To master the realm of poetry is to stay true to oneself.
This means you cannot imitate in order to grow as a poet, but only evolve a style singularly suited to your own temperament, experiences and purposes.
This is why poetry allows for the sort of artistic license which grows out of one’s peculiar individuality and influences.
The best thing about such poetic looseness is that one’s poetry is determined and defined less by strict formal guidelines than by the individual inclination(s) of those who perform or write it.
It is, indeed, a shifting, formless expression of assimilations of both foreign languages and local dialects fashioned from and made especial by a poet’s personal eccentricities.
“Sheep With Golden Teeth”, a new poetry collection curated by Open Mic Uganda, is written by one of its principal members, Dennis Ssesanga.
Its title comes from the mystery of Crete (one of the Greek islands), around the villages of Psiloritis.
This volume is a dramatic departure in sophistication, not style, from its first volume: Ivory Footprints.
In this sophomore volume, you witness the maturity of a poet who keeps growing with his craft and the demands it places upon him.
In the poem “My love”, his burgeoning ability is as clear as his crystalline wordage:
“From my heart flows a river of love;
And its mouth
It gushes out with power.
I feel numb each time I rise.
I’m hit by the power of love,
Lest this love take me astray!
Men of valour stand strong;
Never slaves without their will.
But the girl before me is a beauty among many
And that I admit.
I desire never to confess before her,
The damsel to whom my river flows.
The beneficiary of my love.”
As the persona purports love for a lady, caution holds him back from confessing the true depth of his feeling to her.
By the use of metaphorical language, the persona successfully conceals (while expressing) rivery passions as a means towards being emotionally persuasive.
The images which the poet employs are colorful and easy on the eye but, when associated with certain words, may obscure his message.
In the first stanza of this well written poem, the persona’s heart is so full of love that it “gushes”.
However such a plural noun denotes a bursting of something, thereby implying it has escaped the confines of restraint.
So we are surprised when he says “I desire never to confess before her,” implying that he has not confessed a love so overwhelming that it must gush into confessions of the same.
The collection’s eponymous poem “Sheep with golden teeth” is probably the best use of rhetorical language one has encountered for some time:
“For the past 35 years,
We have been the cows whose milk has nourished this sheep,
Our sweat is the honey which adds taste to its grass.”
The number “35” is a dead giveaway; we know the nourishment alluded to is towards President Museveni’s interminable tenure.
It is a poem so well put together that one might miss the subject if one doesn’t pay attention to the persona’s beautifully nuanced diction. And, of course, that number.
Imagery is the biggest arrow in the persona’s quiver full of sharpened words; unlike in the first volume of this book the poet’s metaphors do not get out of hand and hamper the message.
Instead, he employs and deploys verbal disguises with phrases dressed with such elegance that the pictorial rigor of his wordplay enliven and enforce his train of thought.
In this sense, the verbal dressing of his words masks his words but not his truth.
As Oscar Wilde once said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Ssesanga’s Wildean masking of words is surely the unmasking of a poet who has finally found his voice.