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The Wintering Kundalini

Written by Peter Nazareth University of Iowa for World Literature Today on no date provided

I asked Sasenarine Persaud to explain his new volume of poetry because it seemed to be less of a piece than his previous two collections (see WLT, 71:2, p. 437 and 75:3/4, p. 136). He replied that this one covered the widest span of time. ""Chance Encounter"" went back to the early 1980s, to when he took the last ferry across the Demerara River to experience it at night. Ships were entering from the Atlantic; the lights of Georgetown were a joy. But the moment he disembarked, the entire city was plunged into darkness. He listened to audible panic, vendors scrambling to light bottle lamps. He bought an ice-cream cone. When the lights returned, he took a taxi home: 

The cone I tasted
Cold on tongue
Coursing down
Water to heart
Is dissipated

In your eyes
The electric gone
Lights of the city

The blackout in my heart
Cries hold
I come, I come!

The experience was transformed into a love poem. In Tantric yoga, it is believed that all power lies in the spinal column; anyone who taps this power makes contact with the godhead and can perform extraordinary acts. Significantly, the cover provides an image of a medi[t]ator with the Canadian CNN tower standing in almost as the Kundalini spinal column. Fleeing black-on-Indian oppression in Guyana, Persaud wrote ""Exit to a Far Country"" on the plane, which begins ""Cordelia to the King / Howling in my head' and ends ""Sings Cordelia in my head / No hope, no hope / Only the rope of separation / On my neck."" Persaud draws from King Lear just as Shakespeare drew from the Puranic story of Prahalad in Macbeth.

In the next poem, reference is made to Ravan of the Ramayana. The poet tells his love that he has not killed him so they cannot go home. Has Hamuman (who helped Rama free Sita from Ravan and who is very popular in Trinidad and Guyana) deserted him? Here Ravan is dearly Forbes Burnham. The poet has not just fled north for whiter pastures: he is seeking a way of defeating Ravan. He begins a letter with a reference to, and reapplication of, the Snow White myth: 

and having bit exile's apple
Stuck in my throat's
Somnabulistic sleep --
These well-meant dwarfs decorate
their bills, monthly dues.

There are no princesses in Canada, nor are they needed for ""money overrides and overkills: here the story ends."" But the brain is not stuck.

The volume represents a coming to terms with Toronto and with Guyana, the subterranean connection being India, the ancestral home. In ""Spring, Toronto,"" the bursting to life of the colors of nature after winter brings to mind the celebration of Holi, which reminds the author of the reason why Indians were exiled 150 years ago to the West Indies. (The Sepoy revolution against the British led to many Indians being killed and others being sent to the West Indies to produce sugar to sweeten the English.) The poet laments, ""Ah, my Hebrew friends / Two thousand is more than I / can take to make my state / believable!"" There is however, resolution: the Vedic spring blossoms again, not only in India but also in Canada. In ""Ancient Immigrant Trail,"" the poet sees he is only the latest wave: Canadians are immigrants on Indian lands.

In a review of Demerary Telepathy (1989), Howard Fergus writes: ""Drawing on ancestral memories and imagery and existential experiences ... [Persaud] affirms the East Indian weft in the tapestry of Caribbean culture."" In ""The Gulls Aspire to Be Gaulings,"" Viswamittra, of Ksatriya origin, became one of the seven great Vedic rishis and was accepted by the high-born Vasista: so Vedic philosophy is well suited for dealing with new experiences. Persaud ""is a rooted Guyanese even when he is writing from snowy Canada,"" Fergus says, writing ""feelingly of Guyana's natural environment."" Persaud also writes feelingly of Canada, and of India. One of the last poems is ""Porkknocker, Come Home!"" The porkknocker is the prospector for gold in Guyana, an Indian who marks his return with the hymn of ages, the Gayatri mantra. So there is indeed a wide time span in the volume.

This is a review of The Wintering Kundalini

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