Wed | Aug 23, 2017

A lyrical work of art

Published:Sunday | April 2, 2017 | 4:00 AM
Cover of Kumina Queen
Glenville Ashby
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Book: Kumina Queen

Author: Monica Minott

Critic: Dr Glenville Ashby

Kumina Queen roars out of the gate with raw passion, libido, and cries of the flesh.

Minott neither shuns verse nor embraces prose. Hardly into epics, she is pointed and delivers her message with surgical precision. More the lyricist than the poet, our sight is served with some vivid imagery, but it is our sense of hearing that is heightened. We listen and reflect. Hers is the conscious word.

A dash of history mingles with a fair share of feminist ideals and cultural identity. And she leans towards existentialism in Addiction, a provocative reminder that Fate is an unforgiving rival that stops at nothing to make a statement. It challenges our will, and alas, we sometimes lose the battle. "My inner voice wants me dead," she writes. "Wants me to make sense of nonsense, wants to bleach me clean as cocaine on a glass to table ... . Against all logic, I taste, I swallow. Death feels like sugar in my mouth."

 

EMOTIVE WORDS

 

And in Direct Deposit, we feel the strain of life.

It is weighty, an albatross, claiming countless automatons who are clueless and exhausted by mere existence. It is a haunting advisement on our insensitivity; our selfish absorption. We are moved by Minott's emotive words, "So his bills were paid ... [but] no one saw him for the last five years or missed him." In the end, "only his skeleton was found before the TV set that had also burnt out."

For sure, we are sometimes dealt a bad hand.

In Crosses to Bear, we feel the pain of a jilted lover, who, with entrails torn, and a heart broken in a thousand pieces, must safeguard her sanity. Sometimes only faith in the transcendental can rescue us. "Some say the cross saved you. Persistent screams for Jesus ... Now you live in persistent praise ..."

In the opening salvo, Fisherman's Net, there is yearning, a burning passion; two bodies, feeding off each other, becoming one. It is captivating; a well-timed offering that stirs the imagination. Here, seduction is boundless. And sensibilities reign. The knees weaken and ecstasy smothers every word. "Can't be sure of the sequence; the music lapped us into knee-high grass and the sea spray settled like the skin around my nipples, and thighs knotted like mangroves roots giving in to the deep, held by the strength of his arms and the cry of the snapper."

There is something intriguing about arranging the best coiffure while sharing tales of the past, present, and future. Shades of the movie Barber Shop echo in Good Hair.

"My hair needed untangling," she pens. "Next came the pinning of the bun. It was then she'd retell the story of Grandfather, who went to war and was lost at sea. I dared not move."

Minott addresses ethical challenges of the diaspora in Meeting a Fake West Indian at Yale, a literary piece that demands reflection. When the chips are down, we must look within and seek shelter from the soil that nurtured us. Ignoring the impulses of spirit has existential ramifications. "Is like an island spirit tek me," her friend Betty concedes.

The resonating immortality of culture comes alive in Dance Girl, Dance, and the psychoanalytic grip of spiritism is served up in Reader Woman.

Yes, the ancestors are ever present in the rhythmic, pulsating Travelling Under, a monumental ode that bleeds ethnographic transcendence.

"[I]t became clear, as turbaned heads danced round me in rich regalia, in welcome, in groaning, as they laboured for me, it became clear ... the spirit would enter. Yashunda, Yashunda, cancan cada, Yashunda, Yashunda, cancan cada."

The possession, the trance state is now fully induced.

In lockstep, the eponymous Kumina Queen invokes the lineage and the ubiquitous ancestral spirits that enliven, enrich, and beckon the soul home. "I must satisfy an ache coded in the bloodline," Minott writes. "In time I must cross over the ocean back to Zaire."

 

PARADOX OF TIME

 

In philosophical mode, she counsels on the paradox of time. Time flows, bringing change in Lychee Guard. But in Duppy Run, time is static, relentless in its persecution, serving as a constant reminder of bygone days.

In Columbus she impugns the lies of the adventurer. Remarkably, her words are almost placid, but the overriding weight of her message is incontrovertible.

Here, every line is worth reproducing.

"You were here

living

loving

and free

I happened

upon you

everything changed

and it seems right

to tell the world

I discovered you."

Indeed, Kumina Queen is a triumph. Every poem resounds; a gem. With enviable range and lyrical gravitas, Minott proves her salt; a compelling voice that appeals to the most fastidious of critics.

Kumina Queen by Monica Minott

ISBN: 13:9781845233174

Publisher: Peepal Tree,

Leeds, UK

Available at Amazon

Rating: Essential

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