Thursday, February 28, 2013

Charles Mungoshi's poetry: a reflection

picture: Charles Mungoshi with the late Marechera in the 1980s

Charles Mungoshi, one of Zimbabwe's leading writers, is better known as a prize-winning prose writer for his novels and short-story anthologies. His winning profile is impressive - Honourable Mention, Noma Award (1980, 1984 and 1990); Noma Award, joint winner (1992), Commonwealth Writers' Prize: Africa Region (1988 and 1997).
Charles Mungoshi is, however, less known as a poet, not least because he has published relatively little poetry. In an interview with the German scholar, Flora Veit-Wild (1988: pp. 79-88), Mungoshi admits that writing poetry is, for him, only a 'sideline, a mere finger exercise' in his continuing endeavour to condense language to a spare state of fine precision.

Scholarship on Mungoshi characteristically only mentions The Milkman Doesn't Only Deliver Milk, (Harare: 1981; Harare: 1998) in passing. This single volume of his poems is the least celebrated of all his books. Moreover, Mungoshi has published little other poetry beyond a few poems in magazines and anthologies such as Zimunya and Kadhani's And Now the Poets Speak, (Gweru: 1981).

However, Mungoshi's poetry calls for attention as it is closely related to the essence and philosophy of his more celebrated prose. When properly read, his poetry may be seen as the quintessence of his art - capturing subtly and briefly what he achieves in more elaborate ways in his prose. Using a style that is condensed, routinely detached and sometimes deceptively simple, Mungoshi's poetry paints a multi-layered world of meaning. Almost always, the Mungoshi persona provides a private and contemplative voice, but one that is deeply involved in the movement and multiplicity of the larger world. With the aid of free verse and short, almost hesitant, cascading lines there is here a sense of a persona who sees without being seen and talks without rushing to suggest.

In "Poet" the persona/poet is walking "on the edge of now/like a pole-axed tightrope walker" towards his calling: writing. The mere act of writing poetry (and any writing) is perceived as negotiating a balance between present and past, life and death and the craftsman's task is one of social and personal responsibility. As in the Shona tradition (to which Mungoshi belongs) the artist is a seer of both good and bad; famines or bumper harvests, and the responsibility that accompanies such clairvoyance can be both exciting and unnerving.

But Mungoshi can show nostalgia for the long-past, personal, and rewarding world of rural childhood and innocence. As in "Before the Sun", the persona's forté in the world is to chop "big logs", roast green mealies by a bush fire and when the sun "comes up in the east like some late-comer to a feast", it is seen as the boy's terrestrial playmate. Here man and nature commune and the boy's task, like that of the biblical Adam, is to name the world around him.

If Mungoshi can show nostalgia for an age, and a personal history, which is over: he is never sentimental. In slightly more than a dozen lines, his poems acknowledge the difficulties of "Growing Up." The lines typically fall illusively down the page, scoring the effect of a riddle or a cleverly worded idiom where the meaning always lies just ahead of the reader.

It takes many years
to grow a beard

and many years
to shave it off.

still many more of both
to just leave it alone.

Alternatively, Mungoshi can write elaborate narrative poetry which borders on fiction or folk-tale. "Location miracle" is a 'story' about a disabled girl who gradually rises beyond her physical disadvantages and succeeds - to marry a wholly able-bodied young man. Each hindrance on her way is a challenge to rise higher. "Location miracle" rides on the shoulders of subtle understatement, wry, high-density-suburb humour and common-sense. This story-turned-poem has a fireside aura to it and links easily with other similar poems such as "Little Rich Boy", "Lazy Day", "The Same Lazy Day", "After the Rain". Mungoshi's subtle ability to fracture and condense the short story and tell it effortlessly in verse, though rare in Zimbabwean poetry in English, is common in the Shona working song such as the rapoko, (millet) threshing song that helps to make 'work' 'play' and 'play' 'work'.

Another particular form of Mungoshi's poetry in English is the short, condensed poem. Usually it is based on a seemingly nonsensical object, feeling or observation. This brevity, intensity and relatedness to an object gives the poem the multi-dimensional feel of the far-eastern Haiku or Zen philosophy. In the interview with Flora Veit-Wild (cited above) Mungoshi volunteers his admiration for Matsuo Basho, the Japanese master of Haiku. Loosely defined, Haiku form springs from observing a specific object or dwelling on a specific mood or happening. However, Mungoshi's very short poems also remind us of the later poems of the English poet Thomas Hardy that began with a single object - a lamp post, an old table in an old house, etc. but provoke reflection on the meaning and value of life.

