Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book reaffirms Zim's poetry status

Textures, poems by John Eppel and Togara Muzanenhamo, reviewed in the Daily News, October 18, 2015

Textures, published by Bulawayo-based amaBooks, is an innovative new poetry collection from two intriguing Zimbabwean poets: John Eppel and Togara Muzanenhamo.  
   Both poets are gurus of the technical form, formal master craftsmen of the art of poetry, here displaying a familiar selection from the different types of poem: sonnets, sestinas, dizains, villanelles, etc. often only vaguely remembered from high school study of poetry and removed from the more familiar free form. This reviewer is a novice poetry reviewer, a reader of poetry rather than a poet, so this appraisal will focus more on content than form.
   While other countries express fears that poetry is dying, Zimbabwe, by contrast, has been described as ‘a country of poets’. Many forms of poetry exist alongside one another from the traditional to the performing to the activist poet. In Textures amaBooks has brought together two wordsmiths who decorate a literary landscape of personal love and longing, though this can by no means be described as a love anthology.
   Each poet speaks in his own distinctive voice: John Eppel’s first poem is the nostalgic ‘Suburban Night in August’, which begins ‘The distant all-night drums, a dripping tap…’ and ends expectedly with that pain of love lost so painfully shared ‘……unclasp your hair, give it a tousle, set it free, smiling at him the way you smiled at me.’
   Togara Muzanenhamo dramatically introduces himself with the shocking ‘Gondershe’ ‘Having never fired a gun before, he held the rifle as though the weapon were a dying child about to say something only they could share...’ ending with the revelation of the 12 year old soldier cradling his gun and awaiting a certain death.
   While Eppel can, at first reading, seem light hearted, less serious, he can also stun his reader as he does with the simple brilliance of ‘Only Jacarandas’.  His beautiful sequence ‘The Hillside Dams’ walks us into his head and heart as he reveals his innermost thoughts description intertwined with emotion.
   Eppel’s love of the Matopos, the birds, the plants are only a part of the everyday existence that he uses to paint the landscape of his own experience for the reader. His ‘Four Villanelles’ brings with it a rawness of the pain of his own experience of longing and loss. Sometimes regretful and jaded, other times light hearted and droll, Eppel provides us with a rollercoaster of emotions familiar to us all. He speaks with the sad voice of a sage, his still beating heart exposed for us all to see.
   While Eppel’s words can be brimming with satire, wry humour, self-deprecation, gentle self-teasing, by contrast, the landscape the younger Togara Muzanenhemo paints appears more mystical, more spiritual, more idealistic, more ardent: an enticing window we can only hope to look into but perhaps not enter, lacking as we undoubtedly do, the vision of this brilliant poet.
   Muzanenhemo’s poems and prose are memorable explorations of many worlds, home and abroad, his own intimate experiences and those learned from the books and photographs of the world of history. 
   At times he opens a time capsule as in ‘The Texan’ where he beautifully describes the rescue of an aviator ‘From Weeks Field the sun hangs uncertain, the air sharpened by the curse of razored winds -….’ Again in the ‘Bluegrass Country’ he unearths the story of the jockey Isaac Murphy who won the Kentucky Derby three times. Forgotten for many years we hear the painful story of his exhumation as he is reburied away from his wife who he lay buried alongside for decades ‘….my head in your arms forgotten…..the music of unwanted distance grating loud with what can only be the memory of an intimate age’. But Muzanenhemo’s voice resonates most where he writes of his own feelings, when his own sensuality becomes enmeshed with the characters he brings to life, as in ‘Peruvian Sunsets’, ‘He pressed his weight harder against her skin. His sweet smoky breath boiling deep in the atoll of her collarbone….Kissed him. Lips, hard against his. Mouth, flat against his mouth’.  
   Muzanenhemo gently moves from romantic longing as in 'Desire', ’But… he also thought of how her face would melt at the sight of him…..’ to the epic disturbing ‘Game of Twelve Moons’ where ‘…His tears fell silently. Sparkled. Moonlight glistened off grass. This is how our deepest miseries are made to shine, he thought.’  He slowly weaves his magic through the pages of this eclectic collection moving from observation to personal reflection, poetry to prose but always with the artistry of the esoteric expertise that few ever possess and even fewer share through poems.
   Textures is a celebration of life and love in all forms: its beauty and its cruelty. The exquisite fabric woven by Togara Muzanenhamo and John Eppel in this collection will remain to be enjoyed over and over by all those fortunate enough to buy this book.

  The feisty independent amaBooks are to be congratulated, together with two of the most outstanding protagonists from this country of poets. 

Reviewed by Pat Brickhill

Textures, by John Eppel and Togara Muzanenhamo
ISBN: 978-0-7974-9498-5      amaBooks, Bulawayo, December 2014

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