Judges and judged: The Guyana Prize Judges Report 2013
Differences of opinion should never mean hostility. If they did, my wife and I should be sworn enemies of one another. I do not know two persons in the world who had no difference of opinion, and as I am a follower of the Gita, I have always attempted to regard those who differ from me with the same affection as I have for my nearest and dearest.
Mahatma Gandhi: YI, 17-3-1927, p82.
Mahatma Gandhi: YI, 17-3-1927, p82.
In this reluctant response to the Judges Report[i] of the latest edition—fiasco is a better term—of the Guyana Prize for literature, I suspect that this famous quote from Gandhi’s writings may be of little help; many of those connected to the prize, if they have not already so resolved over the years will now place me somewhere near the top of their “I-will-get-you” lists. The literati are known for their long knives, long memories. I will confess. I live in a house with glass windows. For the records, I am a member of no political party. Never have been, never will be. For the records I was writing long before the Guyana Prize was established. I don’t write for prizes. I never will.
Gandhi, again, “Differences of opinion should never mean hostility.” We can disagree. We will disagree. Sometimes our disagreements may come across as with the taste of karilla, with apologies to some of the judges—who, yet, are competent to judge our works. The Judges Report is a mishmash of apparent contradictions, if not an insult to writers and the Guyanese people.
“One of the criteria for short-listing for the Guyana Prize is that the book chosen should be of publishable quality.” This is from the Judges Report. The question is: Who came up with this criterion, The Prize Committee, the Secretary of the Committee, or the Judges? What were the other criteria? Was excellence something not even worth mentioning? The report looks at traditional publishing and self publication and how the Internet and the advent of the digital age has become a leveler—editing and revision and any concern for “artistry” of no great concern. Does “quality” suffer? I am made to understand Shakespeare couldn’t spell his name. Several variants of “Shakespeare” existed even under his own hand. But the Bard was reveling in the great technology of his age, pen and paper—paper is still the greatest of all technologies, I read recently. Writers revel in the technologies of their age. Judges deliberate on quality, or so it seems.
In commenting on Lantana Strangling Ixora, the only shortlisted poetry book published by a traditional publisher, the Judges Report state: “Any book which has been through such a process is obviously at an advantage; this year, this most evidently applies to Lantana strangling Ixora, a collection of poems written by Sasenarine Persaud and published by TSAR. Although publishers do not, as far as I know, rewrite poetry, the fact that a number of the poems had been previously published in journals, and the warm reviews[ii] the collection has received, speak to the metropolitan privilege of a writer embedded in a community of publishers, readers and critics.”
I thank the chief judge for noting the “warm reviews”, which I suspect was a last minute addition. The “warm reviews” the chief judge refers to are from readers/reviewers of different backgrounds, located in different parts of the world: Japan, India, England/Switzerland, Boston, Los Angeles, and Toronto. These “warm reviews” have little, if anything, to do with “metropolitan privilege,” and more to do with a lifetime of pursuing artistic integrity, an obsession with artistic excellence and, of course, the generosity of the reviewers, who (save for one) do not know me and based their readings on the work they were reading, not on any other considerations, or notions of me as person and critic. The chief judge’s misconceptions of North America is evident if she believes that the literary backwater I inhabit in Florida consists of a “community of publishers, readers and critics”, or affords me any privilege not available to any writer in Guyana, or elsewhere, with a computer and Internet access. Envy of this apparent “metropolitan privilege”, I suspect, is part of the crux of the judging this year—or what passed for it. Envy of this “metropolitan privilege” has always been the envy of writers and critics on that “wild coast” of South America. Perhaps, I should know. I once wrote, “I used to live there, once! / Let nothing else be said. Nothing else.”[iii]
It is not politically (if not literarily and ethnically) insignificant that for the first time, I believe, local writers have made a sweep of the prizes in the three major categories: Best Drama, Best Book of Fiction and Best Book of Poetry. Is it a co-incidence that Harold Bascom, who lives in the USA, and is arguably our best playwright, was shut out in the category of drama? Or that Chaitram Singh, who lives in the USA, was shut out in the category of Best Book of Fiction? Or I, who, also, live in the USA was shut out in the category of Best Book of Poetry? Does anti-American sentiment have anything to do with anything? The local literati are basking.
