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, 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.

Fault Lines by Kendel Hippolyte

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger


Here’s the second in our series of posts on the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize shortlist! Today, we’re peering into the covers of Kendel Hippolyte’s fifth collection, Fault Lines, winner of the category prize for poetry. Published by Peepal Tree Press in 2012, the work further establishes Hippolyte as “perhaps the outstanding Caribbean poet of his generation”, unstinting praise bestowed on him in the Heinemann Book of Caribbean Poetry.

Marion Bethel, the chair of this year’s Bocas poetry judging panel, describes Fault Lines as “a singular achievement”. Furthermore, the official response from the judging panel indicates the unanimously high praise that St. Lucian poet and dramatist’s work received: “[The collection] demonstrates Hippolyte’s excellent, all-round craftsmanship as a poet. His voice and cadence are unique and distinctive.”

I was no less enthralled — I’ve remarked to anyone who’ll listen that these poems are imbued with the rhythm and sound of the island chain. They speak to, and about, our multiple islanders’ selves with clarity and insight; they document the natural and man-made world, paying close attention to the interstices that are mappable between both. Every  shoreline and schoolchild becomes significant beneath the poet’s gaze; nothing is trivial or commonplace except in our hesitant recriminations of ourselves. Hippolyte writes the human condition both for grandness and for frailty, and the result is poetry that demands to be shared and read aloud, in resonant tones. Thankfully, those both unacquainted and familiar with Hippolyte’s work will have the chance to hear him read from Fault Lines at this year’s festival: a rare and glorious opportunity to hear the lyrical words coming even more vividly to life.

The Poems of Sam Selvon

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger


Reducing a knowledge of Sam Selvon to A Brighter Sun would be as detrimental as recognizing V. S. Naipaul simply for Miguel Street, or Earl Lovelace for The Dragon Can’t Dance alone. Yet, many readers of Caribbean literature, including those who pride themselves on being well-read, have barely even heard of Selvon’s poetry, making this collection as vital as it is long overdue.

Issued by Cane Arrow Press in 2012, The Poems of Sam Selvon has been collated painstakingly by Roydon Salick, a Trinidadian critical scholar whose previous publications include The Novels of Samuel Selvon: A Critical Study. In a foreword to the collection, penned by fellow Trinidadian scholar, Kenneth Ramchand, Selvon’s poems are described as being “worth attention whether you are a Selvon scholar or not.” Ramchand adds persuasively that “…if (Selvon) had written nothing else, this collection would establish him as a considerable poet, a relevantly West Indian one, and an original.”

What the collection reveals is that, unbeknownst to those who weren’t paying attention (or perhaps weren’t yet born!), Selvon’s poetry has been around — published in various literary journals, including Bim and Savacou. With the principal selection of poems having been printed in the Trinidad Guardian newspapers from 1946 to 1949, Selvon’s poems have undoubtedly existed in the literary landscape of both home and abroad. The poems themselves reveal the development of a keenly thinking mind, one concerned with identity, voice, the immigrant experience, and the pains of love and death.  They are recommended reading for university and secondary school students, and for those who want to learn more of Sam Selvon, beyond the banner of his more celebrated works.

For more information on Cane Arrow Press and their publications, you can visit their official website and browse their catalogue.

100 Poems from Trinidad and Tobago

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Anthologizing the poetry of Trinidad and Tobago is a noble undertaking, and one for which it seems not many publications exist. Difficult as it may be to provide a comprehensive guide to the nation’s poetic heartbeat, this new collection puts forth a valiant effort. Edited by Ian Dieffenthaller and Anson Gonzalez, published by Cane Arrow Press in 2012, 100 Poems from Trinidad and Tobago feels like a work that’s long overdue. It presents pieces from a diverse selection of writers, including a handful of fresh and promising talents, alongside well-established veterans.

In her Trinidad Guardian Sunday Arts Section interview with Ian Dieffenthaller, Lisa Allen-Agostini takes note of the co-editor’s hopes for a generous portrait of Trinbagonian poetic identity. Dieffenthaller is quoted as saying:

“The collection was chosen to reflect as many constituencies that I could identify and do justice to. I’m not saying that we’ve covered every root and branch but we did our best. […] After 1970 it’s virtually impossible to choose a representative sample. So much stuff was written after that so we just chose what we felt would fit that bill of T&T provenance.”

Prefaced by a comprehensive introduction that’s written by Dieffenthaller himself, 100 Poems from Trinidad and Tobago recommends itself as a must-have for anyone interested in seeing how poetry lives in our society: the ways in which the form, and its concerns, have both changed and remained essentially the same.

For more information on Cane Arrow Press and their publications, you can visit their official website and browse their catalogue.

Tantie Diablesse by Fawzia Kane

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

TantieDiablesseIf they were guests at a dinner party, Fawzia Kane’s poems wouldn’t bluster or shove their way into conversation. Quite the opposite: they would linger thoughtfully in the corridors or on the balcony, then present themselves with earnest clarity. The more time you spend with them, the more they reveal that they are made up of rich, folkloric allusion, flavoured with an architectural eye for precision, gracefully primed to impact well.

Part One of this first collection takes us to places we have beheld, and places out of the line of our vision. Its poems are steeped in the past while eschewing maudlin sentiment, or weighty nostalgia. The past is always around us, jostling with the present for supremacy, pieces like “How to Breathe” seem to say.

Part Two brings the reader face to face with Tantie Diablesse herself, a figure of legend and everyday mischief, one writ large in the creative imagination of any Trini who’s dreamed up beautiful women with suspicious feet. In these fourteen Tantie-centric pieces, this wildly infamous lady shares her secrets while proudly proclaiming her sovereignty: what emerges is a complex and deeply gratifying portrait of a figure both feared and revered.

Longlisted for the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, Tantie Diablesse reads just like that poetic party guest you want never to leave your bedside table.