Thursday, August 30, 2012

Written Shona poetry in crisis

It is my subjective view that considered against work from yester-year, some recent poetry anthologies in Shona leave a lot to be desired. The craft and message have drastically gone down. These contemporary group anthologies tend to carry poems that are contrived. Few of these poems have capacity to remain on one’s mind long after reading. I think written Shona poetry has drastically regressed that it can never be compared to Mordekai Hamutyinei’s Kana Uchinge Wamutanga Musikana and Ndiye Mwana Wandaireva or W. B. Chivaura’s Dongo RaMandidzimba and Mumukonombwe.

On the contrary, performing poetry in Shona has grown tremendously in recent years and you do not need to understand Shona to follow the performances. It is not surprising that the few performing poets who have also decided to write and publish are doing extremely well.

There is one anthology purporting to be carrying poems about HIV/AIDS. You approach it with great expectations because HIV/AIDS has shaken our society to its foundation in recent years. When you get to sampling the AIDS/HIV poems which are in the majority in this anthology, you find that these poems are lagging behind latest trends in dealing and talking about this subject!

These mournful poems merely focus on the period of time before the advent of Anti Retro Viral Therapy use in the management of the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), when being diagnosed as having the infection was an automatic death sentence. These poems are characteristic of denial, stigmatization and rejection. As a result, you find alarmist and mundane lines like:

Ndini Aids, ndauya
Hapana anopona
Ndinokutakurai mese
Ukaona ndabata baba kana mai vako
chitotanga zvako kuchema...
(I am Aids, I have come and will eat you up. And when I get hold of your father or mother, you better start to mourn)

This means that our poets just pick their pens and go like clerks! They do not research. They are not inspired. They do not brood. They are raw technicians that are being unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The mere fact that the editor and compiler are looking for an AIDS poem does not mean that one should not reflect and use words as if they cost money. This crop of anthologies has dangerous poets who only react out of fear. They are confused and confusing. They do not even assume that their readership is complex.

In some such anthologies you find melodramatic pieces on especially the overtraded subjects of Love and Death. This does not mean that these subjects should not be written about but if you write about love, remember that you are carrying a heavy responsibility and must surely want to say something unique. You want to tackle these subjects differently from the likes of Mordekai Hamutyinei and JC Kumbirai. You do not come into this game just to play second fiddle! No one will forgive your sloppiness simply because you are a new poet.

You also wonder why in this day and age, one aims to sell a poem that insists on Ndini rufu, muchandiona (I am death, and we will be even)? As if that is not enough, you find the next poet in the same anthology saying the same things about death. Where is the editor, you yawn. A good poem should be able to lift the reader out of the ordinary and give glimpses of a more illuminating reality.

Then there are the many long-winded poems. They go on and on, well after they have scored their point. They flog dead horses. You sit there and yawn and ask, are these poets (and the editors) taking the readership for granted?

We face a danger of failing to develop or consolidate a clear tradition of written Shona poetry because it appears that the current crop of Shona poets does not read one another. It also does not read from the older poets in order to raise the bar. In writers’ workshops across the country, you come across people with sheaves of poems. On asking them if they have read Gwenyambira or Soko Risina Musoro or Mutinhimira Wenhetembo, they ask you, “Sorry, what did you say?” Imagine a poet who does not read and may never want to read! Imagine a Hamutyinei who simply writes on and on, with no indications that he has read a Paul Chidyausiku or a WB Chivaura in order to pitch!

There is nothing as frightening as a writer who does not read. That is why Marechera once asked: How can you write as if you have never read? The current Shona poets do not even follow poetry beyond the Shona language itself. Yet, If you read the more successful contemporary poets in Shona like Chirikure Chirikure, Sam Chimsoro and Ignatius Mabasa, you notice that they have benefitted immensely from reading poems from other traditions. They are a blessing to the Shona language!

However, there are few poets in these contemporary anthologies who have to be celebrated. Two good examples are Trust Mutekwa (aka Ticha Muzavazi) and Tinashe Muchuri from “Mudengu Munei?: Muunganidzwa Wenhetembo Volume One.” Both are performing poets. They have learnt and grown through testing their work constantly on live audiences. They come to the written word via the stage.

