Takunda Muzondiwa: A Year in the Slam Spotlight


Takunda Muzondiwa—a performance artist, speaker, and poet from Zimbabwe—expresses the importance of identity and culture as a tool for both self-empowerment and strengthening communities. Her poetry is an intersection of both art and activism. Coming from a theatre and musical background, she combines voice, drama, and movement to tell stories of the heart of her motherland that offer critical social commentary.

Among many other accolades, Takunda won the 2022 NZ National Poetry Slam, and in October she represented Aotearoa at the 2023 World Poetry Slam Championship in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—finishing third in the world. She now lives in London working as an actor and poet.

Coming up to the Slam Poetry Nationals this weekend, Mary Mosteller asked Takunda, last year’s winner, a few questions about what she has been up to since her win.

MM: First off, congratulations on getting third in the world at the World Poetry Slam Championship! What has it been like to earn international acclaim for your poetry?

TM: It feels pretty surreal! I am still processing the whole experience and trying to put to practice all the learnings I took away from the competition. All in all, it feels really exciting, I feel like I have fallen in love with the art form of poetry all over again. I feel ignited and am looking forward to writing more and sharing more. 

MM: How was competing internationally? Did you have a favourite part?

TM: It was truly one of the best experiences of my entire life! Without a doubt, my favourite part was the friendships I built with the other poets from all around the world. By the end of the competition, as cheesy as it sounds, it truly did feel like we had all become one big family. 

MM: Last year you won the 2022 NZ National Poetry Slam here in Aotearoa. What was that like, and how does it compare to competing internationally? 

TM: Aotearoa poets are so incredibly talented, and the scene in Aotearoa has shaped my poetic style in a lot of ways. Competing internationally challenged me in a lot of new ways. First of all, the competing poets at Worlds performed in a variety of languages and with that came a world of different poetic styles which was really beautiful to experience. I love slamming in Aotearoa because it’s what I know and it’s what I am familiar with but simultaneously getting to slam internationally brings such new insights which I also love. 

MM: You’re now competing and showcasing your poetry in London, right? Has working over there highlighted anything special to you about the slam community in Aotearoa? 

TM: London is such a massive place and there are so many different pockets of poetry spread across the city which can make it quite difficult to navigate. What it has made me deeply appreciate about the slam community in Aotearoa is what a tight-knit community there is. The slam community in Auckland truly feels like home. I first began slamming in high school through an inter-high school competition called WORD – The Front Line in 2018 so I am always and forever going to have a soft spot in my heart for the Auckland slam community. 

MM: 2018! That is a long time to be in the game. How has your poetry evolved over the years?

TM: I like to think I have evolved since high school so I think it’s natural that my poetry has grown and changed with me. The stories my poetry tells now simply reflect the point in life I am at now. I think that’s really special to have all this poetry that acts as a little window to my past self. 

MM: You have already accomplished so much. Where do you envision yourself taking your poetry from here?

TM: I am really just taking it day by day and seeing where life takes me. I really do just hope to continue to have the inspiration to learn more, understand more, write more, share more, and listen more. Those are all the things I love about the process of writing poetry. I envision myself continuing to love that process for the rest of my life. 

MM: While watching you perform, it feels like time stops, like you’re holding the audience in the palms of your hands. How do you evoke that sense of suspension?

TK: Don’t make me blush! That is very kind of you. I write about things I deeply care about and I think when we speak about the things we care about we can’t help but have our spirits come alive. Performing really does make me feel on fire and the aim is always to make audiences feel some of the warmth so it’s a success when I can do that. 

MM: The 2023 Nationals are coming up this weekend, and I know there are many of us who will miss seeing you perform. Are there any competing poets in particular that resonate with you, or anyone that you wish you could see perform this round?

TK: I have to rep my city and say I love all my Auckland poets!! I also have a special place in my heart for Wellington-based poet, Matariki Bennett who is part of my WORD – The Front Line alumni family. I wish I could be there to see all the brilliant Aotearoa poets take the mic but I will be sending them all my love from London.


Below is a poem Takunda performed in the 2022 Aotearoa Slam Poetry Nationals.

Diamonds

We are gathered here today
To witness the of joining of two lives
The unification of souls as they become one flesh
The extension of communion itself
With this diamond ring
Do you take joy
In how many Afrikans died mining your
Happily, ever after?
Our continent was a goldmine
A gorging belly
We lived swollen
Throbbing at the diamond deposits in our arteries
The first step to syphoning a man from the body of water
That is his land
Is to
Liquidate his assets and name it water bending
Claim all his wealth and name it a fortune-telling
A foretelling
Of the fire and brimstone
To rain down upon a continent of stolen gemstones
So many declarations of love
Have mined and maimed us
Left us dismembered and dilapidated
Forced us to cough up our riches like kidney stones
So many unnamed men sacrificed
In the name of Michael Hill and Tiffany’s
So
Is it wicked of me
To call this wedding a funeral?
When there are vows being exchanged over our tombstones
Is it wicked of me
To wear white to this wedding?
Because the bride is not the only thing being surrendered
Is it wicked of me
To catch the bouquet
And refuse to be the next to marry
To bury
Bodies in an accessory
Is it wicked of me to hate how a diamond glistens?
How it glows beneath sunlight
How it mimics ice
Cold
Like the corpses that died to find it
How it bounces light
Like there is someone trapped
And shooting a flare gun from inside
But we are all too blinded light of pretty things
To think of the dark-skinned men
Who dug their own graves to unearth them
So, no one speaks
They just forever hold their peace
And the bride and groom say I do
And we all clap
Until our hands bleeds raw
Leaving us all
Red handed


Featured photo supplied.


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