Ipikai Poetry Journal
The Story of Zimbabwe in Poetry
ISSUE 5 | OCTOBER 2023www.ipikai.org
The Ipikai Poetry Journal
is a project of the
Zimbabwe Poets Society.
BEHIND THE SCENES
A Note About Issue 5
This issue of Ipikai was guest edited by Memory Chirere. He is an award-winning Zimbabwean writer and a lecturer of Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Zimbabwe.
The issue was produced in collaboration with a new project called Disruptive Dialogues, part of the Humanities Cultural Programme based at the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities at Oxford University. The project seeks to harness the energies of Marechera’s poetry, prose, and ideas to facilitate new creative responses to his work.
FROM THE ISSUE EDITOR
For this special issue of Ipikai, I received many-many wonderful poems. However, and this is crucial; I kept on recalling that it was going to be a special issue for the great late Zimbabwean writer, Dambudzo Marechera. The poems and the few vignettes selected for this issue had to be relevant one way or the other. Dambudzo Marechera was the fulcrum to this issue. Period.
What sort of work is included
I started to look for good work that does something within the broad Dambudzo Marechera context. I selected work that reflected, for example, the ways in which Marechera wrote or the subjects that Marechera often wrote about.
I looked for work that dwelt on the thematic and stylistic movements that Marechera championed. I was on the lookout for work that recreated the air around Marechera’s place in Zimbabwe and world literature. I was also looking for work that wrote back to Marecherean literature in any way. This means I was even looking for work that visibly challenged the Marechera tradition itself. I was not looking for work that simply recreated Marechera. In fact, you cannot have another Marechera.
Born in 1952 in Rusape in the eastern part of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, Dambudzo Marechera enrolled at the University of Rhodesia in 1972 to study Literature with the then Department of English. However, he got expelled in 1973 after a huge anti-racism protest on campus, further sparking more protests and arrests of students who were to become prominent in the politics and literature of Zimbabwe.
Marechera went into exile in England and got enrolled at Oxford University where he was also expelled for ‘disorder’ in 1975. Moving from the home of one friend after the other in the UK, Marechera conceived and wrote The House of Hunger. He was at that point of destitution and decided to recapture the turmoil of the recent past.
The House of Hunger was first published by Heinemann in London in 1978, then as a collection of ten short stories in English. It won the prestigious Guardian Fiction prize the following year.
Throughout Marechera’s novella, we observe a nameless narrator who turns up to be a very vulnerable individual. At home he is a victim of the violence of the father, mother, brother and others.
He is also morally assaulted by the township experiences, for example his observation with other children of the man who rapes his wife openly and in broad daylight.
The narrator’s response to this violent society is to write. He tries to respond creatively and his first short story is about the prostitute with the drip. The prostitute is, for the author, the symbol of Rhodesia.
In this book, Marechera adopts a style that is modernist and not linear. The story shifts constantly and in a seemingly irregular manner between home, school, home and bar. If you manage those sudden shifts, you will be able to enjoy and understand the story. This becomes characteristic of Marechera’s latter works; Black Sunlight, Mindblast and others.
Marechera’s lines contain abstract and active imagery like, ‘Peter threatened to crunch the sky into nothing’ or ‘There was not an oasis of thought which we did not lick dry’ or ‘The grey matter of my brains was on fire with loathing for her’ and others.
An overview of Issue 5
We are not surprised that in death, as in his life, Marechera’s influence continues to grow in and outside his native Zimbabwe. So much has been written about Marechera in many books and dissertations abroad.
In this issue of Ipikai, “Broken Teeth” by Beverley Ann Abrahams is transcendental, capturing how Marechera often went across time zones. The future could even be visited! While at the dentist, the Ann Abrahams narrator travels at will across time and space.
In one of his poems, Andy Kahari says, “You see, possibilities are grains of sand on beaches.” It means possibilities in literature and all life may not be measureable and one may not be able to count them too. Andy Kahari writes about the ghosts in the life of Marechera the man, including the ghostly life of Marechera’s father who was a morgue attendant. But as you experience through that amazing poem, Marechera lived through it all.
Starting off with the powerful line by Marechera “Who knows what women are?” Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure talks about the unique experience of childbirth and the thoughts that it provokes in a woman. You always hope that the child that you are bringing into the world is an item of pride and not shame:
“Faced with the possibility of kupona
whilst pushing out the product of a war crime,
Chimbwido makes a covenant with God:
‘Let me live to raise this boy to be
better than his father, and if I fail
you may take me”
In “Whiskey Take Me Now” by Serbastian Sibanda, a man praises, blames and mocks alchohol for all his misdemeanours! It is a piece that tears you apart, piece by piece. Sibanda’s images are abstract and stunning as in “The Physics of untamed misery,” or “The Chemistry of Childhood.”
Tanaka Chidora’s piece about a man who never met Dambudzo Marechera in real life claiming that he had drinks with Marechera is a piece about the possibility of the existence of doppelgangers, which Marechera himself wrote about.
Poet Pfumo talks about words being the mortar that puts together everything in human life. That reminds me of the moment when the narrator in House of Hunger goes to school, and experiences a crisis in regards to language and reality. He finds an interest in English. He is haunted by his vernacular, Shona. English and Shona fight in his mind and this result into a paralysis that drives him to stammering. This is a pointer to an identity crisis common with colonized people who wonder whether they belong to their own roots or to those of their colonial masters.
At school, the nameless narrator finally experiences a mental breakdown. This is symbolic of his failure to relate to his social environment, the content of the educational system of the time and to his inner self.
I am hoping that you will all enjoy this issue of Ipikai.
HARARE, OCTOBER 2023
For this issue, we invited Zimbabwean poets to submit their poems in English, Shona, and Ndebele, on the theme of ‘possibilities’ as inspired by the work of Dambudzo Marechera.
Poets were asked to respond to this prompt in any way that appealed to them. Ideas we put forward included considering some of Marechera’s ideas, or thinking about a specific work by Marechera, or a line or two of his writing, or exploring some of the quotations, interviews, and readings that are part of a the Disruptive Dialogues project.
Click on a title to read the poem, or on a name to see all the poems by that poet…