AUTHOR: Vasco Dagama Odong
REVIEWER: Daniel Tusiimukye K’abaasa
Having published the book and many more poetry collections, I can proudly say, My Heart Is Coloured is one of the best books that I have had my hands on.
There is no way we can delve into this dainty (My Heart is Coloured) without fathoming who the writer is.
Vasco Dagama Odong is a devotee of p’Bitekism, a teacher of Literature in English, a researcher and an editor.
With his poetic prowess, he directly translates Acoli, his language into English, something that gives his poetry shape and beauty.
Far from other poetry collections from Iconic Publications, My Heart is Coloured has illustrations before each of its three sections.
Thanks to the design and layout, the book in print has a very elegant touch of format.
My Heart is Coloured does not mean that one’s heart is a chameleon with different colours; rather, these colors are fragments from disappointments, betrayal, injustices by the ailing systems and the love that sometimes we crave even when we cannot have, the hypocrisy, the corruption that has legs and hands to touch all the parts of the country, the suffering of the poor who vote for soap or salt and drain in poverty for the next five years, and the culture that defines any society.
The writer divides the book into two parts.
The first part comprises five poems that mirror life’s struggles.
All these poems share the title My Heart is Coloured.
In this part, there is a need for fresh graduates to worry.
In the first poem, the persona is a young man, probably a graduate whose ordeal is inexplicable, but he tells it to us anyway.
He has walked for miles and now his back is bent.
The simile is sharp. He compares his back to a kangaroo’s; it is really bent from the harsh conditions.
What a disgust! The speaker paints a vivid picture of his worn-out shoes.
He blames stones for robbing him of his freedom; the rough stones on the gruesome roads have scrapped bare his shoe soles, and now his feet and toes bleed.
This is not merely poetry.
Odong is a romanticist who only sheds facts as his only sickness.
The persona in this poem is an emblem of hundreds of graduates who walk with their academic papers to different offices but still, never find jobs.
Sadly, the speaker laments dejectedly.
He cannot even look at himself in the mirror since his excellent academic performance means nothing in his search for a job.
The pressure at home from his parents is unbearable and his desperation does not shake the significant people in big dens (offices).
With all these struggles, of course, a heart remains coloured by all means.
Further, in the third poem, the persona laments about his country that
he calls a stepfather.
Certainly, it is rare for a stepfather to love his wife’s child as he would his own.
The speaker is patriotic, but how to live in a fallen nation as a patriot is a question of doubt.
It is not a surprise; the persona tells us how anonymous people, perhaps activists, sing a song directed to the weary citizens.
They sing a song of mockery with tears in their eyes.
They call the speaker’s mother a stupid voter.
She voted for beasts into office, and the beasts have indeed worked.
They have sucked ‘our’ blood, leaving the nation in turmoil.
The persona believes what he hears from the activists.
He sees some grain of truth in their words, even though these words are quite bitter to bear.
Dismally, women give birth on verandas because the responsible individuals swindled the money that was meant for the maternity ward and the law did nothing to bring the thieves to justice.
The persona insists on blaming the voters instead of the leaders.
The voters should carry the burden of their stupidity.
Imagine the desperate voters praising the beasts of the nation when they received a packet of salt during the campaigns; that is how they sold their nation to bloodhounds who have sucked all the goodness out of the nation.
The second part of the anthology is yet another big deal.
It has the most poems, and the writer says things that readers want to read–things that are rarely said.
With an ‘I-don’t-care fortitude’, Odong does not think of the comeuppance of his literature.
Before he carries us into national matters: politics, corruption, and betrayal by state officials, among others, he first reminds us of the African culture, which has withered away.
In the poem ‘Make Me African‘, the poet adopts p’Bitekism when he advocates for Africanism.
This poem is about a young lady who wants to be loved traditionally.
She demands her lover take her to an open arena for a local dance instead of going to the dance hall for a disco.
But who in this century will ask for such an archaic thing? No girl at all!
Imagine the gifts she asks for: waist beads, flowers, and the well-water in a calabash, but not that from the refrigerator.
This poem is a satire to many girls who have westernized love; chips and chicken, honey-moons, among others, that make men lose interest in marriage.
In this book, Odong advocates for the same thing with Okot p’Bitek.
p’Bitek, in his novel ‘Lak tar’ or ‘White Teeth’, also tells us through his character Okeca Ladwong that marriage or love should not intend to punish a man.
It should be simple, affordable and traditional.
A writer writes his time.
It is almost impossible for any Ugandan writer to forget lawlessness in his or her presentation.
Odong remembers how his country labours from injustice.
In his poem ‘Two Weeks Ago’, the persona, who is a worker, together with his mates, fights for their unpaid wages.
They have unsettled bills, yet their boss enjoys life in his five-star room.
The potbellied man smells expensive perfumes.
He is indifferent to his starving workers, but the poor workers are determined to find justice as they struggle to convict him.
Sadly, the poor must not triumph over such people of great importance because they make the laws that they later break deliberately.
This poem is a replica of our Uganda, where justice for the impoverished is a debatable matter too lofty for many to achieve.
Another poem is ‘Christmas Eve, 1979‘. It is not a Christmas; it is an election that excites the weary people who think the previous regimes have failed them.
There is hope, and voters vote in favour of their candidate.
However, after the election, there is discontent. One candidate thinks they robbed him of his victory and then makes a hard decision.
He clasps power with a gun.
The persona narrates his experiences, talking of the skulls and blood that he metaphorically calls a red sea.
Children’s skulls in gardens (battlefields) and the wailing bullets depict how ruthless these liberators were.
Actually, Christmas Eve, 1979, is a satire that ridicules the pseudo-freedom fighters who triggered the Luweero war for their own good.
There is one question that the victims in the poem still ask: why did the people die if there would never be total liberation–liberation from oppression by the state, corruption, delayed justice by the courts of law and liberation from tribalism and nepotism?
This poem portrays the hypocrisy of the liberators, and it further concludes that those who died in the Luweero war died in vain.
Odong’s My Heart is Coloured is a masterpiece whose readers cannot afford to remain the same.
The more one reads it, the more intimate with it they become.
The book unveils the human follies, sparing no one.
I love the writer’s courage that he leaves poetry to take its course.
He does not regulate what he should say or leave out but writes facts imaginatively.
If truth kills, he is ready to kill some people, anyway.
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