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Die With Me by Hope Masike: A Review

"Some gowns are pretty cloaks of death, Some aisles are perfect routes to the graveyard, Some bouquets are precious forests of blood-drinking lilies." (Page 45)

Well, after seven months we are here again and perhaps ‘horror poems’ are a good way to end a hiatus. I can explain... but then again we need to get back to business right away. Some time in July I attended Hope Masike’s electrifying launch of her new collection of poems Die With Me. In this collection Masike explores the personal wars, which in honesty are shared wars in trying to tame the lingering questions of what is the truth? In a foreword by Clive Mono Mukundu (Zimbabwean musician and author), this work is described as a philosophical contribution and I cannot wait to see the philosophical takes on the book. At the launch, Memory Chirere (Zimbabwean academic, award-winning author and literary critic), highlighted  that this is a small book but it is complex because of the questions that it asks. Ray Mawerera, editor to this collection also gave a heartwarming speech. Masike takes the reader on a journey through African spirituality, history, identity, and the future. There is a place for conflicting ideologies in this book, Christian references and what she calls African Indigenous Religions references are sown throughout the text. The launch captured the mood of the new collection and if anything, you just had to be there. I love a good book launch and lately these have become popular in Harare.

Reading this collection I was most taken by ‘Once She Dies’ which explores the mother-child relationship. They do say, nothing is deeper than a mother’s love, yet supposedly when she dies she ultimately becomes an avenger, an angry spirit roaming about seeking atonement for all the wrongs committed against her by her children. If you have no wrongs to pay for then good for you but if you do then the future can only be bleak unless the price for forgiveness is paid! Even in the depth of that love is an aspect that separates the mother from the child; many times I have heard that your mother is not your relative, she is not from your tribe and thus one has to be careful with how they tread in that relationship. Perhaps, it is all about respect. The spirituality of motherhood and importance of the maternal is key. The spirit that roams is not only set aside for mothers and in ‘Avenging Spirit,’ Masike paints a vivid picture of what one of those spirits, mother or not, is capable of unleashing, ‘And thunder shall crack open all our foundations, and lightning shall slash across our hearts…’ (page 25).

Masike delves into the world of the spiritual with questions and in an open invitation she carries the reader into some common rituals like praying, cleansing, burial rites etc. On the cover is a white canvass with a single brush stroke of red paint, signifying blood. Masike is also a painter and the selected book cover adds value to the text. Blood is a focal point in this collection which she uses unsparingly. In the text, the imagery and exploration of blood is powerful. Blood may be deemed as a sign of life, sacred, a cleanser and the glue to covenants. On the pure white canvas is it a stain or an atonement, is it life, death or something in between? This is something that she further explores in ‘The Crimson Red,’ Should the reader die with her, will the reader rise with her for this is a book about many awakenings.

Masike’s stylistic approach in this text is simple and adventurous.  The short story ‘Flower By The Grave,’ is nestled somewhere in the book and thematically it fits perfectly into the collection. The story is a pleasant surprise, although dealing with serious issues it is light and changes the gloomy mood of the book, thus far. It is a pocket of comic relief that broadens the scope of the text. ‘Down Side Up,’ treats the reader to a different form of writing. Masike’s use of irony is an important tool in tracing the multiple spiritual beliefs at play. There are elements of magical realism in the text which some may find exciting. Masike’s second book, Dzevabvezera is written inChiShona and is about well, adult poems so the shift is quite intriguing. Questions on language and meaning always arise especially where specific identities, traditions and religion are concerned. Masike writes herself into a seat at the table where she can write what she likes in her preferred language as a multilingual speaker.

While this collection is worlds apart from her first two offerings, the growth cannot be ignored. I struggled with Ask Me Again, the debut collection but as I continue to read Masike’s literary work, I have begun to understand her worldview. Sometimes, it takes getting to know the person behind the text. Of course we are surrounded by negative, problematic portrayals of spirituality but no matter what lens you use there are still a lot of questions to be answered. The poems were not horrific enough for me! Yet even in the slight horror, I wish some positive parts had been explored. Masike owns her story and explores the place of different traditions, religions and lifestyles in her world. Some poems remain obscure to me but I can say I enjoyed a significant number of the poems offered.


Book Details

Title: Die With Me

Genre: Poetry

Author: Hope Masike

Publisher: Tribe Hope Foundation (2023)

Pages: 75


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