A review from Trinidad and Tobago’s Guardian.
A romp into gender—and love
Reader, I Married Him & Other Queer Goings-On
Peepal Tree Press, 2014
In Dorothea Smartt’s new chapbook, gender identity isn’t an easy place to hang your hat: it’s at the marrow of how the people in these poems live, love and survive the world’s frequent upbraidings.
A London-based writer of Barbadian heritage, Smartt’s previous collections include Connecting Medium (2001) and Ship Shape (2009), both from Peepal Tree Press.
The Caribbean diaspora converges with Barbados and Jamaica in Smartt’s poems, displaying a sensitivity towards the interlocking segments of Caribbean identity, wherever it’s found and however it’s experienced. The subjects of Smartt’s poems, including the frequently-used first person narrator, traverse landmine territories of sexual desire in uncertain political climates. They are bold, courageous agents of their own autonomy, but they do not live without fear, or free from society’s iniquities.
Smartt’s writing cleaves closely to images replete with sexual abandon, such as those within the dalliance described in Muriel, a poem that begins and ends with “damp sheets on wet brown bodies.”
Through the narrator’s lush and energetic depiction of Muriel, the poet explores a carnal encounter as a bridge to one’s own proud assertion of erotic freedoms, and the places in which this kind of self-exploration is possible without censure.
It is censure that marks the Caribbean’s prevailing politics around expressions of queer desire. Smartt makes this plain in the titular poem of the chapbook, which describes a clandestine marriage of convenience held on Barbadian soil.
The wedding is a photo-worthy, champagne-glass-clinking farce, the poem’s narrator explains, telling the reader plainly that “my best man? His lover, gave me away, was wedding planner, witness, and his wedding night delight, man enough to cover every detail of our act. […] For this was a political act: I was the life-boat, love-boat.”
Reader, I Married Him is a full-spirited romp in territory that the poet knows cannot be completely sanguine. Smartt’s chapbook engages with queer concerns without apology, and also with the very spirit of love that obeys no ordinances of outdated Caribbean legislature’s last bids for respectability.
For the original report go to http://www.guardian.co.tt/lifestyle/2014-08-09/little-tallawah-books-poems