Bernadine Evaristo: Island of Abraham
This collection represents an important step in the recognition of contributions made and the quality of Black British poets in particular and Black British writers overall. It’s the first collection of poems from Bernadine Evaristo, a young woman of Nigerian and English parentage. Yet she has a noteworthy and vociferous background in Black arts in England as a playwright, tutor and co-founder of Theatre of Black Women 1982-1989.
The central theme of her collection is as a Black British woman recreating her personal dramas of feeling both alien and at home, of being a Black woman in an African country where she felt both part and apart. This is embodied in the title poem which constitutes a suite of ten poems entitled ‘Island of Abraham’. It starts with her initial arrival and journey to her temporary residence in Madagascar; watching a boy fishing; sitting on a terrace and casting her mind back to the island’s origins when pirates landed and claimed it as theirs; of her alienation and how she dealt with it; bringing us back to the present. Each one of her poems details a different situation or experience that she encounters as she neatly maintains the rhythm and the momentum.
The suite is followed by three other poems, still set in Madagascar, the most moving of these being ‘The Girl Who Kept on Staring’ - relating to an incident on her last day on the island.
However, the best of Evaristo is found in a short 3 stanza poem that speaks volumes of tradition and an anchor in African culture when she describes the art of hair braiding in ‘This Ancient Craft’. She throws up a disturbingly simple image of Africa that has been there since time and one that will always remain. Short bites rather than her longer preambles, they are more compact and forceful.
The result is a collection that rides like a wave and there is a distinct feeling that a lengthier collection would undoubtedly take us to the crest again.
She describes her images subtly yet still manages to convey a lot of colour, giving her poems a quiet passion. An easy, digestible read, yet at the end there is a feeling that there is stronger material in Evaristo, a more fiery passion which I hope she explores more in her next collection.
This review relates to the book
Island of Abraham
by Bernardine Evaristo