This is going to be a long post, full of pictures and reflections. I will be publishing each update as I go, but this may take days to complete.
The reading at Eso Won Books in Los Angeles was a success. Bill Roper and Joseph Mitchell rendered a moving performance, which fit in well with our readings, as if we had researsed. I liked the connection, which led to a performance that kept the audience spellpound, but of course, I can’t speak for the attendees; only they know how the experience was to them. What I liked though was how everyone hung around after the event, asking questions, engaging us in dialogue and asking us to sign books.
Christopher Mlalazi setting up the table with books and art pieces from Zimbabwe. The bigger pile of books is Bryony Rheam’s This September Sun,by amaBooks, a book I have been waiting for. There were other amaBooks titles like Short Writings from Bulawayo III, Long Time Coming, Intwasa Poetry, Dancing with Life (Chris Mlalazi), and others. I had my copies of Forever Let Me Go, State of the Nation, and Speaking for the Generations. Believe me, it felt great to see our books in a US bookstore.
Daniel Rothman of Villa Aurora introducing us. He worked very hard in making sure the event was a success, and I liked that he took Chris and I to Beyond Baroque, an archival bookstore that hosts poets nearly daily. Coincedentally, there was a reading on Friday evening which featured my friend, LA poet Catherine Daly, whom I have hosted at the Sacramento Poetry Center. She was one of several poets featured as Factory School Poets, all connected by the fact they have been published by the same press. Below is a photo of Factory school poets, which I took after their reading on Friday, July 30:
I don’t have all the names to match with the poets yet, but Catherine Daly is second from right; then from left to right: CA Conrad, Diane Ward, and Allison Cobb. The other names of the Factory school poets are: Sueyeun Juliette, Deborah Meadows, Sarah Manefee, Kathryn Pringle, Frank Sherlock, Brian Kim Stefans,and Heriberto Yepez. I enjoyed the part of the reading I caught, and what I liked most was meeting the staff of Beyond Baroque because they are talking of a poet exchange with Sacramento Poetry Center. So we would invite their poets, and they in turn invite ours, etc.
Christopher Mlalazi reading from Dancing with Life, a book I always knew would go far. He reading of “The Bulldozers are Coming” was touching, and it set the mood for the Charles Mungoshi and Chenjerai poems I read later.
Here I was introducing State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry, which was published in the UK last year and was edited by Tinashe Mushakavanhu and David Nettleingham. I told the audience that it was a key text in Zimbabwean poetry has it marks the latest update in the contemporary poetry, a multi-generational book which mixes classic and new names.
Reading from State of the Nation. My signature style is to read the works of one or two leading Zimbabwe poets before I read mine. This approach grounds me, it puts me in context. I started by reading Charles Mungoshi’s “A Kind of Drought”, which anchors our trust not in people anymore, but in birds, in trees, in rivers. Then I read Chenjerai Hove’s “Nights with Ghosts”, which connects very well to Mlalazi’s short stories about Murambatsvina. In this long poem, the persona reveals that he has written a letter to Samueri, but does not know where to send it as no one has an address anymore. It linked very well with the poem I read next, mine, entitled “A House for Mother”, published in the same book.
Reading from my poetry collection, Forever Let Me Go. I read “The Teacher and the Curtain”, which is everyone’s favorite at readings, and “Remembering Mother”, the most political I have gone in my poetry so far, I think. Of course, it always usually signals the end of my reading segment because of its emotional weight. But I had intended to read “Gonera Bees” and “Forever Let Me Go”, but I wanted to hear more of Bill and Joe’s music.
Chris reads “A Cicada in the Shimmer”, published in African Roar. The launch part of the event was interesting, as I had the opportunity to explain the process that went into the publication of the book, then I called Chris to the stage. Chris insists that he would not be the best person to explain what the story means, but when he read, it moved us.
I too read from African Roar. I could heard the sound of my story in front of an audience for the first time, and I could tell I needed to work on the female voice of my narrator, but overall, I thought I connected with the audience.