In the year of Covid-19, lockdowns, and in Trinidad a state of emergency, it’s not surprising that thoughts turn to the nature of time, place and the not quite accidental arrival of pandemics of mass death. For Jennifer Rahim, time is both the history that has shaped the present and the now of social and geographic constriction. At the beginning of the collection, “A Tale of the Orbis Spike, 1610” (the recorded dip in carbon dioxide levels when around fifty million native peoples of the New World were exterminated as the result of European settler invasion), reminds that pandemics have their own history, though never without human triggers. At the end of the collection, “No /Language is a Virus” records the viral power of language for both good and ill, the latter not least in the era of Trump and the resurgence of racist white nationalism in Trinidad’s big neighbour to the north. But Rahim also reminds us how much solace we have derived from poetry this last year, because “Words fly the grave, steal/ the only thunder a virus can claim,/ and, alive,/ witness to goodness that quietly thrives.”
Between those two points, the collection expands out of the restrictions of home, that place where “We’re strategizing for survival/ strip-searching every sneeze/ for an invisible assassin suited in capsid” – though sanctuaries of invention can be found in the smallest spaces – to map the wider worlds of memory and desire – in a vivid series of poems (“mapping home”) that chart journeys from Valencia, through Salybia, Balandra, Rampanalgas, Cumana, Toco and L’Anse Noir – places that Rahim’s poems bring to sensuous geographic, human and historical life and make you want to visit.
With the celebration of heroes who range from the fighting women of Greek myth, to poetic inspirations from Marianne Moore to Eric Roach, Jennifer Rahim urges that “Hope/ must always be bold/ and sharpened for tomorrows”.