Is it not now time for all writers—living abroad, or locally—to be treated equally? The current prize rules are structured to favour local writers above those abroad. Local writers can submit manuscripts. Overseas based writers can only submit published works. Is this most current iteration of the Guyana Prize affirmative action in literature at its worst? And since when is a manuscript a book? Perhaps, these are all political questions.
I haven’t read the awarded poetry manuscript, but I have read McDonald’s book—which he was kind enough to send me—and I can say, unequivocally, that if his book deserved the prize for Best Book of Poetry, then, assuredly, so did Lantana Strangling Ixora. One doesn’t have to take my word on this: I am sure that neither McDonald’s book, nor the selected manuscript, received the “warm reviews” from the range of reviewers, in the range of publications, in the range of geographical locations as Lantana Strangling Ixora.
What is even more baffling is the apparent contradiction in the Judges Report. In talking about self-publishing (and non-publishing) versus a book such as Lantana Strangling Ixora, which has gone through the rigours and test of traditional publishing, here is the chief judge, “Any book which has been through such a process is obviously at an advantage; this year, this most evidently applies to Lantana strangling Ixora, a collection of poems written by Sasenarine Persaud and published by TSAR.”
Yes, “this year, this most evidently applies to Lantana Strangling Ixora”. And, yet, Lantana did not win, or even share the prize with a manuscript and with a book published, apparently not on merit, but to celebrate personal relationships and in tribute to and in memorialization of David de Caires, in whose memory the publishing house/Trust that published McDonald’s book was set up. Caires, de Caires? Rings a bell?
Brendan de Caires was one of the judges in this year’s prize, and is, de facto, one of the publishers at Moray House Trust, which published McDonald’s book. This de Caires, who was a judge, writes a glowing introduction to the book. Here is what Jane Bryce says in the Judges Report about McDonald’s book: “In this sense, then, we can intuit that rather than a rigorous critique, this particular publication was undertaken in the spirit of memorialisation and tribute, both to a personal relationship and to Guyanese culture.” This is a remarkable note by the Chairman of the judges. And yet, and yet, Lantana Strangling Ixora was shut out.
For the records, there have been manuscripts that my publishers have not published. Again, for the records, my publisher has suggested cuts/changes/additions/revisions to my poetry manuscripts over the years. And, yes, a manuscript at my publisher goes through the rigours of more than one reader and competes with several others for a very limited poetry publishing slot. The competition, to say the least, is intense.
What have we missed? Brendan de Caires writing the introduction to and, almost de facto, publishing a book entered in a competition in which he is a judge. In his introduction, he writes about his personal friendship with Ian McDonald. Every few months they have drinks in a Toronto pub and talk literature etc. A conflict of interest in the judging? In an interview the chief judge gave after the awards, she noted that when the judges were discussing McDonald’s book, de Caires recused himself and left the room. Why wasn’t this significant enough to be worth a note in the Judges Report? Why didn’t he didn’t recuse himself from the judging of the Best Book of Poetry altogether? In Lantana Strangling Ixora, there is a poem, ‘Reply to, “A White Man Considers the Situation”’. It is a response to a poem published by McDonald; it is a poem looking askance at the privilege of one with a white skin and affluence in race-conscious Guyana. De Caires himself, I have little doubt, knows of the privilege of affluence, if not of a white skin, as his father was a lawyer and founder/editor of the Stabroek News and a local white. So a poem and poet taking to task a dear family friend, McDonald, who is a poet published by a Trust memoralizing his father, David de Caires. Did the chief judge, herself white and spending some of her early years in Africa and now teaching in Barbados and knowing of the privilege of a white skin in these societies take umbrage? Or another of the judges, Lori Shelbourn, white and British take umbrage? Poetry is not a popularity contest. There are fall-outs, consequences.
Being, in the judges words, “hypersensitive” I suppose I can stretch this a bit. We will, of course, come back to “hypersensitive” a little later. In the Best Book of Poetry category, one manuscript shared the prize with a locally published book. Both poets who shared the prize are, apparently, white. And so, it appears, are three of the five judges. Of the other two judges, one is Afro-Caribbean and one Indo-Guyanese, from his name, apparently a Muslim. Let us push “hypersensitivity” a little further. While there have been judges of Indian ancestry, I cannot recall the Prize ever having a Hindu judge-juror. Does this matter? Much has been written and documented in the USA showing how the composition of a jury affects the outcome.
