Book review: A review of Memory Chirere’s Shamhu YeZera Renyu (Outstanding Poetry Book at Nama 2024)

Memory Chirere’s latest collection of poems, Shamu YeZera Renyu, the book won a National Arts Merit Award, as best book of poems by a Zimbabwean in 2023!

A day after I finished reading Memory Chirere’s latest collection of poems, Shamu YeZera Renyu, the book won a National Arts Merit Award, as best book of poems by a Zimbabwean in 2023! Amazing.

I find Memory Chirere’s poems in Shamhu YeZera Renyu to be therapeutic to the mind, with one poem particularly dwelling on the poetic charm of a child who is running after a bird in the sky while he is on the ground, in the morning, soon after; he is running to complete a chore, and after that, running to play with other children in a running game away from home, before running back home at the end of the day. Running…

These poems help one to navigate through the diverse, intractable, heinous and vociferous forces of one’s life in Zimbabwe and Africa; being born, growing up and eventually dying.

I think that Chirere is a Shadrach + Meshach, and “A bad Nigga”/ Abednego type of author.

This is because he refuses to comply or submit to the whims of pain and he has also long discovered the art of taming pain.

Through his works, he invites the pain of human life to the arena and he says to it “dance while I beat the drums”.

In another of Chirere's poems, a man wants to wander away and never return home. From now on, he wants to live only in the memory of his wife, children and friends. He thinks that is better than suffering alongside them without being able to help.

In yet another poem, a woman laughs at a man because he looks like her dear lover, long lost in the past.

In the other poem, a man carries a goat on his shoulders for a long time down a township road and discovers that he has been sold a ritual goat!

In another, a woman and man nearly fall in love gradually as they silently spy on each other through the gap in the fence of their houses.

Then something more excruciating than love takes place to stop them...

Published by the fast-rising Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure's Carnelian Heart Publishing LTD in the UK and available through Amazon, Memory Chirere's "Shamhu Yezera Renyu," or "Sjambok of Your Generation" in Shona, is not your typical poetry collection.

Written entirely in the vibrant, beautiful and evocative Shona language, Chirere wields his words like a traditional whip/sjambok, to both challenge and to entertain his readers.

Chirere outwits pain with humour, his poems delve into the complexities of everyday life, tackling relatable themes of love, loss, societal pressures, and the ever-present struggle for self-discovery.

His masterful use of humour infuses a refreshing dose of lightness, preventing the poems from becoming mired in despair. One of his poems is about the effects of bird song.

You hear a bird singing in the morning and sometimes you think that it is calling out your name, just in the manner of your mother or loved one.

I also love the poem in which a man eats the child’s plate of porridge, hoping nobody sees it. The most stunning poem is in which a nameless man watches a wedding couple kissing and starts to think about the meaning of kisses.

Chirere navigates the tightrope between social commentary and witty observation, prompting introspection and laughter in equal measure.

Although he wrote this book in Shona, the emotional core transcends language barriers.

The book’s vivid imagery and themes resonate with readers regardless of their linguistic background.

I agree with Ignatius Mabasa in the introduction that; there is no writer like Chirere, however, I think the full richness and depth of "Shamhu YeZera Renyu" can be lost in translation for those unfamiliar with the language.

Two poems in this captivating compilation of Shona poems that navigates the tapestry and intricacies of human experiences with a unique blend of humour and insight are particularly outstanding for me and these are; “Mukanwa” and “Muchipatara.”

In these and other poems, Chirere demonstrates a unique ability to balance levity with depth is a testament to his poetic prowess.

Thus, making "Shamhu YeZera Renyu" a testament to the enduring power of poetry to illuminate the human experience.

I am not surprised that this collection was ranked ahead of all other books of poems.  Many thanks too, to Tinashe Muchuri, another great poet, for editing this book.

I first came across Memory Chirere through his short story Maize in “Writing Still”, a text which we covered in High School.

Like all of my classmates, we assumed the name Memory was for girls. We had limited resources to search for the writer, but thanks to the sweet bitter humiliation and correction that came from our Literature in English teacher whenever we referred to Chirere as “she.”

During my first year at the University of Zimbabwe, my roommate Brain used to play Chirere’s YouTube videos at Manfred.

We would gather around the laptop as UBAs listening to Roja raBaba vaBiggie.

My dream came true during my Masters studies, I talked to Chirere and found that one cannot separate him from his works/humour.

To my A level classmates and everyone else who loves reading, Chirere is still writing and yes, he is a man.

If you are in Zim, find the book through Brain Garusa door-to-door delivery at 0779210403.

About reviewer

  • Rodney T Munemo identifies himself as both a Sociologist and a Social Anthropologist. Currently pursuing his PhD with the School of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. Rodney is a recipient of the coveted Edinburgh-Leiden studentship, awarded in 2022 in recognition of his academic excellence. His current doctoral research delves into the critical nexus of youth waithood, liminalities, urban poverty, development, and religious infrastructures in Zimbabwe. He remains deeply invested in exploring Inclusive Education, the transformative potential of Online Learning, and the complexities of Gender and Land Governance in Zimbabwe. His dedication to these diverse fields reflects a multifaceted and intellectually curious scholar.
  • Email: [email protected]

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