By Farai Shawn Matiashe
MUTARE – Frustrated by rampant piracy Zimbabwe’s poets are leaning towards performing their works in a bid to at least earn something out of their labours.
Tired of fame without commensurate financial returns, poets are being pushed out of their cocoons into the arena of performance arts.
This is the route 22-year-old poet, Shingirai Manyengavana, is taking.
Having begun his career in high school with his works being featured in Detembai Tinzwe – a poetry column in Kwayedza newspaper he was soon a celebrity among school going peers.
The young and enthusiastic poet then worked hard to have his work published in book format a dream that also soon came true.
Manyengavana said he thought he had it all as he began to rub shoulders with established poets like Simbarashe Kavhenga and Bridget Chinouriri in Gwatakwata Renhetembo a poetry anthology published last year.
But he was to have a rude awakening – he only found fame and no proportionate monetary returns.
“I struggled to look for a publisher until in 2016 when I was featured in a Shona poetry anthology called Gwatakwata Renhetembo. However, it is almost half a year down the line now, but I have not received anything from it. This is despite it being now in the Zimbabwe School of Examinations Council syllabus (ZIMSEC),” said Manyengavana.
The problem is however not unique to the young author as piracy goes up the roof.
Dreams of young authors to have rewarding careers out of the written word as did authors like Charles Mungoshi and Aaron Chiunduramoyo are being dashed in the process.
A snap survey by this writer show that rampant piracy is hindering the marketing of books as individuals even academic institutions are now mass producing books through photocopying.
Nationwide, sidewalks are covered with cheaply reproduced books being sold illegally by vendors.
Both budding writers and established writers are increasingly finding poetry recording and performance a solution.
“I do not blame the publishers who market our products for this dilemma. I believe that this is what the arts industry is like now due to different reasons. I have realized that with poetry recording I can reach my destiny. Even Zimbabwean musicians are facing the same situation as ours; they are currently not getting money from selling their products, but from doing live performance.
“I perform mostly at weddings and NGO functions in order to gain out of it. I have also learnt to be versatile. Besides poetry performing as I now write scripts for short films,’’ Manyengavana, who has written several unpublished Shona novels, plays and poems said.
Another budding writer, Martin Makaya has also joined the band wagon of stage poets.
Makaya, who produced jingles and adverts for local radio station – Diamond FM, told this writer that recording poetry was also much easier than securing a book deal.
“I record my poems because the facilities to do so are in my reach and more accessible than publishing written work,” said Makaya.
There is growing uncertainty on whether publishing written works will survive for much longer.
Novels and poetry editor Tinashe Muchuri who also authored Shona novel Chibarabada believes that while the book may be struggling the written format will survive.
“Poetry will survive even in these economic hardships, pages have changed form. The internet has walls on which poetry can be pasted and be read. This shows that poetry will still survive, take for example, of many epitaphs on many modern tombstones. These are new pages now found in the village and people can read poetry on these pamphlets,” said Muchuri.
Muchuri said all forms of publishing poetry should work together as one form cannot survive without the other.
“Poetry recording has an edge over print anthologies both are beaten to economic joys by poetry performance. Using different forms helps publicize and markets one’s art thereby allowing an interface with a broad audience who in turn will hire the poet’s services.
“Print allows for intimacy in solitary trenches while recording can be enjoyed while doing other things. Print reveals the power to engage with one’s intellect while the other can be just a chant note well neat but appealing to the ear,” he said.
Muchuri, who is also a stage poet, said key to everything was to produce timeless works.
“To those writing poetry I say, in order to find the success and joy that poetry writing brings, they should aim to present poetry in print, audio, visual, film and on stage. These diverse genres of poetry will enable them to fully enjoy the awards of their art.
“Above all this they must always remember benefits do not only come in one’s life time but may benefit one’s progeny,” he said.