In what must be a most irregular action, the white, British judge, Lori Shelbourn, turns around and publishes a review on a manuscript by an apparently white poet, which she has just judged and, voted for. She publishes this review in a column by the Secretary of the Prize Committee, in a newspaper founded by the father of one of the judges—a local white. This is not to say anything is wrong with white power, or woman power. In the world of money laundering, this kind of activity would look like layering and laundering the proceeds of illicit activity to make those proceeds look clean. But this kind of thing doesn’t happen in the pristine world of literature. In yet another related twist, another local white columnist comments on the white judge’s review of the apparently local white poet. “Not a Blade of Grass” a song I remember.
That there appears to have been contact between one winner in another category and a foreign judge prior to the judging adds more intrigue to this last competition. And what is wrong with two people, judge and judged, making contact in cyberspace? Nothing! In a small city like Georgetown, we can be sure that there was no contact between judge and judged during the time of the judging; that is to say, there was no contact between any judge and any of the contestants from the entry deadline to the time the final selection was made. And yet rumours persist. Should a rumour that one of the winners was sleeping with one of the judges during the judging be investigated by the Prize Committee and the University of Guyana Vice-Chancellor? The answer is apparent given the anomalies surrounding this prize. I am reminded, again, that the Internet leaves a public trail that is easy to follow.
Again, for the record, people of European ancestry have written some of the warmest reviews of my work. Indeed, I owe much to people of European ancestry, to people of various ancestries, and especially to Euro-Canadians, for the literary space I now inhabit.
If he didn’t, should Brendan de Caires have recused himself from judging in the category of Best Book of Poetry altogether? The chief judge, noting McDonald’s long association with the prize and his being well known by the literati of the region (of which she is part) for his long involvement in the literature of the region, observed somewhat flippantly that all the judges would have had to recuse themselves and leave the room during discussion of his book. In view of this remark, isn’t it apparent that this is exactly what should have been done? Given this long association and close relationship with several of the judges, and to avoid the perception of conflict of interest, shouldn’t all of the judges who have had a long and ongoing relationship with McDonald recused themselves from judging McDonald’s book? But, perhaps, these are political questions and issues.
Am I saying, then, that no prize should have been awarded for Best Book of Poetry?
Perhaps, from the moment I started writing this, I could hear, smell, see and taste “sea grapes.” Sea grapes are sweet. Sea grapes are tart. Our celebrated poet should know; sea grapes is the title of one of his collections. And how give a manuscript an award for a Best Book of Poetry? Am I saying that the awards for Best Book of Poetry should be rescinded? Perhaps, if there are enough apparent irregularities to warrant this. In modern sport, when the umpires make a questionable call, there is the “replay”. The replay shows if, when the umpires have made a wrong call. With the benefit of contemporary technology, we know wrong calls happen oftener than we would like to think. A literary recall has never been done, as far as we know, at least, not with this prize. There is always precedent. Lance Armstrong, once held as the greatest cyclist and athlete of all times, was stripped of all of his Tour de France titles and awards and banned. Apples to oranges, you say! Indeed!
Here is the chief judge from the Judges Report, again, “You’re probably wondering why we’ve lingered so long on this question of publishing. Well, the answer is that it speaks to the politics of the Guyana Prize itself.”
This is an extraordinary admission, “the politics of the Guyana Prize.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes, “The politics of the Guyana Prize”? Only earlier this month, just before the announcement of the Nobel Prize for literature I wrote, in an email to an acquaintance, that all prizes at a certain level are geopolitical and that it was Canada’s turn this year, not yet having a literary Nobel laureate. I had posited it would probably be Margaret Atwood. It wasn’t Atwood, but the Nobel Committee was true to form. It awarded this year’s Nobel Prize to a Canadian.
