This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.
I am a one-word question,
would we speak
Raymond Antrobus is: a poet; a teacher; a son; British Jamaican; Deaf. All of these attributes colour his writing in this, his latest poetry collection.
The Perseverance explores not only experiences lived, or shared with the author, but also the effects of heritage and culture across generations. He writes of how language is used and how this varies in time and place. What does not change is the near universal insistence that those who communicate by signing adapt as best they can to enable understanding by the hearing.
“How do you write me when I am visual?
“How will someone reading this see my feeling?”
Antrobus writes of his father with whom he had an, at times, difficult relationship but who he cared for during the two years prior to the older man’s death. He writes of his wider family in Jamaica where he visits regularly. Themes of grief and dementia are touched on alongside misunderstandings and the search for forgiveness.
Poems that explore the D/deaf experience are both enlightening and powerful.
“I know the deaf are not lost
but they are certainly abandoned.”
In ‘Miami Airport’ an official is accusatory and unsympathetic even when he realises the traveller cannot hear.
“you don’t look deaf?
can you prove it?”
A sequence of poems written for Samantha share the story of a Deaf Jamaican woman whose mother believed the Devil had taken her child’s voice. There is a lack of appreciation that the deaf have their own language, and anyone can learn it.
Many of the poems are searing in effect. Although not vitriolic there is no shying from the way D/deaf people are treated and how this can lead to isolation.
“Before, all official languages
were oral. The Deaf were a colony
the hearing world ignored.”
‘Two Guns in the Sky for Daniel Harris’ tells of a man shot dead by the police when he was stopped and attempted to speak. His language was sign which meant moving his hands. In the moment this was translated as a threat to safety.
A need to belong, to find acceptance, is a recurring theme delivered with finely balanced potency. A mixed heritage can sometimes lead to dual rejection. It is possible for deafness to be regarded as difference rather than disability.
Any Cop?: Notes at the end of the book explain the inspiration for each of the poems included. Although of interest these were not imperative. The writing is accessible; the subject matter and emotion clear. The author takes the reader into his territory. Awareness gleaned is a sobering reminder that to fully understand a situation it must be lived.