36. Good news – bad news

Auch in Ruanda, lese ich, schätzt man die Poesie in Sonntagsreden, aber liest man sie?

No celebration of a social or public event will be complete if there is no poetry recitation. Organisers of such events search for talent – and there is plenty of that – and tell them what the theme or purpose of the occasion is, and lo and behold, a wonderful poem is ready.

All present – dignitaries and ordinary people alike – are suitably entertained and applaud the poet/performer.

The most entertaining are those recited by little girls especially if they have a quaint regional accent. They also sound genuine perhaps because of their rustic simplicity and earnestness, qualities missing from urban populations where cunning and calculation sometimes set in very early.

Marking celebrations with poetry recitations is, of course, a good thing. It confirms the primacy of poetry in Rwandan culture even today. It is a popular literary (more appropriately, oral) form – appreciated by everyone, not just those schooled in the arts.

But this is where the good about this form of poetry that can be called public poetry ends.

What happens to the poems and poets after that? No one knows. (…)

And the poets – they seem to be forgotten the moment the event ends. They have served their purpose and are no longer needed. At the next public event another poet will be selected. The unwritten rule for public performance of poetry seems to be: no one is picked more than once.

(…)

First, Rwandan poetry must extend from the occasional and public to a more individual and permanently available form. It must move from the purely oral to a written form.

Secondly, those that have already been performed should be collected, compiled and published as anthologies. We are always lamenting that Rwandans do not read or that they have nothing to read. The material is there. All that is needed is to make it available.

Thirdly, poetry and other forms of Rwandan literature should be taught in our schools for their enjoyment as well as a depository of our national heritage.

/ Joseph Rwagatare, The New Times

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