Now Boarding

Isis Semaj-Hall / Riddim Writer


Dub is what happens when time collapses. But it is not the collapse of all time, just the collapse of their time. Dub is the collapse of their time and the rise of fi wi time. Do you follow me? Or do you prefer to see where I’m going?  

Remember when Miss Lou voiced feigned dismay over how her fellow Jamaicans were colonizing England in reverse? What a laugh so many had at the idea of the hopeful colonial subjects flooding out of the tropics by the “ship-load” and “plane-load” to “turn history upside dung.”[i] With a spoonful of Caribbean cane sugar, Miss Lou was always able to report our reality in a way that could make us think and laugh same-time. The way Miss Lou teased the boastful colonial subjects for feeling so entitled, so deserving of an equal chance in England, made Louise Bennett’s radio audiences of the 1950s and 60s double-over with laughter. And readers of Bennett in print version, laughed no less heartily at the idea of this overseas gossip with the fictional Miss Mattie. But what happens if we dub that poem today? Who can find laughter in the right now of the Windrush Generation being re-colonized and reversed back to Jamaica, back to Trinidad, and back to Barbados after a lifetime abroad?

This dub is getting too heavy. Pull it up. Dub it again.

I remember in March, my good friend travelled from Ghana through Europe in order to get back home to Jamaica. She made it out of Africa just as the Western world’s borders were closing in response to the pandemic. At a cruising altitude of 40,000 feet in the air, she sailed home on Air Zong Dub, seated figuratively in a sky-ward ghost ship bound by the cartographies of colonialism that we, in the twenty-first century, accept as normal global South travel itineraries.  Can you imagine? Can you see it? Can you hear it?  A full dub flight out of Europe. A dub flight full of fear. Hundreds of passengers sick with worry and seated amongst them, was one lonely, inconsolable young man. He, a deportee, had to be sedated to quiet his cries.  Could Miss Lou have foreseen the Middle Passage in reverse too? 

The dub is getting too heavy. Pull it up. Dub it again. 

The Home Office is the UK’s government department responsible for immigration. On December 2, 2020, the Home Office “returned” thirteen Jamaicans.  Thirteen is the reduced number, reduced from the nearly 50 Jamaican nationals who were scheduled for deportation. Reports in the Guardian tell us that some were spared because they “may have been victims of modern slavery.”[ii] Modern slavery in 2020.

This dub is way too heavy. Pull it up. Dub it again. 

I sit on my veranda, sheltered but outside, and I remember that this is Christmas time. Winter in the tropics is cool as the breeze. But when I hear the wind rushing through these December leaves, I hear a dub of Brixton calling in whispered goodbyes. Tier 1, 2, 3, 4, gets dubbed way past COVID-19 to 2020 and the eve of 2021. Who would have thought that Air Zong would be running more Christmas flights than Caribbean Airlines? Everybody wants to go home but only some are reminded that they have no home at all. Flight #442876 is full of dread. 

The dub is much too heavy. Pull it up. Dub it again. Dub it again and again because we can. 

Dub is accumulation and subtraction. When it doesn’t feel right, fix it. When it feels good, do more.  Dub is deconstruction and reconstruction. Dub is not completion; it’s a continued search for satisfaction. Going back by going forward. It is loops. Dub is rhythm in blues. Dub is a ghost. Dub is riddle and recipe.

Dub is the smell of curry that tells us dinner is on the table. It’s the sound of bass that tells us the dance is not quite full yet. Dub is deleting a word and adding a comma for inflection. Dub is knowing that parts represent holes. Not the whole, but the footprint, the ripple, the possibilities, the stories, the memories, and even the memories of places we’ve never been to, and even the memories of homes we never inhabited. Dub is that deportee on Air Zong.   

Pull up these PREE selections. Pull them up again and again for their dub aesthetics. Pull it up because we’re now boarding this PREE dub flight into fiction, non-fiction, poetry, ART-icles, and sound contributions to the Rub-A-Dub. 

[i] Louise Bennett. Selected Poems. 1983.

[ii] Diane Taylor. “Home Office proceeds with disputed Jamaica deportation flight.” 2 December 2020.

