Poetry is a language of many languages. So a lot can be lost in translation once its mode of expression doesn’t match a poet’s peculiar thoughts or feelings.
Thereupon, when lost in translation, each separate sound, theme or quality is given a distinct label and ever afterwards recognized by label rather than by individual quality.
This is not the case with Sam Johnson Ssemaganda’s collection of poems entitled “Enough”.
His poems, divided into five sections, bear his distinctive individuality as his anthology conjures pictures (both metaphorical and actual) rather than hieroglyphs.
In the first section “Wake up Africa”, Ssemaganda allows his revelatory exuberance to break down literary restraint.
We see this vividly in the poem intriguingly entitled “My Ugandan Winter”:
“With blood streams from Kasese yet to dry,
Hand-in-hand with donor-aid selfish suckers,
Pardon me if a little more I have to cry!
For even when to cry I have to stop
Another murder victim tonight will cry
The degree in my black bag
Holds not worth any more
Than the paper on which it sits.
I see no leaves on trees
And no bird will sing!”
It’s a sullen poem, whose dark allusion to Kasese stands in sharp contrast to the whiteness ordinarily associated with winter.
The juxtaposition is powerful; the tears made genuine by the contrast.
Although I wouldn’t use the verb ‘sit’ when describing a degree on paper.
As it is a word which usually presupposes compatibility or power as in the ‘seat of power’ or ‘sits well with”, yet his degree holds no worth and is thus incompatible with his hopes and thereby disempowering.
Although, I agree, I quibble.
We are fed on a steady diet of more powerful commentary in the second section of this anthology: “WHY DO YEARS END IN THE MIDDLE?”
“Does police have a plan in place?
That Ugandans can still die of hunger…
And you still question my anger?
That we “cheer” to a life gone in an accident
What an ugly precedent!
But this noise of silence could be louder soon
For now life may go on
We may try to smile on
Maybe some day shine on
But how can a frozen chest give a warm hug?
We need to talk!”
The persona wants answers regarding the slaying of the then police spokesperson, Andrew Felix Kaweesi.
The poem, not plagued by metaphors tending to get out of hand, is very clear and the message is ringing.
Too many poets tend to get bogged down by endless imageries and these detract from the natural or authentic feeling of the poem.
His words are not hiding in any verbal disguise of metaphor nor are his phrases are dressed up by flowery words.
Again, the pictorial images in the book stand out sharply to either enliven or enforce the arguments he makes.
As to his words, he never rambles or digresses from his subject in order to impress the reader.
His purpose is clear: he seeks to communicate outrage in its primary colors.
So his sense of outrage is picked up by the reader as a baton en route towards the finish line of shared meaning.
“Heart sinkers” is the section which might touch you the most, it did me. The poem “Mulago” has particular resonance:
“A decades’ state owned bragging rights provider
Lifeless life saver
where many are referred to be referred
I heard a woman in labour say
“If not today maybe
I’ll die another day!”
The dramatic play on words employs “Lifeless life”, which has powerful undertones of absurdity as referrals are to be referred.
Ugandan poets tend to favor this declamatory style, so Ssemaganda is not really giving us anything new here.
Again, Ugandan poets also prefer free verse of this vintage so that the message is not circumscribed by too rigid a structure.
It also helps poets to simplify themselves, and their message.
The fourth section, Stop Terrorism, is filled with powerful pictures whose high resolution pictures underline the poet’s verbal thrusts of lyrical swordplay.
However it’s his words which plunge the blade of meaning into the heart of the matter:
I Once Died
“I once died.
When I died,
In my little coffin I lay,
I watched you smile away
My dear wife you took away!
My children stripped naked
By those I clothed!
I’m lucky to have died
To have seen you cry
Never the tears of grief,
But the tears of joy
Lucky to have seen you
Not fundraising for my kids
But valuing my house!”
The persona, speaking from the grave, delivers a much more poignant message than if s/he were speaking from a pulpit when bemoaning the death and devastation caused by terrorism.
This elegy (poem about death) has much more Oomph issuing from the grave and thereby resurrects any accurate expression that would be otherwise lost.
Where a verb is deployed and an adjective formed, a pronoun strikes you with a sense of loss.
The inflections of each verb or ‘verbal inflections’, come at you fast and furious as you feel more for the living than for the dead.
For the persona, being dead, has escaped the terrorism which we all have to live with, and some must live by.
In the penultimate section of this wonderful anthology, a ray of purpose is shone through the title “Grip on Hope.”
Although a mixed bag, the poems warm us up and, the poem, I Won’t Quit, steels our spines:
“Even when the harder I try the more I fail
I won’t quit!
It’s because no one else can feel this pain
That I won’t quit It’s because I have to try time and again
That I won’t quit
It’s because I know no gain with no pain
I won’t quit!”
The defiant tone sounds like a call to arms against the dying of a light. The persona’s sense of purpose is hope poeticized, in the most eloquent manner.
Heartwarmers, the last section of this book, stays true to its title:
Let’s Go RED Reliable,
“Exceptional and Dependable –
Relate to someone respectable.
Real men and women are credible,
Relationships they have – unbreakable,
Reality has proved this achievable.
Realizing fidelity is possible.
Really, why not try now and again
Relieve your marriage of the pain?”
Red, it has been said, is the color of extremes. It’s the color of passionate love, seduction, violence, danger, anger, and adventure.
This anthology embodies all the above, and more.