Trust Mutekwa is even a mbira player. His poems are good for the ear and the mind. Here is a poet used to the power of words. He is the most gifted voice in “Mudengu Munei”. Mutekwa states what he is not stating and he has the language typical of the Shona seer:

Sendinoziva, sendisingazive
Sendinofunga, sendisingafunge
Sendinoona, sendisingaoni zvangu…
Chinono chakamba, mashunge arwaivhi
Mashunge arwaivhi, chinono chakamba...

(picture: Ticha Muzavazi)
Mutekwa is also aware of the infectious force of the Shona verb more keenly than any other Shona poet that I have read to date. In the poem Ndiwe, the verb is very active and he deals with the rapist without saying rapist:

Ndiwe wakatevera mwana nekumupata wemazizi
Ndiwe wakamunyangira nokumusana asingaone
Ndiwe wakamukwakukira pafudzi sembada…
Hausiwe here wakamukatanura chipika?
Hausiwe here wakamunombora-nombora?
Ukagokashura kanguwo kake keuvanzarikwa
Uchivavarira kupaza rusambo zvisina mombe?

When you read Mutekwa’s poems, you are reminded that the Shona poet is master of the public mantra. The poem Nzvengende, for example, becomes goat and non-goat:

Nzvengende rumbudzi rusingachadi zvemafuro
Rwakanzwa kunaka kwenyimo semhembwe
Ukaridza muridzo rwopumhukira
Kano kamuswe minini minini kasina neshumo
Nzvengende rumbudzi runokarodya nyama...

(picture: Muchuri)
Tinashe Muchuri writes with both his heart and mind. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he thinks deeply about both his message and method. His poem Wadiwa Mukoma Tichafa from “Mudengu Munei” is one of the more subtle AIDS poems in this anthology. Muchuri reminds one of poet Steve Chimombo’s idea of ‘substituting surface with subterranean vision’ in Four Ways of Dying. Muchuri hits you with an iron bar while massaging you with a wad of wool in that AIDS poem. His other poem Mwanasikana, goes to the heart of the theory of womanism, considered more relevant to African conditions than feminism. Mwanasikana could be the most persuasive poem in this whole anthology:

Akati uri wokuombera ndiani?
Inga kare waiomberwa wani!
Washuzhira mhuri mugore renzara nokuruka seme,
Vazukuru vaguta nenzungu nemutakura wenyimo
Zvakabva mutseu yako
Waunza mukuwasha aiumba ukama nesu

It is a fact that in the past decade, the power of Shona poetry has manifested itself more in music and performing poetry than in the written form. One has in mind performing poet Biko Mutsaurwa (aka Godobori) whose Shona lines on stage are material from which genius is made. He is not capable of a boring sentence. He should be encouraged to break into print. I have never recovered from his chorus: “Toi-toi! Huya mweya uri mberi, toi!”

Godobori benefits from the supremacy of the Shona language and wisdom. When you listen to him, you detect the vigorous and punitive rehearsals that he goes through before he faces the audience. His Shona poems have all that we do not find in the terribly written poetry anthologies of today.

(picture: Flowchild)There is also one Cynthia Marangwanda (aka Flowchild) who is grand-daughter to the novelist John Marangwanda of Kumazivandadzoka fame. She erupts into frenzy when on stage and one hopes that she will be encouraged by her mentors to go beyond writing in English and for the stage.

The dearth of good written Shona poetry becomes more evident as one reads from the late Julius Chingono whose guest appearance in “Mudengu Munei” dwarfs nearly all the youngster poets in that anthology. Chingono’s satiric poem called MuShona Arwara is a must read. MuShona arwara, vanhuwe (the Shona person is ailing, dear colleagues), he insists, from foreign influences that have left him with no specific language and culture. The Shona speaks through the nose; sadza (his staple dish) is now too thick for his tummy which is now only good enough for the soft ‘pizza’:

Dzimwe nguva (muShona) anotaurira mumhuno,
Kunge ane chidzihwa
Achitodadirira kunge zvinoshamisira...

