The Babishai Niwe Poetry Award for 2015 was awarded this week; Friday 28th August 2015. Nigerian Adeeko Ibukun scooped the $1000 prize for his poem “A Room With A Drowning Book”. Professor Remi Raji, President of Association of Nigerian Authors finally announced his countrymate as winner after what was a gripping speech from Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, the award’s founder.
He is the second male winner of the award after Tom Jalio of Kenya last year.
The 1st runner up was Kenya’s Sheila Nyanduaki Okongo (The Ghost of Jevanjee) while second runner up was Uganda’s Nick Makoha.
The award ceremony was the crowning festivity of the Babishai Poetry Festival which was a three day event that had several activities including a dance breakfast with Batalo East, poetry masterclasses, a book launch and poetry recitals. All this took place at the Uganda Museum.
I was not able to attend all three days but what I caught of the last day was very absorbing. I attended Martha Byoga’s session with 2015 poets and past winners and there were several issues affecting the artistic community, both readers and writers.
- Thematic Writing
The Babishai Poetry Competitions have been theme based except in 2009. They have ranged from “Money and Culture”, “Hope”, to “Music” and “Innovation”. Many writers will agree that the sweetest work they produce is the one which is unhindered by theme. In fact, Adeeko posited
“It’s amazing when the poem locates you!”
Nonetheless, one cannot always expect that poem to locate you. The muse needs romancing. Rashida Namulondo, the winner in 2013 shared that it personally challenges but eventually grows a writer. Many of the poets agreed that themes do engage their creativity and imagination.
- Impromptu Poetry and Brewed Poetry (Editing)It’s interesting to note that several of the past winners had written poetry that was of the spur of the moment. It was like what Adeeko called “when the poem locates you.” Several past winners actually submitted only their first drafts.
It was a contentious issue because while some believed you needed to stay more with your work, some believed that there were times the more you edited, the more you lost the magic of your work. Some claim “How can you edit your feelings?”.
Several issues came up and these were directly related to editing. Many world class writers do not produce spur of the moment work. Their works go through things like critical distance where you produce a work and leave it unread for three months when you return to it with a fresh mind.
Many serious writers/authors actually pay editors to give new eyes to their work.
It came down to creating a balance between not holding onto your work too preciously but also respecting it. Ultimately the decision lies with the writer.
- Performance or Page Poetry?It’s an insistent conversation in Ugandan circles. How are the two supposed to live together?
SlimEmcee, one of East Africa’s celebrated performance poets told us “I choose to publish in your mind straight away”. He believes one should be able to give their voice to their pen, and share their mind. The argument was in the fact that some cannot perform their poetry and others cannot write but the agreement was the two forms are actually different. Each form has its own devices. That being said a performance poet ought to learn how to write eventually. A page poet ought to learn to voice their poetry.
It was generally very refreshing for any writer and also mind tickling for the readers.
What I could take away though from the night was the fact that the Babishai Poetry Award has slowly but surely brought to the surface very amazing erstwhile unknown African poets. Being the only poetry award on the continent makes us proud of Beverley as well as the people who make it happen every year!
I am looking forward to the next.
Photos: Babishai Niwe Poetry