tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
[personal profile] tevere
No lie: my search for this book physically spanned four countries on three continents. (Eventually located in Melbourne, Australia, typically.) Having spent eight weeks imagining the glorious moment I would hold in my hands a perfect, epically weighty tome on the history of Kenyan Asians, I was... well, a little surprised by the actual product. I'm glad I didn't know its origins prior to seeking it out, because I never would have taken a chance on it otherwise. Two words: political theatre. I am, and will probably never be, one with political theatre. (I am also allergic to audiobooks, podcasts, radio plays, podfics, and plays featuring actors I know personally. This is no judgement on these artforms; I just have a thing.) Migritude the book has its origins in a one-woman show by Patel, and comprises the poems and pieces of the show itself; a useful companion section where Patel unpacks each piece and provides references; and a selection of other poems. It's a beautiful little volume, actually, with gorgeous illustrations spilling into the margins-- it's just nice to hold and linger over.

In a blurb on the back, Raj Patel describes Migritude as 'documentary as poetry'. I think that's a great description for a work that's hard to pigeonhole. (Patel herself variously describes her work as poetry, spoken-word theatre, text-based performance for the stage, and fully-embodied poetry.) I enjoyed the fragmented-but-coherent nature of the Migritude pieces, the shift between blank verse and documentary format (letters, media excerpts, histories), the multitude of female voices on their shared condition: subjects of Empire, vulnerable female bodies, African, brown and black, migrants. The best pieces are blunt and powerful, with complicated histories and meaning compressed into tiny spaces. (For a while I was thinking to myself, "But why doesn't she acknowledge the historically privileged position of Kenyan Asians compared to black Kenyans?" But it's there-- between the lines of her mother's letters.) And then there are subtler images:
The night Ravi Shankar
played sitar at Albert Hall
queer Asian boys with kohl-rimmed eyes
danced bhangra in the lanes of Brixton
saffron sashes at their wrists and hips.
[-from Love Poem for London]
At her worst, though, Patel's poems can be jarringly unsubtle. The bluntness that works so well in the Migritude pieces comes across, in some of the standalones, as un-nuanced and cliched-- the message overwhelming the story, I guess. I didn't like 'Eaters of Death' at all. Although based on the true story of an Afghan woman whose husband and children were killed by a US airstrike, it felt thin and artificial-- all the complex emotions of real life stripped out and turned into a monotonal political message. There were a couple more like that I just couldn't engage with.

My favourite piece is from the Migritude set: 'Shilling Love Part 1'. Familial love isn't about saying the words; it's about your actions. (Just the other day my mother told me that she had gotten an anonymous text message on the day I was due to arrive back in Australia: "I'm at the airport now, Mum. Love you." But, she said, "I knew it wasn't from you. You never say 'love you'." Which I don't; none of us do. We don't need to. Everything she's done for me lets me know that.)

They never said / they loved us

Those words were not / in any language / spoken by my parents

I love you honey / was the dribbled caramel / of Hollywood
movies / Dallas / Dynasty / where electricity surged
through skyscrapers / twenty-four hours a day / hot
water gushed / at the touch of gleaming taps / banquets
obscene as the Pentagon / were mere backdrops / to
emotions without consequences / words that / cost
nothing / meant nothing / would never have to be

My parents / didn't speak / that language

1975 / fifteen Kenyan shillings to the British pound / my
mother speaks battle / storms the bastions of Nairobi's /
most exclusive prep schools / hurls / our cowering,
six-year-old bodies / like cannonballs / into all-white
classrooms / scales the ramparts / of class distinction
around Loreto Convent / where the president / sends
his daughter / where foreign diplomats / send their
daughters / because / my mother's daughters / will
have / world-class educations

she falls / re-groups / falls
and re-groups / in endless assaults on
visa officials / who sneer behind
bullet-proof windows / at British
and US consulates

my mother / the general / arms
her daughters / to take on every

1977 / twenty Kenyan shillings to the British pound / my
father speaks stoic endurance / he began at sixteen / the
brutal apprenticeship / of a man who takes care of his
own / dreams / of pilot / rally driver / relinquished / to
the daily crucifixion / of wringing profits / from beneath
cars / my father / the foot soldier / bound to an honour /
deeper than any currency

you must / finish what you start you must / march until you
drop you must / give your life for those / you bring into the world

