Reading amaBooks’ latest offering, ‘Textures’

The following article was published in NewsDay

26 May 2015

In an online picture, poets John Eppel and Togara Muzanenhamo are standing very close together.

Togara’s face has a satisfied smile as he looks straight into the camera. Eppel appears to be contemplating, almost saying under his breath: “We are finally there, young Togara. I told you.” That grey beard and spectacles give Eppel a grandfatherly look.

Eppel is a big name in Zimbabwean writing. He is a serious satirist most of the times and you need to climb up to his high sense of humour to fully appreciate him. You cannot go through Eppel without a re-read. He is master of irony.

If we meet today I want to ask him: “What are all those birds doing in your latest poems?” In our country there are many birds that sing, good and bad. Some stand for death and some good fortune.

That brings me to Eppel’s poem, Cape Turtle Dove which I enjoy immensely because I have been very close to doves all my life. The poem brings me back to the veldt with a deep sense of nostalgia.

I am lost in my childhood when a dove was as commonplace as maize seed and the bushes themselves.

There is also Grey Heron in which the bird is first described elaborately like you find characters being described at the point of entry in a detective novel. This particular heron is like “some poets” lonely and calm, but sometimes suddenly swift and aggressive. Are these birds not like the people that we know?

This time Eppel puts aside the political subject and goes bird watching! In order to come back rejuvenated? But are these birds not Eppel’s usual political animals now resurrected as birds? But Eppel is not aggressive now when working with birds.

He is at his most soulful pitch. He is awestruck by the presence of various birds. He wishes he were a bird, too, far away from the madding crowd.

Then I come to Golden Orb Spider. This is my favourite poem in this book because we start with the spider and end up elsewhere! The spider at work becomes the genius; a Mozart, a Dambudzo Marechera, a Thomas Hardy etc.

But the spider traps, mangles and kills its victims too, with the help of its web!

In A Surburban Night in August there is something of TS Eliot’s J Alfred Prufrock! I mean, the image of the wandering and sleep walking male loner, soaking it all in.

I think Looking for You is a quest for love lost. I also think the same about Solvitur Ambulando where the loner is walking in the moonlight, choosing to solve the problem not by talking, but by walking.

The sonnet sequence based on the area around the Bulawayo Dams is a must-read. But once more, there are no people here except for the aloes, the rocks and the insects.

The persona takes in the world all by himself like John the Baptist the hermit. I must also confess that I like some of Eppel’s word combinations in Textures.

Muzanenhamo’s poems are dense. That is an honest warning! The constant allusions to characters in faraway lands and in broad human history, is bound to challenge the uninitiated. He comes across as a very well read and travelled poet.

This poet is serious and unrelenting. And you feel that these poems were written and rewritten because they have deep links with humanity in various climes. You search for your own spot until you find it in his universe of feelings and thoughts. The other fortunate part is that Muzanenhamo’s style is like the slow bold stroke of a brush. He cascades. He is long drawn.

He goes for sounds that words make. He goes for the colour that certain word combinations make. Reading Muzanenhamo is like listening to a cat purring!

In Gondershe, the story of the boy with a gun by the sea comes to one very gradually. The boy by the sea has to be seen and felt and he is here to feel and see the sea one last time.

Will he shoot himself, you keep wondering. Will he go back home? Or, is the boy not your shadow? The sea is a powerful force in Muzanenhamo’s poems. The sea has a calming effect. The sea makes a useful backdrop to the poem Desire where the persona “felt good being back on the water”.

This takes me to the prose poem Peruvian Sunsets where a woman is at one special moment of making love to both a shell-shocked man and the old city, right there in a public park at sunset.

We glimpse them just a few moments before they are consumed in their gradual but hungry passions.

I also enjoyed what happens to one Uzziah Chikambi in the other prose poem. A man with a ready gun walks towards both a ghost and his very own past. The edges of reality are so blunt that you realise that we often dream regardless of our wakefulness.
My favourite poem by Muzanenhamo is Zvita because it terrifies me beyond explanation. I am in the habit of constantly thinking about what happens to the body when it dies or after it is buried or when it is abandoned out there, unburied. Forbidden territory!

How does it help you to think about a body’s condition after burial? That is why human bodies have to be buried. Zvita is not a poem for the fainthearted. The body is a very fragile and temporary thing.

Textures is a collection with poems that speak about what we see and feel as we glimpse a world that is passing by.

You come away with the feeling that the experience of the senses cannot be substituted with any other thing.

This is a book about precious feelings.

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