Archive for the ‘review’ Category

Beautiful Monster

July 22, 2011

Jeremy Love’s astounding, graphic novel Bayou (volume one) is filled with many not so beautiful monsters: ghosts of Southern racism and tragedy; and beautiful ones, like Bayou—the large, hulking, green-tinged monster of the Mississippi bayou who wonderfully calls on his inner courage to help a new friend in need, even as it jeopardizes his own safety. Admittedly, I am not the biggest reader of graphic novels and while I’ve read entire comic collections, namely: The Far Side and The Boondocks among others—I’d probably read more graphic novels if they were all like Bayou: haunting, achingly familiar and beautifully drawn. I couldn’t get the book out of my mind after I read it the first day: the colours, all the ochres and amber, shades of grey, browns, and moss greens nestled in the dark shadows; the soul of Emmett Till (Billy) with large sunset-tinged wings on his back, and Lee Wagstaff with her pluck and tenacity, reminding me fondly of Liza Lou in some ways, picking her way through the swamp to grandmother’s house. Lee is a well drawn blackgirl character who nicely encapsulates some of the variant tensions of blackgirlhood in the 1930s in the South (and still today in some ways). I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I would encourage anyone to read it in print or online. (See Bayou link embeded above. You can thank me later.)

Slipping, sliding down

June 16, 2011

 Reading The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey is a lot like that in a sense, the fall down the giant rabbit hole — where Trinidad is through the rabbit hole — filled with some of the kinds of absurdisms, the likes of which, seen only in Wonderland. Except it’s not Wonderland. And it’s based on reality: cops who pass out thuggish beat-downs that no one is held accountable for, almond-coloured people who consider their pedigree, “social” (and sometimes racial) white, (blackness be damned, not to mention Eric Williams and his insolent, black self) and yes, even stuff like that infernal, puffed-up, arial slug floating by: the infamous blimp gliding over Port of Spain and elsewhere on the island, which Roffey references throughout the book, ominously watching over some of its characters, “staring, just like the sky stared, another pair of  eyes”, “high above, farcical, spectral” (13). 

Perhaps, because Trinidad is also my land, (some of) the absurd facets of life there, strike my nerves more because of the acute understanding; the warm and worn familiarity like the curve of a lover’s lower back, and I could appreciate that; an author taking the time to do so, well. Not so much blatantly saying, this place is absurd in some ways, and backward; and people who live there have to deal with so much bull-crap; from a police force that is largely inefficient, to pretending to be blind to how race & social standing can insulate you from a lot, all the while suffering from or benefitting from it etc. and etc. No, it’s not so much saying it all like that, than painting this engaging series of events over the course of time that gets me thinking about all of that.

With regards to Trinidad, Roffey shows, not tells very well. But where she tells was very nicely crafted too. The island is lush, pulsating — incorrigible, even. The ‘Caribbean gothic’ elements were seductive and evocative — Trinidad was bewitching and alive.  I appreciated the darker moments in the book a lot, which is really where some of the strongest word & image magic happen in the story. Likewise, for her use of language: I love that the word “cunt” appears — like she wasn’t afraid to write that way. And it’s used for vagina. I can dig that (of course, Trinis are also partial to manifestations of the word cunt — most often heard as swear word-cum-problematic-descriptor). 

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How Sweet the Sound

March 2, 2011

In the spirit once more, of the Merry Monarch’s reign supreme and a fascination with all (if not, most) things soca: I’ve been happily musing on 2011 soca trends. West Indian  popular culture, of  course, offers no end of  fodder — whether it’s sex and dancehallkaiso feminisms, the performance of masculinity by male soca stars, peripatetic postulations around black women’s derrières or, whether palancing is good for the soul (word is, it is).

On that note, it was interesting to see Africa (& strong African elements) trending hard in soca this season. Real damn hard. This season is long but some of these songs came out early, inundating my ears with thundering drums, rippling along polyrhythmic syncopations replete with echoes of the Motherland, or “the jungle” (or both?) On the appropriately titled “Swahili” riddim, there’s Denise “Saucy Wow” Belfon’s “Dance and Dingolay, and” Pelf’s “Obeah“, then there’s Alison Hinds’ “Makelele“; plus, Bunji Garlin’s “De African“, making it feel like “de Maroons never gone” indeed. It is enough to make yuh want to roll an’ tumble down — in the best way possible, that is.

Bunji’s song revisits a kind of neo-Africanness through the eyes of those who view him in Germany first, in the opening stanza, vascillating between his “Trini-man” identity, his Trinidadian identity and his skin colour which is read as African, moving through a celebratory reckoning of said cultural identity: “standard in meh hand / like ah spear going brave,” and “standing up jus like ah chief,” (with Bajans, Antiguans and Grenadians acknowledged along the spectrum) — in one of the most non-euphemistimic ways I’ve heard in new, contemporary soca in a while — he merges all three. Garlin, is also the Black Spaniard, a globalised West Indian citizen, constantly evoking spit-fire identities like a chameleon, as he ever complicates his cultural identity in song.  Additionally, Cassie’s “Tong (Town) Ting” asserts and celebrates the downtown, behind-de-bridge, Piccadilly Greens and all other “tong girls” — “red, darkie and  brown-skin”, whom his zipper wants to take ah grip on — this, all atop a sweet kaiso melody.

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Unfurling a tightly woven rope—

June 8, 2010

might at first prove easy to do but then what do you do when it wants to—fights to, curl back up on itself?

Late last week I finished Marlon James’ incredible Book of Night Women and I’ve been thinking about some of the many things that struck me about the novel. It was an extremely riveting and visceral book to read on some levels but I got through it and I would highly recommend it to anyone. On top of which, week before last, while I was still reading it, I heard Spokenheart ( a local poet) read her stellar poem “House Nigger” at an open-mike, reflecting on the historical legacy coupled with her own experiences of being a light-skinned, pretty, black American southern girl with light eyes, grappling with all that comes with inhabiting her skin. Her words were a powerful examination of colour privilege, stereotypes, intra-racism, race, identity and the self.

Because colourism, its manifestations and perceptions and constructs of beauty fascinate me (and also makes my head & heart hurt sometimes)—the colourism in James’ book was interesting to me. Inside a slavery narrative, where fiction meets historical context in the West Indies on a  Jamaica plantation estate—of course there is going to be colourism and some of its attendant intersections; but the complexities of how it is woven into this particular story and James’ own attention to interrogating some inherent constructs of said colourism was some powerful stuff. In one fell swoop, he takes The Tragic Mulatto, the “browning”—the notion of the presumed beauty of the mulatto woman, the presumed unattractiveness of the un-mixed black woman—and complicates the whole lot of them. This, on top of everything else that is taking place within that space.

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