Monday, November 19, 2012

From Where The Wind Blows: a book review

From Where The Wind Blows: An Anthology Of Modern Zimbabwean Poetry
Edited by  Oliver Nyambi and Tendai Mangena
Published by Mambo Press, 2012
Reviewed by Aaron Mupondi

 From Where the Wind Blows edited by Oliver Nyambi and Tendai Mangena and published by Mambo Press in 2012 is a breath of fresh air on the Zimbabwean literary landscape.  I say so because from the beginning of the 21st century the Zimbabwean readership has been so much bombarded by short stories that made Ruby Magosvongwe end up remarking that at the moment, ‘Zimbabwe is a short story country.’
The title of the new arrival (From Where the Wind Blows) is derived from the title of the last poem,  ‘Where the Wind Blows’, by  Mika Nyoni which to me is not surprising because the poet proves to be one of the more probing voices in the collection.  The title of the collection is a very appropriate one in the sense that Zimbabwean readers can easily guess that Zimbabwe is the place ‘from where the wind blows’.  The metaphor of the wind in the title reminds one of the unsettling situation in Zimbabwe during the years of economic meltdown (1998-2008) which were characterised by hyperinflation, scarcity of basic commodities, erosion of salaries, political violence and polarisation to name but a few issues.  The link between the ‘blowing wind’ and change is not lost to a discerning reader.
It is interesting to note that poems in the collection come from people from different walks of life and with different life experiences rendering the collection richer in terms of insight and creativity. The collection was written by established writers such as Zvisinei Sandi (the only female poet in the collection), university lecturers Jairos Gonye, Mika Nyoni, Madhlozi Moyo, Mickias Musiyiwa and Aleck Mapindani, a banker John Gotora, a nationalist Elisha Zacharia Kahari and students Austin Shumba and Hillary KeniWitsani.
The collection is divided into five sections: ‘Trying in ‘Trying’ Times’, ‘Going and Coming Around’, ‘Conflicting Spaces and the Haunting Past’, ‘Feeling and the Dreaded Shadow’ and ‘Odes’ although the editors indicate that the last section is ‘From the ‘Mind’ of a Mind’.  I agree with the editors that many poems burst the seams of the categories into which they have been ‘imprisoned’ to also fit into other categories or even go beyond all the laid down categories in the anthology.  However, one notices that the majority of poems harp on the predicaments the majority of Zimbabweans experienced during the ‘decade of crisis’ while others warn society about the AIDS pandemic and yet others re-assert the African culture and its past but others especially by Gotora and KeniWitsani appear very personal and private.
Sandi’s poem ‘Mercenary Thoughts’ (Trying in ‘Trying’ Times) is full of anger towards the greedy and unscrupulous in society. The militant mood in this poem is loud and clear. The poem itself is an instrument of war. In Nyoni’s ‘40 in 2008 in Zimbabwe’ we realise that some people find consolation in having survived the lean years.  The people are aptly referred to as the tree with scars in Nyoni’s other poem ‘Aggrieved’.  The ‘scars’ represent the problems that afflict the people while the ‘axe’ stand for the source or sources of the problems.  Gonye in ‘A Scene in Independence Street’ focuses on the tribulations of a typical worker whose salary is not enough to meet his endless obligations.  I have noticed that in a number of his poems Gonye who is a university teacher himself is a spokesperson of teachers whom society of late, has chosen to look down upon.  In this section, Shumba’s poem ‘To be Free’ makes effective use of irony to lash at the selfishness of the rich and powerful.
 Poems in ‘Going and Coming Around’ deal with prostitution, among other issues.  Shumba’s ‘Sisi Anna’ uses dialogue between a prostitute and her prospective client to dramatize negotiations for sex.  In ‘Ximex Mall’ Shumba reveals how some people in Harare unashamedly practise shaddy deals for the sake of money.
From the section ‘Conflicting Spaces and the Haunting Past’  one gets the feeling that the city represents a soulless modernity that is so stifling to the individual that he resorts going back to the rural area which provides him freedom and cultural shelter as the persona in Nyoni’s ‘Re: Letter of Resignation’ does.  While others flee from the city to the rural areas, others migrate into exile as shown in ‘Little Victories’ by Moyo.
The section, ‘Feeling and the Dreaded Shadow’ has poems about personal emotions and AIDS.  In ‘AIDS’, ‘Mucha’, ‘The Boy at the Clinic’ by Nyoni, Shumba and KeniWitsani respectively show how AIDS preys on its victims. However in this section one cannot fail to be moved by poems by Gotora.  The persona in all these poems is lamenting the loss of a beloved son whose name is  Gift as shown in ‘Once Upon a Time’. The loss of Gift is heart-rending as the persona in ‘Did You Have to: says, ‘My heart is bleeding internally.’ In ‘What Should I Have Done’ the persona asks existential questions about the meaning of life and death.  He ends up turning to God for comfort.  The poems makes us realise that mortals cannot escape pain and sorrow as Homer puts it, ‘human beings are wretched things, and the gods…have woven sorrow into the very pattern of their lives’. Indeed we are puppets of fate. Gotora’s poems are autobiographical. They are based on his first-born child, Tatenda Gift, who was killed in a road traffic accident when he was just about to arrive at his school, Kutama College on 6 February 2011. (‘Notes on Contributors’)  The poems are an attempt to heal the emotional wounds of the poet/father.
From Where the Wind Blows therefore makes a serious engagement with pressing problems in the contemporary Zimbabwean society particularly the ‘decade of crisis’ from which we are emerging. This book is highly recommended for study in High Schools, Teachers’ Colleges and Universities.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

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