No wonder the word “excellence” is nowhere in the Judges Report on the Guyana Prize. The overriding criterion seems to be politics, “the politics of the Guyana Prize.” What was the politics of the Guyana Prize this year? Will the chief judge be clearer on this politics, will the judges speak up on the politics of the prize this year? Was it: None of the three main awards must go to an overseas based writer? Was it: At no cost should the poetry prize go to a book published overseas by a traditional publisher to “warm reviews”, and especially not to one who apparently enjoys the “metropolitan privilege of a writer embedded in a community of publishers, readers and critics”? Do these questions beg answers? Poets have been known to be beggars.
The prize is past. If the direction given to the judges was to award the prizes in the main categories to local writers this year, then the judges should so indicate. If the judges have any concern for their reputations and for their integrity, they should speak up regarding this. The post award interview given by the chief judge, Jane Bryce, in which she comments on the judging, shows that there is no restriction on the judges in discussing the judging. Is it, therefore, incumbent on the judges and the prize committee to show that my understanding and perception of this year’s Guyana Prize fiasco to be wrong? No money can buy integrity— maybe not.
On the writer of the selected poetry manuscript, the judges note that the poet does “not use language to reduce, contain, frame or claim power over others.” In other words, be a nice writer; write “la la” poetry. In other words, do not respond, do not dare criticize the judges and the organizing committee; do not dare criticize anyone. Have these judges read any poetry through the ages, or even Martin Carter, or Pablo Neruda, or Derek Walcott to name a few closer to Guyana. It was Walcott, who used “VS Nightfall” in his well-known poem to beat VS Naipaul on his head—so to speak—a poem I’ve heard Walcott read in Boston. Applause from the crowd! In which bubble are the judges residing? On which planet? What a disservice to this young poet. I’m not aware of any of the judges, or the prize committee secretary, taking Walcott to task for beating Naipaul on the head in this poem—and in others. The Judges Report goes on to describe McDonald’s winning collection as “celebrating a life well-lived and the joys of nature, from the sweep of the Essequibo to the details of his wife’s garden.” Again, write “la la” poetry, write “lollipop” poetry. The report finds much wrong with McDonald’s collection so that it is a surprise that it was selected for the prize.
The issue the judges had with Lantana Strangling Ixora seems to be this, “an anxiety, even a fear of modernity that renders the voice somewhat reactionary in political terms. More worrying still is the poet's hypersensitivity to racial slights within Caribbean society, and the intense resentment these evoke in him.” This seems to be what it all boiled down to. Not technique, not artistry and artistic excellence, but the perceived politics of the poet and the poet’s “hypersensitivity” to racial slights in Caribbean society.
It is the classic tool of neocolonialists. Be nice, good writers. Do not deal with or in criticism, literary or other; we will be the interpreters of your work. Do not critique “western” modes of thought, or techniques. African is fine, but don’t tell us about Asia. You are supposed to be the stereotypical quiet, meek, Asian, feeble, fasting Gandhi—yes, massa, yes massa, yes, memsaab—with your palms clasped. I would like to suggest that the judges read Peter Nazareth introduction’s to my selected poems; it is now available online.
One wonders if the judges can show “fear of modernity” in Lantana Strangling Ixora? I can point to poems which do the opposite, even one celebrating the Internet—probably the greatest technological advancement in the last one hundred years, perhaps, the epitome of modernity—, and another celebrating, indeed, modernity in verse form and structure. While, outside of the book, I have dealt with the known, scientific dangers of EMR (electromagnetic radiation) from wireless emissions such as cell phone towers and cell phones, while I have made presentations to governmental bodies, and have along with countless others (in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe) challenged the propaganda (similar to that of the tobacco, lead and asbestos industries) of the multi-billion dollar wireless industry, this is a far cry from a fear of modernity. I have looked askance at the greed of developers and the greed of some sections of the wireless industries in two poems in this book. Greed is the most ancient of vices. This is hardly “fear of modernity”. Some of my presentations on EMR are available on the Internet and for the public record. Is it possible that the judges have confused my public persona, conflated my opinions in essays and other public writings with the poetry in the book they should have been judging?
