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Breaking the silence(s) in For Women Failing to Breathe (It’s not your fault): A review.

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Ever since her publication of the NAMA award winning Gather the Children, we have been waiting for something to nourish our mind, heart and soul from one who is proving to be a great poet of our time. To fill the gap in our hearts Batsirai Chigama is back with the beautiful For women trying to breathe and failing (it’s not your fault)(2021).It is both an acknowledgement of the stifling and adverse conditions we are in as it is a comfort to tell us not to fret over this for we are not to blame. The book is a diagnosis of the uncomfortable and disheartening times where the individual is threatened with abuse, political and economic incompetence, life threatening ailments, betrayals, and so on. All these maladies have a bearing mostly on wo(men).

As a result Batsirai is saying

We need to talk 
We are breeding bombs  Under our tongues  
That will explode 
When we kiss  
Our children goodnight 
Can we talk Zimbabwe o

This summative piece placed even before the table of contents of the book, is an invitation to the reader to the silence breaking table. It earmarks the anthology as a tool against silence and disheartening silence on all matters affecting wo(men) in Zimbabwe.The poems in this collection vividly bring life to the page as we experience it on a daily basis and help us see and contemplate it, probably in slightly different ways than before. In a country that is in ‘a deep end,’ ‘war zone,’ ‘serial rapist’ ‘graveyard’ where ‘unborn dreams are afraid to birth themselves into a prison of despair’ it comes as no surprise when many are involved in using “braincleer” twice a day. The persona in “braincleer” thus takes us to the surface details of drug (ab)use and transport us beyond mere campaigns against such a practice meant to numb one ‘out of existence.’

Chigama is calling her audience to speak up against the circus of betrayal and selling out in the mother land. For instance the poem “debiritating” evokes the memory of the ‘orgasmic euphoria’ that connects the past and the future that has become now. It is this very present that the persona in “mortgaged” warns us of the ongoing parceling out of our cherished heritage: land, sacred hills and rivers to the neocolonial powers. In this piece, the poet is engaged in the ‘post’ colonial critique presented by Ngugi waThiongo in Devil on the cross when the thieves are sharing ideas on how to steal from the people. The persona closes with a scarry but truthful warning: ‘one day we will wake up// not belonging to ourselves’

In some of the poems Batsirai’s personas take us through the social torrents tormenting women and children such as divorce, relationship breakups and so on. For instance ‘1989’ pictures the desolation a child coming for school holidays comes to when she encounters ’empty shelves// emptied of promises my father and mother made to each other.’ Home is never the same, devoid of ‘mother’s hand’. It is the beginning of the persona’s distrust in human beings. The poem ends with a question ‘How does one survive such tragedy?’ which for me is a call to discuss the impact of parental choices on their relationships to their offspring.

As if answering the question in “1989,” “Letting go” reminds us of the ephemerality of some relationships. In the poem the persona is aware of the contradiction found in the human desire to be ‘rivers flowing endlessly in other people’s lives’ when the fact of reality is that some relations are just ‘bridges’ linking others to their destinies we are not necessarily a part of.

Apart from the pains of life, Chigama lightens up with some extra-beautiful pieces in a segment titled ‘How love should’. Another take from this anthology is the energy put into it that is so visible to go unnoticed. I was so much attracted to the table of contents that heralds the beautiful layout and styles you will meet in the anthology. The book is divided into six segments: Citizen woman in a land of the undead; How love should be; For women who forget to breathe while alive; For women failing to survive; For women finding their feet and Random thoughts of a woman sojourner.

For Women Trying to Breathe and Failing (it’s not your fault) is a must have. It can be found on Kindle and multiple book outlets in Zimbabwe. The book can go a long way in sparkling dialogues around issues we are not comfortable to have. It may help to understand these issues in whole new dimensions.

Upcoming launch details

Batsirai Chigama is a performer, poet, literary activist, and social commentator. Her debut collection Gather the Children (2018) is a National Aarts Merit Awards winner for being the Outstanding First Creative Published Work. Her passion for providing alternative narratives and work with young people has taken her across the globe where she engaged in performing and facilitating creative writing and spoken word workshops. She contributed to the recently Penguin Random House published Wild Imperfections: An Anthology of Womanist Poetry (2021) edited by Natalia Molebatsi.

Review by Brain Garusa.