Giant – Richard Georges

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Gentle poetry does not always denote a gentle age. 

Ask the poems in Richard Georges second collection, Giant, if you want confirmation of this. This book reminds us that the sea is made of tears, that a grandmother’s passing can steal your breath when you least expect it, that the “storm shreds the trees to bones, drags children / from their homes by their heels”. The wars waged on the home front of your heart and nation wear you ragged with care. Giant understands, and looks on. 

If the act of witnessing was one of the main concerns of the poet’s first collection, Make Us All Islands, then it is immersion that animates the poems in Giant. See “Creation / Nowhere”, in which the speaker sheds skin, “washing my eyes clean in the briny sea”. Similarly, the opening poem from which the collection takes its name exhorts a metaphysical dismantling, a breaking down of self to allow for the plumbing of greater depths:

“Unhinge your aching limbs, rest them beside
the river, fold yourself into jars
to be opened.”

If we could but see the world, and our habitation in it, as giants do, we would live closer and more intentionally to the marrow of life. This is one of the primary invocations of Giant. Though it is gently moral, pushing the notion of goodness, a space where “God / can be found hollowing out a home in your heart”, it never veers into preachy condescension. 

We will never live in a fair empire, but Giant eases us into an understanding of how to cope, and grow good things, in the uneasy islands we do have. These signposts of respite are never hidden from the reader with abstractions: they glow in the darkness like deyas do, and signal a way home that may be complex, but can be trusted. “Burn”, dedicated to poet Andre Bagoo, is one such way in the world: 

“The whole damn world is alight
and hungry and nothing is ever enough —
but there is poetry, which will suffice.” 

Steer your small boat in the deep waters of Giant. Richard Georges’ poems endure in, and despite, this empire, or any other. 

Difficult Fruit by Lauren K. Alleyne

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! The poems in our Day Nineteen selection brim and burst with a life that’s as curious about its next conquests as it is careful in the cataloguing of its girlhood, scraped-knee woes: Lauren K. Alleyne’s Difficult Fruit.

There is no one, conclusive way to map womanhood in the world’s fraught and scar-leavened sphere, but Alleyne’s verses strip their gloves off, plunging lyrical, sensual wrists deep into the business of navigating space as black, female, both bold and wary. Refusing to shy away from the horrors of trauma, the poetess’ subject is woman’s body, woman’s heart: her canvas is a map made for intrepid explorers — for readers who understand that so much of the daily fight is in the reclamation of small, earthen victories. Bravery manifests in the footsteps of a woman who reassembles her life in the aftermath of a rape, and a no less imperative fortitude, differently marshalled, resides in the triumph of a narrator, exulting in her body’s amplitude:

“In my dreams I am free of you –
I wear bikinis, do back flips, touch my toes;
but then I wake up wanting
to cram the world into my mouth
and let it fill you to bursting.
O, proud belly, you are the life-basket,
bearer of the thousand possible births.”
(from “Ode to the Belly”)

Trading from a full basket of free verse and conventionally metred forms, this first collection speaks candidly and courageously about endurance in courtrooms, cloisters and beneath cavernous skies. The accusers in these poems are a powder-wigged prosecution, rigging charges against hooded youths, or the indifferent and empyrean cosmos, staring down at each of us on our least defended, existential nights. Alleyne’s defense is vigorous, exultant living in the face of every despair.

We recommend it for: poetry devotees of Loretta Collins Klobah, Sharon Olds and Nikky Finney; fans of fiercely feminist verse that navigates both Trinidadian and international space; defenders of the downtrodden, social activists and freedom fighters of every stripe.

Ground Level by Jennifer Rahim

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Nine is a delight in poetic rumination from a talented voice, one who’s accrued deeper insight in each of her collections, building a legacy in verse that scales the empyrean heights of an interior life: Jennifer Rahim’s Ground Level.

In truth, this latest offering of Rahim’s sees the poetess going to ground, pressing further and further into the cavern of self-inquiry to test the mettle of her own contemplative, powerful verse. Many of the poems in this body of work are direct engagements with T & T’s recent spate of reckless criminality, much of which informed the 2011 State of Emergency. Not every reflection of Rahim’s is dire, however: her poems point out the essential restorative truth of the land and sea we so cavalierly neglect, and the promise of succour close to shoreline and forest hearth.

