The scene opens: somewhere on an island she sits in a dark room contemplating what lies beyond. The stench of loss overpowers the cigarette smoke slowly rising from an ashtray. The nicotine cannot steady her nerves. The glass of rum does not comfort her. Empty politics blasting from the radio does not reassure her. The short prayer she offers up seems futile. Confined in this dark room she yearns for many things. Ultimately, a desire for touch wins—a last kiss from an invisible lover. “This is really the end of life as we know it,” she says, watching the world crumble around her. What denies her the slightest bit of reprieve? What is the backdrop of this turmoil? Given the current condition of the world, perhaps she is simply social distancing to contain COVID-19’s spread. But, what if this scene was actually set in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in 2019, or in 2017 post-Hurricane Maria, or in 2005 post the Guyana floods? What if it is set sometime in the future, in the scorched dystopian city (?) suffering the effects of global warming, described to us in the extract from Diana McCaulay’s forthcoming novel Daylight Come?
Restricted in our movements and interactions, caught in a transnational affective state of uncertainty and anticipation, the continuing spread of COVID-19 can easily appear to be the premiere disaster threatening the sustenance of our lifeworlds. Our desire to leave our varied states of vulnerability can seduce us into making the virus a unique problem to be immediately solved. But as many recent articles, blog posts and social media posts point out, many of the apocalyptic feelings, experiences of loss, uncertainty, and trauma surrounding COVID-19 are not unfamiliar experiences to populations who have lived through “not-so-natural” disasters. Many of these populations are Caribbean.
This issue’s call for submissions asked us to consider crimes against nature, and what they mean for the human and non-human inhabitants of the Caribbean. The extractionist and ecocidal practices that have been happening in the region from European colonialism to the present—crimes against all life—have fueled repeating conditions of environmental, social, political, and economic disaster in the region. Aliyah Khan’s evocative essay El Dorado, City of Black Gold acutely illustrates this in the specific context of Guyana. Embedded in this reality, Caribbean people have been thinking about apocalypse, loss, freedom, and futures long before COVID-19, and will be thinking about them long after the emergency phase of this particular virus is over—the pieces in this issue critically reflect this fact. As people all around the globe find themselves no longer simply the audience of crisis but part of the afflicted, it must be remembered that Caribbean populations have long been dealing with disastrous encounters and their aftermaths. For Caribbean people, trauma has never simply been a theoretical exercise. Nahir I Otaño Gracia elucidates this in her gipping essay On Hidden Scars and the Passive Voice which describes her own experience of Hurricane Maria alongside a critique of the coloniality of the academy.
Ecocide and its destructive progeny are felt in the intimate lives of Caribbean people as we lose loved ones and struggle to contend with memories of familial and communal relations across time that are anchored to eroding landscapes. Many of the poems featured in this issue address this experience. Maziki Thame also captures the intimacy of disaster in her moving essay Jewellery for Re-Membering in the Afterlife of Slavery: A View from the Disappearing Beach, as the perishing Hellshire beach is at once the backdrop and a character in the family portrait she paints. In a parallel vein, Lise Ragir shows the quiet ways climate change and related disaster events work in tandem with bigotry to devour loving relationships and compound loss in All that Would Be.
Yet, as ecocidal practices result in the displacement of Caribbean people in slow and spectacular ways, we still find time to love, laugh, maco, and gossip, proving that we are always so much more than the problems that structure our everyday worlds. We are energy, we are joy, we are life. This is captured beautifully in Roland Watson-Grant’s comedic story, Crocodile Tears, and Elizabeth Jaikaran’s poem, Wild Thing. With our vitality, we continue to explore alternative lenses through which we can understand ourselves and our trajectory that deviate from the traditional models of tourism and monoculture development. We continue to carve paths that make other futures possible. Annalee Davis takes us down such a journey as she discusses her artistic practice and the potentiality of the greater visual arts in the Caribbean in her Art-icle Beach as Plot? And as Kris Singh’s inventive essay Bullshit, Sweet-talk, and Hindu Nationalism illustrates, when necessary, we interrogate the “sweet-talk and bullshit” of politicians, religious doctrine, generational lessons, and all the other orthodox discourses that shape our relationship with the natural world so we may craft more ethical ways of being that feel genuine to us.
