Book Review: Starfish Blossoms by Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

As one uninitiated in the ways of flowering flora, besides buying the rare bouquet, my first thought at the title of Vazhure's collection was to do Starfish Blossom? After all, starfish occur in countless hues and shades, they can shed an arm to get away when being hunted and they can regrow a part that's cut away, so would blossoming be so far-fetched? But Vazhure's title was inspired instead by Stapelia Grandiflora, a species of a cacti-like succulent plant that blooms into star-shaped flowers, equally as resilient as starfish themselves.

Starfish blossoms are a symbol from Vazhure's childhood, a representation of resilience, yet you realise they're so much more than that as you read this book. Stapelia grandiflora is a variable species, it comes in many shapes and forms, similar to the alternating structures of Vazhure's poems in this book, and the species intermittently produces flowers in many different hues, similar to how Vazhure explores a multitude of subjects while being deeply rooted in African womanhood.

The coup de grâce of Starfish Blossoms is their redolent stench, used to charm pollinators, and in a similar nature Vazhure tackles subjects often seen as taboo in Zimbabwean society. The title poem "Starfish blossoms" is a dedication to Vazhure's second mother, Fatima. It takes on African traditions like the elongation of the labia minora and the AIDs pandemic.

Starfish Blossoms by Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

Vazhure's collection is an ode to the women that have touched her past, those who're here in her present and women of the future. She begins by exploring the theme of death and grief, in two poems dedicated to her paternal grandmother and maternal grandmother respectively. Although English is the base language, Vazhure brightens the stories in her poems with constant sprinkles of her mother tongue Shona.

"When Gogo hands me fifty cents for crumbs

I run to the shops, dust bathing barefooted,

fast as my ashy legs can go,

          dodging drunkards staggering from kwaDakudzwa

          hopping over streams and puddles of septic water

           snubbing the cat callers' clamour:

           Chidhafu dhunda! Chichanetsa pachinokura!"

                  - Excerpt from Tasting heaven

Starfish blossoms are infused with Shona folklore, Hanyanani references the story of the old woman from Chivi who managed to cook stones and make soup. The collection talks about African womanhood with pride but revolts against how women are seen in Africa and their perceived roles.

The collection is dominated by melancholy but still has its tender moments. It's not the sort of book you read once but keep coming to again and again. There's no start or end but you can simply open a page and find yourself drawn into the emotions Vazhure expresses. There is a boldness in how she challenges the status quo.

"Having failed to swat the queen bee

when she got close enough, she

sinks her proboscis into your testicles 

and you begin to act right, in the hope

she does not gyrate in them as you did

in all the women you've hit and run

You're her beast



                 - Beast of burden

Starfish blossom is a rich offering of contemporary poetry. It's not every piece you'll resonate with and you might question the author's intention in certain instances but in the end, the collection's brilliance is unquestionable. The NAMA Award Vazhure received for her latest offering was well deserved.

Greedysouth rating: 7/10

Title: Starfish Blossoms 

Authors: Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

Genre: Poetry Collection 

Publisher: Carnelian Heart Publishing

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