“More worrying still is the poet's hypersensitivity to racial slights within Caribbean society, and the intense resentment these evoke in him.” Indeed, more worrying still are the judges’ flippant attitude to the racial discrimination of Indians in the Caribbean. Again, I have publicly taken to task Guyanese and West Indian societies for their accommodation and participation in this discrimination, especially during the horrible Burnham years and during the rule, of questionable legitimacy, of the PNC regime, which I lived through and which extended to literature. But while I have done this openly and publicly elsewhere, can the judges show this “intense resentments” in Lantana Strangling Ixora?
There is a satirical poem on Guyana dealing simultaneously with love (a white lover) and religion (which impedes relationships across racial and religious lines, especially when a Hindu lover will not convert to his lover’s Catholicism) and the apologists for Burnham and his regime in their attempts to distort the history of that time; this is hardly “intense resentments.” In all I do, and especially when I write a poem, when I publish a poem, my overriding obsession is to make great, and memorable, and lasting art. I did not say likeable art. Like Naipaul, I have looked askance at all of the major religions in my poetry, fiction and non-fiction: Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam. Likeable art, likeable poetry is the preoccupation of collaborators. It is saddening to see the judging of a prize, apparently, lean towards the reactionary forces intent on cleansing the terrible past by trivializing the racial discrimination of Indians in the region.
But let us not look on that not-so-contemporary past. More recently, in 2008, there has been the Lusignan Massacre. The trial of some of those accused of this massacre occurred during the Guyana Prize judging this last September, when the judges were in the country. Perhaps, the judges were too busy reading manuscripts, or involved in other non-prize pursuits, to be aware of this. In the Lusignan Massacre, eleven of the twelve murdered were of Indian origin. The other was not Afro-Guyanese. The accused are all Afro-Guyanese. Make what you will of this. When the Indian villagers protested the lack of action by the police in finding the killers, the police—almost all black—tear-gassed them, the victims, the relatives of the victims, Indo-Guyanese. The Lusignan Massacre occurred in 2008. In Guyana a few months later, I wrote nothing of this atrocity, this racism—nothing in Lantana Strangling Ixora. I wrote a poem about love across racial and religious lines woven around PNC-Burnham apologists. And I wrote a poem about broken promises—love of love, love of land from this 2008 trip in Lantana Strangling Ixora. I almost ended this collection with “Planation Backdams,” a poem about the plantation that was Guyana under the British and the early post-independence period, and linking it to the plantation that is contemporary North America. No nostalgia, no resentments. I make my home in North America—voluntarily, you may say.
The Lusignan Massacre is simply this: Indians slaughtered just because they were Indians. To label such gruesome, racially motivated murder as “racial slight” is an insult to all Guyanese. This is no “racial slight.” To talk then of my “hypersensitivity” to the “racial slights” of Indians in the Caribbean, when the judges were in Guyana for deliberations, at which time the trial related to the Lusignan Massacre was ongoing is an insult to the Indians of Guyana and the region. Regardless of what I felt about this, being in Guyana shortly after this massacre (my first visit in twenty years), or what I feel now, there is no poem on this in Lantana Strangling Ixora. I wrote other poems of Guyana on that trip as noted above.
The chief judge and all the judges (if they stand by the Judges Report) owe not only the families and relatives of these victims, and all Indo-Guyanese and Indo-West Indians an apology, but also all Guyanese and all West Indians an apology. There are scores of such acts of brutality against Indians since Independence and especially under the regime of Burnham and the PNC, which are documented. Guyana remains the only Caribbean country, perhaps, the only country in recent world history, where two government ministers of Indian ancestry were murdered while in office and their killers not brought to justice: Vincent Teekah, Minister of Education under the PNC, and Satyadeo (Sash) Sawh, Minister of Agriculture under the PPP-Civic. Did I say that both ministers were Indo-Guyanese? The last murder was an especially brutal multiple homicide. Sawh was murdered in his house along with a brother and a sister (both visiting from abroad) and his guard, an Afro-Guyanese. His wife and another brother, wounded and pretending to be dead under the other corpses, survived. I believe it was Naipaul who said—paraphrasing—I don’t write about race, I write about individuals. I knew Sash when we both lived in Toronto. I wrote a poem about an individual I knew. It was published in Guyana. It was published in my collection, In a Boston Night. I happened to be in Boston when I learned of his murder. There is no “intense resentment” or even anger in this poem. The poem I wrote was a celebration of a life, of a time and place we once shared, and the intersection of histories: Canadian, American, Asian and Guyanese. It is art. I say to the judges, don’t take my word. Read this poem. Take it apart if you will. I challenge you. And I offer to send you a copy of this book (In a Boston Night) gratis, postage paid, should you so desire.
