CHIDORA is a revolutionary poet and a modernist voice re-inventing the art of poesy. The literary maestro walks to the Zimbabwean artistic podium and the global literary stardom carrying in his pen hardened palms, a new beverage of poetic prowess, a literary jug of dexterity frothing with centuries of fermented hard truth, concocted with political paradox and laced with tragic humor of our moral decadence. Morsels of satire are hard to swallow and the metaphor is bitter and scalds greed throats of recycled revolutionary rejects. The irony jabs hardly on propaganda hardened rib boxes of ideological imbeciles pruning the country naked in broad daylight. The imagery smacks the famished apparitions of city dwellers and drought scorched peasants sipping left overs of the freedom soup. CHIDORA concocts theory and practice as he wields his smoking weapon, the pen into literary stardom. A widely published poet, Acclaimed Writer and Distinguished Scholar. The Founder of the TIME OF THE POET REPUBLIC meets Prolific Poet and Acclaimed Zimbabwe Literature Scholar Tanaka Chidora(PhD) during a coffee break on the sidelines of the Digital Poetry Conference. PERFECT .TIME OF THE POET REPUBLIC is greatly excited to feature prowess and profile excellence in form of Iconic Zimbabwean Voice TANAKA CHIDORA-( blurb by Mbizo CHIRASHA).
Mbizo.You are one great Zimbabwean Poet and Writer. What influences your writings?
CHIDORA.Honestly, I am not sure about the tag “great” but the idea is to get there one day. I am still learning the ropes and looking up to many greats, alive and departed, who have contributed to making Zimbabwean literature what it is today. My hope is to leave a mark on the literary landscape of Zimbabwe. My writing journey started in the very recent past. I still remember that my first poem, ‘Magamba Hostels (to my unborn novel)’ was published in November 2018 by your journal. But what I haven’t really told people is that the poem was the culmination of a literary experience that featured Memory Chirere (one of Zimbabwe’s most eminent writers and poets), Ignatius Mabasa (a prominent and award-winning author), David Mungoshi (a prominent award-winning author and poet), Philani Nyoni and Mecy Dhliwayo (these two are some of the best spoken word poets we have in the country). At that literary event I was more of a resource person, largely due to my academic background as a Zimbabwean literature researcher. But watching all these guys read and perform their pieces became the matchstick that set the fireplace ablaze and my first poem was born soon after that. That eventually led to the birth of my first poetry collection, Because Sadness is Beautiful? From the title of that collection you can tell the things that influence my writings. I am drawn to those moments that we regard as wretched, sad, tragic… you know, “the bee sting in the eye,” if I can quote James Valvis. I want my readers to fall in love with those moments because that’s what I want my writings, whether poetry or prose, to do. I want it to be a confectionery of pleasure. Therefore, the search for laughter, beauty, a smile influences my writings. I merely seek to oversee the merging of poetry and pain into this unholy pact that makes us smile even when the actual condition makes us cry.
Of course, I am influenced by other writers. If you read my poetry closely, you will discover that I am fascinated by imagery. I have a weakness for unlikely metaphors and similes. There are some writers who are really good at that. We are here talking of Marechera, Zoe Wicomb, Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison (have you read The Bluest Eye?), Samson Kambalu and many others. But I also liked merging these metaphors with simplicity, you know, the way Chirere, Hove, Bukowski, Coelho, Neruda, V.S Naipaul, the Mungoshis and the like go about their business. So you have this fascination with unlikely metaphors on one side, and simplicity on the other side. A very strange marriage I would say, but something that really works. I have seen elements of such a marriage in NoViolet Bulawayo, Brian Chikwava, Petina Gappah and Rosa Tshuma. I am trying to do that in the novel I am working on which is nearing completion.
Mbizo. Again, you chronicle and critique other writers’ literary works? How does that grow you as a fellow writer and poet?
