From vocabularies of indenture to living grammars: A writing prompt

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.

These poets wrote from the 1980s to 2017 and form a world-spanning dialogue that I am presently entering with my own poetic work. I use these vocabularies of indenture in my own work as they are part of my own creation story, my own imagination. To take these words and mobilize them to mean allyship and a dismissal of a static ontological subject position seems to be a Herculean feat, yet is the very birthplace of this vocabulary.

Instead of concluding with a summation of the points made, I end with a call to action: a request to place your own kavi-chhap, your own thumbprint onto the page and consider the vocabulary that you can use, yourself, that reflects your own originary myths. If your history is one of Indian indenture use the words girmit, coolie, dougla, arkatiya, khula, machli, kantraki, kalapani,and curry.

If not, write your own words for your migration story down on a piece of unlined paper. This is the sea, now draw a boat. Fill this boat with your own words for your language, your food, your ethnicity, your ideas of god and spirituality.

Now take these words and imagine your relatives that did not leave wherever your ancestors left. What words do they have? Is there any commonality at all? Now write a poem that is haunted by voyage and im/migrant struggle that ends in an image or a small moment from your own personal experience as you stand right now. Now imagine 125 years from now. What kind of identities are still around? Do your descendants remember your name? This is the kind of imagination work that I undergo as a poet.

Look back through the pages of this Coolitude Poetics thread. Begin with a line from David Dabydeen’s poem, or perhaps Khal Torabully’s, Mahadai Das’s, or even Francine Simon’s. Respond to the poem in like form, paying attention to mirror the stanza and line breaks of the poets who inspire you. I’ve done this with Mahadai Das’s poem “They Came In Ships,” writing a poem called “We Came In Planes” as a contemporary transposition of this poem into my own idiom. You do the same!

By allowing myself to connect to my subconscious mind and vocabularies I plumb the depths of the muck of trauma, to the ocean floor of kalapani where there is no caste, there is no I. Like these poets that I see as my global community what I write is about motion and change.  In this way we are all made up of stories.