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Brian Mendonça: Lantana Strangling Ixora







Book Review

Sasenarine Persaud
Lantana Strangling Ixora: Poems
Toronto, Canada: TSAR Publications, 2011
Demy Octavo, PB, 80 pp, $17.95
ISBN 978-1-894770-72-9


Diverse in content, subsumed with ‘Sanskrtic fire’

To open the book and read the first poem is to find oneself in a global arboretum. Like the flora of the Vindhyas inspires Kalidasa in Ritusamharam, in Persaud ‘the flowers in the gardens of Florida,’ jostle with the ‘lilies in a north-of-Toronto park’ and the ‘datura / as prickly as a morning’ to engender their own meanings. ‘Papa’ is meanwhile traveling in the hills of Africa and Buck is observing Chinese – in the same poem (‘Lantana Strangling Ixora’).

In ‘Hole In Your Head’ he takes us back to the 60’s and 70’s where ‘a [Boston?] woman parting her hair in the middle’ is compared to ‘a Hindu bride awaiting / that red sindhur’s rubbing / from forehead to hole in your head.’ This sits well with the cheeky, yet trite:

Of ‘Sex and the City’ in NY women
Exercising their libido--- a new
Boy-man victim five nights a week.
            (‘Among Women Critics, Women Writers’)

There is a sense of Ramanujan in the effortless juxtaposition of the ordinary with the eternal as in:

I will hold
Radhakrishnan’s interpretation of the Upanishads
Until you switch on the ceiling fan
            (‘Lantana Strangling Ixora’, p 1)

The poet finds alien observances tiresome. In the poem ‘Halloween’ he admonishes:

If you come
to my threshold . . .
come with eyes, soul’s portals, undisguised.

The staccato rhythms bespeak Caribbean speech. Walcott is sprinkled on some pages. The preoccupation with IT overlaps many poems, sometimes a trifle jarringly. Waiting for the dawn he hears:

currents planting across the Gulf
of Mexico or California’s cold mountains.

After that:

        The laptop’s weaving
        for a Windows application. Outlook Express
        connecting
                  (‘Morning E-mail’).

borders on the bathetic.

The verse echoes a return to the roots. Writing from Guyana, he meditates on India’s mythical River ‘Saraswattie,’ preferring to use the Anglicized spelling, ‘still feeding / a vermilion land.’

This is a deliberate poet. Even a mundane act of clearing the dishes is treated with great detail: ‘You’ve . . . / scrubbed the blackpot from the cast-iron / karahi.’ This is after all a setting for, ‘dinner in the fertile / new-cleared old plot of silence’ (‘Daddy, After Dinner’).

Persaud is always chiselling his craft. He prefers ‘showing’ to ‘telling.’ Here he is experimenting with both in the same poem. The bland ‘Beachfront / properties will sink into seas’ is jettisoned for the majestic:

He who values beachfront mansions
Will be worth more when the water reaches his door.
            (‘Global Warming’)

In a sense Lantana Strangling Ixora recalls the work of another ‘global poet’ – Vikram Seth’s recent Rivered Earth. Though their poetic allusions span the continents, both look for their meanings, like Eliot before them, to the deep spirituality of India.

Beguiling ‘Sunday’s / emptiness, the whoredom of a poet’ (‘Walcott, Heaney, Muldoon and Co’), I was moved by the masterly control of ‘Sketching a Windchime’ – its simplicity evoking a haiku --

leaving [me] clutching a pen
manufactured in Guandong Province

For a passing moment some of the poems appear kitschy. However on a closer reading they are redeemed (‘A Hammock in the Wind’). It may also be because Persaud is so deft with his materials.

Lantana Strangling Ixora is anchored in the West Indian moment and its literary and cultural history. Acerbic at times he nevertheless assures us that:

We throw
no stones from this archipelago’s
slingshot traversing the Atlantic.
            (‘Mongoose Men’)

Like Cuban poetry, with the spectre of Florida always on the horizon, Caribbean poetry struggles to find its voice in this collection. The sheer diversity of content may be distracting, but the ‘Sanskritic fire’ subsumes all:

History is made by the media
truth by dreamers, madmen, poets . . .
            (‘Rivers and Histories’)

END

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