IN her debut literary offering, Gather the Children, rising poet, Batsirai Chigama captures through lines of poetry a country in motion, gathering the frustrations and pains of its people. Much of their despondency is attributed go former President Robert Mugabe’s misrule, patriarchal violence or nature itself.
By Beniah Munengwa
Title: Gather the Children
Author: Batsirai Chigama
Publisher: Ntombekhaya Poetry (2018)
Many of the poems are dissected by lines of sadness, which sometimes go beyond the political. Poems in an Envelope tells the story of a wife, who feels her husband loves his ex-lover more than he does her, while Mother’s Laughing Eyes reflects how women often share similar sentiments about men being mysterious and disastrous.
“We cannot nurse that sadness and think a couple of bronco bottles will fix this, but we should take charge,” Chigama told NewsDay Life & Style
“We must accept and acknowledge that what has visited us over the last decade is not normal, that we have been traumatised and that we must collectively take ourselves to a place of healing.”
She contends that the government will not do that for the citizens. In her poetry, she focuses on how nations like Zimbabwe have shown no remorse in driving their citizens away in search of a better life elsewhere, “in lands unwelcoming and hostile”. In Dear Dad, the persona reduces the country figure to a home set-up, so that the oppressor becomes her father, one who she can face and question.
In the piece, We Must Bury Mother, she captures the psychological impact of not being able to bury one’s loved one. The poem takes the reader into the mind of a brother who is traumatised because he is not able to bury his mother as he is marooned out of the country as an economic refugee.
Chinua Achebe (1987) notes: “The primary failure of the government is the failure of rulers to re-establish with inner links with the poor and dispossessed of this country with the bruised heart that throbs painfully at the core of the nation’s being.” This is the same premise upon which Chigama stands.
Chigama believes there has to be “a genuine effort from the leadership to gradually make home habitable. To try and bring the abnormal-turned-normal to everyday normal,” as a way of luring back Zimbabweans that have settled in the Diaspora.
The anthology continues to be an alliteration of oppression, stagnation and paralysis of the Zimbabwean society. This is done with the deployment of well-constructed free verse, some of which are as if they are being performed.
Her poetry is delivered in a simple and comprehensible manner punctuated by sarcasm and the need for revision of how people view themselves. In One Million Men March, it’s as simple as, “I saw them walking home today or empty-handed or just as they were or when they came or to march.”
What I found interesting about the anthology is how emotions, experiences and their causes are engendered. The male organ and its erection and fatherhood recur as metaphors for oppressive agency, while the feminine image of women, withered breast, fondled bodies and motherhood are an embodiment of the oppressed and symbol of suffering
Breath Slayer captures the impact of the domination of the father figure in a home setup, especially to the mother and the children. A child’s comprehension of the father is, “My father, he cut mother’s tongue or I don’t remember when.” In Daughters of Fire, we are introduced to a world in which women have defied being silenced.
However, silence is not restricted to the family set up alone. In Museum of the Death of Tongues, like in Chenjerai Hove’s What Are You Doing and To a Dictator (2003), the silencing of critical voices by the black government in independent Zimbabwe is bemoaned by Chigama.
She says audiences she performs for and readers of the anthology have come to the conclusion that “the anthology is too real and sad, capturing what most people can relate to and that it’s overweighed by an anti-Mugabe bias”.
It shows that the collective “we” that emerges in most of her poems, including Zimbabwe, where she universalises human suffering successfully encompasses the all.
The poem Democracy is accompanied by an illustration of an elderly man using a bone as a walking stick for support. The persona says, “Remember son/He’s senile, ancient one/Who uses human bones/For a walking stick”. With a face that resembles Mugabe, this piece has probably been overtaken by time. While this was valid for 37 years, the face of oppression has however changed. Her illustrations differ with Tafataona Mahoso’s in Footprints about the Bantustan (1989) in that the latter’s are broader and escape the trap of losing context over time.
That said, some of Chigama’s poetry, in part has got strands of journalistic writing where emotions and experiences are captured in words as they come. This is unlike our poets of yesteryear, whose poetry was a result of deep contemplation of realities and foresights.
I was fascinated by the idea of exploring sadness as a mood in literature when you realise that the face of oppression is ambiguous and undefined, the poet begins to perpetuate sadness in the reader as the intended oppressor might not find the time to read.
Death by Fire literally differs from other poems in that it questions nature. It captures the case of a young woman who goes through menstrual pain and so she wants to know from her dead motherwhat she has done to deserve such excruciating pain.
Life transforms dreams making them in achievable as captured in Life’s Collusions. The lines, “Intoxicated or I was building castles and airplanes from/maize stalks or before long I found myself splattered or on stony ground, dusty, bloodied or with no shoulder to lean on” capture the trenches in which the people of Zimbabwe have been put into by the system despite of their resilience.
Gather the Children is an example of a self-published project, with design, words, people, social media and multilateral forms of marketing put in place to create a marveling beauty and a timely ointment for the declining art.
Chigama’s anthology is her debut solo entry into the world of print. It is a collection of poetry that charts the painful quest for betterment, away from the constant thought of injustices committed.
Beniah Munengwa writes in his own capacity. He can be contacted by email on firstname.lastname@example.org