By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2014 Bocas Lit fest blogger
Published by Peepal Tree Press, 2013.
“You can drive around the entire island
in one day. A place where lush fauna and young girls
flourish, sticks beat steel pan and a woman’s waters
break each minute, sunshine sprawls heat
onto curvy cliff roads till rainy season slings in
to breed trees heavy with fruit.”
-from “Sestina for Grenada”
Pepper Seed, Malika Booker’s first full-length collection of poems, leaves searing impressions. It’s an audacious debut, one that’s more than occasionally difficult to handle, because of the raw, visceral weight of its visual imagery. For the persistent reader unafraid of tempestuous emotional weather, however, these poems of Booker’s are a history-infused, multi-passport stamped pleasure. They hearken to ancestry as much as they focus on female expeditions for autonomy in the present day.
The poems in Pepper Seed straddle continents. Set in Brooklyn, Brixton, Trinidad and Guyana, they are mindful of the emotional distance caused by oceans and flagging familial devotions alike. For Booker, the diaspora is not an alien, academic textbook construct: it’s a lifeline, a collective heartbeat, a series of destinations where people with their roots in Caribbean soil navigate an existence away from the lands of their blood and birth.
Critical praise for Pepper Seed has been unrestrained and eager. Anthony Joseph, the British-Trinidadian musician and poet, calls it “an auspicious and important debut, perhaps the most important in recent years.” The French poet Pascale Petit says that Booker’s poems “are as raw as chili peppers rubbed into a wound … this is poetry as revelation and prayer.” In my full review of the collection for the Trinidad Guardian’s Sunday Arts Section, I note that “much of Booker’s poetic movement prises the rusty lid from communal secrets … saying what’s not frequently said, even within the supposedly equalizing space offered through fiction.”
Malika Booker will be at this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest, and those who appreciate powerful, purposeful poems ought not miss this opportunity to hear her read from Pepper Seed.
Next Longlist Spotlight: Coolie Woman by Gaiutra Bahadur