I try to explain love / in shillings / to those who've / never
gauged who gets to leave / who has to stay / who breaks
free / and what they pay / those who've never counted
love / in every rung of the ladder / from survival / to
choice / a force as grim and determined / as a boot up
the backside / a spur that draws blood / a mountaineer's
rope / that yanks / relentlessly / up

My parents never say / they love us / they save and count /
count and save

The shilling falls against the pound / college fees for
overseas students / rise like flood tides / love is a luxury /
priced in hard currency / ringed by tariffs / and we on the
raft / devour prospectuses of ivied buildings / smooth
lawns / vast libraries / gleaming science labs / the way
Jehovah's Witnesses / gobble visions of paradise /
because we know we'll have to be / twice as good / three
times as fast / four times as driven / with angels / powers /
and principalities on our side / just / to get / on the plane

Thirty shillings to the pound / forty shillings to the
pound / my parents fight over money / late in the night
my father / pounds the walls and yells / I can't / it's
impossible / what do you think I am?

My mother propels us through / tutors, exams,
scholarship applications / locks us in our rooms to study /
keeps an iron grip / on the bank books

1982 / gunshots in the streets of Nairobi / military coup
leaders / thunder over the radio / Asian businesses
wrecked and looted / Asian women / raped / after the
government / regains control / we whisper what the coup
leaders / had planned

Round up all the Asians / at gunpoint / in the national
stadium / strip them of what they carry / march them
fifty kilometres to the airport / elders in wheelchairs /
babies in arms / pack them onto foreign planes / like
battery chickens / tell the pilots down rifle barrels /
leave / we don't care where you take them / leave

I learn / like a stone in my gut / that third-generation
Asian Kenyan / will never / be Kenyan enough / that all
my patriotic fervour / will not / turn my skin / black

As yet another western country / drops a portcullis of
immigration spikes / my mother straps my shoulders
back with a belt / to teach me / stand up straight

Fifty shillings to the pound / we cry over meltdown
pressure / of exam after exam / where second place is
never good enough

They snap / their faces taut with fear / you can't be soft /
you must be strong / you have to fight / or the world will eat
you up

Seventy shillings to the pound / they hug us at airports /
tearless / stoic / as we board planes for icy / alien England /
cram instructions into our pockets like talismans

eat proper meals / so you don't get sick / cover your ears /
against the cold / stay away from the muffathias / the ones
without purpose or values / learn and study / succeed / learn
and study / succeed / remember remember remember / the cost
of your life

they never say / they love us

Date: 2011-03-09 01:18 pm (UTC)
marina: (Default)
From: [personal profile] marina
That is an amazing poem. Thank you so much for sharing it, and your review of the book.

Date: 2011-03-10 10:33 am (UTC)
marina: (Default)
From: [personal profile] marina
Actually I found it at The Book Depository which delivers everywhere (for free! :D). So it's been added to my wishlist. 60% amazing is absolutely worth it for me, for this kind of book. God, that poem.

Date: 2011-03-10 11:12 am (UTC)
marina: (Default)
From: [personal profile] marina
OMG DUUUUUUUDE I've advertising the Book Depository from every rooftop for ages! IT IS THE MOST AMAZING THING. THE MOST AMAZING. Their books cost 1-3 dollars more than they do on amazon but SHIPPING IS FREE. EVERYWHERE. The amount of joy that site's brought to my life, jfc.

Date: 2011-03-09 01:39 pm (UTC)
colorblue: (Default)
From: [personal profile] colorblue
The quoted poem is amazing.

Date: 2011-03-09 06:10 pm (UTC)
runpunkrun: combat boot, pizza, camo pants = punk  (Default)
From: [personal profile] runpunkrun
Great poem. Thanks for sharing it.

Date: 2011-03-09 08:03 pm (UTC)
bravecows: Picture of a brown cow writing next to some books (Default)
From: [personal profile] bravecows
I did feel like the poem became a physical thing at the end. Thanks for posting it.

Date: 2011-03-11 04:28 pm (UTC)
dhobikikutti: earthen diya (Default)
From: [personal profile] dhobikikutti
Thanks for typing up the poem, and the review. Do you think you could cross-post it on [profile] forked_tongues?

Date: 2011-03-12 03:27 am (UTC)
vi: (kimi ni todoke: walking together)
From: [personal profile] vi
Just got the chance to read the poem -- it made something solid and thick-tearlike rise up in me. Thank you for posting it. &hearts

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