In Reading India Now, a recent book examining new trends in Indian writing, Ulka Anjaria talks of writers “turning the present into an aesthetic possibility”. This certainly is a feature of much of the writing we’ve carried in the first three issues of PREE and we look forward to continuing this trend. We pride ourselves on featuring some of the best writing produced in the Caribbean today and think of PREE as a rich source of cultural nutrients, not unlike a mangrove nursery, spawning new root systems and providing haven for a diversity of viewpoints.
In each issue of PREE texts by different authors have fortuitously spoken or related to one another, perhaps put in conversation by the themed nature of each edition, producing what the scholars call a quite magical ‘intertextuality’ between them.
For instance, a preoccupation with names, naming, being named, naming practices, what names might conceal or reveal, recurs in this third issue of PREE, the theme of which was #TheCaribbeanisnotaRealPlace.
Jessica Knight’s innovative tale, Nausea and Nostalgia, pivots around the names given to a pair of twins, causing the narrator to dwell on the divergent roles of official names and nicknames:
“Mek me tell unu a ting or dozen bout naming. Plenty Jamaican people dem know di first time dem get name it be one Christen-time name, when dem done born, so dat di official birth certificate get to certify di good intention ah di baby mada (and fada if di baby be blessed). Next, baby grow up and get one living-time name dat stick wid dem until dem done dead-off. Come funeral-time and is customary to return to dem dere Christening-time name fi di funeral pamphlet, and fi di death certificate.
“Everyone deserve dat dem Christening-time name be di bookend at life start and di bookend at life end. Bookend intend fi tannup tall-tall – even if di book dem inna di miggle tun out spineless, and don’t see fit to prop up dem-self proppa pon di upstanding name, and instead spend dem life flopping all over di place like a half-suck bag juice.”
Later in the story she asks:
“Yuh waan me name pickney born in Jamaica after a foreign flowers?”
“Might be she can see it still, if you wait a likkle while.”
And thereby hangs the tale. A powerful one about migration, translation, Jamaicanness and language; in this intricately spun story Jessica Knight proves she is heiress to the tradition of Anancy stories as well as to the compressed, humor-laced narrative style of a writer such as Erna Brodber.
In Gangster Paradise Lisa-Anne Julien treats us to the interior monologue of a gangster, relayed in a hip creole voice, who dwells peripherally on how he got his nickname:
“How I get the name Lux? I not sure but when I was a little boy, Jackson Brown, drunk outside Trina’s Tavern any evenin that wasn’t a Sunday evenin, used to hail me as I gettin water from the standpipe. My real name, Lennox, used to slip through his no-teeth mouth and sound like Lux. So I guess it stick. Jackson Brown wasn’t his real name either. His mother, a Shouter Baptist, had give Jackson Brown some stupid African name nobody could pronounce. So how he get he own nickname is another story.”
In Gossip, from Albion Street Summer Edwards talks of how women infrequently get places named after them, even in this simple matter, skin colour being the determining factor:
“…fair Ana and Petra get a byroad
“on the “cruel map of sugar and oblivion,”
but my grandmothers, where are their names?
I have come home to write them.”
Kei Miller’s lushly beautiful poem Here where blossoms the Night sums it all up, this decolonization of English names. Riffing on the difference between blossoming Jamaican Ladies of the Night and rotting Jamaican ladies of the night Miller talks of the creolization of English and Latin words in this place, of a ‘Here’ that is unknowable and undefinable despite its naming:
Here where you will find
the much improved
names of things – the slow greening and rootsing
of Latin; ‘Semen contra’ becomes Semi-contract,
‘Sempervivum’ becomes ‘Simple Bible’
becomes, ‘Sinkle Bible’
Here where you can find the Tuna,
Here, the Monkey’s Hand, the Cow’s Tongue,
such things seem not to belong
to bushes, but they are as much a part
as the Bullock’s Heart, the Dog’s Tail –
as much a part as the broken
bottles & burnt cars. Is that
the right way to say it? Especially
here? Should I have said: de heap
of bruk bokkle & de plenty bun up cyar?
Here that cannot be held
by the small arms of language.
Here that cannot be held
by the small arms of English.
The ‘Here’ that cannot be held by mere English or language hints at an uncontainable, untranslatable landscape, one that cannot be tamed or civilized, an unbridle-able wilderness, “the bloodclawt immapency of dis world–.” (The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, p. 21) Here where blossoms the Night seems to be a continuation of concerns raised in the poem Unsettled, also from Cartographer, how to render legible “this island: unwritten, unsettled, unmapped.” (p. 14)
Here where is the inscrutability…
Like Kei, remaining or rendering oneself inscrutable is also Adam Patterson’s preoccupation. In From the Wilderness with Love he worries about the burden of being named, of having to account for oneself to cultures that have names for things, with ‘chronological enterprises’ around the names for things:
“They are all names for you, names given to you, names cut into your skull, names lashed against your back, names your mother kissed you with, names you don’t remember and names you’ll never forget. And not just for you but, names for where you want to fuck, Names for your place in this world, names with which to plant your foot on one man’s face and to wedge your own beneath another’s.
“What would you find in the absence of a name asks Patterson, recommending a ‘maroonage’ from names, a claiming of the wilderness, an opposition of ‘bushcraft’ to the ‘statecraft’ that seeks to name and categorize, rendering you a countable unit amenable to being governed.”
Claim the gully, the bush, the wilderness urges Patterson and “perhaps your world may disclose itself without ever being named.”