In the poem Pachiteshi, Chingono’s keen eye turns on the current transport woes, dwelling on the tussling for seats that go on at the bus stations. As one struggles to get onto the bus, one is in a war zone:

Tsunhura mudzipanyota
Kana kutobvisa
Nokuti ungadzipwa nawo
Pakukurwira kukwira mubhazi.
Katanura mabhatani ose…
Nokuti angapera kudambuka
Orashika pahondo yokukwira bhazi…
Sunga zvakasimba bhande rebhurukwa
Nokuti ungangokururwa bhurukwa
Pakudhonzwa nekusundidzirwa
Panguva iyo unenge wopinda mubhazi…
Rega kuteerera zvakanyanya
Kuchema nokuungudza
Nokuti ukateerera unosara!
(As you fight to get onto the bus first, take off your tie because you maybe strangled to death in the process. Undo your buttons because they may be ripped off in the melee. Tie your belt tightly because your pants may fall off during the tussle. Do not listen do the desperate calls around you because you may not get onto the bus.)

Poets, publishers, compilers, editors, teachers of the beloved Shona language and especially those who prescribe poetry anthologies onto our school syllabi, must come together and say: Enough! Yes, this is only my subjective view.
+ By Memory Chirere

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Invitation to a ZWA meeting, Harare: 1 September 2012

a recent writers' get together in Harare

The Zimbabwe Writers Association (ZWA) is inviting you to its next Harare members meeting to be held at the British Council, 16 Cork Road, Belgravia (opposite the South African Embassy) on Saturday September 1, 2012 from 12:00 to 4:30pm.
As requested in the last meeting by some of you, this time the discussion topic is ‘How To Make Money and a Livelihood Through Writing.’ Freelance artists; STEPHEN CHIFUNYISE, ALBERT NYATHI and VIRGINIA JEKANYIKA will be talking about how to earn a living from one’s art. Those who were not at the last meeting are reminded to bring $10 membership fees. Remember: the major objective of ZWA is to bring together all willing individual writers of Zimbabwe in order to encourage creative writing, reading and publishing in all forms possible, conduct workshops, and provide for literary discussions.
Zimbabwe Writers Association (ZWA) is the newest nationally inclusive writers Organization whose formation started in July 2010 leading to the AGM of June 4, 2011. It was fully registered with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe in January 2011. Zimbabwean writers have taken the initiative to coordinate themselves to form an organisation to represent them and defend their interests. The birth of ZWA was a culmination of self initiated efforts and activities taken by writers of diverse backgrounds with the vision of developing into a strong and dynamic umbrella organisation for writers in Zimbabwe.
Tinashe Muchuri, ZWA Secretary
0733 843 455/

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The real role of war veterans in Zimbabwe’s land occupations

Title: ‘War Veterans in Zimbabwe’s Land Occupations: Complexities of a Liberation Movement In an African Post Colonial Settler Society’
Author: Wilbert Zvakanyorwa Sadomba
Publisher:Wageningen Universiteit, Vita, 2008.
Isbn: 9789085049173
218 pages
Reviewer: Memory Chirere

At the core of this well researched and footnoted narrative is the argument that the veterans of Zimbabwe’s 1970’s war of independence were and are still the major drivers of the land movement in Zimbabwe and that History cut them a role from which they could not renege. The author, Wilfred Zvakanyorwa Sadomba is himself a veteran of the Second Chimurenga.

And the conclusion is: All the major forces in the Zimbabwean milieu in the past decade; the nationalists, those in power since 1980, the white farmers and ironically including the drivers of opposition politics have to contend with the war veterans and the land hungry of Zimbabwe or risk being swept aside. Therefore, this is a book about the history of the role of liberation war combatants in Zimbabwe much as it is about their driving role in the land reform principally between 1997 and 2000.

The question that drives this very detailed book is: Were the land occupations in Zimbabwe driven and sustained by land hunger dating back from colonialism or by the spoiling operations linked to the political survival tactics of those in power since 1980?

This question, as seen from the works of various writers on land in Zimbabwe; Sam Moyo, T.O. Ranger, A. Davidson, Raftopolous, Feltoe, Moore and others, creates a decisive watershed.

