Constance van Niekerk, Vereeniging South Africa
What Simon Did (And I Didn’t Do) is a powerful poem from the impending ‘Love and Hurt Poems’ collection by prolific Zimbabwean writer, editor and actor, David Mungoshi. In the true tradition of all good introspective literature, the deceptively gentle poem invites you to look at yourself, the way you live your life and the way you relate to the old people in your life.
“The collection is a work in progress. I’ve been working on it for some time now. The idea is to get the collection published in 2014-2015,” says Mungoshi.
What Simon Did (And I Didn’t Do) was recently turned into an mp4 available on YouTube. In the mp4 are pictures of the late Dendera singer Simon, and veteran musician Jackson Phiri, a former member of the Lipopo Jazz Band. Jackson is an artist of note who has been on the music scene for a very long time. Other tracks by Jackson are ‘Sunflower’, ‘Imfa yaLuckson’ and ‘Ogogode’. Jackson recently released the album ‘Blue Train’ with songs such as ‘Blue Train’, ‘Rest in Peace’ (a tribute to Sam Mtukudzi) and ‘Mandela is a statesman’. Most probably the most significant achievement by Jackson Phiri is the crafting of the phenomenal hit song ‘APhiri anabwera kuchoka kuHarare’ a song he composed aboard a plane while en route from Harare to do a performance in Malawi. Understandably, Jackson talks about this feat with a lot of pride. Also pictured on the mp4 is Norton-based Mbira DzeNharira sound engineer Tony Khumalo. The photographs of Jackson and Tony are by Tendayi Gahamadze, a metallurgist turned musician. The dreadlocked Gahamadze is the leader and founder of the vintage Mbira Ensemble, Mbira DzeNharira. His group has, without doubt, revolutionized Mbira music by infusing conscious lyrics into its intricate rhythms. Because of his work and that of others like him, mbira music is up there with the best in world music. David’s mp4 is, therefore, a collage of artistic genres and experiences from among Zimbabwe’s select group of elite artists whose defining attributes are excellence in their chosen fields.
David himself is a renowned author who has earned himself a spot in the field of Zimbabwean Arts with books such as ‘Broken Dream and other Stories’, ‘Stains on the Wall’ and more recently the National Arts Merit Award (NAMA) winner for Outstanding Fiction (2010), the evocative and well-crafted novel, ‘The Fading Sun’. He also has 2 enigmatic poems in Kizito Muchemwa’s ‘Zimbabwean Poetry in English’ (1976), as well as 9 poems in the 2011 Zimbabwe Publishing House (ZPH) poetry anthology entitled ‘Ghetto Diary and Other Poems’.
Soon after Zimbabwe’s independence, David penned ‘Seventy-five Bags’ a short story which is part of the College Press collection of short stories that come under the title ‘The Sound of Snapping Wire’ a story written by the legendary Dambudzo Marechera. ‘Seventy-five Bags’ is one of those works of literary art that most vividly and directly grapple with the land question on the African continent. It is one of the stories that closely inform Professor Maurice Vambe’s study of literary responses to Africa’s land question. The kind of consciousness reflected in ‘Seventy-five Bags’ is carried through in David Mungoshi’s other writings, including his poetry.
Mungoshi is also an editor of some standing as well as a sometime actor. He starred in ‘Secrets’ (a feature film directed and produced by the late Ngugi Wa Mirii) and in ‘The Postman’ (a short film directed by Larry Mutasa and produced by George Vera, a specialist orthopaedic surgeon by profession. Mungoshi edited the script for Larry Mutasa’s ‘Choice’. He is also a lecturer in Communication Skills at the University of Zimbabwe.
David says, “The mp4 starts with an introductory note to the effect that it was a chance meeting that led to the creation of the poem. I did not know Simon personally but the sight of him with his father in serious conversation at some motel aroused unavoidable feelings of loss and nostalgia in me. You know how it is; sometimes, you feel you want to do something that you have done before in your life but differently this time? So this poem is not a contrivance.”
He adds, “I hope that this poem as it gets more exposure makes many more people a bit more introspective about how they relate to their parents and to older people in general.”
Incidentally, two or so years after the chance meeting in Chegutu, the two Chimbetus, father and son, passed on within weeks of each other.
David’s poem has, since publication of the mp4, touched the hearts of many and encouraged many others to not only spend time with their parents but with their families as well. More often than not after the death of a loved one the survivors are filled with remorse and pain because of the many opportunities never taken to spend time with their dearly departed ones.
The mp4’s soundtrack is a soulful song by the late Luther Vandross – ‘Dance with My Father’. Luther’s song aptly predicts the content of Mungoshi’s poem given that in both cases there’s this feeling of inadequacy and helplessness which can no longer be helped.
Mungoshi describes the poem as activist poetry and says it is the only one from the impending collection (Love and Hurt Poems) that was inspired by the meeting in Chegutu. “The rest of the poems owe their genesis to other situations and imperatives.” But in all cases certain real life situations and incidents inform the creations.
Other poems in the collection include ‘Broken Hearts’, ‘Girl on a Rock’, ‘Those Eyes’, ‘Too Late the Little Things’- a poem David describes as “another introspective journey into the past but one which is based upon a multiplicity of experiences. “This particular poem is meant for performance. Its rhythm is akin to that of hip hop hence the economy of words and the terseness. Thematically we are talking of seizing opportunities when they abound”. ‘Just One More Christmas’ records the anguished cries of David’s mother after the loss of her husband and companion of decades (David’s father). The lesson would appear to be that there is always this one great wish that life never grants. ‘Elegy for a Little Girl in a Hospital Ward’, the subject of the next mp4, is a poem based on an event witnessed by Mungoshi’s daughter while admitted in hospital in 1988. Mungoshi says she was too young at the time to have witnessed the death of a little girl just like her and to have felt, even vicariously, the pain of longing for something that never materializes and the overwhelming sense of abandonment that those faced with death probably feel as the grim reaper begins to knock on their doors. In ‘Elegy for a little girl in a Hospital Ward’ the child in question wants so much to see her parents while she is a resident this side of death. It goes without saying that her last wish is not granted.
The collection definitely is befitting of the title ‘Love and Hurt’ as some of the poems will make you feel love and others pain and sorrow.
“The proposed title speaks for itself. People can expect to love or be loved and to hurt or be hurt as they read the anthology. There might also be some regret, some nostalgia, perhaps anger even. However, my idea is to celebrate life and love, to eulogise the two. Art in general and literary art in particular, accords people the opportunity to experience things indirectly through the lives of others. I am hoping that my collection will be both evocative and appealing as well stylistically accomplished,” says Mungoshi.
“After viewing some mp4s by my producer, I realised that one could approximate movies by going the mp4 route and that this would be more or less a uniquely exciting way of packaging poetry supported by music and appropriate visuals. I’m hoping to get people to take greater interest in my poetry. That side of me is perhaps not so well-known by readers. I think too that the mp4 has the advantage of not only presenting a poem in a novel way but that of also including an interpretation and/or illustration of the poem’s content. One’s choice of soundtrack music gives an indication of what is intended.”
David goes on to say, “Ultimately, I’m thinking of DVDs. I am not sure but that could perhaps be something new for poetry in our part of the world.”
Watch “What Simon Did (And I Didn’t Do)” on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_h3IUkmDB4&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Watch “Elegy for a little girl in a hospital ward” on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-Js7hTajeM&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Copyrighted@ Constance van Niekerk