Zimbabwean poetry: oracles of the povo

Since 2000, publishers in Zimbabwe have turned to the short story as an alternative economic genre to publish.

In the last seven years, eight multi-authored short story anthologies have been published between ama’Books, College Press, Mambo Press and Weaver Press. Anthologists Irene Staunton and Jane Morris are already preparing two more. Poetry has been largely ignored for its non-commercial value. Really?

The first and perhaps only significant poetry anthology by various poets in English to be published in post-independence Zimbabwe remains Musaemura Zimunya and Mudereri Khadani’s And Now the Poets Speak published in 1982. Two nhetembo compilations by Zimbabwe Publishing House (ZPH) and Priority Projects are a reprieve in this poetic drought.

Without the imaginative and prophetic understanding of poetry and the poet supply any culture is in danger of becoming a dull nationalist façade. If no new poets arise to create afresh the associations by which our society can understand itself, we’re in danger of carving ourselves in the past. In verse, the distinction between true or untrue or truth and propaganda is of paramount importance.

While young poets can sigh, ‘It’s the publishers damn it!’ The publishers simply turn and say, but these wannabe poets do not read. They lack the understanding and discipline of poetry. The best education for any writer is reading other writers.

Our nation may have versifiers with smooth rhymes as witnessed by the blossoming of the populist House of Hunger Poetry Slam and yet may have no real poetry at all. Here is poetry trying to express itself but consumed in too much anger. But anger begets anger. Poetry is emotion controlled. Poetry is strict language management. Poetry is message and not forced counter political rhetoric. Political or social change always requires an interior swerve away from anger towards a self-disciplined autonomy of spirit.

Poetry doesn’t necessarily require politics by which I mean sloganeering or party politics. Politics is about shouting other people down and getting your own way. Politics is not about making sense with the world. Poetry is about making sense with the world around you. It has a conscience. Good poetry says politics is all round us. It’s sugar queues, it’s power outages, it’s puddles of sewage in Mbare or Mkoba. What a poet cannot do is fight politicians because you die.

The premise has been that if one has suffered then the statement of one’s suffering must be poetry. Now that is so very wrong. Even Dambudzo Marechera, the darling of many young poets across the country, knew that the extent to which one has suffered through political oppression is not necessarily the substance of a poem. One has to use certain techniques, certain concentrated, even visionary apprehensions of reality in order to convince the world that suffering is unique and meaningful.

What the surge of poetic outburst presents us is Zimbabwe’s psychology. It is the temperature of a disillusioned generation boiling inside – a thirst for happier conditions, it is the voice of a generation crying out loud, ‘we’re suffering alright, but things will be okay.’ This poetry is the tempest tearing apart the cloth of old politics that shadow our sense of nationhood.

Post published in: Arts

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