Near. Carolyne Miriam Acen aka Afroetry is a poet, writer and spoken word artist whose work revolves around women’s stories and history. She is vice president of the Uganda Poets Association and currently leads Echo Minds Poets, an all-female poetry group dedicated to rewriting the history of African women, writes Phionah Nassanga.
Do you come from a literary background?
No, I didn’t even study literature.
Favorite living poets include…?
Nicki Giovanni, Yosef Komunyakaa, Laban Erapu, Timothy Wangusa, Susan Kiguli, Warsan Shire, Rudy Francisco, Aja Monet, Stella Nyanzi and Alice Walker.
Books you have enjoyed over the past year include…?
Love in Colour: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalola, This thrilling book transports a reader across different continents as they explore culture by decolonizing love.
The other is The Secret Life of the Wives of Baba Segi by Lola Shoneyin, it is full of African polygamous experience.
Finally, Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo, I love how the main character struggles with multiple cultures and struggles with an identity crisis. She explores what it means to be a foreigner. I must say that my list of books goes on and on.
Has your job ever been turned down?
Yes, my work has been rejected more than three times. The most recent being mid-2021. I submitted my work for a poetry prize twice and it was rejected. Another time it was a British literary magazine that said my work was too bold to be published. I ended up looking at old posts and figured it out. I was telling the experience of the African woman to an audience that would not understand her.
What writers did you like to read as a child?
I enjoyed reading Chinua Achebe, William Shakespeare, Poet Sylvia Plath, George Orwell, Mark Twain, Jan Bret, Jonathan Swift and Okot p’ Bitek’s Song of Lawino inspired my love for poetry. Her imagery and portrayal of uneducated Lawino and modern Clementine won me over.
How did you start as a poet?
I started writing poems in terminal 6, experimenting with form and style and using the environment as a muse. I got serious in 2011 after taking part in a poetry workshop organized by the British Council. That’s when I started to find my voice. I created a poetry blog where I posted my work every day. Then I joined different writing communities on social media that lifted my spirits.
Describe your working day
I work from home. I usually get up at 5 am and get my daughter ready for school. After dropping her and her cousin off at school, I come home and sit at my desk and start writing, finishing projects, or reading manuscripts sent to me.
I reserve the evenings for poetry performances or events. And when I have a show, I like to rehearse in the morning and in the evening. I also like to write at night. The silence of the night is inspiring. Some days I stay up all night working.
How do you develop your poems?
My poems develop spontaneously. But I like to use four stages of a poem. Observation, meditation, contemplation and writing.
Where do you find your ideas?
In life, everything is a poem. I go to the Nile and see the water gushing over the rocks and imagine what the river must feel like to undertake this journey every day. Sometimes it’s a story in the news or a post on Facebook. Other times it’s a personal experience or something my family and friends have been through. Poetry is life. And everyone has a story.
A love poem titled “Music of Love”, an emotional poem. I dedicated it to a boy when I was still in Senior Six. A revealing story to a young man about how I feel for him and how much I yearn to be his girlfriend. It was embarrassing because it ultimately turned out to be unrequited love.
If you could say anything to your young writer, what would it be?
I would tell my young writer to believe in herself and to write even when the inspiration is low. Some of the best work is born at our lowest point. Cut the noise, stay consistent, and keep writing.
I won 150,000 shillings from my first live poetry performance.
I was excited and used it to buy more notebooks and celebrated that achievement.
What would you give up to become a better poet than you are today?
It’s difficult. But I would probably give up some social media spaces. I feel like it takes up too much of my writing time sometimes. But also, my audience is mostly on social media.
Advice for people who want to write and publish poetry is…
Take your time learning poetry and understanding the publishing process.
Writing good poetry for print takes time. Join communities or poetry groups that can help you with mentorship. There are so many things a poet can learn from other poets. And finally, they need to trust their work and stay consistent.