The balm of the wilderness outside one’s window is not a universal panacea, Rahim’s writing suggests — there is no complete liberation from coups, government cover-ups and terrorisms of the heart, while one walks the earth. Yet, in poems such as “Ground Doves in the Lime Tree”, solace is secure in the canopy of an arboreal home:

“In that light, all the pain
there ever was to bear
seemed no cross to carry –
with the whole tree cooing
and white blossoms offering
the soon-come relief of limes.”

With homages to Miss Miles, Anthony McNeill and Martin Carter, Ground Level is both a warning bell and a church song at vespers: ushering in those who fear the times and trust in the slow, gentle groundswell of all things beneath our human errors.

We recommend it for: Stalwart adherents to Rahim’s poems – it’s doubtful they will find fault with this sovereign new publication; those seeking spirituality without unctuous lip service in their poetry; Grande Riviere beachgoers and dwellers (there’s a sequence of poems in here, just for you.)

The Strange Years of My Life by Nicholas Laughlin

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Six is a collection of poems that many Caribbean poets themselves have been hungrily awaiting, dreaming of devouring line after curious, compact, clever line: Nicholas Laughlin’s The Strange Years of My Life.

It is a challenge to say that most poems confront the act and art of living in truly original ways. Even if you’re wary of calling any creative body of work ‘original’, you will find a series of perspectives in Laughlin’s poems that contradict the staid perches from which you’ve been reading other books of verse. Imaginative and melancholic, bleakly witty and almost jocularly despairing, these poems are neither one thing nor another: you could accuse them of being tricksters, strange bedfellows and ominous calling cards, and you’d be right on all counts. What this makes for is a series of destinations that channel any adventurer’s senses of longing and wanderlust: in The Strange Years of My Life, the reader travels far, from fraught border crossings to breath-defying tower ascents — from lands requiring multiple vaccinations, to cafés where no one knows your name.

Though some of these harbours are by turns startling and laced with beautifully-rendered disorientation, Laughlin writes deeper into hurts and cares that are universal. Witness his achingly plotted unfurling of a damaged interpersonal desire, in “Enough is Enough”:

“I am waiting on your letter.
When it comes I will read it like it is written on your skin,
like it is written on a crust of bread.”

Treachery, heartbreak, discovery and ruin: these things are constant signposts, no matter your country of origin. No matter how far The Strange Years of My Life roams, it returns in every poetic movement to cut bone-deep into the reasons why anyone bleeds, curses or runs very far.

We recommend it for: those who thrill to the poems of Andre Bagoo, Anne Carson and Vahni Capildeo; constant travellers in need of a permanent verse-voyager; fans of lists, letters and loopholes in poetry.

Burn by Andre Bagoo

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Three ushers in our first poetry selection in our #paperbasedadvent lineup: Burn, a stunning, intricate and deftly composed sophomore collection from Andre Bagoo, launched at this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest. An eminently worthy successor to Bagoo’s first book of poems, Trick Vessels, Burn is described by Puerto Rican poet Loretta Collins Klobah as “carnivalesque, enigmatic, experimental, vivid, wild and wonder-inspiring poems full of verve and utterly fresh language.”

Trinidad is both paradise and peculiar playground, in this bold and inventive book that bares human curiosity to the cleansing influence of fire. The poems within question both reader and subject, whether they linger over lost loves, look backwards with the slanted gait of douens, or raze Ramleela effigies back to their base origins.

Here is a collection in which everything is considered: still life; shocks to the human system; the hidden lives and adventures unfurling along Port of Spain streets that commuters cross carelessly. There’s at least one world beneath the bitumen of the one we walk over now; Bagoo’s skill is in making us consider our footsteps and what lies under them, in verses that encourage curiosity, channel hunger and sometimes playfully duke it out with our worst enemies, our best friends. The watchful promise of poems like “Yet Again” compel the reader’s gaze and imagination ever closer to new horizons:

”     Take me to your country.
Make me the independence of this land.
Down the path of fireworks,
Wile me with your hand.
Yet again, your hand.”

As with the poet’s debut, Burn opens itself eagerly to mapping and remapping, transversing seas towards Iceland, tilting on its own clever rotational axis to let new meanings encircle the worlds within it.

We recommend it for: Readers of Nicholas Laughlin and Vahni Capildeo; those who like their poems to be both playful and experimental; fans of W.H. Auden who’d like to consider him through an inventive, fascinating lens.

Swallowing the Sky by Lisa Allen-Agostini

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Cane Arrow Press, 2015.

Cane Arrow Press, 2015.

