The Rules and Structures of Poetry Are Changing: An Interview with Lydia Kasese
I’m happy for your time, Lydia, thanks for agreeing to chat. And I’m happy to hear of Paza Sauti: Dar Youth Poetry Festival you’re organizing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania later this month. What spurred you on to curate a poetry festival? Why the youth?
Thanks for having me, David. As you know, poetry has been a huge part of my life for the longest time. However, growing up, I didn’t know that being a writer/poet was an option that I had. I had no people within my community to mentor me or look up to. I only realized in university that I could actually do something with my writing.
My teammate in this project (Loyce Gayo, slam poet, and teaching artist based in Houston, TX) has a similar back story. She is a product of slam poetry and her craft is largely been influenced by her Diasporic, activist background. When she contacted me earlier this year about creating a festival for the youth, I had no doubt that I wanted to be a part of it.
You’re a team of three (3) poets and a photographer. How did it all begin for you four?
Loyce and I have known each other probably our whole lives. Our parents were good friends and so we grew up together for a time before my family moved out of the country in 2000 and hers in 2007. We kept in touch over the years.
I met Mja Issa, (community organizer, founder of Uzalendo Reading Club) through Loyce and he has played a huge role in getting us in touch with school kids and helping us to do mini-workshops in these schools. In the last month alone we have been able to meet and work with over 400 kids in different schools.
Our fourth member, Andrew Stephen (photographer, graphic designer and street artist) recently joined us. We bumped into him at local artist’s get-together and he was so excited about our project that he decided to join us and help us in documenting our journey through this festival.
Money is necessary to the function or success of the arts. And here you’ve initiated a fundraiser online with the goal of $6000 to cater to the travel and accommodation of artists, honorariums, sound, and stationery for workshops, and other needs. It’s my hope that the donations come through in time.
The fund not only goes towards making the festival an amazing and formative experience for the 150-200 kids coming out, but it also goes towards making sure we can continue having a presence in the schools and community centers. The money ensures we are able to pay experienced poets to return to the classrooms for follow-up workshop series, help build the slam scene in Dar es Salaam, and hopefully expand our efforts even further.
The vision of Paza Sauti is to build a community for young creatives (and the festival will be annual) in Tanzania. Would this spread across the entire East Africa? What do you envision?
Of course! One of the big pillars of this initiative is to foster a creative community exchange. So we are definitely looking forward to having a community exchange, not just in the East African region, but also, be able to get these kids to international platforms like Brave New Voices.
Yes, we are working with organisations such as Twaweza, CDEA (Cultural Development East Africa) and Soma Book Cafe (Kijiweni Program).
These organizations are strongholds in the community and have long been encouraging youth development through the arts. We are so excited to be working with each one.
I’m all interested in how this will unfold, particularly because not much is talked about or shown about contemporary Tanzanian poets. So I see this festival as a big form of publishing new voices from Tanzania. I really can’t wait to read along the new lines.
I think the most amazing potential of the initiative is the work that is going to emerge.
One of the reasons I think we are not seeing work from Tanzanian poets is not because people are not writing, but because of the barrier of entry. From the language being published (mainly English), to the intended audience (the West), even to the way we push our kids to imagine their narratives, the barriers keeping new voices from Tanzania are so vast.
So what we seek to do with this initiative is disrupt and dismantle those barriers. In our workshops, we encourage kids to use whatever language they want, and what emerges is an honest, humorous, and brave reflection of their narratives. Additionally, by centering performance and building platforms for free self-expression, the seemingly inaccessible structures built around poetry (both in terms of writing and getting your story out there) are removed. Young kids are now encouraged to create for and about their communities.
Let’s talk briefly about your writing: you mentioned elsewhere that you “didn’t write poems for years, but then I met a boy and things changed” How did things change? What was the change?
Ha! This is funny; I can’t even remember where I said that. Maybe I should explain that part again. It was not that I stopped writing; I just stopped sharing my writing with people. Between the last time I publicly shared my poetry with people (my first year of high school), and the time I met this “boy” (last year of high school) something scarring had happened in my life and I spent those years in between writing to myself and trying to fix myself, to stay alive. The boy I met for a time became somewhat of a distraction from the things happening in my head and I found myself starting to write things I could share with him and eventually the rest of the world.
To you, what is poetry? Why poetry?
I’m not sure I have the answer to the first part of your question. I used to think that the things that differentiated poetry from other forms of writing were things such as form and structure, rhyme scheme, you know, the things that we are taught in literature classes. But I am becoming more and more aware that the rules and structures of poetry are changing, evolving, becoming more and more experimental and I am really enjoying all the new forms of poetry I see.
To be honest, I never chose poetry. Initially I just used to write and write, not in any particular form or structure. And then I came to realize that some of my writing could actually fit as poems and some as prose.
To this day when I write anything I do not structure it or decide from the get go what it will be. I just write and when I am done, I let it decide whether it is going to be a poem or a prose piece or if I am going to develop it further into a short story.
Your chapbook, ‘Paper Dolls,’ was published last year. What’s next?
I have been very slowly working towards a full collection of poetry that I intend to complete before the New Year begins. Wish me luck 🙂
Good luck, Lydia; and thanks for your quick response. All the best for Paza Sauti!
Thanks for having me, David and we will definitely keep you posted on how Paza Sauti works out.
Please Support Lydia Kasese by contributing to here Indie Gogo Campaign here.