Tracking footprints in the artist’s time travails David Mungoshi

Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore

“From the grimness of your deathbed you make stunning discoveries:

That you too can die

That there’s no tragedy in dying

And that death is just another of life’s imperatives

Your toothless mouth is a timely reminder that compared to the universe, you’re just a toddler.”

The philosophical words are uttered by the artistic persona in the poem “Toothless Mouth” in David Mungoshi’s “Live Like an Artist”.

Even though man purports to be the master of the universe and architect of his destiny, he is only mortal. Like a toddler, he scantly understands himself, yet he believes the world is there for his poker games.

“Live Like an Artist”, edited by Memory Chirere and published by Bhabhu Books, hoists the reader, like a time traveller into the past, swings him or her back to the present, and serenades him/her into the future through an adeptly woven combination of metaphor, symbolism and imagery.

Through juxtaposition, paradoxical presentation of experiences and prodding, the poet reminds the reader of his or her contribution to both his/her own suffering, hopelessness, and happiness as well as how his/her actions bring the same on others.

Love and hatred, life and death, opulence and poverty, youth and maturity, lack and abundance; are paradoxes of life that function in association as time takes its toll on humanity. Nothing is new and nothing is old; but all is newly old.

The artist purveys that in life we live with death, for death, a necessary end, is the beginning of life, and that same life ascertains death. Such is the nature of the universe. As unfathomable and vain as it is, life still needs to be endured through its seasons, perhaps a fruitful one avails itself.

However, to some, there are more winters than summers, and to others, only summers, so it seems.

It is this realisation that the words hurt, suffering and pain could have been invented just for you, which will hoist you as you engross yourself in David Mungoshi’s “Live Like an Artist”.

Mungoshi’s poems are cathartic, therapeutic and soothing to the soul; such powerful musical allure that hinges on the gates of heaven. The poet hits you with his words, he even sutures your heart as he takes you down memory lane, but you would feel no pain.

Although the body may be burdened through the inevitable passage of time, and death, which always lurks in the hoods of one’s dreams, one gets the feeling that even in the Grim Reaper’s cold fingers, one can still fashion out one’s destiny.

Hurt sometimes is hilariously rewarding, for to love is to be prepared to bleed in the heart, because bleeding is what gives form to life. Such also is the paradox of life, and well, love.

The evocative and thought-provoking repertoire of interactive episodes nostalgically drags the reader along, jolts him out of the present stupor, and catapults him into the imaginary and fruitful future that only the adept poet can muster and envisage for his people.

It is, indeed, through the past that the present can be fashioned for a better tomorrow, only if we “blow the whistle for a foul”, if we follow the artist’s warnings, otherwise “we perish”, (In Our Time).

Not a newcomer to the literary landscape, Mungoshi seems to be imbued with the metaphors of the sun, dew, flowers and the morning, which pervade most of his works.  The struggle to keep the body and soul together is checked by the knowledge of the existence of a supernatural force, which, somehow, puts a damper on individual aspirations.

Nature’s armoury, through its seasons, has an effect on the individual’s hour glass; it either breaks or makes him/her.

The motifs of the months September, October and June, though contrasting, abet each other in creating an overall sense of hope. The October heat, which is symbolic of barrenness and suffering, compounds the numbing coldness of June to create a rather “toothless” or hopeless existence.

However, the September motif debilitates the sense of loss depicted through use of June and October metaphors as the old wounds are healed, and a new dawn sets in.

Life’s seasons are explored through the eyes of an artist “striving and labouring unappreciated”, but still stoically persevering “cocooned in (his) creative maze/with the promise of a future without haze/For everything comes crawling back to art — the story of creation out of nothing”.

Life is like a musical composition, which has its highs and lows, and all of us hum in tune or out of tune, depending on our individual experiences and moods, as we shuttle from one bar to another in the “twelve bar blues” stories of our existence.

