Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 16th 2017 Contents B2 sunday arts
guardian.co.tt Sunday, April 16, 2017
Here is a curtain rod. But if I
do this [fuss, fuss, twist, twist]
taa-daa-a crowbar! There are no
curtain rods or, for that matter
crowbars, in Everyone Knows I
Am a Haunting. However, a hell-
bent repurposing of language is
very much the building of Shiva-
nee Ramlochan’s first collection.
It is an important reminder that
poems are made of words. Not
sentiment or initialled hearts
or the rending of garments, but
A poem is not about one intention
squaring off against another. It is not
a history, geography, social studies
or biology lesson. It is a gathering of
words, marshalled to do the bidding
of skilled craftsman. Ramlochan’s
first collection is extraordinary.
Really. There is not one thing that
is ordinary about it. And there are
lots of extras. It is also that good.
Readers of the T&T Guardian’s
Sunday Arts Section will be famil-
iar with Ramlochan’s book reviews.
Clear, perceptive and even-handed,
here is a reader who gets it. She gets
books. She likes books. It appears
she also knows how to write one.
A practical guide to reading this
1. Don’t hold a teacup or a glass
or your baby in one hand and the
book in the other; nothing it would
hurt to lose. There are many jarring
bits and you wouldn’t want to drop
anything hot or fragile or human.
2. Keep a shawl or a blanket near-
by. And also a fan. The temperature
of the room changes a lot from poem
to poem. Best to be prepared.
3. No advice on when to read it.
It’s unnecessarily histrionic to say,
“Don’t read before bed,” when the
truth is you might read it at 3 pm
and it will trail around you well past
1 am. If it fails to disturb you or your
sleep, reader, I regret to inform you
that you are a sociopath. You have
bigger problems than this book.
I could offer a further suggestion
but that would take us to four. This is
a magical book and everyone knows
even numbers won’t do for magic.
The slenderness of the volume
is pure illusion. Haunting is pos-
sessed of strange and disorienting
capabilities. Every poem is a story
and every story, a whole world. The
writing does not suffer from popular
tendencies to sparseness or radical
experiments. They are, for the most
part, dense and demanding. For the
love of all things holy or unholy
(whatever your preference), even
the table of contents has more elo-
quence and imagination than entire
anthologies we ingest because we so
desperately want to read new poetry.
Titles include but are not lim-
ited to: A Nursery of Gods for My
Half-White Child; The Abortion-
ist’s Granddaughter Gives Blood;
No Curandera But Yo Sóla” (try if
you like, but it’s part current, part
archaic continental Spanish, so good
luck with the translation); The Lec-
ture of Dead Gold.
To live with Haunting is a kind of
surrender. You must accept fluid-
ity in all things: sexuality, genera-
tions, geography, survival, time. You
must accept the acceptance of all
things. You must accept horror. In
time, your reward will be a receding
of the shock and an emergence of
Because this is a wordly work.
Not “worldly”. (Well, sometimes.)
(Actually, more like other-world-
ly.) Definitely “wordly”. If you do
not appreciate the possibilities of a
borderless language map, now is the
time to commit to a different book.
Here there is surgical precision a
mere character space away from
a deliberately manhandled mean-
ing. Here is a trick with a rhyme or
a word that looks like another word
so you have to do a double take. Here
is a word that means one thing but
has been whisked away, made to do
something else, and you think, well,
isn’t that nifty?
In Shepherdess Boxcutter: One,
“I kept you everywhere but safe.”
And that folks, is our show.
Haunting, for all its many charms
and graces (or—you saw this com-
ing—because of its many charms
and graces) is not a safe book. No
book populated by quite so many
lovers and gods is safe. Obeah and
scalpels and blood. Roiling and the
fantastic and a kind of wildfire runs
riot. Sober up: for all the beauty and
magic, when the worst of the dark-
ness comes, it comes with a clear
head and sniper’s eye.
You are ill. Here is a tea made from
aloe and here, one from hemlock.
Both are well-disguised. The only
thing you can really know is one will
help and one may kill. Resolve to be
The official publication date of
the book is July 3 but advance
copies will be on sale at the 2017
NGC Bocas Lit Fest, April 26-30, at
various locations. For the full festival
schedule, go to: bocaslitfest.com
• From Page B1
The keeping of local myths
is also part of Isava’s creative
investigation. The sculptur-
al form titled Red Woman,
though shrill in hue, seems
innocuous until viewers no-
tice the blades embedded in
the figure’s hips. The Red
Woman is read as quietly
dangerous. In T&T it is often
said: “the only good red thing
is a dollar”—a disparaging
statement made against
Milne picks up this subject
in her piece titled Shell-Local
Beauty, which considers ap-
peal and value. An unsettling
combination of a conch shell
with protruding tufts of the
artist’s curls is set before a
mirror in a stance that pro-
vokes the question: who
is the fairest of them all?
This is a line of enquiry that
is in keeping with Milne’s
sustained interrogation of
her white identity. Who is
considered a local beauty
and—given the conch shell,
a feature of tourism images—
how are concepts of beauty
packaged and presented in
the context of the Carib-
bean? What is kept in the
foreground in promotions of
tropical place and its people
and what is kept back?
When considered next to
Isava’s work, Milne’s shell
with tresses can be seen as
a Venus, a symbol of beauty
in the visual and literary arts.
Her piece recalls Sandro Bot-
ticelli’s painting The Birth of
Venus, which depicts a wom-
an riding to shore on a shell,
her long golden hair curling
in front of her genitals, while
an attendant waits on land to
cover her naked body.
One can challenge the
need for some of the rep-
etition seen in this show.
For example, Lee Loy puts
the same images seen in the
tent into View-Master toy
stereoscopes. However, tak-
en together, this exhibition
illustrates a careful juxta-
position of artworks that
triggers critical exchanges.
Each piece is an interlocutor
in conversations that throw
audiences out of kilter, push-
ing them to consider what is
lost or taken, what remains
unconscious or uncontest-
ed-what is often kept for
The Things We Keep
opened on March 23 at Me-
dulla Art Gallery, 37 Fitt
Street, Woodbrook, Port-
of-Spain. The group show
runs until May 1.
More info: Email:
Writer and editor Anu Lakhan
weighs in on Shivanee Ramlochan’s
debut poetry collection.
‘An extraordinary collection’
Exhibit runs until May 7
Little Girl: The
Things We Keep by
Jaime Lee Loy.
Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting
Peepal Tree Press, 2017
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