In search of Zimbabwean Poetry

poetry.jpegIn high school, I hated poetry, especially the English poetry that more often than not did not relate to my experiences, set in the ghostly marshes of a distant utopia. I crammed it to pass exams, but while an undergraduate English student at Midlands State University, my then-lecturer of Zimbabwean literature, Josephine Muganiwa, made me yearn to discover more about our liter

I grew up hearing and reading poems from a very young age, first as sounds, repeated, musical, rhythmically, satisfying in themselves, and the power of concrete, sensuously compelling images. The Bhundu Boys, Oliver Mtukudzi, Thomas Mapfumo, James Chimombe, etc. But soon, poetry became more than music and images; it was also revelation, information, a rite of passage. I thought it could offer clues, intimations, keys to questions that haunted our existence, questions I could not even frame yet.

There’s been this incredible poetry written in this country that has never been really promoted but condemned by capitalism. In an article on the Poetry International Website, Irene Staunton, rightly explains:

Zimbabwe is a country of poets. Zimbabweans write poetry, speak it and sing it in Shona, Ndebele, Tonga, Shangaan and other minority languages; we have poetry in English, praise, performance, oratorical, and declamatory poetry. Perhaps as many as one in six people writes poetry or takes pleasure from trying to do so. And yet, this observation is not qualified by the production output of our local publishers.

Zimbabwe has been a synonym for post-colonial corruption, economic mismanagement, endemic diseases and persecution. As a result the country descended into crony capitalism while the majority of the population was deprived of the elementary tools for survival.

But our poetry has been fighting these pessimistic and fatalist attitudes. They all seem to say: Dictatorships are human creations, not natural occurrences. They can be defeated and replaced by decent, humane governments. The poets express the ‘bitter anger’ and ‘deep trauma’ felt in the country, depending on whether one was a victim, a witness, a perpetrator or one of the millions who have stoically repressed their emotion.

Our poetry has often been incredibly sad or angry, bitter or ironic. But a recurrent theme in much of the poetry is the indestructibility of poetry – the poem as a vehicle for personal immortality. The poems become songs of resistance radiating an indestructible human spirit.

Post published in: Arts

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