CHIDORA.One of the pieces I have written for my blog, ‘Being a Literary Critic and a Writer,’ has to do with the dilemmas of being a literary critic and a writer. I think there are very healthy schizophrenias that follow such a dual identity. But if you look at it very closely, a writer is usually a critic. That’s how it works. So I can’t say mine is a unique condition. It wasn’t easy at first though. I found myself critiquing myself before even completing a single verse or paragraph. There were many literary theories in my head clamouring for my attention. That slowed me a little bit because it involved writing and deleting and writing and deleting until sometimes I found myself not writing at all. The mocking voice of theory was there in the background, reminding me of how I had critiqued so-and-so for writing exactly in the same manner I was writing. It was until I had read Bukowski’s Women and all the nasty things that people wrote about it that I discovered a writer cannot please everyone. I really like Bukowski and sometimes wonder what the hell the noise about his frankness is all about. The truth is, we can only give to criticism what belongs to criticism, and to writing what belongs to writing. That’s it. So when I write, I am merely, like any other writer, giving critics what to clutch at, and that is definitely not my neck. But one of the advantages of being a literary critic is that it exposes you to many creative works which all contribute in shaping your craft and shaping the voice that you eventually regard as your own. The truth is, writing begins with reading. That’s the order. A writer who does not read worries me. I have met a couple of writers who boast that they do not read and wear that declaration like it’s a crown or something. If I discover that you do not love reading, I will stay far far away from your work. I mean, if you do not read, where do you get the tools to write?
Mbizo. How do your creative writing and literature teachings at the University of Zimbabwe impact your artistic career?
CHIDORA.I think teaching literature and creating it form a good combination. Besides teaching literary theories and other forms of literary fiction, I also teach creative writing. Teaching at university also provides you with the opportunity to grow because you have to carry out all these researches to stay in touch with global trends in knowledge production. So you are always learning even as you are lecturing. That’s the beauty of it. I particularly love the Creative Writing Course because it’s more practical and throughout the semester you have these students writing all this mind-blowing and stylistically adventurous stuff. So I can say we learn from each other. Being in university is also an advantage in the sense that you are in a circle whose focus is to read literary works. We go for academic conferences and conventions during which we interact with critics and scholars who are looking for the next big book to read. I think this makes it easier for people to interact with your work if you are a writer. Of course, that relationship is not always lucrative. You really have to be a good writer!
Mbizo. Four years ago, when we had our beer vigil in some high density suburb in Harare, you told me you grew up kuMagaba in Mbare. This is one of the most downtrodden spaces in Harare and known for petty criminals and moral decadence. Are there any doses of Magaba in your current writings?
CHIDORA.I remember that night. Do you know that I lost my phone? I only discovered it the following day. Hahahahaha! Mbare has a very strong place in my art. First, let me correct you a little bit. To say Mbare has moral decadence depends on your gaze. I don’t think the people of Mbare, including myself, see it that way. The moral card always worries me when non-Mbare people apply it. It is condescending. Having said that, I think you remember my first poem which was published in your journal. ‘Magamba Hostels (to my unborn novel)’ is inspired by Magaba Hostels. I am currently working on a novel by the same title, some kind of auto-fictional memoir that chronicles my growing up in Magaba. There is also a poem in Because Sadness is Beautiful? in which each verse represents one of the thirteen hostels that constitute Magaba Hostels. The poem is titled ‘Blocks 1-13, Magamba Hostels.’My imagery reflects what I grew up accessing: the dust of Magaba Hostels, the grim-looking buildings of Magaba, Matapi, Majubheki, Matererini, from which DJ Fantan and Zimdancehall youth embarked on one of the most significant cultural revolutions since 1980, a revolution which is driven by a confrontational, raw and petulant musical aesthetic. While the youth who grew up with me ran to the mic, I ran to the pen. But if you listen to the youth closely and read my writings, Mbare begins to take shape, right from Cameron Street at the outskirts of the city to Adbernie where the grit and grime of Mbare eventually gives way to the more spacious infrastructure of Waterfalls. It is a Mbare in which voices are jostling for space in the dust-speckled air, a Mbare in which funerals are like holidays because Mbare people bury their own. It is a Mbare that is politically volatile, where patriotism shows up towards elections and disappears for the next five years to eat the gains of Mbare people’s votes. It is a Mbare whose soul is a mad mish-mash of grimness, hilarity, sadness, happiness, tragedy, humour… a Mbare which, in short, defies all stereotyping. It is a Mbare that I eventually talk about in my novel, Magamba Hostels, which is nearing completion.
