Chirere’s extraordinary book titles

Genre : Society news
Principal country concerned : Column : Literature
Release/publication date : June 2015
Published on : 06/05/2015
Source : 6 May 2015

When Memory Chirere's latest publication "Bhuku Risina Basa Nekuti Rakanyorwa Masikati" (2014) was announced as a winner in one of the literary categories at the NAMA Awards held in February this year, the title just got everyone, including the dignitaries, roaring in applause and wonderment from their seats!

The title has had the same effect wherever it is cited. However, the title, although carrying a sense of humour and irony, could be misleading in some way until one gets inside the cosmos of the work itself. "Bhuku Risina Basa" seems has so far received rather shallow interpretation from some readers.

But surprise, surprise, it is being translated to German and much later in the year, Swahili!

One may loosely ask, does it mean that this book is useless because it was written in the afternoon as the title suggests? If the writer meant to be metaphorical, what does this 'afternoon' and 'uselessness' mean?

This is as mysterious (and perhaps mischievous) a question as it digs up Chirere's previous manner of titling his publications such as the A5-sized "Tudikidiki" (2007) which is a collection of 19 Shona "short-short stories", "Munotitadzisa Kunamata", a monograph of 11 Shona poems and "Somewhere in This Country", an anthology of short stories in English.

In "Tudikidiki", the stories, except two or three, are "little" in length that they could be less than 500 words. At times some of the stories provide "little" details or are understated and other stories have "little" children as the main voices or characters.

There is humour and yet beneath this enticing surface of humour there is a deeper meaning. The wonder of the book title "Tudikidiki" triggers a round of curious questions in the reader's mind, engaging him/her willy-nilly in the stories' exploration of our cultural and socio-economic milieu.

However, I could be the first of all followers of Chirere's writings to maybe discover that the title "Bhuku Risina Basa" was unwittingly inferred by another writer in 2009 (six years ago).

Wonder Guchu, a writer and journalist who in 2009 came up with Arts Initiates Zimbabwe to publish booklets of prose and fiction by local writers, could have been unaware of his critical discovery about Chirere's poetry.

Under the Arts Initiates Zimbabwe stable, Guchu published a number of monographs featuring writers and poets like Richmore Tera, Tinashe Muchuri and Chirere himself. Chirere's monograph published by Arts Initiates Zimbabwe in 2009 is titled "Munotitadzisa Kunamata" – a collection of only 11 Shona poems some of which also appear in his latest "Bhuku Risina Basa".

Guchu says in his editorial foreword in "Munotitadzisa Kunamata", "Kazhinji nhetembo dzaChirere dzinobatabata zvinorema nokudzama kuburikidza namazwi mashomanana ayo anoita seasina basa."

Could Guchu's last words in that sentence have influenced the title 'Bhuku Risina Basa'? The question led me to more asking.

In a brief interview, Chirere had this to say and he has been saying it concerning "Bhuku Risina Basa", "I got the title from the idea that these poems were written in a period of about 20 years, in between projects that I considered more important.

These are poems written mostly at the spur of the moment, in between chores and other projects, poems written without the idea to publish but to keep as a diary.

When suddenly they became too numerous to be thrown away, Mabasa (Ignatius) said why not preserve them in book form?"

Ignatius Mabasa, who proposed publishing Chirere's unusual diary of poems, also wrote the foreword to "Tudikidiki" in 2006 and observed the same thing that Guchu would later confirm. Mabasa is a contemporary of Chirere and he has his own panache for extraordinary book titles. One is made to want to know what is going on inside Mabasa's three novels titled "Ndafa Here", "Mapenzi" and "Imbwa YeMunhu"?

Some writers who have read "Bhuku Risina Basa" told this writer that they were also amazed by Chirere's skill in naming his books.

Performance poet Tinashe Muchuri, who is looking forward to publishing his debut Shona novel "Chibarabada" this year, said it is sad that some readers fail to get the deeper meaning hidden in Chirere's writings.

He said if one looks at those writers who Chirere has openly said are his favourite like Ernest Hemmingway, Bernard Honwana and Charles Mungoshi, there is a shared trend in book titling.

One of Hemmingway's popular books is titled "The Old Man and the Sea", for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954. Honwana's most quoted book is titled "We Killed Mangy Dog" and Mungoshi's exemplary book titling is seen in the two books "Ndiko Kupindana Kwamazuva" and "Kunyarara Hakusi Kutaura?" Muchuri said although these titles are simplistic, they tease the reader.

"Chirere's 'Somewhere in this Country' makes the reader want to know the 'unsaid something' happening somewhere in his/her country. The stories in this book are about those rare moments most writers tend to ignore," Muchuri added.

Another follower of Chirere's writings, US-based writer Emmanuel Sigauke said Chirere actually thinks and worries about a title's suitability. He said Chirere in the past called him (Sigauke) out on some of his "weaker" titles. Sigauke has so far published individual works titled "Forever Let Me Go", a poetry collection and the NAMA nominated "Mukoma's Marriage and Other Stories".

"Chirere's titles are interesting, often original, surprising and yet suitable for the work. Usually some are ironic, such as 'Tudikidiki' which really contains stories that are seemingly playful but they pierce where it matters.

"With 'Bhuku Risina Basa', the title actually draws you to the work and once you are in you realize that ibhuku rine basa. Chirere has always been good with titles," said Sigauke.

Truly, reading Chirere's poems and short stories, you are hit in the mind with an urge to take a deeper look into the "brief" word-tapestry intelligently weaved through everyday language or words that people often take for granted. You stand amazed by the skilful subtlety in the inner space of Chirere's poetry!

Chirere has been one of the few students alongside Ignatius Mabasa, the late Stanley Mupfudza, Eresina Hwede and others who benefited from the presence then of a writer-in-residence then at the University of Zimbabwe in the early 1990s.

Their mentor then was Chenjerai Hove and this is what he says about Chirere's work way back in September 2010: Chirere's talent is his capacity to capture character and landscape in most apt ways, with a phrase or a simple comparison.

He is one of the most observant writers ever to emerge in our cruel, beloved homeland.

Chirere has this subtle sense of detail, a poetic quality which makes his writing uniquely his. For example, if you look at how he portrays the manner in which music infiltrates the human consciousness in "Kamwe Karwizi", you will be amazed that I think it is the best Shona description I have come across of how the body and soul of humans absorb and are consumed by music. It is not the same as simply saying "I enjoyed the music".


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