By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2014 Bocas Lit fest blogger
Published by Peepal Tree Press in 2013.
“I am from Choppers, chicken coops and cuatros.
I am from the flickering flame of a deya, blue at the wick, luminous, smelling of kerosene.
I am from the tiny engine of a hummingbird revving its wings in front of a frozen splash of red hibiscus.
I am from warm hops bread and rock cake, from Limacol and senna pods.”
-from “Where I’m From”
Migration, return and trans maritime journeys are some of the primary signifiers in this, Roger Robinson’s third collection of poems. The work’s focal points are both the Caribbean and its diaspora; in this way, The Butterfly Hotel shares strong affinities with fellow longlistee (and Peepal Tree Press offering), Pepper Seed. The core motif employed by Robinson is that of the butterfly’s migratory path; like our winged friends, he insists in verse, we are indefatigable sojourners.
For so many citizens of the Caribbean diaspora, home is a flighty, elusive concept, difficult to claim no matter how many passports one owns, or where one’s navel string is buried. The poet engages with strong surges of alienation; traveller’s ennui; cultural syncretism and disaffection alike. Whether Robinson is portraying the bustle and melting-pot spectacle of a busy Brixton night, writing odes to the land of his birth, or channeling ancestral memories of the Caribbean’s first peoples, each poem is an emotive odyssey.
In his critical assessment (The Caribbean Review of Books, September 2010) of Robinson’s collection, Suckle, Philip Nanton says that Robinson functions primarily as “the poet as storyteller”. This characterization bears out similarly in The Butterfly Hotel: Robinson is our stalwart guide on these peregrinations, travels that keep time with the resilient, though fragile wingspans of our Lepidoptera kin. In my review of The Butterfly Hotel for the Trinidad Guardian’s Sunday Arts Section, I note that it “reads as one voluminous, winged passport: a poet’s self-proclaimed series of markers, fluttering from continent to island chain, from metropolis to market stall. The poems sing, and lilt, and warn in equal measure.”
Energetic and resonant on the page, The Butterfly Hotel lends itself particularly well to dramatic performance. These poems mark a series of successful interrogations into modern living, loss and love, tightly-knit by a sensibility that is rooted in many Caribbean identities.