Stanely Mushava Literature Today
Roland Mhasvi’s environmentally themed poetry anthology, “Time of the Rupture,” is an impassioned case for the preservation of the planet.
Mhasvi advocates for the protection of biodiversity from the scourge of extractive capitalism with an urgency approaching the apocalyptic.
The poet’s cause is especially pertinent as factory-made carcinogens and poisonous chemicals are endangering mankind and depleting the environment.
Issue-based guilds have emerged with Zimbabwe’s political seasons, but environmental writing still has relatively fewer takers.
Mhasvi is up to the task with this elegantly packaged offering where all life is championed as vital for the sustainability of the planet.
The majority of poems in the 32-piece collection revolve around the counterpoint of humanity and the environment with vast expanse of imagery, occasional rhyme and musical cadence.
The anthology provokes touches of nostalgia for the natural beauty currently jeopardised by the commercially motivated ills.
Poetic homage to nature has been a sustained cause in world literature, from the Romantic Revival to African thoroughbreds like Niyi Osundare.
Only the sunny optimism of former dispensations has no claim on exponents writing today as the sustainability of life on the planet has become the foremost question of the day.
In 2015, “Science Advances” reported that climate change, chiefly driven by pollution and deforestation, had erased more than 400 vertebrate species off the planet since 1900.
The human race is prominently featured among the walking dead if the debilitating patterns are not significantly reversed.
Mhasvi’s anthology, written on the threshold of the millennium, demonstrates a rare command of the future.
While the creative arrows of his generation shoot backward, Mhasvi is decidedly forward-looking.
In 1999, he could process the implications of mankind’s unbridled greed and picture the earth running down to the final catastrophe.
Mhasvi’s inordinate esoterica sometimes leave the reader out of the loop and there are instances where wordiness could have been trimmed but the urgency of the whole is never lost.
Mhasvi spells out his mission from the outset with a citation of then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s 1999 Convention on Biological Diversity address:
“We cannot continue to destroy wetlands, forests, marine and coastal habitats with impunity. The destruction caused by humankind will now in turn threaten to destroy future generations.”
“Children of God”, an indictment of man’s inhumanity to nature, is a poetic rendering of Annan’s warning.
Mankind is indicted for revolving the world around capital at the peril of nature, disfiguring it with extractive machinery and taking no thought for tomorrow.
The despairing persona cannot process the escalating menace as mankind feeds nature acid rain and poison gas in response to her care and puts the planet on the line with nuclear brinkmanship.
The capitalist establishment is charged for crushing the world under “hot industrial wheels”.
And yet howsoever money accumulates it cannot restore the fulfilment of being at one with the environment.
“Your Yesterdays glisten in the graveyards of your wanton kills/As your Tomorrows flame/In the smoky foundries of your greed!” the poet warns.
“The Cranium Dunce” puts down the destruction of the planet to lack of consciousness where to know less is to preside over the depletion of the joys and comforts of nature.
The state of the mind is equated with man’s stewardship over nature. To know more is pictured as nature in its cheerful vitality, coursing a current of life across the planet.
“But to know less were to trickle round to inland lakes, where the shore stood gaunt and red/ Against the setting sun – / To shrink to swamps and braided ponds/ Our sinking stream/ Where shallow pools like broken mirrors, / Died along the halting course.”
These poems are backed by an empirical case and belong to a wafer-thin category of African literature which more artists need to sign to.
Where environmentally themed literature seemed to be a remote abstract, detached from the immediate concerns of the day, it has become the crying need of the African canon.
In the past, being captivated by nature used to be regarded as a preserve of foreign travel diaries drawn more to the natural dainties of Africa than to the continent’s people.
Now, a line cannot be defined between the two as extractive and industrial ravages are taking a toll on the continent’s rural communities.
“New African” observes that the debilitating trail of climate change is most painfully felt by Africa due to stress factors such as the continent’s low adaptive capacity, high dependence on rain-fed agriculture, disease prevalence and low levels of development.
“Shade of Grey” is one of the more accomplished pieces for the clarity of imagery and the potency of the indictment.
The poem is homage to the worker, in the pro-poor tradition of Leonard Dembo’s “Chinyemu” and Leonard Zhakata’s “Mugove,” is fit to a ready segment.
Mhasvi recalls the dread of old, witches before whose dark arts doors would unbolt and betray the victim to exploitation and death, equating it to labouring their lifeblood out to sustain a system of profit over people.
“And soon the victim ridden through the night,/ Must feel the aches and pains in every joint – / Indeed he must feel his slowly mortal frame/ So shrivel round his spectral bones/ As down the slopes of life he sleeps,” he recalls.
But this is not even the final catastrophe. A new witchcraft has been institutionalised to be executed by day rather than by night such that the poor have no recourse:
“But now the nights of dread command/ Do pall indeed to shades of grey . . . / Now see where the witches return/ In the broad light of day! / In three-piece suits they ride on wheels/ Of the black chariots of our black despair.”
“A Hymn to the Greatest Good” is a lyrical labour of love for Zimbabwe, the shining epitome of peace, love and unity.
“And now to all the troubled World/ The gift of Peace and Love we bring! When ‘all mankind should live as one’/ Then Love, the greatest good, shall spring/ From Hearts whose Care our voices sing.”
The poem gives a nod to a new day where the fettering of man for “golden gains” has been abolished by the liberation struggle and it is time again: “We cultivate our Land and Mind: In Factory, Field and Family,/ Our Day with strongest Love we bind!”
The anthology has a sustained claim to the cultural space with issues as pertinent as the as the craft is durable.
More artists need to deliberate on climate change and work around possible solutions in their work as the sustainability of the earth and human survival remain the foremost questions of our day.
Mhasvi is also the author of the award-winning anthology and critically acclaimed “The Flowers of Yesterday.” He is a former teacher who is currently into educational administration.
- Stanely Mushava blogs at upstreamafrica.blogspot.com and can be contacted at stanelymushava.outlook.com