Title: Sunflowers in Your Eyes – Four Zimbabwean Poets
Editor: Menna Elfyn
Publisher: Cinnamon Press
Reviewed by Tinashe Mushakavanhu
Zimbabwean poetry has been largely a choir of male voices. The absence of women is too visible in KZ Muchemwa’s Zimbabwean Poetry in English (1978), Musaemura Zimunya and Mudereri Kadhani’s And Now the Poets Speak (1982), Flora Veit-Wild’s Patterns of Poetry in Zimbabwean Poetry (1988) and more recently Jane Morris’ Intwasa Poetry (2008). The agenda of this book is to give women their voices as the editor Menna Elfyn outlines in her preface, ‘this book goes some way in redressing this imbalance.’
I read the book with so much relish. It is an empowering book in many ways. In poetry as well as in the other artistic fields, the Zimbabwean woman is often restricted to a subordinate role as a muse, confidant and comforter. This book brings a refreshing insight as the four poets – Ethel Kabwato, Fungai Machirori, Joice Shereni and Blessing Musariri reach out to many dreams.
While, it is easy to get lost in the maze of implications concerning gender, these poets write without shouting WOMEN even though sometimes it is a legitimate claim for dignity and equal opportunities. The book is rich in the variety of expression drawing on different styles. The themes are very much wide-ranging and incisive.
What is remarkably interesting about the poetry is the autobiographical element, which is often central to women’s poetry as it allows them to express the sufferings, the pain and the deferred dreams of their personas. However, in Sunflowers in Your Eyes, the poetry is celebrating a life that despite its hardships and injustice is often happy. It is an expression of injustice but also a celebratory expression of life.
Ethel Kabwato is the most political in the book as she tackles the difficult subjects that have come to define what has been dubbed the Zimbabwe crisis, subjects of land, violence, patriotism through an intelligent employ of irony and wit. Despite being the youngest, Fungai Machirori’s poetry is of yearning, of self-exploration, of seeking answers to questions relating to her identity as a born free, ‘a composition ‘of many things. Joice Shereni writes more about personal relationships and relationships with the larger society. Blessing Musariri’s ‘assured poems’ are of resilience, of journeying away because as she asks in Holding on, ‘Everybody has moved on/What (are) you doing standing still?’ Hers is a more daring poetry that challenges us to alter our perceptions and our minds.
The four young women have proven beyond doubt that Zimbabwean women can write poetry. Sunflowers in Your Eyes will considerably increase the depth and breadth of our knowledge of ourselves and a constant reminder of the redefining of those selves. It is a very personal and yet political collection.