Working across genres and mediums, the Caribbean thinkers and creators in this issue successfully render the long durée of ecocide in the region, the complexity of its experience, and the ways things might be otherwise. I encourage you to take your time with these pieces and let them move you in a global moment when much feels stagnant. It has been my absolute pleasure as a Caribbean woman to work with the PREE team to curate this issue for you all. I would like to publicly thank the following reviewers for their labor and care of the work: Kaneesha Parsard, Ryan Jobson, Naomi Zucker, Dianna Burnette, Sara Rendell, Raina Kulkani, Dianna McCaulay, Breanne Mc Ivor, Jeanette Awai, A. Véronique Charles, Isis Semaj-Hall, Donna Hemans, Davy Knittle, Traci-Ann Wint-Hayles, and Jovanté Anderson. I would also like to thank Amanda Choo Quan for her immeasurable assistance as guest poetry editor, and all of the permanent editors of PREE who work tirelessly each issue to sustain a necessary platform for Caribbean voices. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank everyone who submitted to the issue making it all that it is.
Enjoy, and may we forge onward!
Leniqueca Welcome, Guest Editor
The Ghosts in Our Honey
What a time to be alive — a time of sometimes willing, sometimes involuntary, surrender of our freedoms, of denial of touch, of bombs escaping from our lungs. Of locking away our elders for safekeeping, of strolling through the city on a screen, of minds adjusting to circular time, to obedience, to invisible enemies, to scraps of laughter behind a mask. People have lost their jobs. People are dying. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were some who said that we deserved this, who wishfully looked to (probably falsified) photos of dolphins in canals previously polluted by humans as evidence of nature’s vengeance. Yet again, God and nature have punished us with untimely death. What are the living to do?
But to be Caribbean is to contend with the uncertainty, the absurdity, and the trauma of waves of criss-crossing systems of oppression, exploitation, upheaval and disaster stretching back through history. It is to speak every day in the language of our invaders. For many, to be Caribbean is to be tailed by suffering. It is to keep company with a hurricane (as in Huracanna, The Whole World is Turning); to witness the capitalist exploitation of our wild, and in turn refuse to be tamed (Wild Thing). To be Caribbean is to keep ghosts in our garden and taste our ancestors in our honey (Amnesia). To be Caribbean is to gather uncertainty round ourselves like a cloak of refuse (Resurrection Morning), emerging from the rising sea. But, as history and these poems show, to be Caribbean is to drown and live to tell the tale; to see the aftermath of disaster as a plot of land upon which we can build our homes. And, when the time is right, to welcome our friends and families inside.
Many thanks to the team of poetry reviewers for this issue: Jovante Anderson, Davy Knittle, and Traci-Ann Wint-Hayles.
Amanda Choo Quan, Poetry Editor
It has been a pleasure and a learning experience working with much younger editors on this issue and the previous one. They facilitated the process of building each issue with enthusiasm and efficiency and we hope they will want to continue working with PREE, ensuring that as we grow we avoid the ossification that inevitably follows.
We couldn’t have known when we chose Ecocide for a theme, of the dread, virus-ridden times awaiting us. COVID-19 may not be a hurricane or a quake but in its wake we find ourselves immersed in an all too familiar discourse of disaster and catastrophe. As Amanda Choo Quan noted in her editorial “to be Caribbean is to drown and live to tell the tale; to see the aftermath of disaster as a plot of land upon which we can build our homes.” Or indeed to plot a narrative. As we negotiate this unnatural stand-still in our lives what better way to pass time than by reading the fresh new writing we feature in each issue of PREE.
Over the last few months we have lost many older writers. We would like to note the passing of Kamau Brathwaite in particular, a giant in the world of Anglophone writing from the region, and elsewhere. We hope to carry a tribute to him in the months to come.
We also want to acknowledge the passing of Guyanese dramatist Michael Gilkes and Puerto Rican writer Rosario Ferré.
There is also Bob Andy (born Keith Anderson, 28 October 1944 – 27 March 2020), one of Jamaica’s best songwriters whose passing we’d like to mourn. Images of him accompany the essay Jewellery for Re-membering in the Afterlife of Slavery: A View From the Disappearing Beach.
I would especially like to thank Christopher Cozier, Hew Locke, Francesca von Habsburg, Edouard Duval-Carrié, Sheena Rose, Kelley-Ann Lindo, Zoya Taylor and all the other artists who were generous enough to allow their work to be featured in PREE 5.
Big thanks also to Loretta Collins Klobah for alerting us to Nahir I. Otaño Gracia’s essay ON HIDDEN SCARS AND THE PASSIVE VOICE.
Thanks are also due to the Prince Claus Fund whose support and innovative methods are much appreciated.
Annie Paul, Editor-in-Chief
Image credit: Roland Watson-Grant