Demerary Telepathy

Written by Karen Swenson for Indo-Caribbean World on

The wire between the positive of love and the negative of racism is the tightrope that Sasenarine Persaud walks in his poetry. To continue the metaphor, the pole he uses to balance between these extremes in his books, Between the Dash and the Comma and Demerary Telepathy, is composed of the cultures he has allegiances to - the East Indian, South American and Canadian. Although at times Persaud uses the pole to beat the reader, at least as often his composite of allegiances informs and enriches the lyricism of his work as in a stanza from ‘The End of Summer II’

Today everything is still
As the Yogi in Samadhi
Still and full as the realized soul
Of the Buddha stand maples
Yellowing on slopes on fringes
Of statues green willows
Weeping on KAMDEO’S brow

A little punctuation would help the reader appreciate more fully the fine rhythmic flow of this passage with its lovely hesitations, like caught breaths, caused by the repetitions of ‘still’ and ‘on’ and the liquid spill of ‘l’ sounds. Mixed in with a strong ancestral sense of Indian heritage is a frequent physical longing for the Southern reaches of the continent:

Tons of milky sand
Rising up hills - swaying down
Valleys of untouched timber -
Acres and acres of fertile rainforest

with their overwhelming plentitude. The cold of Canada is perceived as both beautiful and violent, a reflection of an unfriendly culture, indifferent to, sometimes hostile in its reaction to the writer:

Airport inspectors’ sullen stares 
And wintry immigration queries

Canada is white in its snow but also in its racist attitudes which whether in Canada, England, South Africa or the U.S. are the focus of many of the poems in both books. Poems of protest inevitably start with several strikes against them since they are apt to sound either hectoring or lecturing. While the ideas in such poems as ‘Sir (Shri) Naipaul’, ‘Ode to Palestine’, ‘The New Ruler’ or ‘The Award Ceremony’ are acceptable to anyone except the most ardent right winger who is unlikely to read these books, often the poems deteriorate into lists:

When it is not fashionable to hear
‘Unaggressive Asians’ - 
Jews, ‘whites’ and Negroes -
Bellow, Singer, Brodsky
Sakaharov, Achebe, Cesaire - 
- Tutu -


Hoyte always a backer of Burnham
Green more racist than Botha
Curbin a Rapist of Indian
Importers’ daughters...

Neither litany communicates the emotions Persaud is trying to unleash, and the poems turn into a newspaper column with the life expectancy of a daily tabloid, since in twenty years few but historians are likely to recognize these names, while the horror and inhumanity of racism will still be with us. The names focus us on the people rather than the evil. One personal incident is worth a thousand headlines. ‘Look O Stranger! (Letter to Toronto)’ is much more appealing and grabs the reader emotionally more than the poems referred to above just because it is full of chip-on-the-shoulder personal rage:

The hang I care!
I haven’t come to steal your land
I haven’t come to hide my dignity in flurries
Or disgust in dead legality!
I come to learn to love
Your pornographic world
And smoke-filled strip joint of paid pretense.
Clean streets and cold air.
I come to take sound autumnal manners
To my shattered slavery.

I will forget teenagers tongueing
On sofas in college corners...

These are swaggeringly feisty lines and while one may not be sure of the meaning of certain phrases - ‘disgust in dead legality!’ or ‘autumnal manners’ - one feels the presence of a real human rather than an official recorder. The reader receives a series of precise snap shots instead of vague events and can sympathise with another’s cultural reaction to the contrast between the ‘clean streets’ and the teenagers public kissing.

The second focus of these two books is love and it is here that Persaud reaches into his cultural mixed bag and comes up with some of his more beautiful images. Here, as an example, is ‘In the Garden’ in its entirety:

Dearest, I’ve not killed Ravan
So we cannot go home.

Has Hanuman deserted me,
And Lanka smokes in my head?

A satellite who would be
A star before its energy’s
Burned up in illusion,
Lumbering Canadian seagulls bombing the ground
Around rundown highrises
For refuse of poesy...

Forgive me, dearest, for having found
Ravan so late.
How he laughs at me
And how my fingers shake,
How unsteady my aim! How many heads
Has he! And is it the one
That bears my face...?

The weaving of the Ramayana into and around the Canadian urban landscape achieves easily what Persaud’s political poetry strains for, i.e. a powerful sense of the disparity between the writer and his environment and achieves it without any sense of bombast. The last lines are truly humble and courageous in their recognition that the self is in the enemy and the enemy is in the self. In Demerary Telepathy there is a series of poems called ‘Visit’ which revisits a luxuriant rural landscape filled with echoes of East Indian customs. These poems project a sense of peace, of belonging to the land and its creatures in such a way that men and women belong easily to each other:

From this remote country-house
Relatives, friends, guests and I
See two unmarried smiles melt into
Each other and illuminate
The night

As the women head back from time
With dancing lamps
We all see
Fingers of our lost flame of innocence.

As is the case in other poems, I am not sure of the meaning of ‘the women head back from time’ but the two smiles melting into one, the ‘dancing lamps’ turning into the ‘flame of innocence’ are highly emotionally charged images which allow a reader from whatever culture entrance into the universal experiences of love and regret.