Working with real dates and statistical evidence, Sadomba argues that the phenomena of land occupations in Zimbabwe is as old as colonialism, admitting that the land issue changed form and intensity during the colonial period but it remained the central focus for the nationalist movement and later fuelled the guerrilla war itself.

Contrary to notions that land occupations and land reform have always been blest by and directed by those in power, Sadomba argues that the issue of land had been put on low key at independence in 1980, because the Lancaster agreement tended to encourage a soft approach on the issue. As a result of such circumstances, there developed a silent and sometimes unconscious alliance between black nationalists, the rising bourgeoisie and the white settler farmers. Sadomba thinks that this resulted in a rift within the liberation movement itself and the sidelined war veterans catapulted radical land reclamation from below, targeting the elite, settler farmers and the state itself.

He goes on to show evidence that when the veterans encouraged early land occupations in places like Goromonzi and Svosve around 1997/98 the government was not necessarily amused. Various Ministers of government were respectively dispatched to tell the land hungry to vacate the white farms that they had occupied. In some cases, the government had to unleash the security forces. In 1996 the war veterans even forced the government to designate 1 471 farms for compulsory acquisition by November 1997. This was heavily resisted by the white farmers through the courts. In 1997 the war veterans openly confronted President Mugabe himself, loudly demanding welfare benefits and a return to the liberation agenda.

Sadomba further argues that it is a fact that the nationalist establishment in Zimbabwe only unequivocally sided with the veterans when the referendum to decide on a new constitution got a ‘No’ vote in year 2000.Just after this result, war veterans occupied a white owned farm in Masvingo. They claimed that the referendum, an event in which the country’s white population had participated more actively that any other election since independence, was in essence an organised ‘No’ vote against the land clause included in the draft constitution.

The clause stated that the land for resettlement would be taken compulsorily and only land improvements would be compensated. Compensation would have to be paid by the British government as the power behind the colonial machinery that had originally appropriated land from the Africans of Zimbabwe.

This book shows how the veterans engineered the movement which attracted peasants, urban workers, professionals, farm workers, political activists, security forces and others. They are moments when war veterans were loaned from where they were highly concentrated like Guruve and Mount Drawin to help in areas of less concentration like Nyabira, Mazowe and Matepatepa.

In this book, there are sections on various methods of occupying a farm, sections on how white farmers variably reacted to the occupation of ‘their’ farms, sections on the role of chiefs and spirit mediums, sections on how information was relayed and the resultant changes in the farming systems as a result of occupations.

Going through this work, you feel that indeed there are no permanent friends but permanent interests. This book is a must for all those who wish to get detailed insights into the complexity of relations between and among major players in the land reform of Zimbabwe.

Wilfred Sadomba himself was on the ground during the land occupations. Anyone will quickly notice that this book is very professionally written from the point of view of a participant observer. This is a reminder to all veterans of the liberation war of Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa that it is important to document their experiences, not only on the war but also the aftermaths. The recent farm occupations in Zimbabwe had never been so meticulously described in writing by a participant observer and whether one agrees or not with Sadomba, this is clearly a first.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A tale of one of Zimbabwe’s war poets

It is the impending 2012 Heroes Holiday in Zimbabwe that reminds one of the 1970s liberation war fighter, Thomas Bvuma. He is, like Alexander Kanengoni and Freedom Nyamubaya, a liberation war poet of remarkable talent and vision. He wrote poems at the war front in between battles either as a pastime or a means to reflect on the war he was participating in. He is still writing and publishing poetry long after the war of liberation and some of his key pieces constantly jog one’s mind.

Using the pen-name Carlos Chombo, Thomas Bvuma wrote the poem “Real Poetry” at the height of the war in the late 1970’s. It eventually got more “visible” publication in the Zimunya-Kadhani edited collection called And NOW the Poets Speak (1981). Musaemura Zimunya and Mudereri Kadhani set out to bring together poems which reflect on the Zimbabwe revolution then.

