Must-read poetry: Tariro Ndoro’s AGRINGADA: LIKE A GRINGA, LIKE A FOREIGNER

This. In April of this year, Tariro Ndoro’s debut poetry collection was released by Modjaji Books, and became available to readers outside South Africa via the African Books Collective. I work with Tariro at Praxis Magazine Online (she’s the Associate Editor – Fiction for Praxis), and I ordered a copy as soon as it became available. Curiosity about what a colleague from / in Zimbabwe with a BSc in Microbiology and MA in Creative Writing would bring to a poetry collection. Then I read it. And I keep rereading it. And if you are looking for one poetry book to get for yourself as a gift this year, I’d like to recommend this one.

The people in my pelt. Breaking a bronco. Mustang. Movies in Braille. (Titles of some of the poems I’ve been returning to over and over again.) Tari tells of growing up in Zimbabwe, of being one of only two black girls in a white classroom, of being “the girl who has to hesitate before she speaks because she must double-check that she is thinking in the correct language so that her words are not misconstrued.” (Mustang)

She tells of struggling with verb forms in Shona, of watching Bollywood movies with subtitles, of insecurities in speaking either Shona or English, of what it is to expect drought and famine, of gender inequity, wealth inequity, racism, classism, detentions, demands to conform.

Self-portrait-poems of a child who shrinks into silence because there is no safe way to use language: “You wear silence / sitting on the concrete floor of a library / a shroud like speech // Language does not belong to you” (self portrait at nine).

Definition poems. Prose poems. Semi-erasures, strike-outs, lists. And poems that do things I myself have never dared to do with poetry. Poems that succeed in saying things I’ve never quite found the way to express in my own lines, and have mostly given up trying.

Tariro Ndoro, though…she didn’t quit. And Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner, succeeds and stuns.