Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sunflowers In Your Eyes

Title: Sunflowers in Your Eyes – Four Zimbabwean Poets
Editor: Menna Elfyn
Publisher: Cinnamon Press
ISBN: 978-1-907090-13-4
Year: 2010
Reviewed by Memory Chirere
Be on the lookout for Ethel Irene Kabwato, Blessing Musariri, Fungai Rufaro Machirori and Joice Shereni. They are vibrant women poets from the contemporary working class of Zimbabwe.

It means that all of them are decision makers. Amongst them you may find a mother, sister, wife or friend of someone big or small in Zimbabwe. They variably write about individual scapes. They write about woman’s love for man who usually does not return the favour in equal measure. They write about their country (Zimbabwe) at a time of deep political strife; the period towards the Government of National Unity (GNU). Each of these women answers, in her own way, to the questions: what does a woman want? What is love? What is country?

Fungai Machirori’s is a questing poetry, sometimes demanding, and praying too, for the restoration of the dignity of woman. Machirori’s persona insists that she is:

…not ketchup,
to be had on the side,
Along with a main course

She wants to be the main meal itself because she is ‘distinct and complete’. Fungai Machirori could be the most ideologically nuanced poet in this collection. She creates balance between suffering and hope. Sometimes Machirori’s poetry is about resurrection from a fall or the contemplation on it. Her persona, a radical woman cries out: ‘No man is worth fighting for’ and ‘no man is worth dying for’, too. And if a genuine man’s love is hard to come by, she says:

I’d rather wrap cold chains and iron locks
Around the throbbing core of me
And watch and let my fetters grate and rust and cool
My blood

Machirori has no regrets and she writes with a clear certainty of those who are used to traveling until they arrive at destinations. Her other poem is even boldly entitled ‘Tears Will Not Cure’.

But Joice Shereni writes for matrimony. She does not give up on anything. Hers are probably the deepest poems in this collection, compelling and conversational. Her persona wants to reach out, to converse and reconcile with the runaway man and heal from old wounds. She hurts very deeply from inside. Suffering is not a curse but a school. It is even a career. She knows how fire burns. But she also does not want to lose control. ‘Should I let myself need you?’ she asks in ‘Destiny’. In ‘Hunters’ she feels that when you are an object of pity, you become naked until you run for cover like Adam and Eve. Shereni addresses man out there who doesn’t know how to be husband. Any man who participates in the humiliation of woman is also humiliating himself, seems to be the philosophy here.

Blessing Musariri’s poetry has lots of room, literal and metaphorical. She writes maybe the most transcendental poetry of the four, causing collocation of time and place. She is carefully laid back, edgeless like fog and reminiscent too. You find that in ‘Last Goodbye’. Musariri is a calm day that promises to be hot right there in the morning. She can also be as treacherous as honey! Because her lines pretend to wonder about, when in fact, they gather up bits and pieces to brew a final whirlwind effect as in ‘Breaking News’ and in ‘Related’. Her prose poetry is sometimes deliciously dreamy:

Daytime flights are dangerous because you see the place you might land should you chance to fall. Here among rolling clouds my thoughts meander- this is as close to snow as I as I’ll get today, as close to you- standing in the foyer, laughing about how your father bought you an Easter egg for your birthday. A glass of wine with lunch has aroused my fancy- touching cool glass as I have touched your face. High in this blue sky, in nothing else but sky, I am further than I have ever been from you.

Ethel Kabwato’s haiku are better than all that she writes here. There is especially the very short poem ‘Hate’ which goes:

So consuming
like uncontrolled
veld fire.

Or the other one called ‘Painting’:

Show me that painting
of happy children

But Kabwato’s political persona is a rock with a jagged edge. She goes deep to the jagular vein, as violent sometimes as Zimbabwean politics. She shouts at what she sees as betrayal of the nation by its own politicians. She writes the most tumultuous poetry in this collection, pricking you especially where the heart is supposed to be. Kabwato has no faith in the nation’s history or its institutions for she thinks that they are only full of political mobs. You travel down her lines and discover that she actually has faith in the individual conscience that registers and registers and registers the misdemeanors of those with power, reminding you of Charles Mungoshi’s friend in Waiting For the Rain, who is being buried alive, ‘minding the sand no more’.

This is a collection to remember; crispy, inspired and sparsely put together for readers who hate melodrama and verbosity. Many thanks to the Welsh poet, Menna Elfyn who brought together these pieces.

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