Bvuma’s “Real Poetry” defines struggle as people’s real poetry. Very reminiscent in content and form to Jorge Rebelo’s poem called “Poem,” “Real Poetry” quickly became a classic of sorts. Zimunya and Kadhani could not “resist using (the poem) as a choric prelude to this selection.” They also “found (in this poem) the power of the intellect, control of rhythm and style well combined and married to idea, action and reaction” and that through it, one recalls the more prominent Angolan war poet, Agostinho Neto himself. Zimunya nad Kadhani also used a section of the poem on the blurb of the cream coloured And Now The poets. “Real Poetry” reads as follows:

The Real Poetry
Was carved by centuries
Of Chains and whips.
It was written in the red streams
Resisting the violence of
“Effective Occupation.”
It was engraved in killings in Katanga,
In the betrayals of Mau-Mau,
In the countless anti-people coups
Its beat was the bones in Bissau
Its metaphors massacres in Mozambique
Its alliterations agony in Angola
Its form and zenith
Fighting in Zimbabwe.
The Real Poetry
Is sweat scouring
The baked valley of the peasant’s back
Down to the starved gorge of his buttocks
It bubbles and boils
In the blisters of the farm labourer
It glides in the greased hands
Of the factory worker
Not a private paradise
Nor an individual inferno
But the pain and pleasure
Of People in Struggle.

Viva O Povo!

This is a fighting poem which insists, through both content and form, that poetry should be revolutionary and popular. Poetry must spring from life’s struggles and not from back-sitting imagination and fantasies. Life is a struggle and as you fight upwards, you come across your reality (which needs working on) and that is your indisputable poem!

More of Thomas Bvuma’s poems were later published in Every Stone That Turns (1999) almost two decades later! They are arranged in a way that sets out to capture the changing times from war to Independence.

Of course you still find the emotion of the founding poem “Real Poetry.” Brought together under one cover, these are Bvuma’s poems of his life. They have benefited from writing and rewriting and one cannot easily single out the core poems of this collection which were written between 1979 and 1981.

The first section “The Snake Never Stirs” explains especially what it meant physically and spiritually to be in the war of liberation. The guerilla war had both its serious and light sides which however dovetail.

In the poem “Private affair” the shell shocked guerillas huddle together to relieve themselves, finding comfort in a performance that is supposed to be very private:
Remember the moment of mirth
We snatched and shared in gloom

We squatted there at dusk
A metre among the bushes
Emptying our bowels…

Bvuma’s is an ability to dwell on the light side of the serious, making you want to laugh and cry at the same time. As “Private affair” ends, the persona expresses a wish – “the revolution would not socialize shitting”. That is a wholly well packed idiom. The hope is that independence would give citizens the decency and freedom to pursue individual ambitions. Self-rule wouldn’t end up with people collectively making their social environment foul and uninhabitable.

In poem “Mafaiti” the rigors of war turn man into beast fed on by “plumb lice”. Important here is the manner in which Mafaiti remains as humane as possible. He is a man who realistically understands what he has lost by joining the struggle. When one laughs as one reads that poem, one is laughing in celebration of the ability of the human spirit to dig deep to unknown resources in order to hold on.

If the first section is a sweet-painful celebration of guerrilla-hood, section “Stub in the backyard” is as bitter with betrayal of certain post independence betrayals. The most painful part of the sectional title poem reads:

At times life
Pains like a part smoked
Stub tossed into the backyard

However, Bvuma has an overpowering ability to clutch to something (idiom or reality) useful in any seemingly hopeless situation. In one such poem, he employs the image of the shell of a snail -especially its ability to weather the hard times and remain the sole stubborn remnant of a life that was:

The shell lives on
Long after the life
It sheltered is gone

The shell lives on
Brightening a shelf
In some vain room

When you get to section “Neither Fruit Nor Shelter”, especially the poem “Marrow”, Bvuma attempts a subtle but well driven analysis of the relationship between Africa and the Western World in the neo-colonial era. Pursuing a faint Fanonian analysis of post-colonial Africa, Bvuma shows how the ideological mental remnants of colonialism hamper Africa from developing a viable local vision. Western post-modern and humanist vision denies Africa a meaningful connection with history and shatters opportunity for Africans to reclaim what they lost through slavery and colonialism. And so the persona goes to the “marrow” of the issue:

Lies obscene on her back
One leg pegged to Europe
The other to America
One handcuffed to Japan
The other clutching
At straws and fireflies

Thus Bvuma champions a genre of nationalist poetry, rigorous, questioning and always confirming the basic truth that humanity is always in motion and there is no tradition that should imagine itself as “the end of history.” More exciting is his ability to see the challenge to open up the economy to the formally marginalized as a stage in the whole ‘war’ of liberation, sweet but full of contradictions as well. As the title Every Stone That Turn suggests, every nation has its own challenges because under every stone that one may overturn, there are new and different scorpions to be dealt with.

