BETWEEN THE LINES:Phillip Chidavaenzi
TAFATAONA Mahoso does not ordinarily strike one as a hopeless romantic. But give him a pen and paper and allow the poet in him to surface, you will get such a heartfelt outpouring from deep within, with poetry that is both simple and sophisticated such that ordinary, everyday objects take on deeper meanings.
This is what one gets in the former Zimbabwe Media Commission executive chairman’s publication, Rupise: Poetry of Love, Separation and Reunion (1977-2017).
Published in 2017, the collection is Mahoso’s second literary offering after Footprints About the Bantustan (1989), described by Mahoso himself as “the poetry of a public intellectual who occasionally concerns himself with love, lovers and personal matters” (ppvi).
There is an awareness of how love and friendship enable the individual to survive, thrive and excel.
Published by Samwasika Heritage Poetry, the book is a collection of 56 poems that, according to Mahoso’s preface, “records and celebrates the power of a woman’s presence in a man’s life” (ppv). The woman figure is an enduring image in African literature, recurrently used as a symbol of earth.
Although in a literal sense Rupise simply means “hot spring” or “geyser”, beyond the surface — as demonstrated through the poems collected here — hot spring is a metaphor for a woman.
It speaks to her unique capacity to attract, to love and to help a young boy through the ritual pathways into manhood.
Rupise, therefore, ceases to be just a spring of water and, at a deeper level, of life, to become that “smoking hot woman” who provokes a man into spirals of intoxicating romance.
In Mahoso’s worldview, informed by African philosophy, the earth ceases to be just a physical space to become a living organism that embeds the creator’s grace and generosity.
It is symbolic of a woman (mother) and enables one to bask “in the wonderful revelation that the woman I love is a real place of depth; not just because as infants we emerge from her like wet mushrooms out of the earth; but because she commands the presence, power and depth on which true civilisation may thrive…” beyond the narrow, superficial Western portrayals of “woman as a mere face, skin and shape” sold under capitalism.
The collection is divided into five broad categories — Unlit Lanterns, Separation, Rupise: Where, When Does Love Stay? Lifefolds and Gleanings.
The opening poem, Before You Appeared in my Life, celebrates the sense of awareness that a woman brings to a young man. Beyond love and passion, the poem acknowledges the real value and strength of a woman who is not just about a pretty face and deep curves, but has a sharp mind and “feisty intellect” (pp3), something that for years has escaped society’s interpretation of women.
In Unlit Lanterns, the persona addresses a woman he is waiting for, and one gets the sense here that a woman is a life-giving force that, once she appears, will renew the man’s youth.
Here, Mahoso uses the biblical allusion of The Ten Virgins (one of the stories about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ) — not so much for its spiritual meaning and significance, but to demonstrate the man’s uncertainty concerning the return of his woman.
There is a fascinating interplay of biblical allusions and traditional African ethos in the poem.
Such biblical allusions run through the collection like an endless string of beads, giving the poems a greater dimension beyond their literal meanings.
Such allusions, which are familiar to many readers, enable them to have a deeper understanding of the poems because of the common and everyday references, which are also universal regardless of the user’s religious background.
Several of the poems collected here, including Fire and Ice and Spirit Level, show Mahoso as an intellectual poet given his choice of diction and allusions. In Fire and Ice, for instance, libido is described as “a monumental iceberg” that broke off, rebelling “against its Northern glacier ancestor” (pp5). On the other hand, scientific images of “blizzards”, “satellites”, “mercury”, “icecles” and “crystal” are scattered throughout the poem, Spirit Level.
In Lighting the Lanterns, the first stanza opens with a bride decrying the groom’s lack of discernment that the woman in his life is much more than the body he can see with his physical eyes.
She has far much more to offer him: “The bridegroom paid no attention/To my intellectual lantern/Full to the brim/…It was my body that excited him.” (pp8).
Experience has a tendency to enrich the scope of one’s capacity to express what they have gone through.
We see this in the poem There Was No Room, in which the persona recounts his experience of innocent, carefree love away from home.
The Love that Went Unclaimed for Thirty Years is the longing for lost love whose tide, marriage, family and career have failed to stem. Here is a love that ended abruptly, and the lack of closure makes the persona continually yearn for what was lost, and what could have been.
The soul tie remains unbroken, thus the haunting memories continue despite having moved on, in a sense.
What keeps this love so strong through the passage of time is its accompanying secrecy: “Dark secrets we could not articulate to ourselves/Or squeal and ventilate to mother or brother or spouse” (pp15).
Mahoso’s skill as a writer is more pronounced in the piece, First Supper 1977. While describing a dinner encounter with a loved one, the poet skilfully selects words to put across his message in a subtle way, while at the same time leaving it open-ended, perhaps to allow for various interpretations.
He wraps up the poem: “There is no ice left to break; what remains is hot soup and dark roast; but you and I prefer more time, more care, to bite, to chew, to consider more serious beef with spice so hot we are forced to retreat, go slow, or eat cake first, since there is no ice left to break.” (pp37).
The reader is left to muse: is this just about dinner and food? Or is it about passion and sex?
The collection could also be about the women that have given the poet sleepless nights, captured between the stanzas of poems including My Love, My Beauty, Muchadziya “the soft-spoken daughter of Sathiya” whose libido remains “a low-hormone-low-calorie brew” (pp39) and Tonhorai.
Mahoso has such a command of creative language uncommon among intellectuals more at home in dissecting theory and formulae.
He writes in a sweet cadence that lures the reader to continue and enjoy the beauty of language even beyond the meaning of the poems.
Mahoso predominantly uses blank verse in his poetry, doing away with the more traditional forms of poetry anchored on rhyme. Here one can argue there is rhythm derived from the meanings of the poems rather than the arrangements of the words.