Book: Everyone knows I am a Haunting
Poet: Shivanee Ramlochan
Critic: Dr Glenville Ashby
Trinidad-born Shivanee Ramlochan delivers a stark and aesthetically dark, edgy and haunting work. An existentialist, she’s in the middle of an emotional war of attrition. She is evocative, at times blending religiosity and political feminism. She is liberal and conservative; sacred and profane; loud and subtle; traditional and modern.
‘Haunting’ is a markedly, cryptic, allegorical and interpretative offering. It is a paradox that leaves us unsettled, mesmerised, even disturbed. We sense and feel her anguish, her trepidation, her desires. This is as artful, engaging and synesthetic as it gets.
At the outset, Ramlochan summons the gods with passion. It is pulsating and enchanting; the devas are ever close, guiding, counseling, empowering. She writes, “Kali says – Black is not a bastard skin tone…If you must cry for a man, do it dancing on his skull…Shiva means don’t shoot what you can devour. One day, when I am the one who turns to you for feeding, you will spoon the names of these gods over my false teeth. You will soak them into my palate, remind me there is no such thing as an accidental shrine.”
There is an unbridled urgency in the anthemic ‘Catching Devi & Shakuntala.’ Riding the waves of populist fervor, Ramlochan unveils the wretchedness of life under patriarchal rule. The setting is rural, foreboding, and in defiance, the clutches of tradition are challenged.
“In the Kahalas your grandmother wept out before her wedding, she pens. “In the Khalsa spilling over, in the bower of that Barrackpore night…in your daughter’s darkmouth in her lover, their hair in oiled snakes weeping bright…pleading to pull every girl out of every body tonight to ransom every woman from the three canal to cure every remedy in a ruined field to tell your daughters to run, run, kiss, flee.”
Ramlochan, oftentimes unglued, appears comforted, purified by fire – its symbolism, its mystic significance. Fire holds a bruising reality. It scorches yet redeems. In ‘Fire, Fire,’ she moans, “I try to skitter across his blue cheeks, but those wedding vows do not dissolve in my spit; some poems are transferable. This heat, this love, is a terrible gift.
Again, fire’s redemptive quality sustains her in the erotically-laden ‘Camp Burn Down.’
“You and me and the fires we used to knee each other alive,” she writes. “Snow might come to Tunapuna, and your father would still spill my guts in front of the market…” But she remains resilient, resourceful, indebted. “I bless you, you said, I bless you here. Nothing touched is except the rest of the world.”
And in ‘Materna,’ there is a persistent and perturbing portrayal of mother-daughter relationship, a kind of tug o’war, a yearning for acceptance. Unrequited love looms large. Here, motherhood transcends biology. It is selfless, painful and sacrificial. Still, the biological link is persistent, unrelenting. “I am not your mother. No one in this world can love that girl like her mother, they told me, the day I tore out my hair to hold you…I am not your mother, but in my womb there is the knowing of you.”
In ‘The Abortionist’s Granddaughter Gives Blood,’ guilt runs roughshod over the psyche. The scars of the past are embedded in the bosom of those before her. It is generational and there is that unswerving determination for wholeness, for filial piety.
In ‘All the dead, all the living,’ there is a persistent call for inner transformation, a therapeutic release, made possible through oral tradition, folklore and culture. Here, there are no boundaries; no stratifications. Release our inhibitions, she tells us in her native argot. “Play yuhself. Clay yuhself. Wine en pointe and wine to the four stations of the cross, dirty angel, bragading badting, St. James soucouyant, deep bush douen come to town to make a killing in mud and mudder-in-law on fresh doubles, after.”
And just about every other poetic offering proves provocative and telling.
Masterfully, Ramlochan adds layers upon layers of imagery to an already vivid work.
Moreover, this is a poet that paints a lugubrious, harrowing landscape. Hers is a canvas that is indelibly dark, raw and brutally artful. Spirited and unswerving, Ramlochan aims to overwhelm the most stoic of readers. And she does.
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Everyone knows I am a Haunting by Shivanee Ramlochan
Publisher: Pee Pall Tree, UK
Available at Amazon
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