Archive for August, 2012

“We Chant the Hymn of Ages”

Friday, 31 August 2012

An Interview with Sasenarine Persaud

Stephen Narain

“And we chant the hymn of ages / Om bhur bhuwa swaahaa / Oomm bhur bhuwaa / Swaahaa tat savitur.” So ends the final stanza of Sasenarine Persaud’s poem “Porknocker, Come Home!”[1] Beneath a “diya-lit sky,” a miner, fresh from his journey into the Guyanese interior, sings the Gayatri mantra at a puja, submitting to the scent of daal mingling with “bhajee, baigan / Curry.”[2] Persaud’s poem invites us all, especially those in the Indo-Caribbean community—Hindu, Christian, Muslim, none of these—to pray with his porknocker. In one sense, the Indo-Caribbean reader, caught between his own thrills of ambition and the burdens of history, is Persaud’s porknocker. This sentiment energizes the poet’s work, much of it centered on the lives of the descendents of Indian indentured laborers who poured into the West Indies during the nineteenth century. Today, it is estimated that more members of this largely multiracial community populate pockets of New York and Toronto and London than the Caribbean itself.[3] While sociology books frequently cast the collective narrative of the Indo-Caribbean immigrant community within a comfortable teleology—migration, assimilation, cultural hybridity—Persaud’s poems avoid any such summary. The poet basks in the complex simplicity of the Upanishads. Like Walt Whitman, he is unafraid of contradiction.

Cultural hybridity—a staple of postcolonial theory and zealous reviews of Zadie Smith’s novels—a concept that I believed as an undergraduate would resolve all my identity crises, is particularly taken to task in Persaud’s work. His formulation of Yogic Realism, less a critical construction, more a “progressive comprehension,” connects ancient Indian philosophy to the writing process.[4] His nine poetry collections, including The Wintering Kundalini, and three works of fiction, including Canada Geese and Apple Chatney, blaze a stubborn, if fraught, trail back to India.

Born in Georgetown, Guyana, Persaud lived for several years in Toronto before settling down in Tampa, Florida. He holds an MA in creative writing from Boston University. His most recent poetry collections are Unclosed Entrances: Selected Poems (Caribbean Press, 2011), a selection of the Guyana Classics Library, and Lantana Strangling Ixora (TSAR Publications, 2011). This interview took place over e-mail in January 2012. (more…)