Monday, 4 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 50: Zodwa Mtirara

The fine assemblage of poets in the Backroom has been outstanding in quality but reflects my contacts list, so they're primarily my sort (ish) age and sort (ish) background. We've reached the number 50 in the series now, and that was meant to be an end to it, but comrades, the poetry curve has not flattened and I intend to go on another 3 weeks, partly because there are many other good Scottish poets to come and partly because there is an impending, you'll be delighted to ken, #plagueopoemsworldtour which will take us west to Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and then back to Dumfries and Galloway via England. To give a preview of this and to smash the current age demographic of the Blog, I have huge pleasure in introducing to the Backroom, the poet Zodwa Mtirara from the Eastern Cape.

 Zodwa Mtirara is a Mtata born, Vaal raised,  poet, writer, and musician. She holds a diploma in Music Education from Nelson Mandela University and a Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing from Rhodes University. She speaks, reads, and writes in four South African official languages, English, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, and SeSotho. A recipient of the Pan South African Language Board award as “Umfundi Ovelele Olwimini LwesiZulu” (Top student in isiZulu language) in 2008. She is active across a range of artistic disciplines, music, theatre, and poetry.

Thanks to Stuart Paterson for introductions to the South African poets you'll be meeting later. Stuart's work connecting with Imbongi and other isiXhosa poets in 2019 didn't receive anything like the attention it deserved here, but maybe we'll hear more of that later in the series.

The Text of Zodwa's specially written poem which she reads in the video:


the memory of blood fills the empty streets with silence
townships only penetrable by the groans of empty
stomachs in tin shacks
a violence to humanity by her own;
locked down with locks that cannot be picked

trapped in merciless shackles of perpetual hunger
granted no choice of a chance to humane livelihood
take a grant and shush:
the head severs tongues so they will not form words
to shape worlds of a different lineage who
with her own hands,
makes bread for sustenance

she scrapes for scraps of a hope for a better tomorrow
fighting for a single breath, lungs tormented by a
constricting fear,
but with a single scrap found
faith is restored.

the murky mountain still looms
helplessness screams gloom
the death toll is rising
the system’s brutality takes its toll

but with the mirror reflecting terror
she re-images the triumphs of old
and, with her war-hands sketches a
view beyond the trembling
re-memories a virus-free future
engraves in her mind the truth of
Afrika who rises
again, and again, and again.


  1. Wow!!! Indeed Afrika will continue to rise. Beautiful work Zodwa.

    1. Thank you so much Yonela. In us is the blood of our warrior ancestors. To rise is one thing we know best.

  2. I am a big fan of your work, beautiful ❤️ from Mizy

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  4. Cracking powerful poem beautifully & memorably read.