Through conversational language that makes the poems accessible to a lay reader as to one with a critical eye, Mungoshi creates a touching, hilarious, enthralling and thought-provoking rhapsody of a yearning heart, which derives solace in the rising sun, and totters towards the western rim, where everything seems to end.

Ironically, it is in the west that all is said to start.

At the peak of it all, fruition appears to be in the offing because of love and hope.  But then, the dew begins to melt as the sun takes its westward trajectory and starts to fade again, leading to abeyance.

Although the use of natural symbols and metaphors persist in “Live Like an Artist”, as is the case in “The Fading Sun” (2009), Mungoshi takes a new mojo that threatens to eclipse his earlier efforts, both in content and style.

The transcendental poems invite the reader into the poet’s space, which makes it possible for interfaces to be drawn, as the story ceases to be an individual’s but one that cuts across the national discourse of toil, hurt, frustration, hope and aspiration.

The reader finds himself/herself participating as one of the characters in “Memories”, “I am a Beautiful Paradox”, “A letter To One Who Deserved Better”, The Boy from Across the Stream”, “A Poem about Time Going By” and “Thou Art the Man”.

As man questions himself on his foibles, he is all too aware that pain shared is pain lessened, and that in whatever decision he makes he affects someone else across the stream.

Hurt wears so many shades, but the prominent hue is deceitfully white. It is the colour of purity, which brings darkness to man’s toils. He looks around for love, yet love is all around him, he searches for beauty in faraway places; yet beauty is closer to him than he realises.

Since he is in drunken stupor, both literally and metaphorically, believing that “beauty is in the eyes/ Of the beer-holder”, as in the poem “Innuendo”, the persona brings so much pain on the woman who dots on him.

He is the “Best Belch South of the Sahara”, puking at her beauty at “Two in the Morning”, and, like a shotgun, he ejaculates: “Bang! Bang! Bang!” before she is satiated.  Subsequently, “Sweetness is Gone”, and he is left with only “Memories”.

After falling prey to the beauty of the paradoxical women of appearances; the stereotypical femme fatale, the persona is cleaned out for sure, of his pocket and soul. He vainly remembers to write “A Letter To One Who Deserved Better”. However, the rather “Too Late The Little Things”, he should have learnt in “A Different School of Romance” are lost in the “The Travelling Light”.

In the anthology, which covers a plethora of thematic concerns, Mungoshi fractures form and style by tapping into several types of poems; from the ballad, through the haiku to the narrative, descriptive and villanelle.

This technique makes the reading of each of the poems a new and refreshing experience.

The rhythm created through a combination of plot fracturing, disregard of punctuation marks, and conventional poetic tradition, as well as conversational language, leaves the reader aghast.

You can hear the heart’s drums pounding, and you become the willing lone dancer and tenor at the same time.

Mungoshi’s experimentation with form and style reminds one of the nature poet William Wordsworth, Roland Mhasvi in “The Flowers of Yesterday”, Charles Mungoshi’s “The Milkman Does Not Only Deliver Milk”, and Thomas Bvuma in “Every Stone That Turns”.

He speaks to the heart in such a way that the reader responds in a participatory mood; just the way poetry should do; so simple, yet so sophisticated and rich.

Despite his bodily burden, the poet reflects on vision and memory to give a critical albatross of life as both a bird of prey, and the quarry itself; succumbing to death — the leveller — the case of a toothless child passing through phases; from adolescence to adulthood. Then, to toothless old age, ironically, becoming a toddler again to start the process anew by dying.

Indeed, we should all strive to live like artists, so that we leave behind imprints of selflessness, honesty and love.

As in the words of Robert Muponde, “Living as an artist, as someone not driven by profit but prophecy, not by revenue but revelation; the whole persona of the artist is imbued with an aura of creation, of origins, the coming-from-nothing (not in the sense of the much-touted rags to riches stories)”.

The artist finds happiness in the “riches” of his “poverty”, for art, like life, does not have a price tag.

The sizzling, therapeutic and soothing anthology “Live Like an Artist” (2017) is a must have for those with a keen eye for a good read. It is one collection that one would never tire of reading.

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