By Memory Chirere

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Monica Cheru wins a Femrite Writers-in-Residence post

Zimbabwean writer Monica Cheru’s short story, My Fault has been selected for an anthology being compiled by the organisers of the fourth Regional Residency for African Women Writers. This means that Monica is one of 12 African women writers selected for a Femrite Writers-in-Residence in Uganda from November 19, 2012 to November 30, 2012.

The 12 selected stories and the country from which the submissions originated are: Guilty Association (Cameroon); The Day Dalilah Left Ghana (Ghana); Simsim Halwa (Kenya); Cat’s Cradle (Nigeria); Narrative Of Emily Louw (S. Africa); There’s Nothing To See, Here (Uganda); Ohemba (Uganda); The Sun Bared Its Biceps (Uganda); Little Differences (Uganda); Unemployment (Uganda); Tighten Your Belts (Zambia); and My Fault (Zimbabwe).

My Fault is a story about a woman who is always being reminded by society of her faults… “It’s your fault for making me this angry,” complained my husband Ray. This was after he had beaten me black and blue yet again…

Later on: “It’s your fault for not reporting that brute to the police,” my doctor told me as he was treating me for yet another injury…

Then: “It’s your fault,” pointed out my mother when I showed her my injuries. “You should not challenge your husband like that. ..

And: “It’s your fault.” Ray’s sister told me when I went to tell her that Ray had taken a second wife. “You are obviously not enough of a woman for my brother. Otherwise he would not be forced to turn to elsewhere for happiness.”

Finally: “It is not your fault.” I heard those words for the first time from the counsellor at the New Start Center after I broke down when I tested positive for HIV...

A mother of three, Monica Cheru is the author of Chivi Sunsets: Not for Scientists, a collection of short stories published recently by Diaspora Publishers in the UK. These stories are about the supernatural forces that grip a community, revealing that even reality itself is the dream you have when you are awake.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

State of the Nation

‘State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean poetry’ compiled and edited by Tinashe Mushakavanhu’s and David Nettleingham, published by The Conversation Paper Press, UK, 2009, 186 page paperback, ISBN 978-0-9563137-0-6

(Reviewed by Memory Chirere)
When I received this book of poems, ‘State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean poetry,’ its very pointed title hinted that it is a project on Zimbabwe now as seen by its various poets.

I know that the state of our beloved but beleaguered nation, Zimbabwe, is now well known. Now a term ‘Zimbabwean crisis’ has even been coined. Whatever way you look at it, the Zimbabwean crisis is characterized by serious food shortages, lack of jobs, rampant underpaying of civil servants, acute brain drain and the general collapse of public amenities.

In Zimbabwe today, attempting to define this crisis and its causes tends to tear the community into two irreconcilable stables. That is to be expected in all polarized communities.

Therefore, any book as this one, ‘State of The Nation’ that boldly positions itself to look at our woes in the eye, raises great expectations. Poets are seers and from them we want to know ‘where and when the rain began to beat us.’ The editors did well to ask the poets to start with each, a testimony on what it means to be a poet, and sometimes a Zimbabwean poet. It means that if you cannot read the poems, you go for the narratives and sometimes, as in the cases of Emmanuel Sigauke, Nhamo Mhiripiri, Ignatius Mabasa and the late Ruzvidzo Mupfudza, you go for both.

But then I must state that this cannot be an out and out book review because I know and am known to most of the poets in here. I know the fires that beget the red brick. Reading them is like meeting again in a new country, under a new sky. To me, most of these are both poets and people.

