(This post is written by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva)
Every poet starts off as a closet poet, for the very reason that poetry is intimate, it makes us vulnerable and sometimes it opens wounds without closing them. I began by writing about my family, my heart throbs, my pain and gradually escalated to death, exposing scams amongst close friends and about my deepest turmoil which would take perpetual insistence to unravel. With this knowledge and the realization that poetry needs a platform to manifest its presence in Uganda, I began the poetry award. This was in 2008, also when my first born was about two months and when I began questioning my impact on this large universe and how I could reach out to at least two people in my entire life-time.
The award, originally, The Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award, was one of those ideas with a simple vision of making poetry more of a reality in the lives of the poets and also in the lives of readers, writers and Kampala and Uganda. On sending out the call for submissions, the idea was to award winning poets with cash prizes over a simple cup of tea, just to encourage them to become bolder and spread their poetic ideas for others to see. I was even surprised to receive submissions and began to realize that dreams are never simple and with a group of professional and trusted writers, we sat to review the poems and select a winner. The theme was open and for the first award, the winning poem was easy to select, “Soft Tonight” by Lillian Aujo. All the four judges agreed it was rhythmic, subtle, vivid and it grew with each line and fit into a delightfully readable structure. There are many things that follow passion and as had already been planned by the Heavens, the Deputy Speaker at the time, Rt. Honourable Rebecca Kadaga, who is currently the Speaker and Patron, was our first guest of honour.
There were close to 200 guests at the award ceremony and it was then that I knew that this dream was not about to stop. I wanted poetry to become more alive than it was and thanks to the many media houses, journalists soaked up the entire event and made it known to many more Ugandans which attracted more sponsorship. The following year, Stichting Doen, based in The Netherlands, offered to support the programme and has for three years been a major funder. Furthermore, I was blessed to receive a scholarship to study a Masters in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and this was the best thing that ever happened to my poetry. I went to a deeper more meaningful place for myself and also for the poetry foundation.
At the time of the award’s conception, I was still working at a very stimulating NGO which led me to believe that I too could make a contribution to life through poetry. My daughter, still a wee child was another motivator. Why couldn’t I be a stay-at–home mum and do something bigger, like poetry? I feel that poetry is bigger than we are and as a friend of mine said, “We are here to serve Art and not the other way around.”
Poetry is a language which the best poets are able to use to try and make sense of the world. It is special, follows its own rules, makes us tingle, makes us cry, makes us feel and grow deeper into ourselves. For the past four years, every time, the judges review the poems, there are always those that make us look back and marvel at particular word choices and ideas. In 2011, the winner, Sanyu Kisaka, wrote a poem, “A Handswing of Disguised Depravity”. Even the academics who reviewed a few poems said that this one stood out because of its layers of meaning and unconventional use of imagery.
There are many individuals and organizations that have extended a hand of support and there are initiatives that have begun to promote poetry and the spoken word. That to me is a symbol of growth, when people get together in the name of art.
I began the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award primarily for Ugandan women to promote this marginalized art and also to support women. Given my background in Gender work, I was awoken to the harsh reality of gender disparity.Now Babishai Niwe
In 2014, the award will go regional, targeting both men and women and I look forward to meeting great minds in the arts to stand by this dream. Currently, we are also working on an anthology of poetry of Africans including all the past winners of the award. Recently the name changed to Babishai Niwe, meaning Creating with You, in a mixture of languages. It also encompasses the international growth.
I look forward to creating more art in many different spaces with many different people.
About the 5th and final BN Poetry Award:
Submission Deadline: June 1st, 2013 at 12:00noon
Eligibility: All Ugandan women abouve 18 years. Must be a resident of Uganda.
Send submissions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or post to P.O Box 34942 Kampala, Uganda. The poems must be sent as word attachments in Times New Roman Size 12, single-spaced, and you can submit a total of three poems under the theme.
PRIZES: • The first 3 winners will attend a fully sponsored trip to the Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi alongside cash prizes of $500, $300 and $200 respectively. They will also win autographed copies of the bilingual Home Floats in the Distance / ZUHAUSE TREIBT IN DER FERNE, Dr. Susan Kiguli’s second poetry collection, autographed copies of Diaries of a Dead African, by Chuma Nwokolo, Jr. and Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana.