22 February 2017

Zimbabwe: Cry for Innovative Shona Poetry Continues


The year is 1994. New Shona poetry anthologies such as "Tipeiwo Dariro" (Ed Chirikure Chirikure, College Press), "Ngatisimukei", and a revised edition of "Mutakunanzva Wenhetembo" (BookLove Publishers) are published. The year marks a certain 'fresh opening of the airwaves' for the new voices that had been lying dormant for so long, and had only been finding occasional relief in local literary magazines such as Tsotso and the Writers Scroll (published by BWAZ).Before 1994, Tsotso Magazine, through the generous literary agency of T O Mcloughlin, F R Mhonyera, M Mahiri, S Nondo and H Lewis, had groomed and published Shona, English and Ndebele poetry (and short stories) in its about ten issues since its birth in 1989. The issues were small, coming in about 30-50 pages. Interestingly, some of these new poets made it into the major anthologies, such as "Tipeiwo Dariro" which carried the stamp of the then College Press editor Chirikure Chirikure. Chirikure, as a published poet, had brought an important element of innovativeness to Shona poetry with his unmatched satire. Innovation naturally became his yardstick when he scouted for new talent that would make up the anthology "Tipeiwo Dariro".

According to Wikipedia, experimental literature refers to written work -- usually fiction or poetry -- that emphasises innovation, most especially in technique.

Thus all the 1994-published Shona poetry anthologies largely introduced a new breed of poets and some of these books became set-books in schools. Perhaps this is the season some of the poets became aware of the pleasures and value of experimenting with whatever genre they are passionate about.

In this vein, "Tipeiwo Dariro" somehow exposed the editor Chirikure Chirikure's secret discovery, that is -- the hidden treasure of innovativeness/experimentation in the new Shona poets of Zimbabwe.

The anthology featured poets like Memory Chirere, Ignitius T Mabasa, Chiedza Musengezi and others; and this group (and their fellows in other anthologies) exhibited such great promise to take poetry in indigenous language to another level and indeed, they still shine today in individual anthologies.

For instance, one of these poets, Memory Chirere, has to date twice collected his poems and published them in small and larger books.

In 2009, he published a monograph "Munotitadzisa Kunamata" (Arts Initiates), thus breaking the silence after "Tipeiwo Dariro"; and sadly, Tsotso Magazine had shut down in 2001. The monograph, carrying only eleven poems, sparked with the fire of experimentation which Shona poetry readers hungered for.

Arts Initiates founder and editor Wonder Guchu could have sensed the fresh power throbbing in the heart of poetry by poets such as Memory Chirere and others (names) that he felt it would be injustice to Zimbabwean readers to brush it away. His Arts Initiates' monographs, like what the College Press anthology "Tipeiwo Dariro" and Tsotso Magazine had very well done, endorsed the continuing cry for innovation especially in poetry written in indigenous languages. Guchu switched the cry louder by being aware of the talent the new innovators carried and choosing to publish them.

Two years ago Bookshelf wrote about Chirere's extraordinary book titling in which article the monograph "Munotitadzisa Kunamata" was highlighted and a few lines from Guchu's editorial foreword were quoted: "Kazhinji nhetembo dzaChirere dzinobatabata zvinorema nokudzama kuburikidza namazwi mashomanana ayo anoita seasina basa." (Italics mine).

Still focusing on Chirere, Arts Initiates sort of handed him the keys to the special factories of the imagination that would later gather his power into another much bigger anthology titled "Bhuku Risina Basa Nokuti Rakanyorwa Masikati" (2014, Bhabhu Books, Harare).

All the eleven poems were included in "Bhuku Risina Basa", some with their titles and content edited. It seemed Chirere had been initiated or invigorated by Arts Initiates to start producing his own anthologies!

The year 2014 when "Bhuku Risina Basa" was published also saw group anthologies coming on board mainly from budding Shona poets who hustled for spaces of their own, anthologies such as "Dzinonyandura" (published by 263 Nhetembo) and "Zviri Mugapu" (Forteworx) which were a confirmation of a new generation daring to take confident dives into the great river of our Shona language.

Nonetheless, both collections, "Dzinonyandura" and "Zviri Mugapu" featuring a large number of budding voices excellent in their own imaginativeness, lingered with only countable poets audacious enough to step into the tundra of innovativeness.

These innovative few, particularly in "Dzinonyandura", could be the reason why Chirere himself has an endorsing brief statement published in the anthology and his endorsement explains how he thinks Shona poetry in the post-independence era should sound.

Three major other anthologies, "Tsuro Ndisunge" (Forteworx), "Hodzeko YeNduri" (Secondary Books Press) and "Gwatakwata Renhetembo" (Secondary Books Press), which again featured this new generation, followed in 2015 and 2016.

Yet the editors of these anthologies appear to have slackly considered the issue of experimentation. The editors did a good job, as this column has said in its reviews of some of the books, but some of the poets did not 'excavate' deeper to the core of innovation.

New anthologies by this new generation of Shona poets show their great resourcefulness with language yet they are still stuck with unnecessary ornamentation while discarding experimentation. The editors and poets are there, listening, time alone, time will tell.

Meanwhile, the results of this year's NAMA Awards in the Literary Arts Category are interesting in that two of the winners are named Farai and Farayi. The spelling difference does not matter, the word simply means "be happy" and we are happy for the winning authors and all the winners in various categories at the 2017 Namas held on Saturday, February 18 in Harare.

Bookshelf would like to congratulate Farayi Mungoshi who scooped the Outstanding First Creative Work award for his short story collection "Everywhere Behind The Wall" (2016, Mungoshi Press), Farai Nyandoro who won the Outstanding Children's Book award for his "The Unwelcome Visitor" (Jomo Kenyatta Foundation) and Benjamin Sibanda who won the Outstanding Fiction award for his book "Whose Land Is It Anyway". Congratulations to poet/novelist/journalist Tinashe Muchuri for taking the NAMA gong for being Outstanding Arts Journalist in Print Media category.


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