Songs of Paradise: A Harvest of Poetry and Verse
Book: Songs of Paradise: A Harvest of Poetry and Verse
Author: James Ogoola
Reviewed by Emmanuel Ssejjengo
There is a confusing movement in East Africa’s literary arts. Just yesteryear, poetry was hardly mentioned anywhere and heroes were made of novelists such as Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o and others from Federation of Uganda Female Writers’ Association (FEMRITE). Today you have to be a poet or at least claim such a title to draw any attention. Joining the fray of poets last week was the Principal Judge James Ogoola. He launched his first and seminal anthology, Songs of Paradise: A Harvest of Poetry and Verse.
The anthology’s external structure is both mystical and mythical. There are a total of 52 poems (for the 52 weeks in a year) divided up in seven sections (for the seven days of the week). Internally, it’s a work that will predictably find its place in the country’s literary treasure.
Ogoola is a man of diverse themes. His poetry reflects various experiences, challenges, values and foibles. The poet caused a stir when one of his poems, Rape of the Temple, was published by the daily newspapers. The poem reflected the general mood in the country after an armed battalion stormed the High Court to re-arrest opposition leader Dr. Kiiza Besigye, who had been charged with treason. But he reserves very little for this section of justice. Most of the poems here give courts of law a very mystic and strong outlook. In fact, the courts are often referred to as “temples of justice”.
The other broader sections seem to have Ogoola in an explorer mood. The first section is very religious and it has a hymnal tone about it. These are biblical tales retold. Born to Die is about the life of Jesus Christ. There are poems on the reflections of man’s relationship with God. The emphasis the author puts on the issue of transformation is very amazing.
Ogoola is not only a religious enthusiast. As a romanticist, he falls in line with the old masters such as William Wordsworth. He cries over the dying environment. Using personification efficiently, the poem about a lonely tree that is starving is mind blowing. It is such breadth that perhaps led to Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi’s remark. “I am impressed by his functional versatility,” he said during the book launch. It is such a wonderful panorama of a book.
What is not so impressive about the book is the way the poems are laid out. The stanzas are disturbingly numbered. Yet the poems are fodder for a mature mind that does not need the direction of such labeling.
The book is a landmark for the industry. For the first time in more than 30 years, the media showed a lot of interest in the book. Has Uganda ever had such a big number of people claiming to have a stake in the industry? Many journalists turned into overnight book reviewers, albeit without having read a single poem in a decade or so.
There was a rush to buy the book. But hopefully, it will not suffer the fate of many Ugandan books that are bought but never read. President Yoweri Museveni’s Sowing the Mustard Seed, is one book that you find in many homes gathering dust without the owners having ever read more than a page.
Only if we read more should we expect another good book from Ogoola. The good news is that the author has enough poems for a sequel.