Mbizo .Zimbabwe is under political and economic siege. How is the book and arts industry copying? What is your message to the government, art bodies and artists?
CHIDORA. The truth is, the publishing industry in Zimbabwe is in some kind of ICU especially for non-educational writing. Many surviving publishing houses have found a cash cow in primary and secondary school books. Publishing literary fiction and poems is a waste of time for them. To be blunt, we actually do not have a book industry. It’s just a sector. A very impoverished sector. And the impoverishment cascades down to the writer. So for many writers, writing is more of a side affair. You can’t really throw away your day job because of this romantic notion of being a writer who feeds himself on book sales. It really does not work like that in Zimbabwe. You need a hustle that will feed you as you write. That’s the story of many writers. Besides, how many readers are really ready to buy a book? With many people committing a couple of miracles to last a single day, the book is really down there in the perking order of needs. For those who are forced by academic curricula to read books, piracy is there to offer cheaply printed copies of authors’ original works. Do you know that recently I came across a Whatsapp message of someone who is typing versions of our Zimbabwean classics to sell cheaply to academic readers? Man, that’s piracy on steroids!My message to the government? Lol! I really do not have a message for the government. It has been receiving a lot of messages. I do not want to add to the pile. But as an artist, I find joy in writing. That is what I will continue doing.
Mbizo. What do you think of the current Book Fair settings? What should be done to return the book to the best status?
CHIDORA.I think the Zimbabwe International Book Fair is doing great work under the current economic circumstances. Since 2014, I have been attending the book fair. These guys are doing an amazing job. They are still attracting people from other countries. What they need is support.
Mbizo.What are you doing in these times of COVID-19 and how are you helping other writers to copy?
CHIDORA. At first, the thinking was that being locked down would afford me enough time to write. Hahahaha! But being locked down has a way of really numbing the mind. Really really numbing the mind. Everything eventually loses its taste like overnight bubblegum. I started with working out like my survival really depended on it. Soon, the alacrity was gone. Then I fell in love with TV. But that too lost its power. I took a couple of books out of my library. But even that required a lot of concentration. The thing is, you just have to take each day as it comes. On a good day, you can write and write and write until you get shocked to discover that you have covered vast swathes with words. I have done that with my novel and a lockdown short story that I have been working on. Then there are other days when the only thing you can write is poetry. Do you know that sometimes poetry comes so easily to you that you wonder where it has been hiding all along? Hell, I have even started experimenting with Shona poetry and getting encouragement from my readers to consider a collection of Shona poems.I also belong to various writing groups and the guys in there are doing a great job of encouraging each other. There is a lot of poetry traffic in those groups and that is really encouraging. We have the Gourd of Consciousness Whatsapp poetry group. We have the Poetry Intercourse Whatsapp group. On a daily basis, some dope poetry is churned out and this really keeps you motivated. I have written many poems and post some of them on Facebook with an accompanying image of my new poetry collection, Because Sadness is Beautiful? which was released during the current lockdown. During this same lockdown, Tendai Mwanaka released Best New African Poets (2020) which features three of my poems. So I can say regardless of its negative energy, the lockdown has also been productive. I belong to the Harare Book Club. We read interesting titles and convene a Whatsapp and Zoom meeting to talk about the books we would have read. There are interesting people in that group and we have many hilarious moments as we tear apart a story to its very minute details. Sometimes, the authors of the books we are reading get in touch and things go a notch higher.I have also been active on my bog site, www.litmindssite.wordpress.com. I am currently writing a review of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body. So, yea, here and there, the lockdown has availed some inspiration. If you can write, just write. If you find it difficult, don’t. Do something else. Watch TV. Listen to music. Read. Play a card game with your family. To make it more interesting, hold a card game tournament. We did it once. The trophy was a piece of cake my wife had baked. When the inspiration to write shows up again, write.