Confessional poems are often bleak and beautiful, wrapped up with honest and complicated hopefulness. In her newest collection, Swallowing the Sky, Allen-Agostini champions a strong poetic voice mired in such admission, one that’s borne bitter regrets, and emerged on the other side of harrowing landscapes. If life is a permanent gayelle, poems such as these are prepared to do battle in those confines. These verses ring out in celebration of fresh loves and sharp-suited new romantic possibilities, delving deep into the scar tissue of family secrets, seeking and stating truths with confidence and clarity.

In “Pathology”, the collection’s opening serving, the poems are both armoured and made bare by honesty: a family’s history is levelled at the reader for examination. With rawness unafraid to take its own measure on the page, brutalized femininities and the braggadocio of male swagger take root. These are legacies usually secreted beneath blameless antimacassars, but Allen-Agostini razes those gentilities to the ground, in movements such as “VIII: beast”:

“his cold eyes lit up to see me
his double, his shadow
never raised his hand or voice to me
though he beat my mother, called her
every kind of stupid
had women
even married one

but built my mother a house brick by brick…”

Nothing less than the undiluted marrow of life lines the insides of such verse, which, as the poet herself describes, makes for the hardest fare. In “Living”, from the collection’s third arc, the narrative voice is triumphant and wise to time’s caprice, as it proclaims:

“Living is the harder thing
not picking clumsy poems out of life. […]
Living is the art
the trick of holding your breath
til the poison dissipates…”

There is no mean craftswomanship in moulding such pain-tinged experience to form and structure, in ways that do not sully their first flush of feeling. Swallowing the Sky does this, and more – it suggests the fullness of a life that can summon poetry as its alchemizing, cleansing relief.

Coming Up Hot: Eight New Poets From The Caribbean

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Peekash Press, 2015

Peekash Press, 2015

Writers from T & T, Jamaica, Guyana, St. Lucia and St. Vincent take to the proscenium of this diverse yet united ampitheatre – that of recent, dazzling arrivals to the Caribbean verse community. Each poet receives a generous berth of allotted space from the Peekash editors, in showcasing the range and lyrical, linguistic complexity of their pieces. Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, winner of the 2015 Hollick Arvon Prize, astounds with the unassuming, yet leviathan strength of her poems on intimacies, fear and feminist redemptions.

The concluding poem of her segment, “A Hammer to Love With”, summons dread recollections of a female subject’s fearful majesty, recounted through the eyes of a second person narrator – one who has been well-schooled in the wrathful, eclipsing instruction of such power:

“You remember, oh yes.
She must’ve been seventeen,
dragged him home bleeding from the mouth
and singing in god’s tongue.
Between her bone-sharp teeth,
the hammer, dark and glistening.”

Multiple Guyana Prize for Literature recipient, Ruel Johnson, demonstrates depths of paternal devotion, juxtaposed against carnal reflective heat. The final poem of his own section, “Sugar”, is prefaced with a line plucked from Walcott, but does not lean on that laureate’s strengths to craft his own historically replete word-diorama of life on and off the great, maligned Guyanese estates.

Sugar is as persistent in the memory as is blood and salt, Johnson reckons, as he uses clear, sonically sharp language to send these truths forth:

“in the hot, shimmering
sunshine of our summer
the blackened, grooved cutlass
drifting upwards to the sky, and
hovering for the space of some
fleeting, uncaught memory”

Six other poets bring their unique capacities for enchantment, persuasion and splendour to this anthology. Whether you come to these pages for Colin Robinson’s clear-eyed, trenchant thoughts on fragmented masculinities, or Sassy Ross’ fever-washed soundscapes of sensuality and faith, the worlds within these poems will keep you charted on a persistent series of returns.

She Sex: Prose & Poetry, Sex & the Caribbean Woman

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

The inaugural publication of Bamboo Talk Press, She Sex could rightly be regarded as a trailblazing, transformative work, concerned with showcasing the innermost erotic stories of Caribbean Women. Some truths about women’s sexuality — its practices; its taboos; the secrets it dares not reveal — are typically kept close to the chest, as the anthology’s co-editor, Paula Obé, mentions in the book’s introduction. Obé continues, saying, “Sometimes shadows need to be lit to take away that fear.”

Several of these pieces tackle achingly difficult subjects revolving around the female body and psyche, bringing them to the page with emotional fervour that lingers long after first readings. These contributors aren’t afraid to bare their teeth, whether they’re recounting the electric thrills associated with initial sensual encounters, or casting blame squarely in the laps of sexual predators. Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné’s poems lilt with a deep, quietly authoritative energy. In “Mother of Water”, the poem’s narrator triumphantly declares:

“I will not wear this gift
of well made shame
passed down to me.
I am a woman not buried
quite so easily.”

