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This report is taken from PN Review 261, Volume 48 Number 1, September - October 2021.

Sound Sutra
A Decade of Resonances
i.m. Colin Robinson
Vahni Capildeo
1. An irresistible invitation is not what you may expect late at night during a working week in a pandemic. However, an irresistible invitation is what arrived. The poet Carrie Etter, sharing her draft novel-in-verse, Exit Kassandra, matter-of-factly mentioned: ‘It reads aloud in 50 minutes.’ Accordingly, I have been reading it aloud; but it took me three days, with intermissions. Why?

2. Midsummer has passed, and August approaches. August has resonance. Do not begin anything in the month that corresponds to August this year, I once was advised, because in this season Lord Vishnu is asleep, and you need the creative play of his energy. I imagined his whirling conch shell stilled, and Sesh Naag, the great serpent who serves as his throne, a peaceful heap of coils, slumbering on a blue ocean out of time, also stilled. The rhythm of sleep-breathing and the colour blue permeate ‘August’ ever since.

3. Thinking with anniversaries is human. Noting and reflecting on true anniversaries, the ones that call for a new or personal calendar, is hardly encouraged. Don’t be morbid; don’t cling! Why? Is it that people with the sense of weaving a whole cloth of life may be less amenable to being draped in a flag? We are more governable if we can be kept reactive in the instant, and useful for the task at hand. Replace milestones with official ceremonies, better yet with a squabble over commemoration. Clap and forget; click and collect. Interviewed by Alice Hiller, Shivanee Ramlochan says: “I came to understand this as my duty of care to the work: to not only present the future as viable, in the face of such shattering trauma, but to manifest the future as an active catalyst, the future as present and viable and full of agency’.”

4. Unremembered anniversaries are not silent. They make themselves known by resonance. You might lose your temper with colleagues and – unlike a character in a Woolfian novel – fail to note that the blaze of apple blossom and the position of your foot on the stair have crystallized the same as when you heard the news of that death, that other time, in that other place. You might just feel thirsty, yet unable to pour yourself a glass of water.

5. ‘Anniversary’ is an unquiet word. Its etymology seems to desire confusion. It resembles versare, like something that pours itself out. It descends not from versare, but from vertere. It turns. It overthrows. Our cells are osmotic, and we are endangered by anniversaries, which are liquid; overthrow resembles overflow. ‘Volt’ is a similar word. Turning the metal tap in the candlelit bathroom during a thunderstorm, as a child, I stuck to the tap; lightning struck, and I was shocked. Flicking the bathroom light switch with damp fingers, this year, I snatched my hand away, shocking myself. Volts, delivered into my body, add themselves to how my memory processes the word ‘volta’. My embodied experience of relating to the word, by association, makes the turn or break in any sonnet extra electric, even though I know the poetic craft term has not entered the language the same way as its distant, scientific kin, Alessandro Volta’s surname.

6. Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, gave rise to a set of words: beatnik, peacenik, refusenik: not really related to its ‘fellow traveller’ meaning. Beyond etymology, into emotion, doesn’t the productive suffix -nik stamp these neologisms with a space-age flair? Is a productive suffix like a productive cough, bringing stuff up? Could -versary be a productive suffix? The unsparing, bloody, and redemptive poet Shivanee Ramlochan writes: ‘On the Third Anniversary of the Rape’. Rapeversary. Deathiversary. Revengersary. Riseversary. Could these be words, too? They pour themselves into my mind. They walk. They turn.

7. Carrie Etter’s Exit Kassandra took me three days to read out loud because its ancient world made anew played out against an insurrectionversary, two grandpaternal deathiversaries, and one of my rapeversaries, all falling between late July and late August. This month is full of noises. Pay attention! Etter’s tender, violated, copper-haired prophetess is brilliantly reconceived. Lines of broken-off sense but perfect syntax are presented as end-stopped. The form repeats, overlaps, and brings the story to completion like the spars of a ruined boat. They stick into the air, and our brain fills in the wartime shape that was prophesied.

8. Where does the sea of resonances take us next? Why not to Shakespeare, who writes that the sounds and sweet airs of the isle in the Tempest ‘give delight, and hurt not’? Ah. Is he winking over the head of his savage character, whose name – Caliban – is remixed, to knowing hearers, into resonances of flesh-eating and foreignness? Carib, Caribal, Cannibal. When Ariel and Prospero send a sleep upon incomers, isn’t this be the settler-colonial enjoyment of narrative control as refined magic, only self-deprecatingly dismissed as ‘rough magic’? When Shelley writes ‘Music, when soft voices die, Vibrates in the memory’, he is both revolutionary and romantic. He nudges us towards attunement and awareness. He does not merely lull.

9. What is ‘mere’ (simple, not sea-like or lake-like; now, also, poured into those associations, mere, mare, marine) about lulling? I remember the horror of seeing a man recorded in the south of England rocking a mawmet, a witch-doll, and doing a ‘humming spell’, to make someone in the village leave, go away, leave, leave. His voice disturbed the air in a way that could be imagined rippling to the end of a village. I remember reading the real or fake news about Cuba, that beleaguered island up and to the left of us, while I was in Trinidad – about covert sonic weapons that damage the soft brain. ‘Made my ears bleed’ is not only a metaphor. I remember an ‘Exiled Writers Ink’ performance in London, when I felt guilty at my instinctual, or musicked, reaction to a Persian poet reciting in Persian. I understood almost no words and could not square how deeply I was (we are) moved by the force of pattern, the ferocity of presence. Merely? Mere?

10. When the ferry ‘The Island Discovery’ was pitching during a blowy crossing from Inishbofin to Cleggan, Deirdre Ní Chonghaile picked up her fiddle and walked up and down, playing it. Her music gave shape to the present. Each phrase implied a shapely future, then brought about its promise. As she played, some people stopped vomiting. I put my head down. I had not been vomiting, but I was deeply sleepy. The movement of the sea and the vibrations in the air sent me peacefully under, till we were almost in port. Deirdre’s figure inserts itself into the New Testament passages where Jesus is sleeping through a storm at sea, till his frightened disciples wake him. What is the Christian God doing in that passage? You can read the sea as representing the chaotic, the barely controlled, the doom that must be pushed back again and again. You can read coming to shore as passing through death and the waters of baptism to Easter and Resurrection. I like to read the sleep naturally: as an Edenic moment of oneness with nature. The disciplines, being attuned to mortality, and goal-oriented, were not (could not be) as open to the poetry of weather.

This string of associative meditations on resonance has been pieced together in memory of Colin Robinson, who died on March 4, 2021, at the age of 58. An exemplary activist for LGBT+ rights in the Caribbean, Colin was a gifted artist and writer. Calling out from the loneliness of terminal cancer during Trinidad and Tobago’s high-surveillance lockdown, he brought together family and friends for a virtual session that that lacked the hugging and humming, the awkwardness and joy, of bodily togetherness, but was alive with reminiscence. Thanks to the Lloyd Best Institute of the Caribbean, we had Zoom power; from our many on-screen islands, many voices recited our most beloved verses by Colin, bringing them back to the author himself. His face, so full of power when we shared the stage, not long ago, as Midnight Robbers, was agleam, refined to the bones of community in joy. While loss remembers us, Colin’s chief gift was always love. We can choose to live with his resonance.

This report is taken from PN Review 261, Volume 48 Number 1, September - October 2021.

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