AFRLUENCER’s woman of the month is a Zimbabwean poet and winner of the NAMA 2018 Spoken Word Award. Tinashe Tafirenyika is a medical practitioner at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo. She is inspired by her daily life, God and people struggles. AFRLUENCER had the privilege to get to know more about her and her work.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Tinashe and I’m from Bulawayo. I’m a medical laboratory scientist by day and a poet by night (and on weekends), that’s my super power. I use a lot of pop culture references in my work. I recently became a columnist on a Nigerian blog called Konya Shamsrumi which is awesome because I’m the only Southern African columnist there so far but also pretty scary for those same reasons. I went to school at Fusi primary school and then Sizane high school where I did a lot of public speaking which I believe helped prepare me for the life of a Rock Star Performance Poet. I think unicorns are real and I am eternally suspicious of people who don’t eat amacimbi.
Was poetry or Medical Laboratory Science a childhood dream for you?
Well I never saw myself as a poet. I always wrote stuff but I cared nothing for it until I was at University. I did always want to be a scientist though, the white lab coat, microscope, and that stuff has always looked cool to me.
What has helped you build the carrier you have today?
People, lots of awesome selfless God-sent people. Batsirai Chigama, Peggie Shangwa, Philani Nyoni, Tendekai Tati, Tswarelo Mothobe, I could go on. The great thing about poetry in Zimbabwe is the great sense of community we have. This enables younger poets to learn from people who are already in the game. Many organizations and festivals who invest in poetry have also been very instrumental in the growth of my career. Sacrifice and discipline are obviously necessary in this field, but so is risk taking and the ability to take failures and criticism in stride.
Tell us about being a woman in Poetry.
It’s hard! You consistently have to prove yourself, you have to endure some ridiculous conditions that your male counterparts don’t have to deal with, your image is definitely scrutinized more, you sometimes have to pass up opportunities that you deserve because of harassment, the list is endless.
But I guess it’s like being a woman anywhere else, the world is not female friendly and that complicates a lot of our day to day lives. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of women in the arts who have taken me under their wings and taken care of me.
I’ve also had the pleasure of working with men who are respectful and professional and just not creeps. That has helped a great deal. It’s important for those of us who are ahead in certain spheres to create safer spaces for those who are coming behind us. Being a woman in anything shouldn’t be this hard.
Is the Zimbabwean industry supportive? What organizations do you work with?
Poetry is definitely recognized and supported in Zimbabwe. I suppose because poetry has a certain mainstream element it is much more socially acceptable than other art-forms. This is particularly true in schools where most have poetry as part of a running drama program. This means we have poets being trained from an early age. Of course many people still haven’t decided on the role and structure of performance poetry but I believe in time, we will get there. I’m not really working with anyone right now apart from KSR. In the past I’ve worked with Jibilika, it was many years ago but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I used to write for Kalabash Media when I was in University. In more recent times I’ve done work for Nhimbe Trust and Intwasa.
How do people receive poetry?
People love poetry. Good poetry, anyway. I experimented by releasing a poetry video last year and it got thousands of views on social media which is something I had not expected. Recently Lady Tshawe and I were interviewed on Pink and Purple, an Onvi TV production that appears on ZBC and I had so many random people come up to me in the street and say “You’re the poet chick! I saw you on TV, your poem was dope!”
What can be changed?
A lot. But not everything can be changed in our lifetime so it’s important to keep the goal in perspective and not to lose hope.
What are some of your achievements to date?
I was the youngest person to win the NAMA in Spoken Word Poetry in 2017, and that was followed by a Bulawayo Arts Award for Spoken Word in the same year. I received my second NAMA in 2018 and that one was really special because we’d worked very hard on Sarah Baartman (the poetry video we submitted for nomination). I’ve also won a few slams here and there and I have managed to last an entire week without coffee and without murdering anyone.
Words of encouragement to aspiring poets?
Read more than you write and be brutally honest with yourself. The world is ready for you but are you ready for it? Poetry is beautiful in that you don’t need a lot of money to make it awesome, you just need to better yourself, hone your skill and expand your knowledge. Don’t be under any pressure to be like anyone else, we want to hear your story, your truth so be the best version of yourself and don’t embarrass us because the world is watching. Also don’t debase yourself in any way for any opportunity, there’ll always be more to come.