Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore
Most people feel that poetry is cumbersome and too contrived to unpack, especially so in this rat race where everything, even time, is commercialised and equated to material gain.
There is so much tussle to outdo each other that to the uninitiated poetic expression that doesn’t seem to immediately transform lives, or fall into the category of protest is said to lack imagination.
The musical allure of poetry, however, remains appealing, regardless of one’s state of mind if experiences and meanings are shared through adept use of poetic tropes and arrangement of words. Words are powerful tornadoes that strike the heart in different ways, evoking equally different emotions, yet poetically soothing where pain initially lay base.
On the tip of a seasoned pen all experiences are high heaven, all nightmares are sweet dreams, and expectation is aspirational, for no situation is permanent. There is so much about poetry that makes one feel like hanging on to heaven, when hell on the other hand seems to be appealingly engaging.
There is that particular feeling that refuses to go or be described; there are no words to it, yet it persists. You do not know how to describe it, it is soothing, it is hurting; hurting, soothing, hurting, hurting, soothing, soothing.
At one point, like a lump it rises from deep within your heart to your throat, threatening to block your trachea. It simply refuses to go, sometimes it is melted by tears, torrents of them, but at other times, often-times, it is cemented by your tears. But at some other times the indescribable feeling enthuses your heart, encompasses your soul and revitalises your body. You do not want to let it go. You want to hang on to it like a long lost lover.
It is during such times gentle reader that poetry becomes that elusive therapy you so desperately need. Not just poetry, mind you, but good poetry; the kind of poetry that Tafataona Mahoso writes.
Mahoso is one of the most prominent poetic voices to have emerged from the Zimbabwean landscape, with his therapeutic, candid, incisive, evocative and transcendental poetry, which builds no kraals for sacred cows.
Life is complex, so is love or death, particularly in a dichotomous world where you are either with us or against us.
An incisive interlocutor and listener, Mahoso strikes me as a philosopher. He has a way of appealing to your inner man even though you might not share the same views with him.
When I reviewed his republished poetry anthology “Footprints about the Bantustan” (1989), which had become conspicuous with its invisibility on the Bookstore’s shelves, and is now available through Samwasika Heritage Products (SHP), in December 2017, I indicated that the poet, who seemed to have taken a knock, intimated that he would be releasing a poetry scorcher tentatively titled: “Rupise: Poetry of Love, Separation and Reunion, 1977-2017”, early 2018.
True to his word the philosopher poet did release “Rupise”, in 2018, not early though, but in December. I had the privilege of reading both the draft and final copies of the long awaited anthology, marking Mahoso’s return to the literary landscape after almost three decades in the “wilderness”
A master of ambiguity, understatement and metaphor, Mahoso’s forte remains his depth of expression and knowledge of the subject matter, and the audience’s standpoint. He may have been at his best 30 years or more ago as is evident in “Footprints About the Bantustan” (1989), but in “Rupise” (2018), the philosopher-poet raises the bar a notch higher.
Divided into five sections, Unlit Lanterns, Separation, Rupise: Where, When Does Love Stay, Lifefolds and Gleanings “Rupise” captures the universal poetic catharsis of love through its highs and lows, as the poet retraces his footprints to the Rhodesian Bantustan of his youth depicted in “Footprints About the Bantustans”, after years in the Diaspora, and juxtaposes the colonial trauma that he endured with the liberated Zimbabwe of his dreams.
Through adept use of imagery and symbolism Mahoso contrasts the landscapes of his experiences to give meaning to the nature of human expectation. In the opening poem “Before you appeared in my Life”, the poet captures the reciprocal nature of love, the fluidity of life and the essence of womanhood.
He writes: “Before you appeared in my life/I feared my own imagination/Like a child surprised by its own giant shadow/At sunrise and sunset./ Before you appeared I feared my own desire,/A naughty boy trying to hide from a run-away fire he started.
The philosopher-poet is all too aware that love faces the same natural armoury that man faces in his travails, but as man learns to tame nature, lovers can also tame the viscous energies that weigh love down. In this vein the politics of love vehemently refuses to be subdued through the politics of displacement, oppression and plunder.
Using rich images and metaphors drawn from nature, Mahoso tells the tale of a sensitive young man, who suffers triple separation, from his mother, girlfriend/s and the motherland, as he embarks on a Diasporan journey to better himself. So much happens to him physically, and metaphysically as he stays there for close to twenty years, studying.
