Between the Lines :Saberstian T Sibanda

WHILE most authors prefer to serve their best delicacies during the main course, Tanaka Chidora, author of Because Sadness is Beautiful? reveals his curiously rebellious nature by hastily lighting a forest fire under poetic practice. Using his exceptional knack for intuitive observation, he drops a colossal cluster bomb on the entrée page of his debut poetry collection, which sets the tone for the rest of the book.

He muses: “…there is a country whose main preoccupation is to allocate sadness to its people.” This opening salvo detonates inside the mind instantly, obliterating any pre-conceived notions that this book will gather dust on shelves, and fondly reminds me of why I fell in love with Chidora’s finesse with the written word. I first came across Chidora’s hypnotic writing style on the esteemed corridors of the Gould of Consciousness, a gathering place for those with poetic marrow in their bones. And there I found him lamenting the passing of his grandmother in a sombre piece aptly titled, An Old Woman Dying.

I considered this desolate piece an outpouring of a myriad of emotions many writers would hesitate to address in the public domain. To his credit, Chidora employs the same meta-personal approach to emphatic writing in his book, Because Sadness is Beautiful? also notable for a most-intriguing title that forces the reader to ponder: how can sadness be beautiful?

The literary offering is reflective of a poet who writes for himself first and the reader second, and this is evident by the pervasive manner in which he bludgeons blunt words into the reader’s mind without needing to ask for permission or favour. He artfully uses the book as a vehicle to pay homage to other literary giants who have crossed his illustrious path and in some instances persons with whom he shares personal attachments.

One of Chidora’s endearing techniques is intertwining vulgarised shock and awe with prolific aphorisms such as when he writes about, “a country whose peace is governed by beasts, bullets, and bayonets.” This persuasive line is a definitive example of the serpentine prowess of Chidora’s hand, possessing the uncanny ability to deliver a heart-wrenching message without the dissenting political clutter that usually accompanies such notions. And one cannot help imagining the dire fate of such a nation. Happy to reverse into the political mud bath, Tanaka is bent on “carrying the entire weight of the country” on the back of his poetic voice, as he takes different routes and panoramic views to portray the prevailing state of affairs. And at times he brazenly peers into the ghastly intestines of society to reveal abominations normal eyes shy away from — such as the following anecdote: “…it is only in squatting astride the yawning hole of the pit latrine that the emperor and subjects share pieces of democracy.”

Chidora’s writing style is peculiarly reminiscent of Charles Bukowski who also possessed a penchant for writing in morbid tones that kicked the reader’s brain into submission. I pleasantly feel that Chidora has managed to infuse the same essence into his latest offering. Chidora’s poems emphasise the power of vivid storytelling by using secular themes from daily life with great attention to detail. He dresses his words in common robes while repeating engaging patterns that contribute to the impression that his book was composed thoroughly as one complete story, rather than a sequence of individual poems.

By basing his poems on realities of the common person, Chidora forces the reader to carefully consider allegiance to either the whims of society or the truth. Tell me, who in their right mind would not be traumatised by this ensuing encounter with the supposed purveyors of law and order? “…the policeman’s body slants to the left / bending to the rage of the wind / but the policemen is not bending to rage/he is bending to the puppet’s rage/a rage that drives his boot against the shrivelled buttocks of his/mother/father/grandmother/grandfather.”

The only pertinent entity missing from this unnerving stanza is a sister and the obvious lack of conscience displayed by the antagonist. But an introspective inspection of this potent verse attempts to humanise the perpetrator by revealing that he too is a victim of the situation, and dispenses injustice only at the behest of the ”puppeteer” behind the lines.

While the book carries serious undertones throughout its spine, there are many instances when Chidora adopts an almost comedic approach to poignant storytelling. In a piece titled “a slow country,” he drops toilet humour like Hiroshima when he scoffs about, “guava speckled excrement toiling against the contractions of the rectum’s folds.” This rabid line — which incidentally pays subtle homage to NoViolet Bulawayo’s tales of stealing guava in her book, We Need New Names, brings a refreshing reprieve that rescues this book from the persistent gloom depicted. Similarly, witty veins of storytelling are proffered when he writes about “the missing childhood” and hilariously alludes to: “…looking for my childhood/parting the shrubs/with hope that I may have left it/lying carelessly like a used condom in the midday heat.”

No doubt there is a copious amount of pleasure to be extracted from the powerful themes carried in this book, but whether the socio-political turbulence underpinning these circumstances can be resolved is unclear.

I do not presume that this is Chidora’s objective. I guess he intends to destroy the covers obscuring the raw sewage emanating from our broken society, and that for me as a reader is enough. And this is one of the redeeming traits of this book; it does not take itself too seriously, allowing a poem like “on the ruins” to splutter recklessly, “the anus could not resist /the purging power of shit.” This line demands serious introspection about how as a nation we continue to ignore the metaphysical shit that we are forced to consume each day, and how as a tolerant people, we disregard the subliminal stockpiling of shit in our lives.

At 127 pages this is a short read that manages to deliver diverse themes on the long and short sections of free-flowing verses, without losing fervour. I feel obliged to mention though, I still do not know “why sadness is beautiful,” and whether the meaning is intentionally vague or is lost in translation, I still feel this is a major let down for the reader. The answer to this question lays bare the entire premise of the book and should be addressed sufficiently.

I was delightfully impressed with the cover design and accompanying artwork; this personal touch speaks to Chidora’s idiosyncratic nature. However, I found the typesetting style to be distracting and at times quite annoying, with several instances where poems are deliberately made to start midway on a page and break-off abruptly without warning, and this faux pas coupled with the use of brackets for subtitles and small caps for headings made for a sore reading experience.

But these minor aggravations, probably due to differing styling tastes, do nothing to take away the essence of this rather enlightening and melancholic read.

Do you have a coronavirus story? You can email us on: