Book: A Portable Paradise
Author: Roger Robinson
Critic: Glenville Ashby, PhD
Roger Robinson’s work is shrouded in darkness, a tenebrous blanket that provokes our every sense. Still, its aesthetic appeal is undeniable. With masterful timing and tone, Portable Paradise delivers a definitive statement on the wretchedness of the human experience. His offerings are provocative and decisively artful. His abundance impresses. From quotidian calamities and injustice, to the recount of history’s darkest hours, Robinson relentlessly reminds us of the evil that stalks the land.
Suffering is ubiquitous, shadowing our every move.
The flagitious scenes of whipping and grimacing in ‘(Some) Sweat’ are raw and vivid – “As they whipped him it wasn’t the pain of the steel that hurt, but the salt of his own sweat seeping into his wounds that made him cry out.
“The night he ran he could hear the barking dogs behind him, and he ran till his cotton shirt could hold no more sweat.”
Post-slavery, the physical beatings are gone but the mental beatings endure, tempered with the promise of ease and self-determination. Fatalism is never an option. Opportunities, many think are in Britain, to where they travel. The scenes Robinson paints in ‘Windrush’ are paradoxical. He pens, “They came down from the ship on a footbridge of firewood, architectural pleats in their trousers…On the weekend they’d play bingo with passport pages and levitate at night to basslines in the Mecca Ballroom…”
But these are deciduous scenes. Reality is always a step ahead. Words tell stories – “But still the wooden birds on their walls were flying back home in super slow motion because nothing promised was what it seemed, but it was somehow more than what they left.”
Lessons in casual determinism define ‘Dolls,’ a narrative littered with images of wrenching mayhem.
We no longer create our own reality, an anathema to every school of free will and self-mastery. We can reconstruct dreams that should have been, but never fully shape the future, just too many variables involved, many indiscernible and unknowable – “The explosion, the fire gutted more than the pillars, frames and roofing.” If only.
Robinson can only ruminate. “I’d let the husbands who left their wives and families home to earn some money on night shifts or driving cabs, find extra money in their accounts, so that night they’d have taken their children out for shawarma and orange juice down Marble Arch, while they smoked shisha and talked about how good their lives felt.”
In the highly figurative ‘Black Olive’ he writes, “I am introduced to a white woman at a literary party…she picks up a black olive, and says, black olives are better than the rest, aren’t they? I love some black olives and she pops it into her mouth and suddenly I am in her mouth bouncing off the soft trampoline of her tongue.”
There is much to glean from this writing, and much to surmise. Carnality, seduction, craving for the forbidden, for validation, for acceptance. It is perennial and nauseating, thoughts bedeviled by guilt and self-loathing, a neurosis that has and will infect the two races – black and white – ad infinitum.
‘Bob Marley in Brixton’ questions the doves among us, and possibly the illusion of peace. Maybe Marley should reconsider. Maybe we should lean heavily on Malcolm’s aphorism, ‘By Any Means necessary.’ Surely, something to consider, maybe something to demand.
O yes, “the old Bob Marley has to be reborn. If it’s war they want, then it’s war they will get. A war of spirit, a spiritual war. On his next album, he’s coming back with bullets and brimstone and fire.”
Robinson forays into the unconscious self in Doppelgänger. There is the incredulous trajectory of the mind toward self-healing. Strange as it seems, ghosts are our own curative projections, doppelgängers, a means to salvage our sanity and heal every psychic wound. Our will to survive stronger than imagined.
“A week after the building burned I saw my dead wife; she smiled at me.” It all makes sense now.
In ‘Portrait of my Great Grandmother’ as the subject Gericault’s Monomie L’envie, a portrait of insanity and otherworldliness is presented, “a mouth that bears a tense smile or a weak grimace and eyes tinged with madness. Behind her is darkness, pitch-black darkness that is not the artist’s canvas. It is her life of misery”.
And it lives in his blood.
He recounts ‘its’ wretchedness, a victim of racism and classism. Her stains are not easily washed away, and are likely to be passed on in the manner they fell upon her, an inter-generational curse.
The source is unknown. We can only surmise. “…Maybe it was in the women who proceeded [her].” Maybe a past trauma or those who let her fester in the prison of her own mind.
Portable Paradise is a work of inexorable brilliance. Throughout, Providence is unforgiving and we recoil. Still, we are drawn to Robinson’s every pronouncement, his magic, and his work of luminous darkness.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
Feedback: [email protected] or follow him on [email protected]
A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson
Publisher: Peepal Tree, United Kingdom
ISBN 13: 9781845234331
©) 2019 Roger Robinson
Available at Amazon
Ratings: Highly recommended
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