Juliane Okot Bitek, World Poetry Featured Poet from Canada!

Featured Poet

If she could, Juliane would spend the rest of her life reading and writing. Her first book, a collection of poetry: Words in Black Cinnamon was published by Delina Press in 1998. Her essays, short fiction and poetry has been widely published in print and on the internet. One of her short stories, “Going Home,” won a special mention in the 2005 Commonwealth Short Story Award and was featured on both the CBC and the BBC. Her work has been published in Canada, United States, Uganda and Britain. Juliane lives with her family in Vancouver and is excited to begin her doctoral studies as a Liu Scholar at the University of British Columbia this fall.

This poem was inspired by Alice Walker’s assertion that womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

Purple is to Lavender

(Alice Walker)

Purple is to lavender
What crimson is to red blood
Gushing through the sin-stained heart
Purple is to lavender
What royal is to blue
Sky, blue blood, blue day blues
Purple is to lavender
What light is to the absence of white
On your wedding day, wedding night
Wading, wading muck
Purple is to lavender
What right is
In the face of right ways
Right rules
Right, might, height
Purple is to lavender
What crimson is to red
Heartache to love
Blue days white nights
And you

J. Okot Bitek ©

World Poetry was honoured to have Juliane perform her poetry at our first World Poetry International Festival in May 2011.  I also did an article on her for the Afro News and thought that the following Q & A’s might be interesting to our readers.

Q & A from the article for the Afro News.

Ariadne: What message, messages in your poetry, do you want to tell the readers and listeners ?

 I don’t know that I have an overall message. Most of the time, I’m interested in how words can play with meaning and the possibilities that lie in layering a poem that can be read for beauty, for emotional appeal, for colour and sometimes for a deeper meaning that depends on the reader. Having written and read my poetry out for audiences, I find that sometimes the poem reveals itself differently on the text compared with an oral presentation. I suppose the message, when I think about it, is that we can enjoy the myriads of ways that words can present themselves.

What are your goals for the future?

 My goals for the future are quite closely linked to my family’s goals and my own dreams. In the immediate future, as my son goes into university and my daughter, to grade seven, I feel that I need to be in my best supporting role. I’d like to complete a creative non-fiction book I’ve been working on as well as my second compilation of poetry that has been gathering over time. IN the long run, I’d like to complete my doctorate (which I start this fall at UBC) in decent enough time to do something productive in it and live a long, happy and creative life.

When did you start writing poetry?

I started writing poetry as a young girl. My first poem was published in the Kenyan national paper Sunday Nation, when I was eleven years old. I had my earliest public poetry reading when I was twelve and read for a crowd that included ambassadors and politicians. I had no idea about stage anxiety.

What message, messages in your poetry, do you want to tell the readers and listeners ?

Poetry plays an important role in my life, but I wouldn’t say it informs a larger part of my being than say, family, reading fiction or teaching. Writing poetry makes me feel somewhat like a scientist. It forces me to observe how many different combinations that words can be employed in and still be beautiful. When I write poetry, I like to think about the musicality of the words, how they look on the page, how many ways they can be read, and how precisely I can do that without wasting any words. I think that writing poetry has helped my prose a great deal, but it does challenge me when I write academically. Poetry is the aspect of my life for which I’d wear a lab coat as a uniform.




1 thought on “Juliane Okot Bitek, World Poetry Featured Poet from Canada!

  1. caroline nazareno

    Hello Miss Juliane! your poetry is powerful!
    it was a great pleasure to meet you during the First International Peace Festival
    looking forward to see you on the 2nd!

    love and best,
    Caroline Nazareno


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