In "Non-Stop Through Enkeldoorn" the persona (obviously in a fast-moving car at night) has a sudden glimpse of unknown people's "silent faces" and "wordless mouths", stepping back into the dark as the car drives past. This brief experience provokes feelings akin to seeing/reading momentary words of a page in a stranger's biography. This refers to the brevity of human life and the frightening anonymity of people one cannot and will not ever relate to. Even more acutely perceived is the poem "In the Wilderness":

The torrid silence of the October sun.
Miles upon miles and miles of burnt-out plains.

Suddenly you realize
you are talking loudly to your

This poem is about the moment of walking across a wide plain after the burning of grass and the resultant emptiness. Here, as in most of Mungoshi's very short poems, he captures the spirit of loneliness and the capacity of the perceived object or environment to dictate a specific mood or thought. Other poems in this mould are "How do you do it", "In Flight" and "The Trees".

It is interesting to note that Mungoshi's poetry has been generally perceived as rarely making socio-political statements as in the poems of some of his contemporaries such as Chenjerai Hove, Musa Zimunya, Tafataona Mahoso, and others. This is only an interpretation.

Mungoshi's politics may be implicit rather than explicit, but he does not evade matters political. He rather employs the multi-dimensional idiom that offers space for various interpretations. In "Neighbours", for example Mungoshi's persona warns the neighbour against neglecting a wife's conjugal rights because there are many people around - the milkman included - who might offer her that service at any time. That poem is clearly 'domestic' but its undertones are political. Equally volatile, are the seemingly comical antics of the characters in "After the Rain" but the pointers to universal needs such as space, food, warmth, peace, accommodation, freedom, etc. in the poem are essential to any community.

Another aspect of Mungoshi's poetry is the anguished way he writes of "Home" and alienation in general. The poem "Home" - as with Lucifer in the novel Waiting For The Rain - talks about what it means and feels to live in colonially defined space from which you eventually run away, returning only to die "after having lived your life elsewhere". And yet at another level Mungoshi accepts that that space 'home' is a place where recent history and one's people are situated. As in "If you don't Stay Bitter and Angry for too Long" Mungoshi invites you to return into the home within yourself - that unchanging part of humanity, the conscience.
By Memory Chirere  

++ taken from:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Invite to a Zimbabwe Writers Association (ZWA) meeting, 2 March 2013

(picture: Aaron Chiundura Moyo and Musaemura Zimunya enjoying lunch and a chat at the previous ZWA meeting 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 March 2, 2013 from 12:00 to 4:30pm.

This time our theme is NEW VOICES. Elias Machemedze from Shamva and the author of the O level set text 'Sarawoga' is going to talk about the challenges and opportunities for young rural based authors. Performing poets Tinashe Muchuri and Cynthia Marangwanda aka Flowchild are going to talk about writing for performance and will spice up their presentations with performances. Finally, Monica Cheru Mupambawashe the author of 'Chivi Sunsets,' is going to report on her recent trip to Uganda on a Femrite programme.

Since this is a new year, members need to update their membership fees.

A. Ordinary Membership US$10,00. Ordinary membership shall be reserved for individuals who qualify on account of being bona fide authors of Zimbabwe, new or established. Individuals shall willingly join even if writer organisations to which they are already members may wish to or have joined ZWA on Affiliate status. Each ordinary member shall have one vote at any general meeting of ZWA.

B. Affiliate Membership US$20,00 Affiliate membership shall be reserved for willing and recognized Zimbabwean writer organizations and/or associations whose objectives serve the interests and welfare of writers of Zimbabwe whose application for membership is approved by the Board. This shall apply to organizations which seek to participate in the work of ZWA on behalf of their members. Each affiliated member shall have one vote at any general meeting of ZWA.

C. Honorary Membership pay in form of donations. Honorarary membership shall be reserved for members of the cultural community who have a proven interest in the promotion of Zimabwean Literature and the arts in general as well as being supportive of the Organization’s goals and who may add value to it through their links with the funding or business community. Normally they are invited to join by the Board. Honorary members shall not be entitled to vote.

D. Associate Membership US$20, 00. Associate membership shall be reserved for willing Zimbabwean and non Zimbabwean writer or arts organizations, non Zimbabwean citizens or non resident writers who have an interest in literature and the arts and who wish to participate in the work of ZWA at the level of mutual partnership. Associate members shall not be entitled to vote.
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.
inserted by Tinashe Muchuri, ZWA Secretary
0733 843 455/

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Recipes from a Shona world

‘Kubika Machikichori’ by members of the Zimbabwe Women Writers, compiled by Colette Mutandadura and edited by Keresia Chateuka, published 2007, Harare, isbn: 978-0-7974-3432-5
In Africa one’s mother or grandmother is one’s historian and librarian. These are very powerful people but if you do not look carefully, you may not see it. Most of the folktales that we remember today were handed down to us by our grandmothers. They remember and recreate them for us. They are everything; authors, singers, seers and dramatists. Most of our family history is usually passed down to us by our mothers.  A woman keeps the history of her people and that of the family that she marries into. In a world where wives tend to outlive their husbands, the woman becomes an asset. I am saying this because of ‘Kubika Machikichori', a recipe book by the seemingly ordinary women  writers of Goromonzi. These women remembered to document what we eat and how to prepare it.

