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1
May

Poetry: Nicolette Bethel and Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming

By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2012 Bocas Lit fest blogger

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Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming reads her poems.
A welcome slice of Bahamian artistry was brought resoundingly to life in the AV Room of the National Library on Friday afternoon, when the writers Nicolette Bethel and Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming shared their poems with infectious gusto, passion and intensity.Manoo-Rahming read first, quickly turning the mood electric and infectiously upbeat with her work. Even when she shared poems that gave dreadful pause, such as the incest-stained “Full Moon Healing”, I couldn’t help but be forcefully struck by the power of her culturally syncretic imagery, of visions of saris on silken skin versus the defiling of sexual innocence, of ruminations on blood, bindis, the mother moon. Manoo-Rahming read a wondrously erotic piece, “Callalloo Woman”, which might ostensibly be thought of (perhaps in very sheltered circles?) as the ideal way in which to prepare callalloo, the popular Caribbean dish, but which ignites a host of tongue in cheek sensual innuendo directly related to, and entangled within, the beauty of the sexual act. Her poems in honour of departed local cultural figureheads, Ras Shorty I, Lord Kitchener and Andre Tanker, were all lovingly-hewn, prompting reminiscences on my personal remembrances of such great, undeniably talented sons of the soil.

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Nicolette Bethel shares poems from her chapbooks.
Nicolette Bethel wondered a little about how she could possibly follow gracefully after her colleague’s fiery renditions, but she needn’t have been even remotely troubled. I have had the good fortune to read several of Bethel’s poems online, in journals and magazines, and I’ve been awed at the clarity and strength of her imagery, the deftness in construction of her verses. Hearing them read aloud by the poet herself proved to be indulgent icing on an already sumptuous cake. I was particularly excited to hear her read a selection of the “Lily” poems, each written in episodic chronicling and remembrance of stages in her grandmother’s life. There is something simultaneously otherworldly and grounding, to me, about experiencing a collection of poems that are woven together by a recurring motif/ central figure/ core series of symbols, and when I think on such threaded collections, Bethel’s “Lily” poems are always among the first to spring to mind.Moderator, literary academic Giselle Rampaul, asked how Manoo-Rahming and Bethel’s respective careers as an engineer and anthropologist came to bear on their writing lives. Manoo-Rahming replied that for her, the marriage between an engineering existence, and a writing existence, was a necessary and vital one, that the communication of all sorts of ideas is constant and rewarding. Bethel revealed to the audience that the study of anthropology melds itself in both unconventional and simultaneously, wholly natural ways, to the art of telling stories through verse. Also brought forward for debate were the issues of quality control in self publishing (the discussion of the nanopress method of publishing, raised by Bethel, was central to this and is well worth further exploration!) and of how religion often manages to sneak into the body and heart of a poem.A riveting reading matched by the engaging quality of writer-reader communication that followed, this was a spectacular event. It may be a while before I hear Manoo-Rahming and Bethel share their work vocally once more, but I cannot help but think that I’ll be meeting them on the printed page/screen before too long.Photos by Shivanee Ramlochan.