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Adroit: When did you first become interested in poetry and the written word?

Robson Isaac Shoes Lambada: I first became interested in the written word when I was in primary school. My fifth grade teacher introduced me to poetry, and I went on to memorize all the poems I would read. I made personal efforts to borrow poetry books from the school library. From then, my poetry journey began.

A: How did you first get involved with ZPHR?

RISL: In fact, I founded the Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights. I co-founded it with a friend in 2007.

A: That’s great! So, why do you think poetry is important to Zimbabwe today?

RISL: Poetry is a form of expression that knows no boundaries. The political situation in the country sometimes does not allow free expression, and poetry breaks those barriers. Poetry in Zimbabwe is a medium that delivers messages to people’s doorsteps not only in a flowery way, but also in a challenging way that makes one think more deeply and eventually take action. Poetry is not just literature, but rather a part and parcel of our daily life—hence the packaging of critical messages in this art form, which has become very relevant.

A: Are there difficulties for poetry when transported from one culture to another culture?

RISL: Definitely, but I do not think that the difficulties totally hinder the appreciation of the art in any different culture. I believe that each culture has its history that is unique from other cultures’ histories. Therefore, the circumstances that lead poets to write definitely differ. Furthermore, the environment is a major contributor to one’s writings. This is the reason why African poetry is totally different from European, Asian and American poetry.

A: Do you think that there is a gap between English-language poetry and Shona-language poetry in Zimbabwe? Is there a bridge over that gap?

RISL: There is a gap, but the gap is not very wide. The first bridge is translation. However, this does not always prove to be useful; with translation, the message is often passed on, but the beauty of the language is lost. Secondly, most English published poetry is foreign—hence the shortage of local voices in English poetry. I think that technology, in a way, is trying to bridge the gap, as most poets are self-publishing themselves on the Internet through their personal blogs or established poetry websites.

A: Do you think that poetry should be involved in social reform, or should be mostly apolitical?

RISL: Once poetry becomes apolitical, it’s a vivid sign of self-censorship. Creativity should be spontaneous, and self-censorship is one sure way of killing creativity. There are several examples of poets who have been so instrumental in advocating for socio-political reform—among them, Jack Mapanje of Malawi, and the late Zimbabwean Julius Chingono. I do not see any problem with poetry moving the social reform agenda. However, poets should be careful not to compromise their work by deliberately writing on social reform, when in fact they are not inspired by that subject at all.

A: What do you wish the rest of the world knew about Zimbabwe?

RISL: I wish everyone in the world knew that Zimbabwe is not a scene in a horror movie characterized by sorrow, anxiety, distress and fretting. Zimbabweans are a happy people. Bad times come, but eventually they will go.

Emma Kemp is a writer and artist based in Los Angeles where she teaches at Otis College of Art & Design. Emma is one half of artist-duo Earl Gravy, as well as a co-founder of the publishing platform WhichWitchLA. She is currently at work on a book of biographical cultural criticism that traces the life and work of musician Conor Oberst. Follow her @e_e_kemp.


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