Poetry and the liberation struggle

Lovemore Ranga Mataire The Readere
Up In Arms (1982) by Chenjerai Hove is arguably one of the most enduring poetry collections by a Zimbabwean author that captures in detail the multifarious dichotomies of trials, tribulations of a people struggling against colonialism.

The 71-page book graphically creates the mood and internal monologue of a nation typically in a historical movement towards ascertaining its sovereignty and nationhood without camouflaging any contradictions inherent within that movement.

The internal monologue is in essence a broader appeal for world recognition and as each poem broadly reflects upon rugged and uncertainty that constantly typifies the horrendous, exploitative, and inhumane and oppressive existence under colonialism.

This is a book clearly penned by the late Hove well before being usurped by an alien spirit that led him to wander across foreign lands where he was in turn psychologically harangued such that his creative prowess turned into fouling defiling his own country.

An introduction of the book by renowned author Charles Mungoshi thus testifies to Hove’s ability to capture his own experience under colonialism which broadly reflected the experiences of the whole nation.

“What Chenjerai Hove had to say in these poems rings with the self-evident truth of one who has suffered and survived, one who has been there. Just as one cannot escape the terrible truth of death, or just as a barefoot herdboy cannot avoid the grass-hidden thorn in his way, so it is with Hove’s poetry,” says Mu- ngoshi.

Mungoshi says the voice that pervades the poems is Zimbabwean, speaking of the Zimbabwean experience, yesterday and today, and maybe, implicitly, warning of the pitfalls ahead.

The voice states, with cruel clarity of the noonday sun and with the unselfconscious innocence- never apologizing- of a child, what happened, and what happens, to people. It is the multiple voice of the people that speaks to the echoes in the heart of the all living, suffering and dying humanity.

Juxtaposing seemingly incompatible words or lines to force the reader’s eye to focus on something beyond, beneath, or in between the words is a device Hove exploits extensively, with devastating effect as in: A War-time Wife who is “Torpedoed with bulging wars and swelling with fragrant hope” or in When The Wind Blows, in which “The Warriors Kill to cool the land and wash the fouled air”.

The profundity of Hove’s poetry forces another prominent Zimbabwean author to remark that it has different layers that need repealing until one gets to the innermost and tender layer. There are evidently depths and depths to Hove’s poetry, an onion where the outer skin covers another skin which covers another skin, which only by reading each poem several times can one be able to fully appreciate Hove’s achievement.

In “Up in Arms Hove” tries to restore man as he was when he was free and got his messages directly from the Earth, before his mind got cluttered and befuddled with useless technical information and other oppressor/oppressed-induced paranoias.

His endeavour to let the reader have direct experience, Hove steers away from abstract words or conceptions which may only serve to deceive the reader into labeling him “another clever poet” while missing the experience of the poem.

Like what Mungoshi says, this obsession of trying to give the reader direct experience puts Hove into that enviable class to which only a few writers belong: the honest poets.

The most impressive poem for me is the shortest with only six lines titled “Exiled Farmer”. The poem captures the mood of most white farmers during the liberation struggle who appealed to be in exile insulating themselves with a superfluous and superficial obliviousness of the upheavals all around them. Hove thus warns the farmer:

Don’t close the window

Or curtain it.

For Africa speaks outside:

The spatter of raindrops on the heart

Sings eternal songs

Would my drummer were here.

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