Kagayi Ngobi: Prose, Verse and Man


Everyone has their own definition of the first time they met the poet Peter Kagayi Ngobi. For some it was through his poetry, others on stage at a recital or theater productions. Then he always went by his Christian name Peter.

Some people thought Kagayi was theatrical, aggressive, and selling.

Then there are those who have met him even before hearing his voice; they learned this after reading his poetry, especially after the publication of the first edition of his first anthology, The Headline That Morning.

For these, Kagayi is a teacher, a blacksmith, a prophet and for this same group, he incites violence.

Kagayi has in the past published three anthologies of political poetry such as The Headline That Morning, Yellow Pupu and For My Negativity, last year he even published a 2021 edition of The New Headline That Morning.

But before Kagayi, the figure who influenced resistance poetry or the man behind initiatives such as Verse in Vac, Kitara Nation and all those serialized poetry slums he helped create in high schools , There’s a story.

He cut his teeth performing with The Lantern Meet of Poets, having been invited to one of their performances while still a law student at Makerere University.

He says the first time he attended a poetry performance was when a friend invited him to a Lantern Meet of Poets event at the National Theatre. Then he became interested in poetry, but a lot of his writings were love poems, but that night changed his view of poetry.

The poet interprets one of his poems.

“My understanding of poetry groups was that it could be girls discussing flowers. My friend was on the Lantern Meet of Poets and had invited me to shows, but I didn’t go,” he says.

It wasn’t until the next semester that he showed up for one, as Lantern Meet used to have shows at the start of each semester “That was the first time I had heard of a poetry group, the first time I heard of a group of Ugandans who write poetry and now I heard of a poetry performance, in fact they called it a recital.

Even coming for the recital was his first time at the National Theater and Kagayi still remembers that day like a pastor knows his word.

“The first thing that blew me away was the fact that it was a full house. I thought, there is a community of people who like to listen to poetry, so my passion is not really misplaced,” he says, adding that the hospitality also blew him away, the show was free, at the When they arrived they were offered cake and a soda.

Remember, his idea of ​​poetry was about flowers…

“I walked in and the poetry these guys were reciting had some extreme themes. There was a poem on the death of the Kyabazinga, there were philosophical poems, those on culture, politics and they had dramatized it. What I was watching was deconstructing my idea of ​​poetry,” he says.

After the performance, he knew poetry was what he wanted to do, but he was still a law student, a bored student. At that point, he asked Grace Kamya, the friend who had invited him to the recital in the first place, when they met, and as they say, the rest is history.

Then, the Lantern Meet of Poets was a movement, an influence and a culture change. A community of writers and thinkers who express their creativity through writing, performing and reciting poetry. In the early 2010s, the community emerged as a face of Ugandan poetry thanks to a team of ambitious writers and performers such as Raymond Ojakol, Collins Asiimwe, Guy Mambo and Alal B. Sophia.

The community grew and subsequently attracted artists who continued to leave their mark on the Ugandan poetry scene, such as Jason Ntaro, Solomon Manzi, Daniel Nuwamanya, Amooti Wobusobozi, Anne Namuddu, Ibrahim Balunywa and Clare Asiimwe.

“The Lantern Meet played an important role in my choice to become a poet. you had to meet that community to understand what it was like to be with them and what it was like to be a peer-to-peer writer. We were young, ambitious, arrogant and we dreamed big,” he says.

For Kagayi, however, the dream was personal, he wanted to be a Ugandan writer who mirrored the dream of his friends, he wanted to be that Ugandan writer whose life was sustained by their writing.

“My friends and I wanted to be those writers, but we noticed that there were no structures. It was important to realize that in order to make it work, you had to proclaim it and work on it,” he says. he.

When he dropped out of the Law Development Center (LDC), he was already teaching poetry at Nabisunsa Girl’s School. Kagayi says he knew that sacrifices had to be made, whether he continued preaching poetry and continued his professional studies and became a lawyer or became a writer and cultivated his talents, he noticed that this was the only way to realize his big dreams.

“I told my parents that I was going to be a writer and at that moment they knew there would be no money. You see, my dad is a writer but he doesn’t like it either writing, at that time I noticed that they didn’t know much about poetry,” he says.

So when Kagayi chose poetry over law, he knew it was supposed to work, he knew he was supposed to understand things like intellectual property, literature as a business as well as international performance .

Like all artists, his parents weren’t happy with his decision to get into art, he says they were constantly asking him to get a real job and it was in 2015 that they really started to figure it out, that’s when he released The Headline That Morning.

The book is the result of his seven years of writing. Some of these poems had even been interpreted in the various meetings of Lantern Meet of Poets. However, by the time this book came out, he had left the poetic community.

“By the time some of us left Lantern Meet, they were formalizing, they were working on registering it as a professional enterprise. It flourished when it was a movement, a collective of writers passionate. That’s the irony,” he says.

He says the split was probably meant to happen and says the move created a revolution in the sense that many people who saw a poetry performance in the early 2010s at least attended a Lantern Meet.

“What if Lantern Meet was a tree, the fruits dried up and the seeds scattered in different directions. So many poetry initiatives have been started by people who were Lantern Meet members or trained by former Lantern Meet members, when you hear about Kelele in Makerere, Ibua, Kitara Nation, there are a number of initiatives that came from the collective, it didn’t die, it became something different,” he says.

The title this morning

Kagayi’s first collection of poetry books and audio CDs, The Headline That Morning, was released almost a year after his departure from Lantern Meet. He originally intended to self-publish but spoke to Nyana Kakoma in the hope that he would convince her to publish the book. Next, Nyana ran the popular blog Sooo Many Stories and she turned it into a publishing house.

“She told me that if I was willing to be patient, she would publish my book,” he says.

The Headline That Morning became the first publication of Sooo Many Stories, later they would publish Flame and Song by Philippa Kabali Kagwa.

He says he cared about being a published writer because he liked being portrayed as an author rather than a writer. But, he was sure people would buy his book and thought of business opportunities around poetry as merchandising.

The majority of the poems in the book are works that Kagayi had performed as a member of the Lantern Meet. He says he believed people who loved them would always buy the book.

Before Kagayi ventured into political poetry, he wrote a lot of romantic material. However, when Uganda turned 50 in 2012, as a Lantern Meet, writers wondered how they would talk about Uganda as young writers. They discussed topics around politics, media, governance.

“When I wrote romantic things, I always followed the basics of poetry and English rules. When I wrote for this project, I wrote my way of speaking, which people call the Kagayi voice. In the past, I had written for masses and this time I was writing according to how I felt and people liked the poems,” he says.

He has since continued to write poetry that reflects the current situation, some of his poems were deliberate, while others were bold. For example, he talks about a day when he went to a poetry meeting and the poet recited a poem about Uganda in the future.

“You see, at gatherings like this, people listen to other people’s opinions, but this guy told us to go write our own and that’s how In 2065 was born,” he says.

The critical poem has been performed by different Ugandan poets such as Manzi, students from schools such as Nabisunsa Girl’s and Makerere University. Each performance gives the poem a different voice and interpretation, Manzi performed it in a varsity red robe and yet Kagayi performed it twice in a kanzu. Another time it was performed as part of the Romeo and Juliet play in Kampala, he did the poem with a group on what appeared to be a market day. Kagayi only began performing the poem when it became part of his theatrical poetry production The Audience Must Say Amen.

Today, Kagayi has spread his wings and turned to more than performance, he has created his own poetry company, Kitara Nation and it has quickly ventured into publishing. As a publication, Kitara Nation gives most of its young members the opportunity to publish their first collection.

But above all, many authors, some beyond Ugandan borders have been able to publish their poetry collections and their anthologies through Kitara Nation. Kitara Nation was created with a grant that Kagayi said would go to Lantern Meet. However, he was the one who was interested in working with the schools, when Bayimba approached him they told him he needed to be registered to get the funding. Kitara Nation has since published 22 books in the span of two years, while more have been published before.

Kagayi has published other books such as For My Negativity and Yellow Pupu poems.

In 2018, shortly after the release of Yellow Pupu Poems, its unveiling show at the National Theater was canceled, “the managers told me why it was dangerous for me to have a show there, they told me talked about Byron Kawadwa, who I found very unfortunate that they were using Byron’s memory to advance art censorship.

In fact, he has never performed any of the Yellow Pupu poems but thinks he will one day. Even with all the hardships the craft entails, it is fortunate that many poets have begun to view their work as a business.

“The confidence that poets exude from living this as a profession is proof that people realize that it can be work,” he says.

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