(picture:Primrose reading from 'Destiny In My Hands')
Title: Destiny In My Hands
Author: Primrose Dzenga
Publisher: Salmonpoetry, 2010
Page Count: 72
(A review by Memory Chirere)
Primrose Dzenga’s poetry collection, Destiny In My Hands is about women’s reflections on their passionate love and sometimes hate and hurt relationships with men. To read it is to snoop and listen to a woman’s heartbeat and passions. You come away with the knowledge that to relate is to invest and to risk.
At this point I want to restate what I wrote and published in 2006 about Shona women’s love poems in Shona: ‘While the traditional Shona woman had the latitude to compose and perform love poetry specifically for her man in bed (madanha), the modern Shona woman of the written word tends to avoid, in several ways, writing fully fledged love poems in the Shona language. After observing some of the key Shona poetry collections, one clearly notes that love poems written in Shona by women, avoids explicit references to ‘women in love’. Most of these poems are very rarely from a woman’s point of view. In the very few poems that portray women in love, there are usually no in depth and meaningful explorations of the love of women for their men.’
But Primrose Dzenga has fearlessly joined the few brave Zimbabwean voices of Kristina Rungano and Eve Nyemba in writing about how a woman in love (and outside love) feels. The themes of power and political violence appear to have been overplayed in contemporary Zimbabwean literature.
In ‘If he made love’ a man skilfully plays an instrument at a public gathering that the woman persona, gawking at him from the crowd, wishes she were the instrument in his very able hands:
‘If he made love,
With such joy and abandon
Tenderness and care
If he caressed
Velvety feverish caresses
Like he did the cords,
Sweet cords of his piano…’
For me, this could be one of the best love poems to come out of Zimbabwe, if it is finally agreed that it is a love poem! It is both direct and indirect.The woman is transfigured by both the music and the intimate way in which the unsuspecting man musician plays the instrument. This is in tune with Shona folklore where a man wins a woman by playing the drum from morning to sunset and a woman wins a man by dancing until she sinks into the ground beneath her and until water pours from the crater that her dancing feet have dug.
The Shona admire such arts to the extent that such a mythical girl is known to this day as Jikinya (the inimitable dancer who stamps the earth with her feet). In ‘Illusions’ the persona bemoans the dearth of true love of the old world. Men of today ‘do not kiss, they bite’ and ‘they do not caress but scratch’. Inversely, the maidens of old: ‘saw the beauty in a man’s eyes’ and ‘the depth and need of a man’s heart’.
In keeping with the old world, you find out that twilight, night, midnight and dawn are important in Dzenga’s poems. Darkness is surely the colour of love. In the village of old, night is the moment for half hidden faces of lovers in true passion, dance and ritual. It is time for truthful and undivided reflection:
‘I think of you at midnight
I dream of you awake at dawn
Conversations in mystic tongue
Lie pearly jewels between you and me’
‘Broken sentences’ is a poem in which a roguish man of today is enmeshed in his roles as woman-basher and senseless ravisher of women. During the moment of the poem, he is finally running away from the innocent woman he has just murdered. But the woman is everywhere; in his impish thoughts, in the beer mug in front of him and in his running legs. He has defeated her but his victory over her is not victory. It is a journey into doom because to kill a woman is to kill your mother and to kill the source. In the Shona world, fighting a woman or one’s mother is like falling into an abyss where you tumble endlessly, hitting against the walls of the tunnel as you descend, and your anguish cries reminding the world of the folly of raising your hand against Mother. And such is the tragedy of action without conscience.
And yet Dzenga suggests that it is not always easy and safe for a woman to give her heart to a man. And when she finally does, as in ‘Whisper’, it is with a sense of sacrificial surrender to fate and the unknown, because he has capacity either to cause her a terrible joy or to walk away with her destiny in his hands.
Sometimes a woman desperately falls for a man and at this point, she wants him to declare his love and set her and him free:
‘Whisper my love, whisper, I need to know
So free and homeward bound I can set and glide
Free my herat and soul the core of me
I am bound and stuck by your magic’
Primrose Dzenga’s poetic voice comes from a little hole on the top of a hill, rolling down fast and sometimes, haltingly towards your waiting ear. Very beautiful and nasty. All in all, these poems shock you with the insistent suggestion that the woman’s heart has twin capacities; to love uncontrollably or to suffer intensely. Suddenly you notice that there are so many women, past and present, whom you owe an explanation, maybe an apology as well.