Probably the most unique thing about this book is that it has poets from Zimbabwe who are still very active. For instance Christopher Mlalazi won an ‘honourable mention’ in the Noma awards with his book: Dancing With Life: Tales from The Township. Although there are indications that it is nomore, Noma is a greatly prized literary award in all Africa. Mlalazi is also a recent winner of NAMA, a prestigious national award. When I wrote him to say congratulations for Noma and pointed that he has now won both Nama and Noma, he wrote back: “Ngiyabonga baba… Now I want MANA (money).” Even his poetry is like that, spontaneous and hard hitting. In ‘A soundless song’, a goat is described as ‘mercilessly tearing at the petticoats of a tree unable to flee’.

I see that the late Ruzvidzo Mupfudza’s personae have not, unlike us, left the bars. In the first two poems I see it and agree with Ruzvidzo that the thin board between wakefulness and sleep is a zone during which one sees further than the eye. At that moment, one’s sins (and of those people behind and ahead of us) coagulate into one event. And, ah Ruzvidzo still sees the heroic Nehanda too!

Ignatius Mabasa’s ‘problem’ about which language to use (or not to use) is not a problem. Good translations (as Mabasa has done with poems like ‘Cavities’ and ‘Concrete and plastic’) will serve us well. Having seen these poems before in the original Shona, I dare say they have even gained an extra amount of subtlety. Consider Mai Nyevero’s ‘tan thighs’ and how she ‘laughs like a hyena.’ I actually see her and suffer. Harare is teeming with such women. I wonder why Mabasa did not include a piece on ‘baba vaNyevero’. Of course, I cannot run away from the fact that Mabasa’s strong point is the Shona language, rendering him one of the more successful writers of our generation with his novels, Mapenzi and Ndafa Here?

Nhamo Mhiripiri and his wife Joyce Mutiti are Zimbabwe's writing couple. I do not know if we have another. We must have more. In college we saw them courting, writing and smoking together. We wondered why they didn't fall on each other and fight because discussions at the Students Union tended to end in fistfights. They didn't give us that opportunity. Nhamo's pen is conscious of ideology and theory. Joyce is private. Today you still see them together either at the Book fair or the book launches in Harare.

In his own testimony, John Eppel makes the crudest series of claims and accusations that I have ever heard from a fellow writer on the late Vera and a number of fellow Zimbabwean writers. First, Eppel says the late Yvonne Vera, ‘like all Shona writers with ZANU PF sympathies (was) still in too much denial to tackle the shameful period” (of Gukurahundi) and therefore Vera’s The Stone Virgins ‘is abject cowardice.’ Really?

Vera’s The Stone Virgins is about the civil war in Matabelaland and the Midlands provinces in the 1980’s which resulted in loss of civilian lives. I insist that there cannot be one super way of writing about it all. There cannot be any one heroic or cowardly way of writing about it, either. I agree with Maurice Vambe when he argues (elsewhere) that Vera’s The Stone Virgins employs reportage because of reportage’s ability to unravel potential discrepancies between facts outside the text and reality imaginatively constructed. These are indeed a multiplicity of narrative voices in this novel, all vying to capture the problematic of representing a civil war that can never be complete when uttered from one side or position.

Eppel also says that nobody includes him in the bibliography of Zimbabwean writers. He even claims that no contemporary of his; Mungoshi, Zimunya, Hove, Chinodya, Dangarebga, Chirikure… ever notices him except Julius Chingono! But then Eppel admits, strategically too: ‘generalisation is a tool of the satirist.’ Maybe.

The five poems by Charles Mungoshi crawl all over you like ants from the underworld. As you read his poems you have a feeling that you are working your difficult way around boulders, towards some treasure. In his 'A Kind of Drought' the spirit is weak because one has been lied to, cheated and finally deserted by fellow humans and what remains are roads, because they do not lie and trees too, because they remain the same old faithful parents and one can do many things with trees, including going round and round and finally dying safely under them. And as the spirit wanders, you wish you could come to a river.

Dambudzo Marechera’s poems, given to the editors by one Betina Schmidt, are dedicated to Betina and are about Betina. They remind one of Marechera’s earlier poems, the Amelia poems. Of them Marechera once said: ‘Amelia’s presence in the flat inspired me to write the sonnets. When she had been in the flat and then left, I would still feel her presence, and any item she had touched could give me the first line for a poem. Or just the emptiness… the flat felt so completely empty, and it is this emptiness which is all around me which I have to grab by the collar and put into a poem.’

