Family
Henry Barlow was a living poem
Publish Date: Aug 30, 2006
Newvision Archive
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By Susan Kiguli and Austin Bukenya

HENRY Barlow was a man and a poet. In fact he was a living poem, whose acute sensibility, keen sensitivity and sharp mind, we cannot help but honour and celebrate.

As lovers of poetry, we thank Barlow for nurturing our hope and nursing our sorrow with his poems.

Barlow was more popular than he perhaps realised. In 1998, the Department of Literature at Makerere University organised a public reading of some of his poems. Barlow was quite surprised by the success of the event. In a thank you note he wrote, “Honestly, I am brimming over and overflowing with heartfelt gratitude for your arranging for me to read my poetry to such a huge and extremely responsive audience!”

Barlow had a distinct talent in sensitively capturing the commonplace in his poems and making his readers feel that he was speaking right into the heart of their ordinary lives. He presents vivid individual everyday struggles with a disarmingly natural playfulness and wit.

Anyone reading his signature tune, Building the Nation would most probably know or even have witnessed the commonplace experience of a driver going hungry while the bosses gorge themselves on all manner of delicacies. Building the Nation is even more captivating because of its tongue in cheek approach to the subject.

It was sometimes hard to separate Barlow from the poet; his light-heartedness, forthright principled nature, devotion to people and irresistible urge to take a dig at human folly was the manner of the man as well as of his poetry.

Barlow was a poet who was in touch with his inner man. He was not afraid to express deep feeling may be that is why a good number of his poems are peopled by his family.

His imagination was remarkable and breathtaking in its precision as in this humourous description of his realisation that he had grown old in Growing into a Lizard.

At the funeral service, a number of images warmed as well as almost tore our hearts apart: Barlow’s wife, Fayce with a flower pinned on her busuuti buttonhole. She explained that her husband loved flowers and she thought it appropriate to carry a flower in his honour. Another image was that of Phillipa, his daughter, singing in a wonderfully sonorous voice. Then Estella, another of his daughters, breaking down as she talked about her father’s love for them all and lastly, Michelle, his grand daughter, reading a poem about her grandad’s eyes. The images define the striking appeal of Barlow’s poetry, his deep feeling for people and for nature.

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