New Books: Monica Minott’s “Zion Roses”

Monica Minott’s new poetry collection Zion Roses was published by Peepal Tree Press in March 2021. Peepal Tree Press describes, “A powerful second collection of poems in a constant dialogue between four quadrants of engagement: with history, with landscape, with personal and family experience and with the worlds of literature, music and art.”

Edward Baugh writes, “Zion Roses, with its alluring title, builds impressively on the promise of Minott’s Kumina Queen. The pursuit of self-realisation runs through inter-related themes such as family, ancestors, the challenges of a girl’s growing into womanhood, and these grounded in the history of African-Jamaican slave experience. She engraves Jamaican folk culture in her word-scape, as in the sequence that revives ‘jonkunno,’ the theatre of the streets. Art and music become integral parts of the experience, as in the poems about Jean Michel Basquiat, Paul Gauguin, and trombonists Don Drummond and Rico Rodriquez. The title poem, which closes the collection, is a song of praise, instinct, in the nuances of the title itself, with the issues explored in the preceding range of poems. The Zion of Christianity interplays with Rastafarian, and “Roses’ illuminates each.”

Description: In Zion Roses, her second collection, Monica Minott’s poems grasp the reader’s attention with a voice that is distinctively personal, both taut and musical – and tender and muscular when the occasion demands. Her language moves seamlessly and always appropriately between standard and Jamaican patwa, a reflection of a vision that encompasses a Black modernity still very much in touch with its aphoristic folk roots, where the ancestral meets Skype or a Jonkonnu band is stuck in a Kingston traffic jam. It is possible to see Minott’s poems as being in a constant dialogue between four quadrants of engagement: with history, with landscape, with personal and family experience and with the worlds of literature, music and art. Minott’s sense of history is deeply informed by a knowledge of the brutalities of commercial empire and of slavery and Black people’s struggles against injustice and for selfhood. There is scarcely a poem that does not have some precisely described sense of the materiality of its circumstance and the interactions between the physical world and human feelings. You sense that what sustains a certain bravery of self-exposure and of risk is a sense of belonging to family histories that have taught endurance, of knowing that loss can be gain (and this is certainly a world into which tragedy intrudes) and the experience of “running from extremity to extremity, to glory”.  In literature and the arts, books are “bright lamps to light away dark hours”, and the examples of musicians like Don Drummond and Rico Rodriquez, artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and dancer Barry Moncrieffe point to the possibilities of the transcendent arising out of the everyday. Literature is a way of seeing that connects “Telemachus,/ original rasta and broomseller” of the Kingston streets to the Ulyssean world of voyaging and of seeking a home.

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