Monday, May 28, 2018

Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting — Shivanee Ramlochan (Peepal Tree Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting.  Shivanee Ramlochan.  Peepal Tree Press.  Leeds, U.K.  2017.

"You tell him
I am the queen
the comeuppance
the hard heretic that nature intended."
                                                                                      from - Vivek Chooses Her Husband

Today's book of poetry is unsure of what to say about the flame content of these poems.  The poems in Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting come in heavy and hot.  Shivanee Ramlochan is singing in a new key, these poems, a new language - but familiar.  Ramlochan is "the hard heretic" and she's paid full price for the experience.

Shivanee Ramlochan's poetry almost does feel haunted.  Today's book of poetry thinks we understand the need for ghosts to do her bidding.  Like more women then we will ever know about, the heroine of these poems has been raped.  That Ramlochan can/does make poetry, art and beauty out of such horror renders these poems almost sacred.

Duenne Lara

I write into you hard enough
the rumour murmurs that you'll come for me.

I scratch you through the water mirror, suck you under my talons,
will you knock & claim me? I keep
this one soft garden in my trachea vacant; I
stripped speech for split gourds, choking on seeds so you
might come and live in me, little
lover, come
claim these metatarsal prayers.

Everyone knows I am haunting.

Enact it again, you whisper, using mora and purpleheart to tell me.
Mourn me all over, cloister to caul.
Weep me upright in our wedding bower, my little bride, and I
do, I do,

I take the four rivers of the forest by throat and algal sinew,
pump the waters into my lungs. Come,
I'll christen you away from the devil's doorstep,
duenne suitor, duenne saviour, duenne dowry,
Duenne, you are mine

by sharp incense and pistol recoil, by moth fabric and mouth to mouth.
The wooden atlas delivers deeper rings in us
while the devil tries again to win your heart,

Come here, she marrow-bites.
I have something for you, but it looks like torture.
She scrapes it from the ruins of the moonlight museum.
She smiles as it eats our national anthem from your tongue.

No one told you how it would hurt, to have your feet forced against
family hearth.
The mangroves stroked you taut while the devil cracked your bones right,
a blister body of devotion
a casket of cunning charms to stamp you for her service.

I will never make you walk again, if you will be mine.


Shivanee Ramlochan's women, clan after clan, embody strong and resilient characters of noble charm and wit.  You also know that they are willing to carry a sharp knife that no gentleman need ever see.  Ramlochan's women love other women.  And are willing to cut bad men.

Today's book of poetry admits that we had to go to the mattresses with Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting.  Generally we don't like to admit how many times we have to go to the dictionary to get through a poem (and usually that is a poem killer), but with Lady Shivanee we were willing to do whatever it took.  Once you are on certain rides you don't ever want them to stop.  Dame Shivanee Ramlochan is a beautiful monster poet.

Poem after poem in Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting had us sad, happy, angry, and often in the same poem.  We think it is because Duchess Ramlochan has a bad engine with only one setting, when her engine is on things are ready to burn, like only the best bad engines can.

1. On the Third Anniversary of the Rape

Don't say Tunapuna Police Station.
Say you found yourself in the cave of a minotaur, not
knowing how you got there, with a lap of red thread.
Don't say forced anal entry.
Say you learned that some flowers bloom and die
at night. Say you remember stamen, filament,
cross-pollination, say that hummingbirds are

vital to the process.

Give the minotaur time to write in the police ledger. Lap
the red thread
around the hummingbird vase.

Don't say I took out the garbage alone and he grabbed me by the waist
and he was handsome.
                  Say Shakespeare. Recite Macbeth for the tropics.
Lady MacBeth was the Queen of Carnival
and she stabbed Banquo with a vagrant's shiv during J'ouvert.
She danced a blood dingolay and gave her husband a Dimanche Gras

I am in mud and glitter so far steeped that going back is not an option.
Don't say rapist.

Say engineer of aerosol deodorant because pepper spray is illegal,
anything is illegal
Fight back too hard, and it's illegal,
>your nails are illegal

Don't say you have a vagina, say
he stole your insurance policy/your bank boxes/your first car

he took something he'll be punished for taking,
not something you're punished for holding
like red thread between your thighs.


Our morning read was a full house sort of affair but it was the women who came out styling today.  None of the men on the Today's book of poetry staff had any of the angry sincerity that the women on our staff said was necessary.  For good reason.  None of the men on our staff have ever been the victim of generations of systemic sexism.