Lisa Allen-Agostini’s poem, “The Tiniest Tabanca”, delves energetically into Trinidadian Creole to probe the shocking hurt of a theft, one that leaves the subject of the piece sliced open with the intensity of loss. The line “sharp sharp knife cutting skin and flesh and bone like butter hand slip you crying onion tears slow surprising pain you never look for” conveys this in fluid urgency.

In the prose section, “No Lipstick for Me” by Kavita Ganness reveals the narrator’s inner turmoil, in the wake of a harrowing act of male-inflicted trauma. Ganness’ piece sees the protagonist alternating between outrage and bemusement, vacillating helplessly before she takes her defense into her own hands, in an act of exultant aggression. One of the early lines of the story warns, “…terrible things happen, it’s inevitable in most cases — like women dirtying their lips with lipstick.”

The collection features the work of several other writers, including talents from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and Bermuda, making it a truly collaborative regional project. Indispensable for women and men who want to read true erotic tales from our societies, She Sex will prompt both delight and dismay, in competing measure.

Trick Vessels by Andre Bagoo

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Trick Vessels

“The poems themselves are minefields,” says Vladimir Lucien in his sx salon review of Trick Vessels, and he couldn’t be more precise. The entire review is titled “Andre, the Obeah Man”, and again, one nods reflexively with Lucien’s assessment of this debut collection, by turns ephemeral and kaleidoscopic: a certain kind of poetic magic is unfolding within, as Bagoo conducts electrifying experiments with form and feeling. Here, the poet is also a wily sorcerer, with bags of tricks and secrets of his trade that he only reveals in witty, funny, haunting increments — this collection isn’t for the rigidly traditional (or perhaps it should be, as a deterrent against stuffy poetry collections!).

Published by Shearsman Books in 2012, Trick Vessels tantalizes its reader with possibilities, moving from familiar to alien space within moments. Bagoo’s understanding of both emotional and physical landscapes — and particularly of the relationships between the two — is stunning to behold. “Visa”, an exploration of temporal shifts through an island dweller’s lens, begins with:

“for the world is defined by your island
your garden floods centuries away
over concrete jungle birds congregate
and the latitudes are crutches”

The opening poem of the collection, “The Night Grew Dark Around Us”, sounds out a powerful, near-hypnotic meditation on love, framed as it is in a series of singular yet interwoven addresses from an unnamed, possibly spectral figure. The first stanza of the poem reads:

“Let the daughter of that hibiscus say:
“His love has no end.”
Let the mother of the daughter say:
“His love has no end.”
Let the author of the mother say:
“His love has no end.”

Myriad revelations await the adventurous reader in this thoughtful, ornamented and subtle first collection by Bagoo: these are poems for journeying far, deep and in more directions than seem readily apparent.

Chick by Hannah Lowe

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Chick

Chick, published by Bloodaxe Books in 2013, is a first collection of poetry that doubles as a complex character study: a portrait of the poet’s father, Ralf Lowe, a Chinese-Jamaican migrant making his way in 1940s London, dabbling in a variety of jobs but proving himself ultimately as a skilled card shark. During her childhood, the poet grew accustomed to hearing her father referred to by his gambling moniker, Chick. The world of risky chance, of poker games and beneath-the-table wagers, dominated Lowe’s early remembrances of the man she writes up in these sometimes tender, sometimes feral pieces. In the poem “Thunder Snakes”, she conjures up clues to the secrets at the heart of her dad’s dodgy trade:

“A gambler is never lonely. There’s another man
who wants his money. He keeps the company
of kings and knaves, lies awake and flips them over
in his mind, while the rain is spitting on the glass…”

Lowe’s work places a London she knows intimately in both the forefront and the emotional background, depending on the focus of individual poems. In snapshots of Brixton, of car rides through a city her father can navigate seamlessly, of mums weeping in Sainsbury’s, a sense of place unfolds, drawing the reader into an intimacy of setting that feels unforced and organic.

A first collection that is immediate, Chick is carved from a deft, confident alignment of images, places and reflections on one man’s life, as well as his death. It buoys up the reader’s spirits just as much as it summons the need for quiet pause, and as with all powerful poetry collections, it prompts examinations of our own selves: our relationships with our parents, our navigations of the places we love, with the people we can’t bear to leave behind.