Chioniso Tsikisayi is a spoken word poet, writer, singer, and filmmaker from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She is passionate about creative arts and conscious storytelling.
Her work has been published in Brittle Paper, Isele Magazine and Litro Magazine. Her first body of music titled Heaven Is Closer Than You Know was released in November 2020 in collaboration with award-winning media hub Cottage47. She performed at The PiChani (a Pan African lifestyle and networking event for young creatives) as well as at the opening ceremony of the European Film Festival in Bulawayo. She is a finalist for Grand Slam Africa 2021 hosted by Kenya Poetry Slam and Cre8ive Spills and placed third for the Intwasa Short Story Competition 2021. Brittle Paper named her their November Spotlight Artist.
An enthusiast of poetry slams and RnB music, Chioniso regularly publishes her visual poems and songs on her YouTube channel.
When did you start writing and how did you find your inner voice in it?
I started writing when I was 6 or 7 thereabout. We had these creative writing exercises in primary school called “News” where we basically wrote a report for our teacher about all the fun or boring things we got up to over the weekend. As a little girl I thought it was wonderful that a grown up wanted to know about all the dreary and exciting details of my life. I think my inner voice naturally emerged from there and till this day my inner voice reminds me of the child I once was.
What are the themes you mainly deal with in your writing? The poem “I want to fall apart silently“, for example, deals with mental health with a very gentle and soft touch. Does it mean that one can still speak the truth in poetry about the sense of being human even without gloom and darkness?
I deal with a variety of issues in my poetry. Grief, loss, love, growth, relationships and familial patterns, race as well as generational trauma… By generational trauma I mean the pain we carry unknowingly within our families that stem from a past tragedies. As people we inherit both joys and sorrows from our ancestors. In some cases because we are crippled by past hurt we are not always able to fully explore the beauty of our heritage. For some generational trauma stems from abuse, slavery or addiction. Whatever it is that people struggle with in their family history that needs healing, that’s what I want to shine a light on.
My writing is mostly informed by my personal experiences with suffering and joy. I like to think that I discovered poetry before I discovered anything else. In an alternate reality it might have been substance abuse or self harm that I could have fallen into as a result of my mental health. But I thank God it was words that saved me and it’s the same words that I hope will be a lifeline for someone else who may be struggling.
Being human is a multifaceted experience. In as much as there is pain and it may seem never ending, there is joy too and where I can I try to capture those pure moments of true, unadulterated bliss.
Does your creativity find different ways of expression through writing, singing and video-making? How do these artforms overlap and interlace? How do you channel your creativity?
Oh, definitely. It all depends on what mood I’m in at that particular time. I enjoy singing and experimenting with melodies. I hope to be serious enough at some point to take up any instrument and learn how to compose and play. In the near future I’d love to direct and write for film and television. At the core of my craft is a true desire to tell stories, authentic, rich and diverse narratives. Writing is the tool that enables us to build worlds from words.
Our project is focused on female poets. What do your poems express about being a woman in general, and being a woman in your country, in particular?
My poems primarily focus on black femininity as I am a black woman. That’s what I know. The women I looked up to growing up were black. My grandmother, my mother, my aunt. I witnessed their strengths, weaknesses and sacrifice. I grew to appreciate their beauty in the midst of chaos. Being a Zimbabwean woman living in a middle income family to a certain degree I was sheltered but my grandmother was always open to share stories of her childhood in what was then Rhodesia. And the rest I learned from observing the world around me.
What inspired you to write the poem Black Photosynthesis and visualize black women as trees and discrimination as deforestation?
I thought about how black women make up the backbone of so many households and families and businesses but are taken for granted. I wanted to highlight how discrimination much like deforestation affects all of us in the long run. If we choose to protect and honour the women in our lives we guarantee a legacy of beauty and peace for the incoming generation. My poem doesn’t necessarily provide a solution to ending world hunger or any other global crisis but it is an expression of my hope to see the world as a better and safer place for women, for humanity as a whole.
Your country, Zimbabwe, has been governed for decades by a politician embodying “the strongman”. How has this affected the life of women in communities and societies?
I think it’s difficult for women to aspire to positions of influence or leadership within the political sphere without facing some kind of immediate threat to their lives. I don’t think Zimbabwe is ready for a female leader but I do hope in the near future it Will be. Pertaining to women within communities it goes back again to legislature. Women need representation within parliaments and court. There are a few women here and there but not enough to really champion the desires of all women from all walks of life in Zimbabwe.
You told us you were going to attend a poetry slam: can you describe the art scene in your country? Is it a rich and fertile scene, a stimulating one for artists? What kind of artists do you meet at these events?
I attended Grand Slam Africa in Kenya. It was a beautiful and collaborative experience with some of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever met. It’s the first time I have had the opportunity to travel because of my art and it felt like such a divine moment.
As for where I come from. I’m based in Bulawayo
which is fondly known as the creative capital of the country
in terms of the arts scene we have. There’s a variety of performing artists, thespians, writers, musicians and rappers. Intwasa
runs Bulawayo Arts Festival
almost annually as well as a short story competition that I was placed third for last year. We are very passionate about storytelling but there’s that one hurdle that most creatives are trying to conquer; how to successfully monetize their craft so they can actually make a living from it.
My hope is that one day Bulawayo will be considered international like New York or Paris in terms of our creative capacity.
In conclusion of the interview we publish the text of the visual poem Black Photosynthesis:
Deforestation isn’t just the cutting down of trees.
It’s the cutting down of black women’s self esteem.
It’s when you turn us into pretty furniture to sit on.
Make textbooks out of our bodies
And then use our broken spines to bind them
It’s when you pull us out of the earth
We were so lovingly planted in
By the roots of our natural hair
And condition not only our minds
But our curls into believing
We are not meant to be here.
See I’d like to think of Black Women
I’d like to think of us as brown leaves
Instead of green
I mean weren’t chlorophyll and melanin
Created to do the same thing?
Which is to absorb light?
Therefore we must be photosynthetic beings
Because our entire existence
Is the process of photosynthesis.
We’ve taught ourselves how to
Combine the carbon dioxide of racism, sexism, slut shaming and whorenaming,
Combined it with the H2O of our tears and created glucose and oxygen.
No, you created more than glucose and oxygen.
You created brown sugar,
Sweet, decadent, delicious
Like dark chocolate.
You are the essence of excellence.
Link to the Italian translation