The point is this: After a lifetime of writing all things in between poetry and poetry, I have become more of a controlled, deliberate writer. Yoga is about union through control, and so is great poetry, great writing. I am not the writer I was a quarter of a century ago when my first collections and novels and stories and essays were published. It is easy to confuse and conflate the person, who wrote those poems and novels and essays of two decades ago with the writer of the poetry in Lantana Strangling Ixora. They are worlds apart. You will notice I didn’t just dash off a letter, or a missive, or a tweet immediately the results and the Judges Report were available. And I have held this back for more that a few days, more than a few months, changing, adjusting—in no hurry. I had been urged to respond by some; I have been advised not to respond by others. But I am a slow writer—deliberate, you may say, controlled. I know where I am with my writing and my poetry. I am confident of my art. I don’t need external validation. But I am not ungrateful for such external validation, if/when it comes in reviews etc.
Let us be clear, Indians were not the only ones who suffered in the turbulent times of Guyana. There has been the assassination of Walter Rodney, the murder of Father Darke and others. I have written on these at various times. But Indo-Guyanese bore the brunt, and as in the case of the Lusignan Massacre, of open racial targeting. Continuous murders, rapes, beatings, targeted home invasion of Indo-Guyanese over a given period, almost exclusively by people of another racial ancestry, are not “racial slights.” For anyone to term such as “racial slights” must be one of the most egregious, if not the most egregious, insult to the Indo-Guyanese and the Indo-Caribbean communities in recent years.
Pending an apology from the chief judge and the judges, should the Guyana Government declare these individuals personae non gratae? Of these things, I don’t know. Two of the judges were born in Guyana. That complicates things. In the 1970s, when Rohan Kanhai coached cricket in Southern Africa, the Burnham regime and Burnham had threatened to ban Kanhai from playing cricket in Guyana. How do you ban a person from his country of birth?
I close with that which, in a way, came first, the announcement of the shortlist. Here is how the announcement described Lantana Strangling Ixora, “Complex, introspective poems with a bitter edge.” I wrote to an acquaintance after I had seen this that this was not a shortlist but a notice of who didn’t win, that Lantana didn’t win. Was this a release by the prize committee, or the judges? Ah, but such a bitter and biased press release, an unprofessional release. I have publicly pointed out the sloppy reading of my work by one on the Prize Committee, who has always called my work too bitter, too political—meaning too critical of the Burnham PNC regime and the pervasive racism of its time—my poetry was fine once I wrote about love, and flowers and coconuts and jamoons…In other words, “lollipop” poetry. Perhaps, it would be fine to criticize the current PPP-Civic government. I have lived outside Guyana for all of the years since the PPP-Civic was elected in 1992. My engagement and direct experiences with the PPP-Civic rule is miniscule compared to that of the PNC-Burnham regime. There are many in Guyana who regularly take the government to task—as it should be under a democracy. We forget, or are too young to know that you could not dare do an iota these things during the reign of terror of the Burnham-PNC regime. If you did, you looked over your shoulders for the death squad in their red-white Mitsubishi jeeps. You took a flight out. Was any member of the Guyana Prize Committee associated with the Burnham/Hoyte PNC regime, which I have criticized for ruining Guyana? My memory is fuzzy. What were their positions? What facilities did they enjoy through those years? We all change with time, with age temperance. The shortlist release and comments were unprofessional and biased:
“Complex, introspective poems with a bitter edge.” In other words, write “la la” poetry; write “lollipop” poetry: The politics of the Guyana Prize, the politics of prizes.
Here is Walcott, should we say, bitterer than any karilla?
That was why the sea stank from the frothing urine
of surf, and fish-guts reeked from the government shed,
and why God pissed on the village for months of rain.
Again from Omeros:
O Christ! I swore, I’m tired of their fucking guilt,
and our fucking envy!...