‘Kubika Machikichori' Shona for preparing delicious meals, carries traditional recipes by women from around Goromonzi area about 50 km east of Harare, Zimbabwe. This book was compiled by founding member of Zimbabwe Women Writers (ZWW), novelist Colette Mutangadura and edited by Keresia Chateuka. Here you find simple recipes that are easy to follow. You are reminded of so many things that you throw away when you should be eating them.

One of Esnath Mutembedza’s recipes is about how to make nhopi yemanhanga, pumpkin mash. We take nhopi for granted but we may not be able to prepare it because gogo who used to do it for us is long gone! The ingredients:a pumpkin, peanut butter, mealie meal and water. Method:  Wash the pumkin. Cut it into slices. Peel off the outer pumpkin skin with a knife. Scrap off all the pumpkin seeds with a knife. Cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces. Place them in a pot and heat gradually. Add a liittle water. Boil on the fire until the pumkin turns to pulp. Make sure the pulp doesn’t burn by stiring it constantly. Add somewater and a cup of mealie meal. Stir and beat them together with a cooking stick. Add peanut butter and continue to beat them together. Add some water and mix until the reaches the thickness of your choice. Serve and enjoy with your family.

 One of Colette Mutangadura’s recipes is about preparing Dondori remazhanje, a side dish from the mazhanje fruit. We see mazhanje every summer but there is much more we could do with them! The ingredients: two dishes of mazhanje fruit, a cupful of mealie meal,two table spoons of honey. Method: clean the fruit (mazhanje). Crush them and take away the seed from the pulp. Gradually mix the pulp with the honey so that it doesn’t become thick. Add water and boil into a thin porridge. Leave it to settle and cool for five minutes before serving. This can be taken as a dessert.

Plaxede Kaseke writes amazingly about how to make coffee out of ground okra seed. Sarudzai Ndamba writes about how to make porridge with flour from the baobab fruit. She also demonstrates how to make tough bread called chikodzamvana. Angeline Marange writes about how to make jam from guava fruit.

Through the sixty recipes written in Shona, these women have helped preserve our oral heritage.  The fig fruit could be dried in honey and come in as dessert! Or, do you still remember the wonderful buns baked between the wide leaves of the mutukutu plant? Most of us no longer know how to extract oil from nuts or pumpkin seed. We do not know how to prepare the offals and head of a goat for the pot. We no longer know how to apply peanut but munyevhe. We walk away with raised heads, proud of our ignorance! This book is a call to return to the source.

 Published in several anthologies mostly by Zimbabwe Women Writers,  the compiler Collette Choto Mutangadura was born on 19 March 1945 in Hwedza and has a lot of work accredited to her name. She is the author of two novels, Rinonyenga Rinhwarara (1983) and Rutendo: The Chief’s Granddaughter (2009). The editor Keresia Chateuka is a veteran of the book industry who understands writing, proofreading, translation editing and sales. She is a long time field officer within ZWW itself.

To date, ZWW itself has published over fifteen books in various subjects from creative writing, scholarly books and this recipe book. Some of their books have been incorporated into the local Zimbabwe school syllabus while others are reference texts in institutes of higher learning across the globe.

For sometime now they have been winning national literary prizes, sometimes ahead of some very established authors and established literary houses. These include Zimbabwe Book Publishers Awards (ZBPA) and the National Arts and Merit Awards (NAMA).

Some of the founding women are prominent Zimbabwean writers like Barbara Nkala, Tawona Mtshiya, Chiedza Msengezi, Collette Mutangadura and Virginia Phiri. Even women from abroad, then resident in Zimbabwe, helped a lot. These are writers like the Ghanaian, Ama Ata Aidoo, the German scholar, Flora Veit-Wild and lawyer, Mary Tandon.
+Reviewed by Memory Chirere





Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dambudzo Marechera's 'dissertation' on language

The past six months belonged to the late Dambudzo Marechera. First there was the publication of a book on his life and work which was compiled and edited by Dobrota Pucherova and Julie Cairnie. It is called  ‘Moving Spirit: The Legacy of Dambudzo Marechera in The 21st Century’. I have a chapter in there about the influence of Marechera on both the young writers and students of Marechera literature in Zimbabwe. (I may not be able to review this book as a result).

Now there is another new book on Marechera, entitled ‘Reading Marechera’. It was compiled and edited by Grant Hamilton of the Department of English, Chinese University of Hong Kong and published by James Currey in the UK. I have another chapter in there about Marechera’s one and only piece in the Shona language. (I may not be able to review this book as a result).

