A respected academician, Alice Tumwesigye is head of the language and literature department at a local university in Uganda. She has a keen interest in local oral literature, a background that easily lends itself to her love for poetry.
Dance of the Intellect is a collection of poems that she has written over a long period based on experiences in her life. There are over 80 poems, mainly comprising the author’s reflections on several stages in her life; as a student at college and university; as a member of staff in one place; and as a mother. There is a very subtle air of innocence and discovery that is sustained in the poems, making them read like a child’s confession!
So she will miss a person at one moment and a building or a room, at another! Her work is calmly hilarious at some point, somber at another, and on the whole, very emotional. She is making a cheeky invitation to readers to share her world — like one in a public confession box.
Split into six sections; life and art, university life, ageing, physique and accolades, Tumwesigye works hard to bring out every side of the coin; the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful in almost every experience. You will therefore read poems with tempting antitheses such as “Pleasant Pain”, “Sour Mother” etc.
Most of the poems read as a celebration of success, a pleasant ending of a rather long and painful journey — the kind often read in the “once upon a time” stories, where life ends “happily ever after”.
One poem, “A word of Farewell” stands out as the best example of triumph, where even in parting, one celebrates having met. In it, Tumwesigye writes:
“Goodbye is a bad compound…/of assured re-union/And everlasting trust.”
The other poems are similarly evocative. In “The Proposal”, part one and two, we confront the tireless pursuit of a good thing. “I can no longer tell day from night/All has come to be day/ As I tirelessly work,” writes the author. In “The Smile”, she boldly asks whether one’s dental whiteness matches the purity of the heart!
With her background in oral literature, Tumwesigye knows how to blend local proverbial imagery, nomenclature and stage performance. She brings back to life a rather forgotten way of celebrating success — one where jubilation heavily relies on rhyme and chanting – the kind of chanting that the people of Umuofia in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart would use to call a village meeting to attention, “Umuofia kwenu! Umwofia Kwenu!” – as the audience answered, “yaah!”
Some of Tumwesigye’s references are very contextual and likely to alienate some readers. While this may indeed narrow her audience to those who can relate to her world, many readers will identify and relate with the friendliness that exudes from the poems. The poems are easily accessible mostly because of the simplicity of the prose and the fact that they deal with simple, everyday preoccupations.