Both Postcards and Gangster Paradise make reference to the materiality of the protagonists’ mothers—graphically describing grease, odours, even a palpably thick, mushy smell evoking maternal intimacy:
“Dug into your skin, you feel the weight, dirt and grease of your face congealing to a paste of all your mother’s history, caked atop your pores. And then you feel the spit of someone else’s words clotted in your temple and suddenly, your mother’s fat feels neither warm nor familiar to you. Pressing your frightened fingers against this waxen face of grease…”– Postcards
“My science teacher at St Antony’s used to say a smell is gaseous. But my mother smell had a thickness, a warm kinda mushiness to it. Like a cloud that harden, but just a little bit. Like somethin I could squish between my fingers and move around to the parts of my body that need it. That morning, in all the small folds in her body I coulda smell fish, coconut, guava jam and I think, chow chow. It was a layered smell. Mr Bethelmy woulda like that word too.”– Gangster Paradise.
In his elegiac tribute to Samuel Selvon Is Joke you Joking? Kris Singh has produced what Garnette Cadogan described as a fine essay “on coping, grief, and Caribbean laughter”. The weighty theme of suicide, echoed in Gangster Paradise, is leavened by a deconstruction of Selvon’s strategies of laughing and laughter as therapy, the frequent use of humour in his writing through which he creates space “for the laughter of participation, not to compromise his characters’ dignity but to appreciate their compromises.”
Selvon’s humour is contrasted with the more biting wit of Austin Clarke, a literary pair also serendipitously invoked by Cornel Bogle in his abbreviated Poems which he describes as “a kind of patchwork of found poetry” inspired by the correspondence between Selvon and Clarke after the former moved to Canada.
Dwelling on Tobagonian poet Eric Roach’s suicide Singh wonders if his death was announced by the town crier as it used to be back in the day when the Mic-Man’s gravelly, technologically enhanced words rattled “each house, battered through your privacy and made those close to the loss ache. It was an invitation to a wake and a cremation but also an incantation that made a death primary, if only for a moment.”
But times have changed and:
“…new rites have emerged. Now, we also mourn within the pages of Facebook: happy born day starrr, RIP. These are electronic memorials, collective works in progress that add to the data mined. Here, the bereaved list themselves one post at a time, offering intimate expressions of grief that manifest as doleful, playful, and even jokey. These expressions of grief and the pause they give operate within the frenetic pace of social media, the newest venue for mythologies to overlap and collide.”
The theme of death and rituals of mourning and interment recurs elsewhere in PREE. In Randy Baker’s short story Burial Rites the protagonist describes the fast disappearing practice of grave digging at Caribbean funerals:
“I laughed again when I thought about how the people at my office would react if I told them what an event grave digging was where I grew up. It was a genuine laugh, even if there was a bitter edge to it. Bitter now, but not then. Grown-up me wonders for an instant who sends their thirteen-year-old boy to help dig a grave for the old man from down the road. Still-young me never gave it a second thought when Mr. Bailey came around to ask Daddy if he, or I, could go help with the digging.
The difference between ‘bald facts’ and ‘stories’ animates Diana McCaulay’s essay An Incursion into a Real Place, her response to viewing the film Four Days in May with members of the ‘precariat’ who inhabit Tivoli Gardens, the subject of the film.
“There are places in Jamaica, this small island, which are still not our places, places which are not real places, filled with people who are not our people and thus not real people, where things that should not happen still happen.”
“In life and death we haunt by Guyana,” says Khan recalling:
“The veranda where I used to watch them bright yellow buttercup and pink bougainvillea ‘cross the street grow and grow. Where I see Mistah Mac glide by in a red and gold sari! Yes! Ah telling yuh true. Mac was a black man but he convert one time to Muslim and next time to Hindu, and he light diya on Diwali too. I had big ears and I hear big people watch he and suck they teeth and whisper, antiman. But nobody used to trouble he. He live quiet.”
Venezuela, so much in the news right now, has Caribbean links we’re reminded as Khan invokes her partner who is from that country, how the border clashes between Guyana and Venezuela almost prompt quarrels between them:
“But de man smuggle dal puri from a Toronto Trini roti shop across the Canadian border for me. When I cut my finger on a knife cooking, he touch his finger to his lips then touch my finger and sing his mother’s child song: sana, sana, colita de rana! So I forgive he.
“The Pakaraima mountains are 1.7 billion Precambrian years old, the oldest geological formations on this earth. Dem nah care ‘bout border. But if Bolivarian sabers rattle more and Exxon find too much oil, is war me and he going have. I is a patriot.”
In Return Simba eloquently describes the apprehensions and misgivings of a diasporan Jamaican returning to the island:
“Mavis felt a bubble of pride rise up in her. Land we love. She and all her fellow Jamaicans had done this. No matter some had gone and some had stayed – they all had loved with a love that never died, a love that grew over the long miles, over the years of yearning and they had all made their contributions – sending Cousin Kitty to HEART to learn dress making, paying Elton’s school fees, sending car parts for Uncle Cuthbert, making sure that Aunt Ezra’s half a brain boy, Wayne, got a work laboring when they started to build the house. Dollar by dollar, pound by pound, they had all done what they could and look at it – a big TV announcing arrivals and departures, a well-spoken young lady over the system letting people know what was and was not tolerated at the brand new Norman Manley International Airport – in perfect English – just like England…just like anywhere.”
There is much else to read in PREE 3, a more compact issue than the previous two but just as fine in terms of the quality of writing on offer. With just three issues PREE has established a vital presence, growing into a forum supported by the best new writers, broadly speaking, and avidly scanned by anyone, from agents to publishers to film-makers, looking for the next big Caribbean author or storyline.
The submission window for Issue 4 opens on July 15, 2019, for a month and the theme is In a Free State. More details available here.