by Faizah Tabasamu
PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Refreshment. Revolution. Remembrance. If you think you know the heart of Anguilla, maybe you don’t. This euphonious collection of multigenerational voices in the new anthology Where I See the Sun – Contemporary Poetry in Anguilla (2015) is the buffet readers — both local and international — will enjoy during their morning reflections. It is the electric town hall meeting readers will want to attend for the midday lunch smile; readers will want to share this collage of jigsaw puzzle pieces with their loved ones during an intimate supper.
Most people in St. Martin, where the anthology was published by House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP), can point to the direction where the 35-square-mile island of Anguilla basks in the glorious Caribbean sun, the same that trails its gentle rays, rising and falling over Guana Bay into Great Bay; rising and falling over St. Peters or Cay Hill; placing tiny diamonds in the Simpson Bay Lagoon waves; still pressing onward past St. James; short-cutting through Grand Case; and frolicking across the sea. That same sun has caressed Anguilla’s beaches, land, and people, for centuries.
However, since the island’s poets and wordsmiths rallied to the battle cry that was sounded for crafted products, the resulting creative expressions yielded a totally different, but enriching, experience of the sun in Anguilla. In this 2015 collection edited by Lasana M. Sekou, the works of all 43 poets and lyricists, individual pieces with mild details that willingly adhere to one another, evoke Anguilla’s muscles, bones, and soul.
If you think you know Anguilla’s roads, coves, and hot spots, maybe you don’t. These things are complexly layered with capital H for history and other people’s stories. If you think you know Anguilla’s people, the women and their beauty, the men and their heart stories, maybe you don’t.
Maybe you know how Anguillians cook their food, but do you know how fiercely they love, or how openly they lament the crumpling corners of their society? The women, some fashioned in African fabric, hoist fists to their hips and confront racism. Then, no sooner, they delicately confront their inner quarrel with their unique beauty. The men, some love strong and others pimple-popping, cut their hearts into shapes of letters and doggedly continue to fill in the potholes in the roads, in the community, in the memories. Experienced wordsmiths bad-mouth societal ills, and a youngster, hand-snatched from freedom, reaches out from Her Majesty’s prison to thank his mother, taking a moment to feel her pain.
Although a few of the enclosed poems from those imprisoned began to clot in the middle, rewarding are the facts that no one or no experience is ostracized; no one is too young to share the way the sun touches the skin of his or her life. No one wants to forget. All want to reach ahead; taking inventory of their hearts and memories, lifting samples of Anguilla from every possible source — “After the UDI (1967),” the family, the road crew, the prison, the crown, carnival, elections — shouting, “Here is what we have to say about ourselves, to ourselves, for ourselves!”
In this collection, you’d find akimbo feistiness, whispered intimacies, spit-flying raves, lavender talks of confidence, and, before the end, you’d develop nostalgia and long to hear these voices come alive on the stage. No wonder the Singapore-born American author Wena Poon, in her critique of this newest Anguillian title, wrote that, “This may be your only chance to hear them speak like this.”
Among the wordsmiths in Where I See the Sun that are competitive with dynamic poets in a Caribbean region known for its chorus of great literatures, are, Rita Celestine-Carty, Bankie Banx, John T. Harrigan, Patricia J. Adams, Fabian Fahie, Dr. Oluwakemi Linda Banks, and Reuel Ben Lewi. But watch out for the younger writers, most making their publishing debut in this “crop of poets of uneven literary talent, … voices intent on entering the choir that would intone a new song for Anguilla” (p. xiv).
Sekou, a St. Martin poet and author, has gathered what might be for those of us outside of Malliouhana (p. 153), a rare find of a nation, an Anguilla that is yet a territory of the United Kingdom but with a “poetry rooted in a strong desire for real freedom,” according to the Guadeloupean poet Steve Gadet. Sekou himself broaches, irresistibly, a few peel-back skin issues in his introduction to Where I See the Sun – Contemporary Poetry in Anguilla. But he leaves the poets and spoken word artists as the ones “better to tell the Anguillian story” (p. xxi) in this collection.
Where I See the Sun should probably not be read in one sitting, for it may not digest properly, and the power in the words becoming flesh, the resurrection, shall be missed. Although the poems are cluttered by name, take your time. As one poem makes you light with laughter, the other might dig a grave for you to sit and contemplate.
HNP has met a challenge to publish a much needed, and what might become a cornerstone work, perfect for non-Caribbean tourists, for visitors and readers from neighboring islands, and for Anguillians. In addition to the 93 poems, there’s a preface by literary critic Fabian Badejo–a gateway brief that would serve students and scholars interested in developments in seminal literatures. There are nine pages of biographical sketches of the writers. A five-page glossary rounds out the book’s 184 pages. The cover, with fold-in flaps and designed by Sundiata Lake, features photographs of the poets.
Where I See the Sun – Contemporary Poetry in Anguilla is available at Amazon.com, SPDbooks.org, Van Dorp and Arnia’s bookstores, and in Anguilla at IrieLife and Coral Reef Bookstore.
(Editor’s Note: Faizah Tabasamu (Rochelle Ward), is a leading St. Martin poet; high school teacher; and blogger at www.rochelleward.com and www.saltfishandlace.com. Her poetry appears in Where I See The Sun – Contemporary Poetry in St. Martin.)
Photo caption 1: Where I See The Sun – Contemporary Poetry in Anguilla, A New Anthology Edited by Lasana M. Sekou (HNP, 2015).