Image credit: Isis Semaj-Hall. April 2019 / Lee Scratch Perry’s Black Ark Studio

Rub-a-dub-dub: A note

Annie Paul

“Sound in Jamaica means process, community, strategy and product,” says Louis Chude-Sokei capturing the centrality of the sonic realm to Caribbean culture. Unlike the technologies of literacy that enabled Benedict Anderson’s ‘imagined communities’ sound communities function through technologies of orality and aurality. According to Chude-Sokei dub taught the world how to listen, how to ‘read’ sound, “Ghosts in the mix, duppies in the machine.”
Hut at Bathsheba by Corrie Scott

“We have entered an epoch of shocked space and torn time. How do we write a history of fragments? How do we record a history of forgetting?” In “Monster. A Fugue in Fire and Ice” Anne McClintock attempts an imaginative stocktaking of the world as we know it today through the device of fugues which she describes as “emotional states involving amnesia, great forgettings and unburyings, where one finds oneself unexpectedly in haunted spaces that create improbable connections.”

Shocked space, torn time, fragments and forgetting are what faced the survivors of the Caribbean plantationocene as they tried to construct functioning societies out of the detritus left behind. Dub is one of the technologies of sound they created to render the hauntology of the postcolonial landscape habitable and legible, to animate its fugues, to aestheticize its ruptures, to convert its breaks to hypnotic beats and echoing wells and healing pools of resonant silence.

“Madman’s Rant” by Christopher Cozier

“Madman’s Rant” by Christopher Cozier, a collaborative work undertaken with singer David Rudder in 1997, is the closest I’ve seen to a 2D visual dub with its shattered, splintered yet rhythmic vision of life in Trinidad. A multi-paneled artwork, ‘Rant’ has been  described as “sprawling, graphic, and schizophrenic, crackling with motion and tension, and punctuated by graffiti and unsettling visual allegories.” More on this intriguing work can be found in this Repeating Islands article reporting on a 2018 conversation between Rudder and Cozier revisiting the work. 

The works cited above would be stimulating accompaniments to this sixth issue of PREE. For their help in reviewing the writing in this issue I would like to thank Ingrid Persaud, Marlon James, Kei Miller, Richard Georges, Natalie Reinhart, Jeanette Awai and Lue Boileau in addition to our usual editorial team. 

Finally, thanks to all the cool writers who decided to flex their writing muscles in the Rub-a-dub issue. Their contributions have made this one of the strongest issues yet. 

Image credit: Hut at Bathsheba by Corrie Scott.

Editorial: Race and Racism in the Caribbean: “So many knees on so many necks”

Annie Paul

What else have I missed today in apartheid Jamaica? Sarah Manley’s startling status update on Facebook a few days ago resonated deeply, pinpointing as it does the invisible walls that divide this society. These walls relegate poor, black bodies to oblivion while corralling the country’s profits and benefits for the middle and upper classes—Team Light-Skinned as Garnette Cadogan terms it—who run things here.

Continue reading “Editorial: Race and Racism in the Caribbean: “So many knees on so many necks””

Letter from the Editor

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.”

Themes of return, nostalgia, longing for home and country haunt Aliyah Khan’s lyrical Small Days is Still on me Mind and Return by A-dZiko Simba Gegele.

“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.

Prefiguring the 21st C in Caribbean writing

PREE was born out of the desire to be part of shaping the new, of providing an experimental, technologically savvy platform to elicit forms of writing emerging from the transformed scapes of the Caribbean, a postcolonial Caribbean not yet fully decolonized but one willing to participate in the global ebbs and flows that sometimes threaten to submerge us. Can we grab a passing wave and ride it with the dexterity and aplomb of the region’s musicians and athletes? Can we show that we are perfectly capable of following in their wake while surfing new Caribbean imaginaries built on the world handed down to us by earlier generations? What does the writerly gaze look like almost two decades into the 21st century? Is new writing illuminating the Creolescapes we occupy? Are there new horizons of readership and writership? Can the archipelago be written? In what tone of voice and in what accents do we write it? Can it be written as it’s spoken? These are some of the questions we hope to answer with each issue.

Continue reading “Prefiguring the 21st C in Caribbean writing”