Mbizo.What are your current projects and who are you working with?
CHIDORA. I am currently writing Magamba Hostels, my novel. I have also started writing a Chitungwiza commuter’s diaries titled Zupco Diaries, which is more like a side affair. In-between, I write poetry which I have filed under the title The Poet’s Press Conference. I am also working with Sheunesu Mandizvidza on a lockdown-inspired collection of short stories which we are soliciting from writers. I have already completed mine titled ‘Where Death Naps.’ We have so far received a couple of good stories and we hope to receive more.
TANAKA CHIDORA is a Creative Writing and Theories of Literature lecturer in the Department of English and Media Studies at the University of Zimbabwe.His first anthology of poetry titled Because Sadness is Beautiful? was released this year and can be accessed at African Books Collective and can be found here.http://www.africanbookscollective.com/books/because-sadness-is-beautiful
Award-winning author, David Mungoshi describes Tanaka’s poems as vivid, subversive and scatological due to Tanaka’s affinity for metaphors that are located in subterranean regions of the human body to demystify authority.Chidora is currently working on an auto-fictional novel titled Magamba Hostels which chronicles his growing up in the ghetto of Mbare, Harare. According to him, this is a no-holds-barred memoir which reflects his intention to bridge the gap between lies and truth, to the point where the memoirist himself is lost in the labyrinth.His poems have also been published in Gourd of Consciousness, a weekly poetry column in The Standard Newspaper, 3-mob.com #THURSPOETRY and, recently, in The Best New African Poets (2020) anthology edited by Tendai Mwanaka.
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MBIZO CHIRASHA FREEDOM OF SPEECH Fellow at PEN- Zentrum Deutschland. Poet in Residence at the Fictional Café (International publishing and literary digital space). 2019 Sotambe Festival Live Literature Hub and Poetry Café Curator. 2019 African Fellow for the International Human Rights Art Festival(https://ihraf.org/international-fellows ) , Essays Contributor to Monk Art and Soul Magazine in United Kingdom .Arts Features Writer at the International Cultural Weekly .Featured Writer Poet Activist at The Poet A Day(https://jamiededes.com/). Core Team Member and African Contributor to Bezine of Arts and Humanities(https://thebezine.com/) in USA. Flash/Short Fiction Writer for Squawk Back Publication(http://www.thesquawkback.com/2020/01/mbizo.html).Contributing Writer( Africa) to IHRAF Publishes-https://ihraf.org/ihraf-publishes.The Originator of the Zimbabwe We Want Poetry Campaign. Curator of MiomboPublishing Blog Journal(https://miombopublishing.wordpress.com/). Founder and Chief Editor of WOMAWORDS LITERARY PRESS. Founder and Curator of the Brave Voices Poetry Journal. Co-Editor of Street Voices Poetry triluangal collection( English , African Languages and Germany) initiated by Andreas Weiland in Germany. Poetry Contributor to AtunisPoetry.com in Belgium. African Contributor to DemerPress International Poetry Book Series in Netherlands. African Contributor to the World Poetry Almanac Poetry Series in Mongolia. His latest 2019 collection of experimental poetry A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT was released by Mwanaka Media and Publishing and is both in print, on Amazon.com and at is featured at African Books Collective. 2003 Young Literary Arts Delegate to the Goteborg International Book Fair Sweden (SIDA AFRICAN PAVILION) .2009 Poet in Residence of the International Conference of African Culture and Development (ICACD) in Ghana. 2009 Fellow to the inaugural UNESCO- Africa Photo- Novel Publishers and Writers Training in Tanzania. 2015 Artist in Residence of the Shunguna Mutitima International Film and Arts Festival in Livingstone, Zambia. A globally certified literary arts influencer, Writer in Residence and Recipient of the EU-Horn of Africa Defend Defenders Protection Fund Grant, Recipient of the Pen Deutschland Exiled Writer Grant. He is an Arts for Peace and Human Rights Catalyst, the Literary Arts Projects Curator, Poet, Writer, publicist is published in more 400 spaces in print and online .
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