[. . .] This is also poetry about finding one’s cultural identity, about trying to belong and being found wanting, about never quite fitting in, never knowing how to describe one’s self, trying to come to terms with one’s heritage.
“Half-caste, half mule, house slave – Jamaican British.
Light skin, straight male, privileged – Jamaican British…
In school I fought a boy in the lunch hall – Jamaican.
At home, told Dad I hate dem, all dem Jamaicans – I’m British.
He laughed, said you cannot love sugar and hate your sweetness…”
[. . .] More often, there are complicated and contradictory strands of feeling woven in. The title poem To Sweeten Bitter describes the paradox lying at the very heart of this relationship, the deeper grooves a father makes in our lives, the years of hurt and misunderstanding and the attempt to sugarcoat situations. The later poems are clearer in describing an absent father, an abusive father, the threats and shaming he stooped to, that forgiveness was only possible because ‘he promised me one day he was going to die.’ There is also recognition of a mother’s sacrifice, compensating for an absent father. In What Is Possible, we find the touching image of her sitting up all night to thread jewellery to sell in the market, with only the TV for company, while her son complains about the TV disturbing him. Yet as he lies in his bed, he dreams he will fly and grow too big for his bed, he understands the safety and security that his mother has given him, the feeling that all possibilities are still open to him.
[. . .] Yet this slender book reminds us that, for all the imperfections, for all of the pain, instead of yearning for the father we wish we’d had, we should attempt to understand and forgive the one we were given. Whether present or absent, they shape us far more than we can imagine or accept
“where someone I love is the shape
of the missing thing.”