In these two books, people go to and fro the Marechera oeuvre, agreeing and disagreeing; what did he mean by this and that? Why did he write this? How did he come up with that? If he were around today, what would he have said about contemporary Zimbabwe?

But the last chapter in ‘Reading Marechera’ by one Eddie Tay of the Chinese University of Hong Kong is most intriguing. Tay declares that he is ‘suspicious of a literary establishment (including himself!) that seeks to contain Marechera within academic criticism.’ We limit Marechera by continuing to discuss him in seemingly clever ways, Tay argues!

That brings me to the passage taken from Marechera's ‘The Black Insider.’ A colleague of mine calls it ‘Marechera’s dissertation on Language.’ In that passage Marechera  appears to have been aware of the fact that he would not escape being subject for discussion in life and death. He understood both the power and mystery of man through language. Below here is Marechera’s ‘dissertation.’ Enjoy:

 Language is like water. You can drink it. You can swim in it. You can drown in it. You can wear a snorkel in it. You can flow to the sea in it. You can evaporate and become invisible with it. You can remain standing in a bucket for hours.

The Japanese invented a way of torturing people with drops of water.The Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique also used water to torture people. The dead friend Owen, who painted the mural on my wall, used to dream about putting LSD into South Africa’s drinking water. It seems inconceivable to think of humans who have no language. They may have invented gelignite but they cannot do without water. Some take it neat from rivers and wells. Some have it clinically treated and reservoired. Others drink nothing but beer and Bloody Marys and wine but this too is a way of taking your water.

The way you take your water is supposed to say a lot about you. It is supposed to reflect your history, your culture, your breeding, etc. It is supposed to show the extent to which you and your nation have developed or degenerated. The word ‘primitive’ is applied to all those who take their alphabet neat from rivers, sewers and natural scenery – sometimes this may be described as the romantic imagination. The height of sophistication is actually to channel your water through a system of pipes right into your very own lavatory where you shake the hand of a machine and your shit and filthy manners disappear in a roaring of water. Being water you can spread diseases like bilharzias and thought. Thought is more fatal than bilharzia. And if you want to write a book you cannot think unless your thoughts are contagious. ‘Do you still think and dream in your first language?’ someone asked me in London. Words are worlds massively shrunk:

"In yonder raindrop should its heart disclose,
Behold therein a hundred seas displayed."

When thought becomes wisdom, the scholar can say:

"I came like water, and like wind I go."

And the believer can only sing:

"Celestial sweetness unalloy’d
Who eat thee hunger still;
Who drink of thee still feel a void
Which only thou canst fill."

The languages of Europe (except Basque, Hungarian, Finnish, Turkish) are descended from one parent language which was spoken about 2500 to 2000 BC. This indo-European group of languages – in their modern form has been carried (by colonization, trade, conquest) to the far corners of the earth. Thus the Indo-European river has quite neatly overflowed its banks like the flood in the Bible has flooded Africa, Asia, America and all the islands. In this case there does not seem to have been any Noah about who built an ark to save even just two words of all the languages and speech, which were drowned.

Literacy today is just the beginning of the story. Words are the waters which power the hydro-electricity of nations. Words are the chemicals that H2O human intercourse. Words are the rain of votes which made the harvest possible. Words are the thunderstorm when a nation is divided. Words are the water in a shattering glass when friends break into argument. Words are the acronym of a nuclear test site. Every single minute the world is deluged by boulders of words crushing down upon us over the cliff of the TV, the telephone, the telex, the post, the satellite, the radio, the advertisement, the billposter, the traffic sign, graffiti, etc. Everywhere you go, some shit word will collide with you on the wrong side of the road. You can’t even hide in yourself because your thoughts think of themselves in the words you have been taught to read and write.

Even if you flee home and country, sanity and feeling, the priest and mourners, if any, will be muttering words over your coffin; the people you leave behind will be imagining you in their minds with words and signs. And there will be no silence in the cemetery because always there are burials and more burials of people asphyxiated by words. No wonder it is said:

"In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God.
And the Word was God,
All things were made by him;
And without him was not any thing made
That was made."

No wonder too it was said:

"Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into dust descend;
Dust to dust, and under dust, to lie
Sans wine, sans song, sans singer, and-
sans end!"

Suddenly the other side of the world is only an alphabet away. Existence itself becomes a description, our lives a mere pattern in the massive universal web of words. Fictions become more documentary than actual documentaries. The only certain thing about these world descriptions is the damage they do, the devastation they bring to the minds of men and children. You do not become a man by studying the species but his language. The winds of change have cooled our porridge and now we can take up our spoons and eat it. Go, good countrymen, have yourselves a ball...

*** from 'The Black Insider'