Rape is a mean bastard of a delicate topic and Shivanee Ramlochan has no trouble just kicking the crap right out of all previous tip-toeing.  These poems bear witness, frank and unforgiving.  And Today's book of poetry has nothing but respect for the strength in these poems — and the determination of the poet.  Regardless of the seriousness of the topic, the addressing of terror and male aggression, these poems are only successful if they work as poetry.

That's why we are here.  Shivanee burns.

Camp Burn Down

You and me and the fires we used to keep each other alive.
The fire at Camp Balandra.
The fire at Fort George.
The fire at fuck my throat
while my mother's on the phone, and the island's flooding
so everyone's indoors
but you are the skinniest raft
not provided for by the government,
unlawful from her to Tobago
and back.

There are small welts on the backs
of your hands as you braid me
down to the campsite.
This is the camp of Sunday afters,
your father's car radio
melting our eardrums while you move in me.
This is the fort of no retracing, every
place on my body you touch
burned nova.
burned past recognition.
You burn me into an atlas
into a Form One geometry tin
inside a perfect's handspan,
cock to cock to cheap vaseline,
burning me something new in each fire.

Snow might come to Tunapuna,
and your father would still spill
my guts in front of the market.
There would be hail in the public library,
and your father's pig cutlass
opening my thigh. The weather could vomit itself,
turn the catalogues of gale and gust inside out,
and the biggest damage would be
what I've done to you.

Remember the camp at the edge of the island?

The white stones brining to nothing
as you nerve-ground them between thumb and tongue,
scattering the wet cremations on my forehead.

I bless you, you said, I bless you here.
Nothing touched us except the rest of the world.


Today's book of poetry will remember the name of Shivanee Ramlochan because we will be singing it from the rafters for the next little while.  If you get lucky enough to read Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting you will be unlikely to forget either.  Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting will tear your fricking heart out and give you hope all at the same time.  That's a rare ride, a rare human combination.

Shivanee Ramlochan

Shivanee Ramlochan is a Trinidadian poet, arts reporter and book blogger. She is the Book Reviews Editor for Caribbean Beat Magazine. Shivanee also writes about books for the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, the Anglophone Caribbean's largest literary festival, as well as Paper Based Bookshop, Trinidad and Tobago's oldest independent Caribbean specialty bookseller. She is the deputy editor of The Caribbean Review of Books. Her first book of poems, Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting, was published by Peepal Tree Press on October 3rd, 2017.

Ramlochan’s poetry slays whoever would force an ‘identity’ on it. It alchemizes the roles of grandmothers, abortionists, labourers, clerks, dancers, policemen, cousins, rapists into the greatest intensity of human. The world fucked the Caribbean archipelago, where European-derived shepherdesses and pre-Abrahamic Lilith now wander as peers among manifold beings. The music is consonantal, full of pleasure/pain. Rich as a García Márquez novel, these are uncompromising conversations, intimacy wrestling survival.
     —Vahni Capildeo, author of Measures of Expatriation.

This debut book is a subversive tour-de-force, a poetry of Holi powder and sarisilk drifting with beauty; of flayed predators, persistent hunger and thirst, broken bodies of daughters and sons; of cultural keep-down, wedding-weep, rape-ache, and the raw dreaming of rebel lovers; of abeer-streaked bodies’ sex-throb and split and Kali hex words brutally gleaming in the moonlit museum. These stunning poems fiercely and inventively wrestle language of beast, wolf, fishtail, and gods monstrous, singing firesongs of purification for the island dead and survival for the living. In these pages of la sangre viva, “spirit does linger.”
     —Loretta Collins Klobah, author of The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman.

These poems crackle with soucouyant ire and the voices of duennes in stanzas so bewitching you will not want to look away. Against a Hindu, Muslim, and Christian backdrop, abortionists, rapists, ancestors, and deities incarnate as grief. Surprise awaits in tightly wrought lines that are “no accidental shrine” to ancestry, femininity, and filial devotion. Always some darkness casts shadows against the beauty of love. Always the ghost of a story beckons the reader close.
     —Rajiv Mohabir, author of The Cowherd’s Son and The Taxidermist’s Cut.

In transgressive mode, Shivanee Ramlochan invokes gods, goddesses or demons to do what poetry should do–alarm and ignite us, surprise and blast us and tear at our heartstrings. Welcome to a challenging, unforgettable and courageous new voice.
     —Olive Senior, author of The Pain Tree.

Shivanee Ramlochan
reads three poems from 
Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting
at the Paper Based Bookshop
Video:  Shivanee Ramlochan



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
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