The introduction to the book states:
“The Ototong Poems are archives (Trauma Aesthetics) about war in Northern Uganda that lasted for many years from ‘around’ 1986 to 2006. It is therefore, a thriller poetic collection. The poet explicates in this collection an omniscient composition. The Ototong Poems are fourteen poetic compositions about the insurgencies and their devastating impacts in Northern Uganda”.
After which, there’s a disclaimer: “The poems in this book do not have the intensions of hurting anyone. They are merely poems composed to bestow reading pleasures to the readers and lovers of poetry or creative Art.”
Regrettably, with disclaimer and introduction juxtaposed, the author is talking with fire and water in the same mouth.
This reminds one of what celebrated writer Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, talked about when he bemoaned the “climate of fear” preventing some people from writing what they want.
It is an obvious that many poets have one eye on the gallery and the other eye on the empty page as they conjure a gallery of personae to add articulate value to their poems.
Kisaparwot Gerald is no different.
He’s a little too conscious of whom might be reading his rather engrossing book.
Thankfully, this doesn’t stop him from writing 60 poems which are sure to impress, inspire and incite any reader.
In the poem “Souls Gone Missing”, he brings his literary intent to bear fully upon the reader:
“What a painful extortion!
Lips cut, Ears cut,
Mothers are forced
To pound their one month old babies, why?
Babies are not needed in the Jungle.”
The empathic tones relate easily to rhetoric which is emotionally persuasive in its own right.
There’s no need for it invoke labels in order to amplify a tragedy. The undertow of deep feeling reels us in as we become concerned for the persons who have met such a grisly pass.
Good poetry is the language of ‘conceits’ (or the elaborate metaphor), these strike home with what the poet wishes to convey. Gerald, in this poem, takes a different tack.
He tidies up his literal flow with syntactical parts of speech which could be said to lack the colour painted by metaphor, if the vocabulary was fully dissociated from imagery.
For out of the word “jungle”, a world of synonymic meaning may be conjured by the reader.
The poets words aren’t meant to paint pictures, the pictures paint the words as the reader is drawn to a world of abject suffering by his/her own empathy.
Gerald evokes a paradise lost in the poem “I miss Ayaa and Abaa”:
“It saddens me to remember
When Abaa used to hunt for bush meat
Like the antelopes, hare and wild birds
And put food on the table,
Abaa could make a lot of money
From his apiculture business,
And now his apiary is deserted and
Left for demolition,
He used to go for fishing
And came back with good sizes of— 20
Tilapia, Nile perch, and lungfish.
He had promised to train me to
Become a great fisherman.
But the world has sent them to the soil,
Now it’s hard for me to get meat and eat when I miss it.”
The two stanzas hit you between the eyes, their raw power speaks to a nostalgia we all feel in the face of loss.
On a technical level, the words are unencumbered by the double meanings often saddled with imagery. The direct language is a great fillip to accurate expression, ensuring the poet says what he means and means what he says.
The noun “soil” is formed from the noun “soil” as the former evokes community (native land) while the latter portrays the literal definition for that soil (land, earth).
As the world sends Ayaa and Abaa to the soil, we are persuaded by the poet to view this as a bad thing.
As soil, where loved ones are buried, takes on the inflections of a transitive verb which means “blackens or taints” as the noun soil is desecrated by the war which has orphaned the land.
In spite of the death and despoil which surround the poet, he is inspired by forgiveness instead of being consumed by a desire for revenge.
This is spelt out ably in the poem, A Moment of Redemption:
“All roads shall lead to purgatory,
Palace of the evil clients.
Comes the vengeance of the Almighty,
Salvation is the only rescue.”
The tone of redemption is leavened by a simplicity of expression which indulges busy readers by writing down to them. In this sense, the poet offers short messages simply phrased as each stanza follows the other without frills or excessive verbiage.
This economy of phrase and wordage invites the reader to overcome his or her usual interruptions and distractions in order to enjoy this free flowing verse.
The poet, as said earlier, has his eye on the reader and thus has a fairly clear notion of what he wants to say.
For he knows the reader doesn’t want to be bogged down by the lack of immediacy which comes with double-edged poetic devices.
Although this poem is a little preachy and, in some areas, slowed down by cliché, it offers hope above adversity.
The poem “THE REPUBLIC OF STOMACHS” is quite incendiary:
“My country is very big,
It is called The Republic of Stomachs,
It has many regions
But it has no government
Because it has no DEMOCRACY
It only has few united people who
Most of them come from the same region
They are mostly friends, relatives,
And, tribesmen and women.”
People speak like this in moments of passion, when disillusionment has shackled the better angels of their nature.
You may not agree with the sentiment, but you will recognize its pain.
Again, a perfection of phrasing helps this poet’s words ring loud and clear.
I don’t need a disclaimer to see that, and neither should the poet in making us appreciate what he has helped us see.