This has got to be one of the best poetry events in the United States, its magnitude and the display of international talent. Listening to the poets read in their languages, you could tell that they had to be some of the best in their countries.
Syrian poet Maram al-Massri who read with Mabasa.
Of course, there was one of Zimbabwe’s best poets, Ignatius Mabasa, who read in Shona. I caught him in action at an event that featured him and the Syrian poet Maram al-Massri. It was a wonderful reading. Each poem was read twice, first in Shona, then in English.
Mabasa was paired with San Francisco poet Michael Warr, who read the English versions of the poems. Of course, I sat there laughing long before anyone else in the room understood what was happening. It felt like an honor for my family to be the only people in the audience who understood what the poet was saying in Shona; then I laughed again (there is humor in the poetry), with others, when the poems were read in English, but by then I knew what everyone had missed out on because in translation, the poems had lost a lot, yet they had also gained so much.
It is beautiful, this thing that San Francisco did, of allowing the poets to read in their own languages, and, at the main stage, the Palace for the Arts, there was a screen projecting an English translation behind the poets. Many languages were represented: Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, Russian, Italian, Swedish,Hebrew, Shona and others.
I enjoyed every reading at the Palace for the Arts. Jack Hirshman, the host poet, was great as always, but I particularly liked Ferruccio Brugnaro (from Italy), Taslima Nasrin (Bangladesh), Al Young (former California poet laureate), Ziba Karbassi (Iran), Agneta Falk (Sweden), and my friend Carla Badillo Coronado (Ecuador).
These poets dealt with real issues affecting their people, and by the end of each reading you realized that the issues they dealt with were your issues too. The context helped, that they the poets were from different countries, united by the language of life.
An event of this magnitude gives exposure not only to the poets but to the literature of their countries. Mabasa’s participation also was an opportunity to expose some of the anthologies of Zimbabwean contemporary writing.
The books, ordered by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, were available for sale. I brought Long Time Coming, a book I have been waiting for since 2008, when it came out. But there were other books too, Intwasa Poetry and Writing Still.
It was great to see Mabasa after a very long time. He has contributed significantly to Zimbabwean literature, from our BWAZ poetry performances days, to his two award-winning novels, his story telling in Illinois in 1999 (when he came here as a Fulbright scholar), his Crossing the Borders coordination, to his gospel poetry. He plans to set up a story-telling center in Harare which will provide a stage for story tellers and will function as a story-telling academy.
one of the drums Mabasa used during his performances. There was no way I was going to let him take those drums back to Zimbabwe, so the next time I perform my poetry, there be some drumming, and more drumming.
From San Francisco, Mabasa will be travelling to Santa Fe where he is scheduled to read at several venues. He will conclude his United States tour with a visit to Tuscon, Arizona, the beautiful college town of Zimbabwean scholar Praise Zenenga.