Taban Lo Liyong pleads for an all-encompassing poetry

July 2006 -

"The best poetry is the folk epic," declared Taban Lo Liyong during the 37 th Poetry International in Rotterdam, where he gave the tenth lecture in Defence of Poetry. In this confusing and volatile time, with its fast-paced poems, we need traditional hero tales, according to the Ugandan writer and poet.


Taban Lo Liyong, chameleon-like poet from Uganda

The festival was held from 17 - 23 June. This year's theme was African poetry. In addition to Taban Lo Liyong, other guests included Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana), Gabeba Baderoon (South Africa), Femi Fatoba (Nigeria), Jack Mapanje (Malawi), Charles Mungoshi (Zimbabwe) and Ana Paula Tavares (Angola). In one of the discussions, the role of oral poetry in contemporary African literature was compared with oral traditions in Iceland and Estonia.

At the Poetry International web site, Taban Lo Liyong is described as a 'chameleon-like' poet, because of his dramatic variations in style. Moreover, he uses both African and Western sources as his inspiration. This diversity of colours was evident in his Defence of Poetry. "Where are the all-encompassing poems?" he asked. "The poems that position a human being in his place between the Gods and his weaker nature?"

In his speech, Taban Lo Liyong touches on Classical Antiquity, the Nibelungen Epic, Shakespeare and Mozart. His goal in this overview was to point out "the value and importance of former high-minded attempts to characterise the human being" to "his co-inhabitants in the world of poetry".