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Searching for Ogoola’s Melody

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James OgoolaJames Ogoola’s collection of poetry, to call it that for now, titled Songs of Paradise has had quite a number of mostly glowing reviews to date and there might certainly be a couple more reviews after this.

As one of the reviewers admitted he had to think twice before he picked a copy of this collection – 52 ‘poems’ in all – I was totally surprised when I learnt the respected man of the law had penned a book of poems. And this is not to say a man can’t have multiple talents or skills. Isn’t that what the parable of talents in the Bible labours to illustrate, the possession and use of our given talents?

Granted, when Museveni’s government defiled the High Court premises in November 2005 in its attempt to re-arrest suspected rebel suspects after court had granted them bail, Ogoola demonstrated such admirable valour when he spoke out candidly against the government’s despicable act.

Then, the learned man, as they like to call themselves, came to us cloaked in poetry and took his solid stand in verse. That poem rightly titled ‘Rape of the Temple’ appears as Number 42 in the collection. While it cannot be said that it’s poetically flawless, insofar as it takes power head-on in such strong language, castigating, ridiculing, drawing contrasts, invoking the past in the brutal death of the first Ugandan Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka, its one heck of a piece of writing.

Book: Songs of Paradise

Author: James Ogoola

Publisher:WordAlive

Year: 2009

Reviewer: Gaaki Kigambo

But seriously, does writing one poem make you a poet? By posing just that question, there’s no doubt what hornet’s nest this review might likely stir. For then the debate goes beyond its intended poetic boundaries and the question can be posed, with slight modifications of course, to just about most humanities. Say, just what/who is a journalist; a politician; a teacher; a musician; social worker; counsellor? The list can go on. And it’s not a question that seeks definitions so much as it turns the lights on the entry requirements to these disciplines. Simply put, anyone can be any one of the arts professions and yet not so with the sciences, right? The constituent properties of the sciences coupled with the attendant restrictive entry requirements gives the discipline an edge over the humanities and consequently keeps away such contestations.  

It seems in all likelihood that following the wild reception of ‘Rape of the Temple’, the principal judge must have come under pressure, personal or friendly, to beat back being seen as some sort of poetic one hit wonder and reached in his recesses to see what he could crank out. Or a lucrative publishing deal came knocking. Ogoola’s publishers, WordAlive Publishers, might not be an easily recognisable name but some people who know their workings intimated they have got a clear nose for where the money is.     

To be sure, all the poems are written after the ‘blockbuster’ ‘Rape of the Temple’, including one as most recently as January 30, 2009. For a ‘poet jurist’ blessed with six decades of successful life, surely there must be something pre-2005’s ‘Rape of the Temple’. Unless of course he came into his poetic talent only recently, and with many thanks to the Black Mambas attack on the Supreme Court. Again, nobody can fault Ogoola on that as we all can be jolted into potentials we never knew we had, regardless of time.  

Yet consider, in contrast, Timothy Wangusa’s two volumes, A Pattern of Dust first published in 1993 that, although largely undated, claims to span 35 years and the most recent one Africa’s New Brood spanning 20 years. Or, venerable Henry Barlow’s Building the Nation, the only collection in his lifetime, published in 2000, spanning 44 years from the poems which are dated. Now, such works give the word collection its living definition, don’t they? Interestingly, Wangusa gives a glowing comment about Ogoola’s work, hailing it as a “supersonic tour of the entire cosmos”. But if you’ve read Wangusa’s literary works, and tried to even draw quick comparisons with Ogoola’s, his is the kind of comment you read and go; really?

Ogoola’s avowed Christian faith provides the bedrock for most, if not all, of his poetry, but he is not the first one to be inspired by his religious beliefs. The only way he differs from most is, as one well regarded writer said, Ogoola has attempted to paraphrase biblical passages in a text that’s every inch prose but chopped and arranged as to appear as poetry.

Besides, in an era of increasing religious polarisation such kind of writing compromises its universal appeal and is a sure way of alienating some readers with equally strong religious beliefs. Ogoola, and people with strong beliefs like him but who intend to reach beyond determined audiences, can take a leaf from jazz maestro Isaiah Katumwa’s song Nnonze Gwe off his latest CD Another Step, a detailed analysis of which is reserved for an independent review of its own.

It is not to say Ogoola can’t write poetry, or any literary work for that matter, and so should steer clear of the field. Rather, with his unabashed enthusiasm, his editor and publishers need to be a little more honest and frank with him. That way, out of the man of the law can surely emerge a poetic jurist, par excellence. There’s so much to work with in James Ogoola.  


Comments (3)Add Comment
Mr.
written by Stephen Kinoti, September 05, 2009
The reviewer certainly hasn't read Ogoola's work, Songs of Paradise. The review lacks in content and only seeks to be sensational without being specific. He has a poor grasp about even basic concepts like "collection". Also, one begs the question, if writing poetry doesn't make you a poet, what does? Perhaps constructing a poor critique?
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