Monday, February 28, 2011

Book 50, Guyana: “Lovelines for a Goat-Born Lady” by John Agard

So originally I was going to read the Poems of Martin Carter, whom some website claims is Guyana’s greatest poet. Then I checked him out and discovered his writing is rubbish.

What’s a bibliovore to do? Fortunately, I’ve a personal Guyanese connection: way back at Singapore Writers’ Week ’97, I attended workshops and readings by the Guyanese-British husband-and-wife team John Agard and Grace Nichols, who got me jump-started on the idea of performance poetry before slam even came to town.

Agard and Nichols mostly write children’s poetry, but I’ve read some of their adult works before: Agard’s Mangoes and Bullets and From the Devil’s Pulpit; Nichols’s Sunris and The Fat Black Womans's Poems. Lovely stuff. Lovelines for a Goat-Born Woman was one I hadn’t seen before, though: it was part of the Edwin Thumboo bequest, so I had to sit in the library and read it a couple of goes, just like Leaves of the Banyan Tree.

Oh, but it was worth it. Bless me, these poems are sexy.

Agard’s nuts about Nichols and he finds every way of saying so. He calls her his beloved capricorn, his mudhead woman (Guyanese are called mudheads because of their low-lying silty coastland), de headmaster’s daughter, Miss Curling Toes, Gracey, his pink-eyed one. He eroticises her overcome by sleep, annoyed by allergenic pollen, in knickers, before mirrors, in a towel fresh out of the shower, plaiting her hair, pregnant, peeing behind a half-closed door.

He calls her body a ship bound for dreamland, a creature rooting in the soil of heaven, He calls her vulva her cunt, her other mouth, her wanton parts, her squeezing crab, her pum-pum. And he eroticises their homeland’s watermelon ladies, Antillean breezes, Kissing Rocks, rivers, zinc roofs, eels, crabs, hibiscus, hummingbirds and guenip seeds, star apples. Writes one poem entirely in Creole, too. (Damn, I’ve got to try eroticizing Singapore/Singlish in some of my slam poetry. Difficult, but I’m sure it can be done. Easier for him of course, since they’re émigrés missing their tropical disaster zone, “hugging her under dis quilt of England”.)

He also freely mentions the fact that she, too, is a poet. That’s worth something. It’s quite wonderful to read love poems, written from one creative person to another – one of the reasons why Sonnets from the Portuguese is so renowned. And oh my; after writing that I have visions of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett doing it under the sun on a Caribbean coconut plantation. Freaky, but given Browning’s possible ancestry, not entirely far-fetched. First heard about that connection in Agard’s book We Brits, by the way. Just hope they’re still happy together.

(There's something fishy going on Google Maps: it seems to have been hacked by the Encyclopaedia Britannica, of all sites. Oh, it's fixed now!)

View Around the World in 80 Books in a larger map

Representative quote:


Lord of Iron, Ogun,
grant me hardness
when and where it matters

Queen of waters, Yemanja,
bless my man-water
with good seed

Sacred harlot, Oshun,
bejwelled to the crotch
girdled with the moon
guide me to the slut
beneath my graceful lady

Sky-Serpent, Damballah,
may I inherit
your divine wriggle
when I lie on her

You there, Legba,
randy trickster,
keeper of the gateway
guardian of the centerpiece,
help me transfix her

While governments making plans
your vulva sparkles on my moustache
we guilty of a subversive trickle

Next book: Aphra Behn’s “Oroonoko”, from Suriname.

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