State of Poetry in Zimbabwe

Poetry | By Linda Gabriel, Poet / Activist | 28 December 2016

When I got onto the poetry scene around 2005, times were very exciting, there was some revolution going on so we were more like comrades doing our poetry for a cause, we wanted our voices to be heard and we were being rebellious about the system. There were a lot of things we were unhappy with.

I started off more as a protest poet, being macho, down with this and up with that. Then we had poets like Comrade Fatso, Biko, we had a number of poets with some coming from Bulawayo. There was something exciting every month to look forward to, poets were bringing in fresh work, new poems  dope stuff.

I left the country early 2008 and got exposed to the South African arts industry where poetry was vast, from love poems, protest poems, encountering women who were writing about being a black curvaceous woman, to things to do with motherhood to things where you address things you are going through as a step daughter, step son, half sister. South Africa exposed me to a whole lot of possibilities with what could be done with poetry, poetry with theatre, poetry with music, poetry with dance, poetry with different art forms and the power of collaborations. For instance I performed with seven powerful poets in South Africa, we collaborated on a show that we called Body of Words, it ran for three nights and in 2010 people had to pay R100 to come to the show. It was seven of us and our work was interweaved and so we each had a space to fill in and we are talking about women like Philippa Yaa devillers, Myesha Jenkins, Kanyi Magubane, Natalia Molebatsi, Khosi Xaba, Lebo Mashile including myself. These were very interesting times for me, going to University to study where I met different art forms where you start looking at site specific performances where you know if I want to perform at this bus station, what am I performing and who am I target audience where I learnt breaking the for of conventional places for performance. Now I can perform at art galleries combining my work with visual art where I can make any space be a performance space. You could come into a gallery space and poetry happens, where I move with the audience. So You could come to my show and there won’t be seats because I want to be moving with you from one scene to another of my work.
Moving back home the scene has totally changed from what it used to be, eight years ago when I got onto the scene. Right now I think the poetry scene is kind of ‘boring’ in a sense, some of the poets I know are still performing the same poems and the style of performance has also remained the same. There are some poets on the scene like Synik who is really dope, but he is also into hip hop so he fuses his poetry with a beat. But there hasn’t been much experimenting with the work, how many are fusing poetry with dance, how many are fusing poetry with soundscapes or with a huge band playing live? There are poets like Upmost and Outspoken who I know have been playing with bands for years, but how many more have come out of that? Some poets will be reciting the same poems over and over again and nothing has really changed.  One of my inspirations is Michael Jackson, if he were to perform the same song he would do it differently, the set would have changed the lighting will have changed, the way he enters onto the stage with the same song would have changed. How many local poets are doing that. The stuff becomes stale.

Another factor is that many arts venues have been closing down in Zimbabwe and the way event are being organised is still the same as seven years ago.
So for someone like me there  is nothing really new to look forward to when going to  poetry event because you know the same way it was organised in 2007 is still the same way. So if a new poet comes onto the scene they will go to the same event for a year, when they realise there is nothing changing about this poetry event they may stop coming or they will
get discouraged.

We are also at a point where not much is being done like so we don’t have, lets say ten solid poetry events being done in a month or the first Saturday of the month, something where you know you can hop on and off from one poetry going to the next. When I got back last year I really had to find my ground and say hey you cannot wait for someone to organise poetry events, what if none organises then it means nothing is going to happen.