Title: Starfish Blossoms
Author: Samantha Rumbidzai
Heart Publishing, 2022
Paper back: isbn:
I am hoping to refer to Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure’s
latest collection of poems, Starfish Blossoms, as a multi-tasking anthology.
It often occurs to a poet that one of her books may
carry pieces from the many different periods of her life, ably reflecting continuity
and change of the poet’s vision and methods over time. This is the essence of a multi-tasking
Through such a book, the poet makes definitive
statements on a wide range of themes and subjects under one cover. Later in
life, the poet herself may actually sit back, like any other reader, and re-read
her own book in search of the growth of her own philosophy of life and the
development of her craft.
As a result, Starfish
Blossoms is a festival of sorts. Many of these poems ring with the unmistakable
clarity of biographical information from the life of the poet herself; the ups
and downs of life, the poet’s discoveries, the poet’s mental experiments and the
poet’s acute personal memories. You could draw the poet's graph, underlining your favourite pieces and flipping over others for further reading.
I may want to call this book a diary anthology, too.
What is however clearer to me than my other observations
is; this collection is decidedly based on the firm foundations of the wisdom of
one’s female ancestors, both in mythical and real time. This book can be read as an archive of women's thoughts and sweet secrets from one generation to the other.
In these pieces, there is the hovering presence of the
persona’s paternal grandmother, vaChivi. She is the spirit of the lioness, hunting
relentlessly for game in order to feed her pack of cubs. VaChivi is more
vicious and runs much faster than her lazy and redundant male counterpart. Hunting
is not sport. It is a matter of life and death.
There is also the
maternal grandmother, aChihera, the woman of the Shava Eland totem. Charwe Nehanda
of the first Chimurenga is amongst the strong Chihera women of Zimbabwe. They
are renowned in Shona lore for their resilience and sometimes they are known to be strong headed, fighting harder
than their fathers or their husbands!
These two archetypes VaChivi and aChihera demonstrate
that this poet is coming to the world stage already armed with ready-made
stories of the brave women from her own community. She is not looking for new
heroes. She already has the blood of heroines running through her veins. She is only looking for a broader audience. For me
this is Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure’s greatest achievement.
In the very first poem the persona recalls her time
with her grandmother out in the countryside. It is a return to the stable
source and to roots that go deep.
Grandmother hides her monies everywhere; inside her crimpling
doek, under the reed mat and even inside her G-cup bra. Meanwhile the corn is
roasting by the fireside. When she asks her granddaughter to count her money,
the younger woman says, “but you can’t see the money even if I were to count it
And the elder answers: “These eyes can see what they
want to see.” Meaning I would not have asked you to count the money if you were not a trusted fellow. This poem is a story about the easy
camaraderie between women from across generations.
In the poem Hanyanani, the poet goes even deeper into the Shona
mythology. An old woman lives in the drought smitten district of Chivi in a
year when the famine is at its bitterest. There is danger that the many-many
orphans that she is keeping in her homestead may actually starve to death. VaChivi
goes up and down amongst her neighbours and she finds no food to cook. But the
orphans gather around her crying louder and louder...
VaChivi comes up with a plan which has become
legendary amongst the Shona people. She lights a fire as if everything is
alright and puts a pot full of water on the fire. There is still nothing to
cook and VaChivi picks pebbles from the bare ground and throws them into the
pot and she tells her grandchildren that she is now cooking something and she
will make soup out of it. She dishes out the ‘soup’ eventually. It is the mere
hope amongst these children that the hot water that they are taking in is real
soup. That saves their lives;
And there’s an old
woman from Chvi
who cooked stones
and drank the soup.
She did not
swallow the stones.
Did she not know
who swallow stones
do not die?
The Chivi woman’s story is about intense hope and
resolve. In the same area there is a contemporary tale about Hanyanani, a ghost
that goes ahead with its ghostliness without thinking about what people say
about her as a ghost. Sometimes Hanyanani terrorises wayfarers who walk the
paths in the middle of the night from beer drinking binges.
The daring drunkards even think s Hanyanani is a fresh new
prostitute from more urbane place like Masvingo, Harare and Bulawayo and on
being taken to her home, the men fall into deep sleep. When they wake up they
find that they are actually resting in the graveyard! In a more contemporary
period, Hanyanani is often reincarnated as Peggy, the other terror ghost of the other Zimbabwean towns of
Chiredzi and Triangle.
These are stories about woman triumphalism retold in poetic form. Vazhure
does not exactly rewrite these myths but her allusions to them through her poetry are powerful and
strategic. Vazhure uses local materials to talk about global issues.
The story of the girl, Fatima, in the title poem Starfish blossoms, is retold by a girl child narrator. Fatima works for other
people looking after their home and children. Fatima uses herbs in order to
elongate her sexual organs and improve the general fecundity of her body. She
is aiming at attracting one powerful suitor. The result is tragic but Fatima
does not collapse and cry. Her spirit of resistance remains in the mind of the
girl narrator who tells this story. The narrator wants to avenge Fatima and create a
freer version of her. Fatima, Just like the widely spread starfish flower in
blossom, has some overarching influence on other women including the
In one transcendental poem, My mother aloft a raging
fire, the persona sees mother way before mother is born. That recalls the Shona proverb chisionekwi
humhandara hwamai, it is impossible for anyone to meet their mother during her girlhood! But the persona is that rare seer who has powerful visions of her own
mother’s girlhood. She was there before and during her own mother because she is a fellow woman:
In my dreams of
mother, rare as true love
she looks nothing
like the end, but rather, the beginning
before I was born
– a vivacious stunning queen…
Afro glowing like
a golden halo…
In her youth,
which no son or daughter can ever see, mother was a terrible beauty. Strangely,
when mother tries to pass on the cooking stick, like a baton in athletics, she is
raising it by the wrong hand and the persona runs away from receiving the
cooking stick! Presumably, the daughter is running away from the seemingly
disabling traditional women’s duties. But is clear that in her wild and speedy flight, the daughter
persona runs with no baton, tripping and falling along “abysmal tracks” of athletics
and wakes up very tired and exhausted.
challenges us to see the womanly duties differently. You may choose to see
slavery in women’s domestic duties but beyond that, the caring duties of
motherhood have actually sustained generations.
have been a subject of heated debate. If you perform them you are damned, if
you don’t, you are damned too. The life of a mother appears to beg for a more careful
reading. There is pain in a mother’s life but there appears to be life at the
end of mother’s pains. We have come this far because of our mothers.
Down the pages, in
a more cryptic poem, the poet clarifies her position: “An abused mother is too
sore and too drained to nurture her children the way Mother Nature intended her
to.” As confirmed in Barbed crowns, suffering should not be the crown of thorns
that a woman should continue to wear. Women should rebel from oppression but
should not refuse the natural task of suckling and healing the whole nation.
poems are a useful addition to the rich tradition of Zimbabwean poetry. Her views on how women ought
to proceed from the concrete local foundations as they grow globally, are going to
provide space for discussion amongst scholars and theorists. Samantha Vazhure studied Law and Business Administration
at the University of Kent. She works in the UK as a regulatory consultant in financial
services. She has published various collections of poems and short stories in Shona
- Reviewed by Memory Chirere