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This article is taken from PN Review 257, Volume 47 Number 3, January - February 2021.

On Blackness and Landscape
Reclaiming Time
Jason Allen-Paisant
Why do I now want to talk about the woods? Afterall, I grew up surrounded by woodland. In Coffee Grove, the village in Jamaica in which I spent my early childhood, I was surrounded by farmland, by animals, and by the bush. Why then had I never felt this urge to stand still in the woodland, or walk placidly, contemplating it? I realised, as I express in the poem ‘Walking with the Word “Tree”’, that for my family, nature was functional. As farmers, my grandparents shaped the land, waited for its yields, saw their living as connected to the earth. They were not contemplators of scenery; their hands were in the earth. These were environmentalists without a title.

Later, at the age of five, I went to live in a town with my mother who was a school teacher. All of a sudden I was propelled into a different lifestyle. We would continue to be ‘poor’ but now at least we lived in a small town. We never got ‘coming out of the bush’ to coincide with ‘upward social mobility’, which became a source of frustration. Poverty can create feelings of enclosure. I believe it is, first and foremost, an affect (the absence of commodities and resources does not in itself equal poverty). We were living a half-rural, half-urban life, always with the aspiration of leaving the rural behind, because the rural was perceived to be an index of poverty. On the one hand we were trying to escape the rural, elemental lifestyle; on the other hand we couldn’t afford the trappings of middle-class lifestyle. We went ...

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