Faizah Tabasamu Reviews Loretta Collins Klobah’s “The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman”


In “How Eve Survives the Adam-less Urban Rainforest,” Faizah Tabasamu Reviews Loretta Collins Klobah’s The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman. Many thanks to House of Nehesi Publishing for making this available. Here are excerpts:

On a pedestal, in the eye of this hurricane of multilingual poetry—“a vibrant blend of English, Spanish, and Patois”—written by Loretta Collins Klobah, womanhood sheds her skin of “concrete and steel.” Sometimes this skin is personal or societal loss, the loss of a lover or husband who left, or the loss of a young child, whose dead body was burrowed through by a motherless bullet. In the poem, “El Velorio, The Wake (1893),” it is a harkening to the Puerto Rican national painting of the same name that had prophesied the “halo of flies” above the sleeping child. Also embedded in this skin, is a fisherman, brutalized by a police officer, who wrestled him to the ground like a fish baited and bleeding from the mouth.

The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman, an OCM Bocas Prize-winner in the poetry category, is Klobah’s white bud offering, dripping wet from the painful seasons of the soul and the perpetual injustices we are tempted to look away from, like Juanito, a singing street person with AIDS and festering foot sore in “La Madonna Urbana.” He reaches over into another poem, “By the Waters of St. Lucia”; his legacy and foot sores, “bloody legions that boil into small volcanic mountains,” are fixed in the poet’s mind.

Klobah draws our senses back, quietly beckoning with the soft rhythmic weaving of languages, lolling us to look again until the deeds are done, until we have received the harsh truths about Caribbean urbanization, the harsh truths about the histories we live daily—Maurice Bishop and all the Krik? Krak! moments and massacres that cause us to write our bitterness on paper, plant it in a melon and throw it into the sea so that we can remember without the retching sorrow. [. . .]

In her collection of twenty-nine poems, Klobah captures some of the places women seek sanctuary from the leering public eye and men who’ve left and crumpled their hearts. Her poetry reveals the rooms they find, the walls they build or the way they use their bodies or female friendships to bask in a tranquility that is impossible to maintain. It is in a painting, in the unshared conversation between “Two Women Chatting by the Sea (1856).” It is the place to slap their children, the refuge in a Chicago public bathroom, where “the growl rising like acid vomit in dry throats” can be released (58).

It is in the sustaining bonds of female friendship, in the London flat, where ill-fitted clothing is the first of many exchanges. It is in Jamaica, where her eighty-year-old landlady soothes her “man-worries” with milky soursop tea. “Matron” rules her home with a “no men” policy, a serene fortress her estranged son infiltrates when he passes a bag of tears to her through the iron gate. It is at “The First Day of Hurricane Season,” peace, simplicity, and aloneness that find their way into other poems like “Bosque San Patricio” and “Night Wash.”

[. . .] Klobah examines the solitary life through other women: Sister Carol and the nuns residing by the St. Lucian seaside, and even sixty-nine year old Yesmarie, whose dead and decimated body, half-bitten tongue and the “cocaine-packed condom” filled the poet with a longing for peace and an Adamless garden of plantain shoots and small animals when she herself is aged. For Yesmarie, she constructs a pleasant eulogy of childhood memories to tuck around the news of her cruel death in “Snort This.”

These poems hold hands, dancing around reoccurring themes, fingers interlaced tightly. For example, her daughter dreams of becoming one of the mermaids, who Canute Caliste says no longer “Lifted their heads to peep at him—bobbing like a handful of yellow sea roses on the surfs” (28).

[. . .] Klobah is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico. With the weight of Puerto Rico on her tilted hips, she starts her collection with a praying woman offering up her “wilted white bud” and ends it as a praying poet, speaking more to her daughter about a hope and future filled with more trees than the one El Cristo de Buen Viaje carried. She hopes for a place “above the flood plains, where after our terrible storms, only roosters cry” (85).

Faizah Tabasamu (Rochelle Ward) is a leading St. Martin poet, high school teacher, and blogger at www.rochelleward.com. Her poetry appears in the anthology Where I See the Sun – Contemporary Poetry in St. Martin.)

For the full review, see http://www.rochelleward.com/book-reviews/how-eve-survives-the-adam-less-urban-rainforest and http://www.rochelleward.com/book-reviews/-think-and-know-where-i-see-the-sun-contemporary-poetry-in-anguilla

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