Your first book, Spirit Brides, had a large geographical scope, covering four continents and numerous countries. Will your next book be as diverse?
The collection doesn't have a set title as yet, but we'll get there before it goes to print next year. The poems are all set in rural Zimbabwe, so it will not have the international geography of Spirit Brides, but it will maintain a broad thematic territory. Although the poems are based within Zimbabwe, the collection was written so that the general international reader should be able to read and appreciate the poems without encountering any huge cultural hurdles.
Was there a reason you chose to confine the poems to one country?
No, not in the beginning. After the publication of Spirit Brides, I wanted to explore the world more with my poems, so I carried on using variations of cultures and settings. These poems were experimental—in both text and thought—but then every once in a while I would write a "formal looking" poem about Zimbabwe—a rough sonnet or rondeau, very different from the experimental work. This troubled me for a bit, until I made the decision to isolate these formal poems with the aim of collecting and publishing them separately. And as time went on I found myself giving priority to the Zimbabwean poems. And as I began to publish and compile the local poems, I found that my initial feelings were correct—that these poems should be collected on their own with one common background.
And the other poems?
The other poems are still being worked on and will focus on travel, sport and the sea. "The Wine of Apes" is one of the poems—published in the first issue of KIN—that should be collected and hopefully published two years after the Zimbabwean collection.
So in fact you were writing two different books at the same time?
Actually three. There is also a collection of cycling poems I am putting together. Poems about villages I visited on bicycle in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland. It should be a slim volume. But then I've found I've always worked on several projects at once, so here it was simply a matter of separating the various poems into batches, placing the batches into their own corners then delegating time to each batch. It's been a massive education to try and think of a collection as one organic unit; before this point, the general aim was to publish in a magazine then collect and send out to a publisher. But now I feel, while working on one poem for a collection, that I am thinking of the collection as a whole. It always fascinates me how the mind can sometimes automatically fall into the right gear to deal with a poem you haven't physically worked on in months or weeks. You tend to pull out a sheaf of paper, or open a file on the computer, and you're back to where you started, but with a new perspective on the words.
In your first collection, most of the poems are either free verse or prose—why do you think you wrote the poems in your forthcoming collection in fixed forms?
I'm not sure. The thought of different forms had always been with me. When I first started reading poetry one of the pleasures was the visual aspect of poetry, separate from sound and meaning. I knew I wanted to play with form, but also knew I therefore had to understand form—so I began to read a lot about metered verse and became excited about the use of 'fixed' forms in contemporary ways, this meant fighting against the usual constraints of punctuation and enjambment—finding ways to deal with the end line and also softening rhyme for the sensitivity of the modern ear. It all became an obsession that has me scanning lines whenever I read a book, sometimes even prose.
You were brought up on your family's farm; is this what inspired the collection?
Yes and no. Although some poems detail the labours and joys of farming life, the book also celebrates non-commercial rural landscapes around Zimbabwe; a theme that has been neglected in our local poetry for some time now, our poets nominating to focus not on the natural world—but commerce and the cities. I guess having been brought up on a farm has made it a bit easier to tune into the natural world because most of my childhood memories are coloured by it.
Now that you are a father has it changed your writing in any way?
Not the writing per se as yet, but the way I read. I find now that the texts I've enjoyed over the years bear more gravity. The human story was deceptively simpler before the birth of my daughter. I find I am moved more easily, not by any misunderstanding I had possessed before—but simply by a glimpse of a partial understanding of the gift of life. I believe parenthood will give a bit more depth to my own words from now.
Togara Muzanenhamo was born in Lusaka Zambia and brought up in Zimbabwe on his family's farm, 30 miles south of Harare. He studied Business Administration in France and The Netherlands. After his studies he returned to Zimbabwe where he became a journalist before moving to an institute dedicated to the development of African screenplays. In 2001 he went to England to pursue an M.A. in creative writing. Togara's poems have appeared in numerous magazines and journals. Spirit Brides, his debut collection, was published by Carcanet Press. He currently divides his time between writing and administrating the family business.