My first real encounter with young passionate Ugandans chasing a big dream came in form of the Lantern meet of Poets. Man they breathe(d) passion! I vividly remember the day Lillian told me about the group and her subsequent excitement as they planned their first recital. It was a mix of eagerness and fear. Last year she reminded me that I sat with her backstage until it was her turn. Frankly all I remember from that recital was sitting proudly in the audience and resisting the urge to whisper to all my neighbours, ‘that’s my girl.’ I marvelled at her effortless ability to command the stage, her eloquence and confidence. I watched the other poets in awe, some visibly anxious and others whose performances said to us “I was born for this!”
Lillian and I had tested our rhymes as naughty teenagers in High school. She would pass a note that read “What do you think of the colour red?” and I would reply “Let us start by looking under the bed” or something silly along those lines. Before we knew it, we would have a complete poem, mostly full of stupidity, I might add. This would go on for most of the lesson, particularly the Political Education class which was most relaxed. I caught Mr. Miwa noticing me, noticing him, noticing us a few times but he never did penalise us. I guess he decided our grades would speak for themselves or he just let ‘children’ be children. I don’t remember us failing though, it was quite an interesting class. One of the few for me, actually. Ask me about Physics though, I’ll come at you with a pendulum clock.
Fast forward to several years later and the Lantern meet partnered with my alma mater. It brought a certain joy to my heart. I thought if they had existed in my time, I would probably have joined in. At that point in my life, words were surely my escape. Perhaps I wouldn’t have gathered the courage to hit the stage but I would have liked to be in the presence of those realities, admiring the string of words and stories woven.
Speaking of words, I have never really found myself worthy to critique writing, any art really. I feel almost as if I would be dictating how the artist should feel, how they need to express their emotions; how they should interpret their thoughts and package them for the audience. I find that a tad unjust. While the audience certainly matters, I feel like sometimes we lose ourselves, our original message, trying so hard to fit into their expectations…but that’s just me.
I can still hear the echoes of “This revolution will not be televised” and how I left that evening thinking “Woah! What a time to be alive!”
Each time I got a chance to watch the Lantern meet at the National theatre, it brought back fond memories of my relationship with the place. As a Primary school pupil in the school choir, making it to the theatre was the equivalent of the Olympics. We participated in competitions that were held in schools all over the country but only the crème de la crème made it to the finals at National theatre. I suppose it would have been even more exhilarating if we had to travel miles to get there but unfortunately, I studied only a few metres away. Nonetheless, it was a thrilling experience for my young excitable mind. We weren’t half bad either. I remember crying inconsolably when I was about 10 years old, after we emerged second, nationwide! Ha! If only I knew then what I know now, I would tell little Esther to celebrate that ‘win’ and savour it. I would assure her that life would present so many more reasons to cry and this was one of the better days. Thankfully, ‘we’ never lost the passion and we did lose that competitive gene. Now, doing our best is good enough and I wish mini- me had known that.
After almost a decade, the Lantern meet of poets has decided to bow out. I have not had the chance to get the scoop on this scoop. I know for a fact that I would have loved to have them around forever but then again I am sure they have their reasons.
I would like to salute you for dreaming, for growing, for reminding us to appreciate the power of poetry, of words of rhythm and rhymes.
You were just but University students armed with a dream and a canvass when you began, look how much beauty you left us! You created a movement, a force to reckon with and we are indebted to you for that.
I started this hoping to write a short piece celebrating the Lantern meet of poets and inviting you all to the last recital but 800 words later here we are. *smh*
If you are in Kampala this Saturday, come and say goodbye to them in style. The show will begin at 7pm. Tickets go for Ugx 20,000 and are already on sale at National Theatre.
Your stories gave us light. Thanks for the memories!