Beaven Tapureta Arts Correspondent
Bulawayo-based poet Philani Nyoni will forever dearly harbour the memory of a visit he made last week on Tuesday to Warren Hills Cemetery where the late enigmatic literary hero Dambudzo Marechera rests in eternal peace. There is undeniably a Marecheranism among the young poets and writers in Zimbabwe, a regime of “the Marechera-incarnates” who, as they suffer the longing for their hero, have turned him into a “demi-god”.
And Nyoni is among them. His work and person have had the tag “the next Marechera” thrust upon them from various critics and admirers. Thus when he made an expedition to Marechera’s grave at Warren Hills cemetery, Harare, with his friend Dorcas Gwata, it was like a long-time fiery yearning getting fulfilled.
Nyoni described his visit as ‘‘a drink with Marechera’’, and the very meditative moment he spent at the grave evoked a poem he titled “drinking with a dead man”.
How the award-winning poet came to think of paying such a tribute to Marechera is in itself another star of an unusual drama in which two friends sneak from a party to visit their best friend’s grave a short distance away.
Nyoni said he met Gwata two years ago after she had been referred to him as the “right person to know in Bulawayo”. A mental health therapist and arts lover, Gwata obviously was hunting for one who would echo a Marechera kind of worship of mental freedom: “my name is not money but mind” he once wrote. Later, as Nyoni said, Gwata and himself would collaborate on matters to do with “art and mental health”.
Last week the two friends met at a lunch hosted by the British Embassy in Harare. The poet did his work, that is, read his poems to the guests, yet as it were, Marechera was calling.
Nyoni and Gwata, after lunch, got swayed away from the party to a place of their “living dead” friend. And once there, the poet-to-poet dialogue started.
“I could only attempt to write. I invented a new form sitting there; yearning convention but spurred to deviance of it by the subject; conceived some hybrid of the terza rima and the sonnet in Shakespearean form, at tribute from a grave, comfortable as a seat, overlooking his final address: 1237 Warren Hills,” said Nyoni.
The poem ‘‘Drinking with a Dead Man’’ which he composed at the grave resonate with an emotional protest of celebrating and missing a legendary writer who’s now “. . . Gone, gone to where lightning can’t shake its fist/And beg you desist. Gone, like light through the galaxy.”
The world record breaking sonneteer Nyoni also said, “Visiting him was a surreal experience. His grave is simple, it reads: ‘Writer — Dambudzo Marechera. . . ’ And follows up with his years. No eulogy; no fanciness, just granite hewn as indelibly as the name writ upon it. That is a legacy. He is not among the provincial heroes or the national who lie not too far from him; he might walk there some times to harangue them with the criminal vigour he displayed in ‘Mind-blast’, but he does not sleep among them and that is very telling. A humble man who played the lot he was dealt to the miry end, resolute; in the words of Tennyson, ‘Not to yield’.”
Marechera has been dead for almost 30 years and yet the honours still come perennially upon him. Nyoni thinks that only those who appreciate him will keep his legacy alive.
“It is hard to pinpoint one thing, in a way it gets one thinking about one’s own legacy. Truthfully, none but us, who appreciate him, can do anything about it,” Nyoni said.