This guest post is by Beci Dobbin, who attended the poetry reading by Susan Kiguli held in the Master’s Lodge on Friday 9 January 2015.
When I arrived at the Master’s Lodge last Friday to hear Susan Kiguli read her poetry I had no idea what to expect. I was tired and frostbitten, after twenty minutes or so of over-relying on my memory of Fitzwilliam College to lead me to where I needed to be, which was nowhere near where I imagined I needed to be.
But Susan Kiguli was a revelation. When she started reading, I found myself looking for things to decode, assuming that I wouldn’t understand straightaway, but the simplicity of her language freed me to listen to the way she arranged and pronounced sounds. Everything seemed to rhyme; by a deft co-ordination of like-sounding vowels and consonants, she made everything ring together. This effect of unanimity was reinforced by the use of refrains to define the themes of poems. Phrases like ‘My mother’ were the nuclei around which her meaning developed. In performance, this meant that they worked like punchlines in jokes, fulfilling, suspending and subtly thwarting expectation at the same time. Even the most sombre of Kiguli’s refrain-driven poems made some of us laugh.
I was conscious of dividing my attention between the lattice of the poems’ echoed sounds and the lucidity of the visual metaphors, as if two different kinds of attention were needed to listen. In a poem about Uganda’s gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, the name of the Ugandan marathon runner Stephen Kiprotich sent a ripple of rhyming clipped vowels and crackly consonants through the text’s acoustics, while the image he embodied of an underdog who suddenly shot to victory was immediately vivid both as a symbol of individual and national self-reinvention. In another poem about Kiguli’s return to Uganda after a long absence, the image of a hugely overladen bike simultaneously offered an analogy for the balancing of rhymes and half-rhymes and captured the idea of a city whose bustle involves everyone without engaging them directly. It suggested a form of hospitality that was atmospheric rather than personal, which seemed to be at the heart of how Kiguli saw Uganda. I felt as though I were returning with her.
Beci Dobbin (née Carver) came to Fitzwilliam to read English in 2000, staying to do a PhD on ‘The Business of Living in British Literary Modernism’. She is now a Leverhulme Research Fellow at UCL. She works on modernist literature and its interaction with popular culture and philosophy. She is currently writing a book on the idea of shallowness in modernist literature. Her book ‘Granular Modernism‘ was published by OUP in 2014.
Susan Nalugwa Kiguli (born 24 June 1969 in Luweero District, Uganda) is a Ugandan poet and literary scholar. Currently (as of 2011) a senior lecturer at Makerere University, Kiguli has been an advocate for creative writing in Africa, including service as a founding member of FEMRITE, as a judge for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (African Region 1999), and as an advisory board member for African Writers Trust. As a poet, Kiguli to date remains best known for her collection The African Saga; as a scholar, for her work on oral poetry and performance.