Nearly all the poems about exile in this book seem to insist on the fact that exile is more dangerous than home. These poems seem to be in the majority with the outstanding being Chenjerai Hove’s ‘Identity’, NOViolet Bulawayo’s ‘Diaspora’, Tinashe Mushakavanhu’s “Tomorrow is long coming’, Kristina Rungano’s ‘Alien somebody’ and Amanda Hammar’s ‘Exiles’. If it is not the loneliness, it is the anxiety or the downright confusion that comes close to declaring that one has no country because things are currently unwell in one’s country.

Amanda Hammar’s is the most uplifting narrative in this book, if you do not get confused easily. What is a Zimbabwean poet, Kizito Muchemwa once asked Amanda Hammar in Uppsala in 2009. ‘Does location matter; does exile/proximity make one less or more Zimbabwean; what it is we can or should, or should not, write about, or should that even be a question at all?’ And Amanda Hammar’s answer, which comes after a long search is: ‘I am no longer solely defined by my Zimbabweanness. While for some, such a condition may seem unremarkable, for me it is both a new sensation and a big and painful admission.’

Then you realize that this book is also about identity. In Europe, Mushakavanhu’s persona feels like ‘a dark presence’ and his ‘coal black hand tightly clasping’ the long white fingers of a half desired white wench cause heads to turn on the streets of Europe.

In her narrative, Jennifer Armstrong says she writes as a poet and not as a white girl. She says 'the black white history of Zimbabwe (and Rhodesia)' has given us 'the remarkable and highly dubious gifts of race and gender.' And her shortest poem goes:

I don't think
my race
will win
this race
although it might
come second

It is refreshing to come across the new voices; Beavan Tapureta, Tinashe Muchuri, Batsirai Chigama, Josephine Muganiwa... voices associated with the spoken word at the Book Cafe and the Zimbabwe-Germany society.

Maybe Emmanuel Sigauke's poems stand out for not going necessarily for the 'state of the nation'. They are not about what I need from my country and government but are about what I did and may do. His poems as in his book 'Forever Let Me Go' are about personal journeys from the past to the present. Poems about what could I have been had I not been married to you and about the dramatic happenings in distant villages and the zinc roofed houses that we didn't and have forgotten to build.

My worry though with most Zimbabwean poetry since And Now The Poets Speak of 1982, is the prevalence of melancholy. Our poets are yet to find an idiom that redeems, regardless of the well known woes. The poetry of Jorge Rebelo and Jose Craveirinha are an example of poets who, while chronicling the ills of their society, reflect also on what they should offer the same society. They went beyond the realm of 'look what they have done to me' and began to show 'what we have to do about it'. I honestly believe that Zimbabwe is not the worst and last place God made. We shall overcome.

Nevertheless, Poets Tinashe Mushakavanhu and David Nettleingham have done well to put together the first major anthology of Zimbabwean poets writing in English since And Now The Poets Speak. And in both cases, the poets are concerned about the sate of their nation. Mushakavanhu walks with a spring, head up, chest out and before he talks, he rubs his hands together like the soothsayer that he is. Somewhere in some uncomfortable weather we once talked about how, one day, he is to become Zimbabwe’s youngest publisher.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


writers at last year's workshop

4 AUGUST 2012

Theme: Beyond the writer’s script

0800 – 0845 Registration

0845 – 0900 Welcome and Opening Remarks – M B Zimunya


Chair: Memory Chirere

0900 – 0930 The Publisher and the Writer’s Manuscript - T. Vhutuza

0930 – 1000 How Do Books Become Set Texts? - E. Machingaidze

1000 – 1020 The Importance of Copyright to the Writer – G Chilongo

1020 – 1035 Discussion

1035 – 1055 TEA BREAK

Chair: Chiedza Musengezi

1055 – 1130 The Role of The Literary Critic and Reviewer – Dr R Zhuwarara

1130 – 1200 What is the State of Censorship in Zimbabwe? – Zim Lawyers for Human Rights

1200 – 1230 Discussion

1230 – 1245 Closing Remarks

1255 Vote of Thanks

1300 LUNCH