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This report is taken from PN Review 35, Volume 10 Number 3, January - February 1984.

Black Poetry in Zimbabwe Colin Style
'Iwe Munyori Nyanduri'-'You the masterful poet': so runs an address to the late Wilson Chivaura, one of the first of the modern Shona poets. The reverential tone suggests that poets should thrive in Zimbabwe, nourished by the great natural beauty of the country. But the progress of poetry has been intermittent among both whites and blacks, though always most interesting in its development.

The long period of colonial rule and its disruption of the Shona and Matabele past has meant that literary culture came through reluctantly and at low pressure. There were other factors, among them the stranglehold of the proto-apartheid system, the culmination of the long, vicious bush war, the thin scattering of the population across sunwashed spaces. For the whites, the conservative cast of the small population in the country meant that few talents emerged, and avant-gardism was resisted. Early settlers and administrators brought the amateur, gentlemanly itch to scribble. As it happened, some of what they wrote was good, notably the work of Arthur Shearly Cripps, Cullen Gouldsbury and Kingsley Fairbridge. After these early poets, thirty years passed without verse of any merit being published. In 1950, Noel Brettell brought out a solid volume, Bronze Frieze. Thereafter things improved, and something like a local white tradition was established.

During all those years black writing was silent as the population struggled with illiteracy and colonial occupation. So much so, that even by the early 1950s many Europeans doubted whether a written literature was possible. When ...

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