Sweet Potato and Callaloo: Voices from the Caribbean Diaspora
Project exploring Scotland's role in slave trade, featuring Dorothea Smartt, Millicent AA Graham, Sasenarine Persaud and Malika Booker
This article is from 2014.
Fresh from their appearances at The Empire Cafe, a remarkable project exploring Glasgow and Scotland's under-acknowledged role in the transatlantic slave trade, come four poets from the Caribbean Diaspora.
Warmly introduced by Scottish poet Jackie Kay, who uses her platform to express solidarity with the Gaza demonstration taking place outside Charlotte Square, each poet explores a range of approaches to issues of identity and place. Reading mainly from her new chapbook Reader, I Married Him and Other Queer Goings On, British-born Bajan performance poet Dorothea Smartt challenges binary conceptions of race, language and sexuality, modulating between 'standard' English and Barbadian creole as she reflects on her relationship with an 'island boy'.
Jamaican poet Millicent AA Graham has a quieter approach, yet her poems resonate deeply, as she explores her own family's internalisation of racist colour hierarchies in 'That Life' ('my grandmother taught me I was black/that unmistakable pitch in her voice told/that my sister's cornmeal skin was sweeter/than mine') and charges the image of the 'ratoon', a method of sugarcane cultivation, with the islanders' collective memory of slavery in 'We Know What We Have Buried Here'.
A descendent of Indian slaves sent to work on the plantations after the abolition of chattel slavery, Guyanese essayist and poet Sasenarine Persaud describes his aesthetic as 'Yogic realism'. 'What else can we give you world?' he asks in response to the exploitation of subaltern culture. 'Georgetown', named after the multi-cultural area of Toronto he once lived in, is a powerful mediation on exile and belonging, infused with the flavours of the Caribbean: coconut milk, roast peanuts.
Pulsing with musicality, Malika Booker's poems make for a rousing finale, with the audience contributing a refrain of 'pain' to her witty and passionate litany. Her poem for the Empire Cafe, 'Yonder Awa', is a powerful call to the West to confront its colonial past - 'look how you can't run from truth, awa, awa' – in order to heal and reconcile.
A thought-provoking and inspirational hour in the company of four fine poets.