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Lagahoo Poems

Written by Howard A. Fergus for The Caribbean Writer on no date provided

Lagahoo of Trinidadian legend reminiscent of German werewolf, French loup-garoo and islands jack-o-lantern, is both the subject and creator of this remarkable volume of poems. This is a shifter of shapes and shaper of things -- and the word 'shape' is liberally scattered throughout the work as if to underscore the ubiquitous nature of this folk figure -- who had its provenance in the primaeval creation. He is both man and animal depending on his whims, predilection or programming. Author and re-creator, James Aboud could easily have said with Genesis overtones: ""In the beginning was lagahoo"" and he would be as dead-right as God was when he said: ""Let there be light"" and light came into being. The poet himself is a creator, a gift which lagahoo obviously shares. In fact, lagahoo hit the scene in this line: ""That was when lagahoo awoke / And rubbed his eyes. . ."" (14). And Aboud gives graphic and awesome details of how lagahoo was fearfully and wonderfully made among mythical creatures.

Whose hearts pumped eternal night
And their shapes were diabolic (13).

Aboud gives insight into a holistic world in which shadow and reality cohere, coexist and mingle -- a now and nether world with thin or no partitions. He would presumably agree with Shakespeare's Hamlet that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. It is this area where light blends with darkness that the poet essays to make real and hauntingly mysterious at the same time. Lagahoo can stay in focus long enough to welcome Columbus of pink lips contrasting him to the red-skinnned aborigines with the suggestion that pink lips are not always harmless after all (16). As an intellectual, he gives an object lesson on gravity whose power he transcends, for ""By the hundred teeth of my jaws / I'll not submit"" (15); and this is in contrast to mortal man whom gravity inevitably sucks down to earth and death. Most times though lagahoo is as elusive as truth; his eye is ""a tiny dark seed"" (20); sometimes water shapes him and other times, chameon-like, he keeps turning, and turning and turning.

Lagahoo may not subscribe to any orthodox religion but Christianity is accommodated and the numerous religious allusions help to give credibility, as it were, to his twilight world. In ""Now and at this Hour,"" he claims ownership of and affinity with Jesus; and he claims the Baptist's blessing even while admitting ""My art is dark"" (40). When in ""The Old City Harbour"" the poet or lagahoo (one is often not sure) sees corbeaux ""walking on the sea,"" the biblical allusion to Christ walking on the water, with all the wry irony of the comparison, is unmistakable.

There is nothing arcane or shadowy, though, about the trenchant social comment in Aboud's poetry whether he speaks through lagahoo or in his distinct voice. Indeed the lagahoo medium allows him rich satirical effects without being ostensibly didactic. For him pressing feet into leather shoes in conformity to custom and social rules is an unwelcome imposition and there is subtle irony in the juxtaposition of ""service"" and ""bondage"" in the poem ""My Bare Feet are the New Government."" And Oh, the evocative power of the lines:

Taking off shoes
is much like
Pulling down statues
It takes very little imagination to see in them Saddam Hussein (or whoever else) and with him the humbug falling from his pedestal set off by lagahoo's exultant exclamation:
My bare feet are the new government (43).

Telling lines like this shine throughout the volume. One such line is ""0 let us memorize this moment as a prayer is memorized"" from ""The Lifting of the Dread"" (55) in which he cites things of unnoticed beauty and value as indices to truth and joy but fleeting in existence. And check this line for the unsuspecting power of writing and philosophy: ""From this small page Lagahoo rules the world"" (22). Aboud's social criticism is powerfully satiric and he does not shout or need to. In ""The Weight of Things"" not only is fire a leveller, but priorities are questioned as it guts the house of prayer and of prostitution alike; for ""A church snatched by flame climb into cloud / as proud as the house where women fuck"" (56), though I cannot understand why women only. The incidental rhyme of ""cloud"" and ""proud"" adds an engaging irony to the richly earned emotional effect. In ""Inamorata,"" it is harrowing and painful when men scrape dirt and scrub because ""They do not have the coat that Joseph wore"" (47), with hints of the powerlessness of religion to end oppression.

An uneven blank verse best suits the poet's purpose as he explores this mythical creature so hard to pin down physically and cognitively. But he has a variety of styles in his armoury to fit the occasion. He is sometimes catechismic with antiphonal questions and answers as in ""Accounting at Daybreak"" with its bottom line of futility: ""What is there to hold but air?"" (53); there is nation language like ""but just now"" (61) capitalizing on the naturalistic speaking Trinidadian voice; and lilting lyricism at times such as

There is a music that is strangely playing
Through the course of the flowing years (46).

And there is ""World Without End,"" a kind of chant or jeremiad where every line begins with ""0"" without tediousness, but with a painful pull on the emotion.

Aboud not only searches for the apt form but also the apt word. And from where else could he quarry his imagery for this mysterious creature of landscape but from nature. So look for ""webbed forests"" (28) ""ribbon of sand,"" (38) ""breath as sweet as potato,"" and Solomonic metaphors and similes such as ""my nipples were oysters""; ""my back was sea-eggs"" (19) and eyes ""likebent twigs"" (51) from one of the few love poems in the book. Generally there are appropriate words in this volume, ""plentiful as sand,"" (29) for both lagahoo and Aboud are poets and in immortalizing this twilight figure, Aboud the poet has himself come to stay and seems to know it: ""If you bury me you bury / everything that's left of flesh / not everything I am or was"" (62).

This is a bite-size book but it is a big bite worth many ruminations with much to savour. Aboud's rising reputation is amply earned -- a prize winner without question.

This is a review of Lagahoo Poems

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