The Standard

amhzimbabwe

28 THE STANDARD STYLE / ARTS / BOOKWORM

September14 to 20 2014

By Bookworm

I

HAVE known Memory Chirere for many

years – as a mentor, writer and colleague. He

is one of a few versatile local writers who

can maneuver between English and Shona

easily. When news filtered through that he had

a collection of Shona poetry coming, I eagerly

anticipated its release. Perhaps, it was because

his previous groundbreaking collection

of short-short stories Tudiki-diki tickled me

so much that I could not wait to see what he

had done with the Shona language this time.

His new book is oddly titled, Bhuku Risina

Basa nekuti rakanyorwa masikati (The useless

book because it was written in the afternoon).

The unusual title for the book was

inspired by the fact that the poems were written

in between chores. For a man who is a full

time university teacher, Chirere, had to sneak

in poetry lines during breaks. This is a characteristic

of the new Zimbabwean writer.

In fact, the temperament of the creative

writer in contemporary Zimbabwe evolves

out of a preoccupation with concrete, practical

matters, and a tendency to rush and hurry,

thus demanding that its literature be terse

and to the point. And, since most writers gaining

prominence today work other jobs and do

not depend on writing alone, they only write

when they have the time and space and this

could be one major reason why for Chirere the

gestation period was long.

The book is a journey that spans over two

decades of life experiences. In an interview

with Beavan Tapureta, Chirere explained that

the book “… is a way of putting together so

many things that I have said to myself and

others for the past 20 years so that they do not

get lost.”

While many young writers now feel that there

is more honour in writing in English than

their mother tongue, Chirere is one of a handful

of writers celebrating the beauty of their

language and the beauty of the philosophy

their own language. In an almost show-off like

manner, there is a way in which Chirere’s exuberant

dance in the rhythm of his language is

infectious. Reading Bhuku Risina Basa is like

a dance in the rain.

Instead of merely using the Shona language

as a cultural relic, he uses the language

to interrogate many issues. In their breadth

of perspective and depth of scrutiny, the 70

The useless

book with

useful lessons

poems in the book strike a balance between

private sentiments and public themes to a

point where some of them render individual

feelings as public sentiments.

Chirere skillfully bridges the gap between

the living poem and its written counterpart. If

you know the man, as you flip from one page

to the other, it is easy to imagine him reading

it. Some of these poems were recited to live audiences

as part of real events. That probably

largely accounts for the easy flowing rhythm

to have an immediate appeal to the reader.

The only other Shona poet who gives me goose

bumps when I read his work is the inimitable

Chirikure Chirikure. His collection, Hakurarwi,

is a particular favourite.

Perhaps due to colonial influences and

limitations Shona literature has always been

seen to be didactic and moralistic. But with

Chirere, he tears away the old script and

writes a new kind of poetry that has humour

and message infused in a clever way. Good poems

should be able to lift the reader out of the

ordinary and give glimpses of a more illuminating

reality. This is where the contradiction

in Chirere comes out. Though he insists that

his book is useless, it is a combo of delicious

poetry. He does not give too much or too little,

but just enough. Chirere thinks deeply about

both his message and method.

If Bhuku Risina Basa is the future of

Shona poetry, then Zimbabwe is truly blessed.

Reading a lot of tepid poetry floated around by

“wanna be writers” we face the danger of failing

to develop or consolidate a clear tradition

of written Shona poetry because it appears

that the current crop of Shona poets does not

read one another, or those who came before.

Chirere uses his mastery of English in the

book to his benefit. Most of his poetry clearly

shows that his influence by English. He has a

tendency to use the mode of writing of English

using regular lines and rhyming schemes,

which is not found in traditional Shona poetry.

Traditional poetry doesn’t use that kind

of meter or beat but depends on repetition,

which is the basic unit of Shona poetry. Shona

poetry typically uses a lot of repetition and a

lot of imagery.

The subjects of the book are as varied and

rich, private and public. Because the book

grew with the writer, it is a journey full of

nostalgia and retrospect and forward looking.

If there is anything Chirere has always ably

done, it is to make his readers laugh out loud

at themselves and the world around them. He

is a genius of humour.

The preface to Bhuku Risina Basa was

written by another Shona writer and Chirere’s

publisher at Bhabhu Books, Ignatius

Mabasa. It is not easy to translate but must be

best read in the language it is written in. In

short, he says, “nhetembo (dzaChirere) dzinofamba

nemakumbo dzichibva pamakadzirongedza,

dzichienda kunogara pamaifunga

kuti hapagarwe kana kusvikwa nenhetembo.”

[the poems defy the stereotypes to rest in places

people thought were unreachable]

Chirere is a genius and Bhuku Risina

Basa is a manifestation. Don’t be fooled by the

title, it’s a book worth rekindling your love affair

with Shona.

Feedback: bhukuworm@gmail.com

LILIAN MASITERA

masiteral@yahoo.com 0772 924 796

Usave Saskam,

verenga udzore pfungwa

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