along it.

I am climbing up a rope
that only the mast-top can see
and because it is seen
I am climbing up it.

I am balancing on an edge
that only you can see
and because it is seen,
I am balancing on it.

There is an animated question and answer session after which we have dinner.

Most of my supper time is spent getting my laptop charged in a corner of the dining room where I find a functioning charger. I am eager to hear the latest news about my newborn grandchild. I eat chicken and rice and drink tea and watch the Commonwealth games in progress.

The chicken, like the meat I have eaten so far, is tough. I am not in a big city and the animals are free-ranged and not genetically modified in any way.

My laptop is charged but there is still no internet access. I join the other poets to inquire if they have had better luck than I, but they too are having problems.  We resign to living only in the Kisii world. Not a bad thing. We can forget about the wars and rumors of wars in the world outside.

We leave for our rooms after supper. There is a TV in my room. It remains switched off during my stay. I begin my blog. Writing down the day’s activities goes on for more than an hour before I go to bed.  

Day two of the Kistrech International Poetry Festival awaits us.

Scheduled Program  Day two, Friday, August 1, 2014

Keynote 1-Presenter Godpower Obodio (Nigeria) Ljàlà—Of Hunters and Song Birds
Reading Poetry-Mariam Mpaata Melloney (Uganda)
Keynote 2- Dr. Evans Gesura Mecha (Kissi University)-Language of Music and Poetry and Conceptual Blending
Tea Break (Tea break was put off because of  very information question and answer sessions that followed readings and presentations)
Poetry reading: Godpower Oboido (Nigeria
Poetry reading:Jenny Maria Tunedal (Sweden)
Poetry reading: Aggrey Omboki Monayo (Kenya)
Reading:Head of the English Department read poems in Swahilli
Reading:Obediah Michael Smith (Bahamas)
Reading: Professor Animasaun Kayode (Adele University, Nigeria, poem in Pidgin Englisn “Katakata for Sufferland”
2.00-5:00 p.m.
Trip to kisii Village
Readings by students: Flow Fulani, Fidel Machel, Dennis Manduku