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Home » Poetry » Issue 5 » Call for Submissions | Possibilities – Dambudzo Marechera Special Issue

Call for Submissions | Possibilities – Dambudzo Marechera Special Issue

To many Zimbabwean poets, Dambudzo Marechera needs no introduction. Born in Vengere township, Rusape, in 1952, he became an international literary celebrity after the success of his book The House of Hunger (1978), written after his expulsion from the University of Oxford in 1976.

Upon his return to Harare in 1982, Marechera lived on the streets in what he dubbed ‘Hararean mazes’ and was often spotted sitting on park benches with his typewriter composing what came to be his third book, Mindblast (1984).

Ipikai Poetry Journal Call for Submissions | Possibilities - Dambudzo Marechera Special Issue

During his time in Harare, Marechera also opened a short-lived literary consultancy, where he gave emerging writers feedback and advice. Throughout all of this, right up until his death in 1987, Marechera wrote almost entirely in English, not in Shona – his first language – despite acknowledging that ‘[f]or a Black writer the [English] language is very racist’. For Marechera, the English language could be subverted from within, a struggle with language that, he said, was an ‘impossible, exciting, voluptuous blackening image that commits me totally to writing’.

A new project called Disruptive Dialogues, part of the Humanities Cultural Programme based at the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, seeks to harness the energies of Marechera’s poetry, prose, and ideas to facilitate new creative responses to his work.

The project, a collaboration between the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre, celebrates Marechera’s writing but also highlights the aspects of his work that deal with uncomfortable topics about race and power. Interactive maps that chart his presence in both Oxford and Harare have been developed, and the project will culminate in an exhibition in Oxford in July/August.

For this issue, we invite Zimbabwean poets to submit their poems in English, Shona, and Ndebele, on the theme of ‘possibilities’.

You might want to respond to this prompt by considering some of Marechera’s ideas, or by thinking about a specific work by Marechera that you know, or a line or two of his writing, or by exploring some of the quotations, interviews, and readings that you can find on the interactive maps. We have also provided below some quotations from Marechera’s work that you might find stimulating.

We look forward to reading your poetry!

Excerpts from Marechera’s writing

‘That night all the lights I had known flashed through my mind. The pain was the sound of slivers of glass being methodically crushed in a steel vice by a fiend whose face was very like that of my old carpentry master who is now in a madhouse. The skin-lightened dancer – she was burning, burning the madness out of me. The room had taken over my mind. My hunger had become the room. There was a thick darkness where I was going. It was a prison. It was the womb. It was blood clinging closely like a swamp in the grass-matted lowlands of my life.’ (The House of Hunger.)

‘We are a continent of refugees; one day here, another day there; so much fodder for the boundary makers. There is no sense of home any more, no feeling of being at one with any specific portion of the earth.’ (The Black Insider.)

‘If you look through a camera lens down at a busy street full of pedestrians and shoppers and trucks and robberies and coronations and dustmen and in a calculated moment press the shutter freezing all that activity on to a photographic plate and you then develop it and look at the picture – what do you call that? Do you say you have the past in your hands? An inkling of the future, perhaps? Or the present? At what instant does time or timelessness divide itself into past, present and future? What of the state of the universe at precisely the moment the shutter fell?’ (The Black Insider.)

‘The wind driving in from the sea brought into the room a faint fragrance of things long dead and gone. I parted the curtains and looked out. It was raining a little. The wind had whipped up the waves into a tumultuous frenzy of leap and spray. Though it was warm in the room, I felt a sudden chill trickling through the marrow of my bones. There was nothing out there or inside me which I could see was the wire between the life inside me and the actual geography of living. Even then, by life I meant the discontent and the erased feelings which presented themselves only in logical situations. […] This was the tearing cloth of exile, and of the sense of being in a world in which one yearned to leap out of one’s mind. But the inexorable equation had long been set and by it one could discover that feeling of inhuman balance and inhuman space which holds our humanity. The syntax of the nausea is the ballast of the submarine. To throw the levers wide open and let the damnation sink with one to the grim bottom of the sea would leave pearls where our eyes once were. So much emotion subtracted from the wind.’ (The Black Insider.)

Were Hell other people
And not myself I could willingly
Diagnose the scratchings at the other side
Of the door.
The telephone rings: from the other end of the line
My name and voice introduce themselves: Poet.
Finger-fat delusions wash themselves
in the dish of dollars
And proceed to eat liberation’s sadza and stew.
Bullet-proof brains
Take cast iron pains
To maintain their ignorance;
Their wide bellies and Castro beards
Are the matter of many a snide joke.
What can violet flowers not do
Their perfume Baptist to Thrones of Bayonets?
I came out of the Harare barber shop, my hair white
And bright like icecream melting.
A single finger traces on the sand
The simple finger traces on the sand
The simple design of death
Whose centre is everywhere
Whose circumference is nowhere.

(From ‘Throne of Bayonets’, in Mindblast.)

How to Submit Your Work

Submission instructions are given on this page.

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