When I first read Coolitude: An Anthology of the Indian Labor Diaspora, I was transformed. I accepted the trauma of my history as a dreamscape that shades my daily life. I accepted that the hauntings of colonization, dehumanization, and diabetes were part of this reckoning with my own history. What was it like for my own ancestors Latchman and Sant Ram Mahraj to leave their homes, beset by economic dependence on a colonial system? When they landed in Guyana in 1891 and 1885 what did they see? What colors were the ocean? What songs did they sing aboard the ship? What of all my women ancestors that are not recorded in familial lore — what did they survive? What survives in us because of all of these people’s strains and triumphs?
In this interview I ask Amar Ramesar questions about his life as a musician. He has taken the lyrics written by Lalbihari Sharma in 1916 on the Demerara sugar plantation and put it back into music. This kind of revivification of his music lends itself to new interpretations, which it finds in his craft.
Most people think about the connections between music and poetry in a very abstract way — that assonance is the descendant of rhyme or that music and poetry occupy very different spaces. For me, music is the first poetry that I ever learned. I come from an oral culture — or at least an aural culture of performance and music, drama and stories.
To think of haunting as abstract and divorced from a present history is to depoliticize the present moment in which brown bodies actively resist oppression — be it from corrupt governments, institutional racism, and/or misogyny sponsored by a patriarchal culture. Yes, there is a past that haunts Caribbean poetic and imaginary landscapes: slavery, indenture, and colonization.
When thinking about haunting or being haunted, most remember moments of power outages and makeshift light — whether by torch or by fire. Haunting, as we will see, can also be something, a form or subject matter, that you find yourself returning to often. Do you ever finish writing a poem and think, I can’t believe that I’m writing about my ex again. What is it about that relationship that brings me back?
Elizabeth Jaikaran was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, and currently resides on Long Island with her husband. She graduated from the CUNY City College of New York in 2012 and from New York University School of Law in 2016. She has written for numerous platforms, most prevalently for Brown Girl magazine, and has published along a spectrum of genres, from legal analysis to comedy. As an author and a lawyer, Jaikaran hopes to be a voice for communities residing in underrepresented margins. She is the proud child of Guyanese immigrants.
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. She was the runner-up in the 2014 Small Axe Literary Competition for Poetry, and was shortlisted for the 2015 Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers’ Prize. Her first book of poems, Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting,will be published by Peepal Tree Press on October 3rd, 2017.
Shivanee Ramlochan, author of Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting (Peepal Tree Press, 2017) writes a Coolitude poetics and achieves a dazzling sense of historical hauntings in her debut collection of poetry. The ghosts leap. Her collection quite literally includes duennes and jumbies as a way to write about the missing, the dispossession, and the longing for a wholeness that haunts her speakers.
Jane Wong, author of Overpour (Action Books, 2016), puts Asian American poetry into conversation with the sociological text by Avery Gordon. In her video “Going Toward the Ghost” she asks, how do these specters arise? She defines Poetics of Haunting as “where our history dwells in the strange liminal space of the past, present, and future combined.” She asks why she, the child of immigrants, feels the pains of her past so intensely when she herself did not undergo the horrors of her ancestors or parents.
Jane Wong, author of Overpour (Action Books, 2016), puts Asian American poetry into conversation with the sociological text by Avery Gordon. In her video “Going Toward the Ghost” she asks, how do these specters arise? She defines the poetics of haunting as “where our history dwells in the strange liminal space of the past, present, and future combined.” She asks why she, the child of immigrants, feels the pains of her past so intensely when she herself did not undergo the horrors of her ancestors or parents.
With these poets drawing from the pool of their collective unconscious, the haunting memory of a traumatic past from “passage to plantation,” something new emerges. It is the Coolitude of endurance, the transformation of a vocabulary into a grammar that depends upon inclusion in various national spaces. As seen in Torabully’s poetry, the history and weight words occupy when given different parts of speech, to the continuing negotiating of kalapani, and the power to topple patriarchal atavism with queer interventions — poets Coolie language.