Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ghetto Diary and Other Poems

Title: Ghetto Diary and Other Poems, edited by Munyaradzi Z Mbire, Zimbabwe Publishing House, Harare, 2011
Isbn: 9780797446427
Reviewer: Memory Chirere
Every time that I browse through the new collection of poems called Ghetto Diary and Other Poems, I vividly remember the beguiling words of Kenneth Koch: Poetry is language within a language.
 
A poet strives for and attains the language of poetry, works in it and with it and in return, is always being inspired by it, Koch continued. The language of poetry gives one immense pleasure to use, Koch reasoned. And finally: The language of poetry can be defined first as a language in which the sound of the words is raised to an importance equal to that of their meaning.
 
For instance, when you meet Nyasha Mboti’s lines in this anthology, you may think that your sight is failing you because Mboti’s lines are as light as a feather. They float slowly into the clear blue sky and are seemingly thin on the message. But in the end, you will be alright:

“There is only
One way to love a woman
And that
Is to love her.
Love her like
She exists in a dream.
Do not cheat a woman
Do not ask her things
That she cannot answer.
Do to a woman, love.
Do to a woman the good things
That are in a man…”
Mboti’s poems have what may appear like whimsical titles too, like ‘I must write’, ‘I like songs’, ‘The Night listens to me’ and others, but as you read, you remember that you have once been down this road but you do not know when and how.  It is like peeping into a room to find an ant and when you peep again, there is an elephant! Then Zvisinei Sandi will surprise you with her sincerity before you know that she is keen on irony:
“Sin-
Something sweet, delicious, forbidden
Tantalising-
Something that glistens and dances with joy
Something-
That calls to the heart to come out and play
Something-
Mother says you are never, never to do
Something-
Hot and sweet and utterly satisfying.”
Zvisinei Sandi’s poems remind me of the hide and seek games of childhood out in the countryside. When you think you are close to the target, it has stealthily migrated back to where you were when the search started, musing at the way you search in the wrong places! You will be forgiven for thinking that the young poet, Garikai Kamanga has been understudying the older poet, Musaemura Zimunya. Like Zimunya, Kamanga is obsessed with rock. Its steadfastness and its immobility that moves time:

“I speak a poem
Of the holiness of stone – the divinity of rock
I speak a poem that is stone sure
Stone can only be stone clean
We are not dirt,
Stone is not corruptible,
Stone does not flee to the rootless lands,
stone loves its soil – it is soil
For what it is-it is.”
Kamanga has the unusual gift of playing on an ordinary every day word until it reminds you of the secondary character of words. As you read his poems, you notice that words are old things because if properly placed, they tend to carry the whole burden of history:

“Desire is a fire that burns unattended
With nothing to burn
Desire is a river that never runs dry
With no fish to swim in it
Desire is the finest black fruit in
An unseen valley
With no one to pick
Desire is the bluest sky
With no colourful wings to caress.
Desire is the itching in the heart
Scratching cannot cool that down.
Desire… was all we had, being black and poor.”
The nine poems  by Alexander Kanengoni, who is better known as a novelist and short story writer are the largest number of poems by him in one anthology. In his poems the sun sets and rises a lot. In one of these poems the Kanengoni persona cries out:

“Look at what the mountains are doing!
They are swallowing the cheeky sun!”
The mountains are in the West and they are swallowing, usurping the sun that shines for everyone. And when the sun comes out in the East the following day, the community is still looking towards the West, worried about yesterday’s sun that got swallowed by the mountains in the West!
 
The poems by the late Stanley Ruzvidzo Mupfudza in this anthology have premonitions of death. There is one about procrastination, in which one is hoping to look too carefully before acting. Sadly, what one observes changes and transforms at the very moment of seeing because seeing itself takes time! Some of his poems like “Go Down Moses” and “Bridging The Middle Passage” reflect Mupfudza’s intense love for African American and Caribbean literature and thought. The eleven poems here make the largest number of his pieces in one book. Ruzvidzo Mupfudza passed away on 3 May 2010.

Mupfudza’s contemporaries, Nhamo Mhiripiri, Joice Mutiti, Rubie Magosvongwe Angeline Ruswa, Eresina Hwede, Madlozi Moyo and Josephine Muganiwa are given good enough space to present their wares and you read their poems slowly and with care because they constitute the core of this book in matters of vision and thrust. One day it may be prudent to come to terms with the way certain departments in institutions have contributed to certain ways of thinking and writing about our Zimbabwean reality.
David Mungoshi’s poems leave you with a feeling that life is best seen and appreciated just before you leave it:

“I have tasted sweet life
From a girl’s warm lips
Borne bitter-sweet words
From a woman’s practised mouth
I am tired of promises and visions
Cast by bleary-eyed seers
Enough of sorrow and disappointment…
To live only is my desire.”
A dying woman asks people to propel her up and get out of her way because she wants to see the fading sun “one last time.”  A dying man’s parting words are: “Young one, walk with care for your road leads to where I am.”
 
This book has well crafted and thought out lines with staying power. Whether they are; Ethel Kabwato’s memories of the ghetto or Madlozi Moyo’s classic laden pieces or Primrose Dzenga’s love offerings (that have no equal in Zimbabwe) or Theodora Chirapa’s deeply sad reminisces, they do not fail to touch you. This is an effortless book that furtively hooks you onto all those little things that constitute the essence of becoming Zimbabwean.

 

 

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