3 July 2017

Zimbabwe: Poetry Gems in 'Death of the Commissar'

book review

When they do, they literally sweep you away from your feet and before you know it, you will be transformed to a new place.

This is exactly what Tichaona Zindoga, whom many people know as the Political Editor of the biggest daily newspaper in Zimbabwe, The Herald, recently did following the publication of his poetry anthology, "Death of the Commissar".

Wait a moment, did I say "Death of the Commissar"? Yes, that indeed is the title of Zindoga's book of poems and if you want to satisfy your curiosity, you have to visit his Facebook page where he has been promoting the anthology since the book hit the streets last week.

I was privileged to hear from the poet himself that a launch has been set for some time next week at a venue in Harare. I am reliably informed that the who-is-who from all spheres of the political, academic, economic, cultural, religious and, of course, journalistic spheres will be accorded some guest seats at the event.

While I know Zindoga as a fiery and talented writer from his political columns and articles in The Herald, the man is sure also gifted with some wizardry as a wordsmith when it comes to poetry.

His magic with words is dazzling, while his command of both the language as well as his subject matter is superb. Forgive me for the superlatives, but he deserves them, because in "Death of the Commissar" he did a splendid job.

With this anthology, Zindoga has managed to plug a big yawning gap that has been existing on the local literary scene especially with regards to hard-hitting, powerful and thought-provoking poetry.

While I wouldn't dispute fellow poet and journalist Stanley Mushava that Zindoga's writing smacks of the late great English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy, I think it will also be necessary to say that with this anthology, Zindoga has revived and even refined the style of the likes of Musaemura Zimunya, Stanley Nyamfukudza and Chenjerai Hove - three Zimbabwean writers and poets whose works were very much steeped in the local flavour of everything called home, from their love for their close affinity for both the country, nation, land, soil, nature and the environment.

This is what one writer described as "re-imagined rural-urban landscapes and Zimbabwean cultural identities", although Zindoga taps from very much the contemporary set-ups to buttress his poems.

Ah, and of course, the late famous welsh poet R. S. Thomas especially in the poems "Rain", "Wind" "God", "The Owl Asks", "Cockroaches", "Christmas Butter" and "The Farting Bird".

The poem "Christmas Butter" takes the reader back to the Christmas holiday of yesteryear during which parents, relatives, friends and relatives in the rural areas would wait with anticipation to receive groceries and clothes from their kith and kin who were working and staying in town, when they visit during the festive season.

"Perhaps late at night/ The son might arrive from the city,/ With Christmas goodies/ Comprising deformed loaves of bread,/ Broken bottles of cooking oil;/ White rice and jam and melted butter." (page 74-5)

Here, Zindoga is in some instances redolent of some of Musaemura Zimunya's poems which were published in the anthologies "Thought Tracks" (1982) and "Country Dawns and City Lights" (1985) I think if my memory serves me well with poems like "Kisimusi" and "Ifulaimachina".

That Zindoga is a patriot closer to multi-award-winning Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o is indisputable as this is also one subject that imbues his poetry in "Death of the Commissar".

In the book, he laments at how "the old machinery of brutality/ Was not dismantled" but "kept for its efficient utility" in a land where there are, among other things, "extrajudicial killings/ Reminiscent of the old system/ When none had a feeling,/ For children and women,/ And their anguished crying ('A brutal Force, page 37).

"Native Genius", "State of Anger", "What Bravery", "Run Child Run", "Human Rights", "Man-Made Plagues", "This Land" and "Rise Up" are very close to people's bread and butter issues and other important concerns such as human rights, freedom, peace, in fact, the civil liberties or lack of them as we all know them.

Although the poems in this collection are well written, with a rhythm, alliteration, rhyme, syntax and metaphor that are appealing both to the reader's ears, eyes and mind, I particularly found the poems "The Demons", "Madman of the Park", "The Big Shoes", "The Giant", "The Prophetess" and "The Lonely Man" appealing in their own special way.

Xenophobia also has no kind space in this book of poems, most of which Zindoga says he wrote and edited thoroughly while he was in South Africa.

Watch out for the book launch or grab yourself a copy of the book directly from the poet himself and you won't regret buying it. It is a worthwhile read. Kudos also go to his compatriots Francis Chidavaenzi and Stanley Mushava for designing the cover and typesetting the eye-catching book.

Zindoga is a holder of a Journalism Diploma which he obtained from the Christian College of Southern Africa (Harare). He is currently studying for a BA Honours in Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa as well as pursuing part-time studies in Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe.

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