Maybe, stirred into a state of wakefulness by leadership elections that have taken place during the last half of 2021, poets’ time to know a deep contentment that comes with success has come.
This is because, since independence, poets have been dancing the lone dance of neglect at the hands of, of all people, policymakers.
One of the organisations that has been playing hide-and-seek with poets both written word and spoken word ones— is the Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma), which for all intends and purposes was supposed to protect them but has been playing the role of victimiser.
At one point— when the likes of Njonjonjo Katsoka, Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa, Sylvester Kalizang’oma and others were stirred into a state of wakefulness after observing that musicians were getting royalties but poets were not— Cosoma officials hid their heads in the hands, as if they were an ostrich, because they felt that poetry was a different ballgame altogether – one whose players did not need any financial incentive, be it royalties or whatever it be.
Of course, poets have continued to fight for what is rightly theirs— royalties— considering that myriad poetry programmes have mushroomed in local radio stations, and even television stations.
Why Cosoma has not thought about the reverberations of its decision to sideline poets nobody knows but, surely, with new leadership at Poetry Association of Malawi (Pam) and new leaders in regional chapters, it will not be long before the crescendo of poets’ cries culminates in positive action from the copyright body.
Soon, if the poets’ voices are loud enough, Cosoma officials will eat humble pie and be overcome.
After all, when he took over as Pam president, Robert Chiwamba vowed to make Malawi habitable for poets, who have hither to been waved at, as if they were a fly, by Cosoma officials, especially on the issue of royalties.
Even when poets, bursting with unbridled passion, knocked on policymakers’ door, they were let down by costly delays or been turned down for no apparent reason whatsoever.
As a result, perhaps due to lack of financial incentives, local poets have often participated in international competitions as an after-thought.
And, generally, it has been poets from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Namibia, among other countries, that have been winning because a lot goes on behind the scenes in their countries.
Behind the ‘scenes’, they get royalties. Behind the ‘scenes’, their work is backed by policy documents that members of Parliament, Cabinet ministers and poets themselves saw the need to develop as one way of safeguarding the interests of poets.
Even when poets from other countries are on stage, the look of seriousness on their faces—probably arising out of personal satisfaction with their government’s support and individual citizens’ encouraging words— seems to bolster their sense of confidence.
As for local poets, only thoughts bordering on the vanity of the game they are playing [poetry] cross their mind, so that, instead of developing that long sought after global literary acumen, they get satisfied with their status as mere participants.
This is not to say poets, themselves, are saints with no blemish whatsoever.
There are poets that are work-in-progress.
And, again, other factors affect the performance of local poets. For instance, the scene is filled with budding poets, while those that are in the evening of their poetry escapades seem less interested in mentoring budding ones, resulting in no efforts being made to transfer skills from one generation to another.
This is despite that, on radio and television stations, public and private in Malawi, poetry programmes have exploded with an echoing boom.
Fortunately though, Chiwamba— who seems unwilling to resign to the current situation of poets’ neglect and let disappointment, in whatever form it comes, cast lengthening shadows of despair on his face— has vowed to engage Cosoma, policymakers and even the private sector so that poetry can claim its rightful place in Malawi.
That way, he hopes, when Malawians participate in BL African Poetry and other contests, they will not be misled to forget their inefficiencies and claim that favouritism dictates against Malawian poets on the global stage.
This is understandable because doing so [concentrating on blaming others] would be tantamount to fighting wars on two fronts; in such cases, victory cannot be guaranteed.
The first task should be to fight the local battle that will culminate in poets winning Cosoma’s heart on the issue of royalties. It does not make sense that musicians get royalties through the copyright body and poets do not.
After that, time will be ripe to take on the second enemy, namely favouritism on the international front. It is not wrong to let oneself be stirred by the hope of doing well one day; the problem lies in jumping the gun.
Passion alone will not take poets to the promised land of success; know-how will.
Training is, surely, the only sun that can suck the mist of failure out of local poets’ art, putting them in an ideal situation to stand ready to be quickly decorated in the case of victory on the international poetry stage.
Only then can Malawi be filled with the sound of throbbing drums of celebrations, something that happens when the house is in order.