Would any of the judges, or any on the prize committee, or anyone connected to Caribbean poetry or literature, or Walcott’s poetry dare call this bitter poetry? Walcott is “black” and I brown, Indo-Guyanese, Indo-Canadian, Indo-American, Asian. Take your pick. I have criticized Walcott publicly for his attack on Naipaul, for his recent, third rate poetry on Naipaul and in his last collection. How dare I? Nobel Laureate, darling of Caribbean literati. However, how I threat the Walcott/Naipaul quarrel in Lantana Strangling Ixora is a different issue. “We are all Mongoose men” I wrote in one poem (“we” not “you”) and in another, and in the words of a former colleague of West Indian parentage, “you reading DA Walcock!” Yes. Walcott and Naipaul have been inspirations to me at various times. But what I write about them in poetry, in Lantana Strangling Ixora is much different than what I have written in my non-fiction, or even in fiction.
My father was a great cook. In my boy’s mind, the greatest cook. You can, of course, cook karilla so that it is not bitter. Faced with the massive and open discrimination of people of Indian ancestry under the Burnham regime and the PNC, he said: When Burnham dies, I will do a jag. Yes, a jag, and he was not a religious man. Jag? Apologies to Jane and Lori and Louis and Brendan—who, yet, are competent to judge our works. I didn’t say only Indians were discriminated against. My father died just before Burnham died. He was not a member of any political party. Neither am I. How bitter is bile? Or gall? Who knows? But here is Derek Walcott, again, as bitter as karilla on “exiled novelists” (a placeholder for Naipaul?).
You spit on your people,
your people applaud,
your former oppressors
…in your eye
every child is born crippled,
is that of the baboon;
can you hear the achievement
of this chimpanzee typing
from Sea Grapes
from Sea Grapes
[i] Published in Demerara Waves
[ii] In requesting a copy of the Judges Report on the eve of the Awards ceremony, I attached the following bionote and the excerpts from reviews of Lantana Strangling Ixora that I sent the chief judge and the secretary of the prize committee:
Sasenarine Persaud is the author of twelve books of fiction and poetry. His awards include: The KM Hunter Foundation Award (Toronto), the Arthur Schomburg Award (New York) and fellowships from the University of Miami and Boston University, from which he has a Master’s in Creative Writing. Persaud initiated the term Yogic Realism to define his literary aesthetics. His most recent books are Lantana Strangling Ixora (TSAR Books, Toronto, 2011), Unclosed Entrances: Selected Poems (Caribbean Press, 2011) and In a Boston Night. (TSAR, Toronto, 2008).
He has been described as “one of those rare poets who gets the recipe of humanness exactly right” (Canadian Literature); and his poetry as “miniature raags, sensuous units of Indian music obeying conventions mysterious to western ears” (The Globe and Mail). Persaud was born in Guyana and has lived in Canada for several years. Florida has been his home for the past dozen years.
On his Latest Book, Lantana Strangling Ixora:
“A diverse and wide-ranging collection of poems…explored with his signature wit and skilful mastery of language…powerful images of nature are to be found in his accomplished use of metaphor and simile, which often renders the ordinary into something quite extraordinary…a finely balanced collection of work which carefully mixes the past with the present without ever resorting to sentimentality or pathos.”—Wasafiri.
“Beguiling…masterly control”—Muse India
“In this collection, Persaud’s elegant poems, though they linger heavily on loss, are quietly reassuring.”—Bostonia
“Do not look for meaning and logic or even sense in these poems. Just submit yourself to enjoying the craft and the magic that results…Lines and stanzas break at seemingly unexpected times as only the accomplished can risk.”—Guyana Times.
“Persaud is dauntlessly brainy…a bit like reading T.S. Eliot mixed up with Rabindranath Tagore…. Persaud’s poems are unapologetically learned.”—The Halifax Chronicle Herald.
“Scottish poet Kenneth White calls poetry the shortest form of the short story. This is certainly true of this fine collection…both fascinating and challenging, the same way…Rabindranauth Tagore [was] fascinating and challenging…so many years ago: poems that challenge and make one think...”—Asiatic
[iii] “Dennis Street” in A Writer Like You (2002)