Scientist revels in poetry

BULAWAYO - Performance poet Tinashe Tafirenyika, 24, who is employed by Mpilo Central Hospital as a medical laboratory scientist, can’t resist the lure of the spoken word.

While she is now based in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, her interest in the field of poetry can be traced back to the capital city.

“I started performing at the Book Cafe in Harare four years ago and I am a proud product of platforms like Sistaz Open Mic and the House of Hunger Poetry Slam,” Tafirenyika told the Daily News on Sunday.

She credits fellow performance poets she met at the now defunct Book Café for helping her to improve her craft.

“It would be a sin not to acknowledge Batsirai Chigama. And I know I am not the only artist whose career she has helped build. I really look up to her,” the talented wordsmith said.

In addition to the award-winning Chigama, Tafirenyika has also been inspired by poets like Outspoken, PAN and Madzitatiguru.

“I respect their craft. The fact that they are such humble, wonderful people is just the cherry on top,” she said.

Thanks to her grit and perseverance, Tafirenyika walked away with the Outstanding Poet gong at the National Arts Merit Awards (Nama) ceremony held in Harare in February this year.

“The award came as a pleasant surprise. I only got to grips with it after the awards. I had never imagined being nominated let alone winning.

“And the fellow nominees were veterans in this industry so it was quite humbling. Getting to be the first women to win this particular award, and the youngest so far, made it even harder to wrap my mind around it all,” she said.

In her poetry, the Bulawayo-born Tafirenyika tackles a number of subjects that she feels are relevant and meaningful to the society.

“I talk about life. I talk about God, struggle, joy, love and even poetry. I talk about the things that I see daily because these are the things that move me and the best pieces of writing are made when one is genuinely moved,” said the Nama laureate.

Asked whether she ever censors herself Tafirenyika said:

“That is a decision each individual has to make for themselves. A lot of things are to be considered. If your freedom of expression causes the audience you are trying to communicate with to shut you out then that could be tricky.

“And at the same time if your concern for ‘appropriate’ material dampens your work and compromises your art, then maybe inappropriate is not such a bad thing. With each performance, the performer has that decision to make,” Tafirenyika said adding:

“A poet has the right to speak on whatever they want and also the right to remain silent. It is unfair to judge someone because they are afraid.

“If it is that is the poet's choice to avoid a certain topic, no one should try to force them to do otherwise. If they choose to speak, they should not be silenced.”

Tafirenyika is confident that the Nama gong will spur her on to new heights.

“I hope to take spoken word to places it has not been before. I feel our generation of poets has a lot to offer and we cannot stop until our counter-culture becomes the mainstream.

“I think the industry could do better. There are a lot of areas that need improvement. As an artist I can't change the entire industry but there are things I can change and it is my responsibility to do so,” she said.

But does the Nama winner has some weaknesses?

“My biggest weakness on stage is that I get caught in the moment; in the truth of whatever I am saying at that time. It is no longer just words; it's a part of me that I have to live on that stage.

“I need the audience to feel what I feel; see what I see. So mine is a messier, honest type of performance,” the talented youngster said.

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