Shivanee Ramlochan, Everyone Knows I am a Haunting (Peepal Tree, 2017)
Vahni Capildeo, Venus as a Bear (Carcanet, 2018)
Poetry from the Caribbean and its diasporas has a successful lineage – in Anglophone poetry we may think of Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, and Kwame Dawes – and some commentators have been quick to identify a ‘new generation’ of Caribbean and diasporic Caribbean writing. Indeed, many recent works have been awarded various literary accolades: Kei Miller’s 2014 The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion and Vahni Capildeo’s 2016 Measures of Expatriation won the Forward Prize for best collection, while Jacob Ross claimed the Jhalak prize for his novel The Bone Readers in 2017. Looking at the shortlist for the 2018 Forward Prizes, I was delighted to see that two Trinidadian poets Capildeo and Shivanee Ramlochan have been nominated for best collection and best first collection respectively. Both works merit close and careful reading without attempting to present them as part of a new Caribbean ‘movement’.
In her first collection, Everyone Knows I am a Haunting, Ramlochan’s unflinching poise and musical lyricism bears witness to the specificities of Trinidadian life, which necessarily invites a multiplicity of identities and allegiances. The poet orchestrates a dissonant, insistent polyphony of voices and spectral presences so that deities, demons, grandmothers, policemen, shepherdesses, and rapists interweave between three distinct sections. This capaciousness of Ramlochan’s verse does not, however, beget a celebratory cry of ‘all ah we is one’. Rather, the collection dismantles facile binaries of male/female, Hindu/Christian, cis-gender/queer, and attends to how such points ...
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