Mahoso skilfully reflects on the young man’s physical, spiritual, political and psychological complexities through symbolic elements. Devoid of motherly love, a homely home and a sod of soil he could call his own, the Diasporan, seeks new mothers, girlfriends and nature’s gift of land; its water, produce and all that lies on and underneath it, for him to be able to counteract forces of distraction, and endure waiting for a change of landscape; literally and metaphorically.
Because land remains central to the African’s tiff with the erstwhile coloniser that the philosopher-poet is up in arms with in “Footprints About the Bantustan”, Mahoso’s “Rupise” evokes, as he intimates at The Bookstore, “the idiom of the African land reclamation revolution”, a subject that Mashingaidze Gomo articulates in “A Fine Madness” (2010).
“Rupise” is Mahoso’s tribute to the love/romance epitomised in the Hot Springs of Chimanimani, his home area, which lost their lustre through colonisation, as embodied in his mother’s beautiful cousin, Mainini Rupise, who enabled them as boys “to go swimming naked with the girls in river pools without anyone ever being sexually molested or raped.”
Mahoso debunks the notion, usually propagated by donor sponsored women’s equality movements, that African tradition is responsible for the oppression of women. Mainini Rupise, like Tinyarei in Gomo’s “A Fine Madness” exudes love, beauty, tolerance and patience, a quality that is downplayed in colonial and neo-colonial literature meant to paint the African as a quintessence of evil.
Violence, sexual abuse and misogyny, in Mahoso’s view, are products of neo-colonial and postcolonial patriarchy, and should not be blamed on culture.
Though the male voice is predominant in “Rupise” it does not override the significance of women, which is purveyed, not only through the male voice itself, but through a counteracting and complementary female voice.
Rupise, the woman, and Rupise the metaphor interact and merge into a national discourse that yearns for the robbed, plundered, bastardised and destroyed African institutions that Aime Cesaire weeps for in “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land” (1947).
The poet advocates the return to the native land, where Rupise, and not the colonially detached Hot Springs, is celebrated through strong metaphors of heat and water. To give impetus to the power of Rupise, the metaphor, one has to read the title poem “Footprints About the Bantustan” in contrast with “Rupise Two” or “Rupise Three”, or juxtaposing “There was No Room” in “Footprints About the Bantustan” and “Rupise Two” and “Rupise Three”.
Of the relationship between the poet and women on the one hand, and the poet and water on the other hand, Mahoso has this to say:
“The poet’s relationship to women and water is clarified and made more intimate, with “Rupise Two” equating water with the woman’s eyes, which eyes have absorbed the essential history of the African; while in “Rupise Three” both man and woman have become ‘water bodies’ naturally attracted to geographical water bodies which Marina Warner correctly associated with the grace and powers of the sun and moon.”
It is interesting to note that as the young man returns from the Diaspora, he seeks to reunite with his mother, lover and the land of his birth, and attempts to supress the triple attachment to the foreign land that nurtured and fed him, his foreign girlfriends and foreign “mother”, much to the chagrin of the spirit of his deceased father.
The persona’s late father visits him in a dream and admonishes him to integrate his birthplace experiences with the best of what he encountered overseas, thus the triad of love, separation and reunion is played out on two continents.
In the section “Gleanings”, also in “Footprints About the Bantustan” (1989), Mahoso highlights the nature of love in the enclaves of deprivation; what it means to love and be loved when dreams are sutured and hope wears so many shades that it becomes tasking to find one’s way out of the quagmire of existence.
There is much hope in love, so much expectation, because love conquers all, as the poet is all too aware; yet the neo-colonial world with its capitalist tendencies derived from the Empire, does not allow such expressions of love “where leisure is what will fit between moonlighting shifts or what the “nice boss”/ will give as a gift against your future . . . where paying attention to you is/what is left over from television commercials,” (“Love in the Shadows of power and possession”).
This rationale of love as a doubled-edged sword; both soothing and hurting, when read against oppressive machinations, which separate loved ones and expect more than they could give, also obtains in the poems “To a Young Woman”, “Hunger Strands”, “Homage to an early Love” and “Love in the Shadows of power and possession”).
Indeed, Mahoso’s evocative, therapeutic and thought provoking “Rupise: Poetry of Love, Separation and Reunion: 1977-2017, published in 2018 and available at the National Gallery, of Zimbabwe, is a must read anthology.