The Eloquence of Dancing Bottoms Where Everything Crawls Back to Art:
Prefatory Notes on LIVE LIKE AN ARTIST
By Robert Muponde, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
It is a life spent on carefully quarrying the soil and stones of experience for that blinding yet familiar insight (if you imagine the striking ordinariness of lightning and the terrifying deadliness of its familiarity).
David Sunny Mungoshi’s critical voice significantly shaped the republic of letters in Zimbabwe. At some point in his career, he presented his critical persona in the legendary garb of one Chigango Musandireve; a witty, robust and acerbic critic. The barbed but playfully scorching witticisms have now been recalled into service once again, but presented as a bouquet of poems that traces the broad and complex expanse of an artist’s imagination and life. Sunny and dark, jovial and wistful, cantankerous and conciliatory, bombastic and sober; these poems are stories of a life lived fully in its contradictory, diverse and beautiful paradoxes. The yearning and despair, the nostalgia and scepticism, the harking on the past and the love of the present and the timeless; all are emotions and attitudes which are adeptly quilted in the very texture and intentions of the poems. The sense of urgency and quest for significant meaning is tempered with the cautionary tales about the new buccaneers in our midst, who seize the day (as everyone should) but blow up the ozone layer and leave us with bridges ambitiously laid over dead river beds. The nostalgia for a golden past, whether personal or communal (the shared glory of a simplified and unified universe), is laced with a sense of urgent time (to rethink and reorient) and slippages of time (when poorly handled and misconstrued). Nostalgia does not preclude pain and loss, disappointment and betrayal, and the “cold unfriendly days of your childhood”. It is viewed as the quest to travel light in a meaningful past and present.
I am tempted to provide commentary on all the poems, but am mindful of the fact that I insisted on writing only one page, or a few paragraphs perhaps. It is not possible to capture the entirety of the experiences presented in this book, but a few examples might do.
Living as an artist, as someone not driven by profit but prophecy, not by revenue but revelation; the whole persona of the artist is imbued with an aura of creation, of origins, the coming-from-nothing (not in the sense of the much-touted rags-to-riches stories). The art does not easily sell because it is priceless, like life itself.
The quest for freedom (free-spiritedness) and happiness in “the riches of poverty”, whose cypher is the vagabond who has nothing to guard, is equally as intense as the expression of poetry embodied in “eloquent bottoms dancing/To a choreography that shakes the world”. With this primed contrast and juxtaposition, David Mungoshi jolts us into an awareness of different levels of aesthetic intellection, combinations and rhythms.
The voice is that of a versatile raconteur who has jostled with and surfed the cycles and turmoil of time; a key witness in how time ravages, repairs and recycles; and is himself both oppressed and quickened by the imminence of mortality, obsolescence and dereliction if, as in “A Poem About Time Going By”, he does not seize the moment and inspire significance in his own life and experiences. Living like an artist requires time itself to be experienced in multifarious ways. In this collection, time is experienced chiefly as a fad and a good, a heart-breaking occurrence that can start all over again, an insistent and repetitive memory; and a crutch, “time --insulating your sensibilities against memories”. The voice constantly reminds us that even for the poet, memories are “Our choicest pickings from best-forgotten episodes”.
His poetry, better appreciated as story, tends towards the expression of the delights of telling a story and the artifice of inhabiting one. When David Mungoshi throws around words like beau and belle, she-devil and Lolita, he is very much aware of the indelible footprints of cultures other than our own that have directed his reading and narrative pleasures. He is asking the reader to go with him to the ends of the world he has travelled imaginatively but with a sure and kind hand guiding him/her. What could have come across as an egregious exhibition of erudition in the poetry of other writers (such as Dambudzo Marechera) is experienced as a mellow and humane worldliness in which knowledge of other cultures is not only a good (pun intended) but a valuable accessory.
The story of time and cultures shapes the poetic expression; it is mythopoeic as in “The Legend of Sekwa the Lass” who was “too well-endowed for her own good”; prophetic and playful; caustic and cautionary; wise and jocose; serious and sentimental. Sometimes the pleasure of telling a succinct story invested with the power of an image is what is behind the imagination of pieces such as “The Green Door”. At other times it is the image, or a series of images that slip into the place of a poem and evoke powerful glimpses of epochs, mores, character and the configuration and uses of social mobility (see “The Twelve Bar Blues Story” and “Stories from My Picture Album”). Then, you have occasions when the poet wants to pontificate on human conduct and deficits such as in “Bang! Bang! Bang!” (where a woman experiences sex as a shotgun). The call to a moral compass is shrill.
I should say, in spite of the accessibility, educated jokes and puns; Live Like An Artist has its own fair share of shortcomings. Some of the poetic images in, say “Treat Me Like I Really Am Something” and “Peasant Woman’s Beauty”, are well-intended stereotypes that err on the side of caricature. Delectable belles, she-devils, lasses, studs and beaus, are meant to widen the archive and wordplay, but end up being mere
idiosyncrasy on the part of the poet. However, the frame of reference is indeed wide (beyond these clichés) and adroitly incorporates musical genres, canonical literary texts, and fashion. The poems are themselves a mixture of the purely narrative and the consciously poetic in terms of rhyme and line construction. The affectations of style and language are “all just for fun and effect”, I agree, and allude to the beautiful paradox that is central to the life of one who lives life like an artist where everything crawls back to art and, like eloquent dancing bottoms, raises chuckles and questions.
Northcliff, Johannesburg, 30 March 2017
Phone or WhatsApp: +263775187608
Phone or WhatsApp: +263775187608