Yes, this is only my third book in this challenge, but I am starting to worry that I don’t have it in me to keep up the pace. So I’m going to try to simplify things a bit in this write-up, and not worry so much about getting it perfect.
For Day 3 of #thesealeychallenge I read The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus (Penned in the Margins, 2018). Antrobus, who is British-Jamaican and deaf, writes about his experiences from childhood to adulthood and uses historical figures, interviews with other D/deaf folks, and current events to round out a collection that is impressive and emotional. Language is at the heart of this book, and the poems slowly peel their layers to reveal a wonderful music.
From the first page, there are some wonderful sounds. I love poetry that bubbles and skips and plays, and Antrobus gives us “blaring birds, consonant crumbs/ of dull doorbells, sounds swamped.” Antrobus has a magical way of taking a casual and quiet moment of daily life and exploding it’s meaning outward. In ‘My Mother Remembers’ we hear the voice of Antrobus’s mother telling a story that on the surface is about celebrities who tried to haggle her for a lower price when she was selling vintage fabrics, but underneath this story, which is so casually told in a strong and clear voice, there is a deeper story of what it is like to be a young woman working to stay afloat and about an appreciation for things that are older and discarded. The poem charmingly ends with Antrobus’s mother asking if she is keeping him from something more important.
The title poem, The Perseverance, is called so after a pub that Antrobus’s father would frequent. The poem is a sestina (which I have tried many times to write and failed) and creates music in its repetition. The spinning structure of the poem mirrors the complicated and claustrophobic emotion of looking back at childhood and times when adults let us down. The image of listening to the laughter inside the pub as he waited for his father is so clear and when paired with the happier memories of times with his father is so effective in building emotion. I won’t give it away, but the ending of this poem made me cry. Reading it after the death of my dad, It was a mirror to my own feelings that even if I had eternity with my dad, it would always be too soon to lose him.
In the book notes Antrobus states that he looked after his father at the end of his life and that the poem Dementia was written on this experience. Alzheimer’s and dementia has deeply impacted my family. My dad had Alzheimer’s for years before his death, and there is nothing more heartbreaking than watching someone you love forget your name. My dad could repair anything from a car to a microwave to a tiny wind-up toy, and he could solve any puzzle. When he started to get confused and forget why he had taken something apart, it felt like living in an alternate universe where everything was the opposite of how it had been. The line in the poem, “you simplified a complicated man,” is a perfect representation of how dementia moves through a person and their person.
The poems in this collection addressing the D/deaf experience have stayed with me and inspired me to do further research on some of the historical figures and policies mentioned. I was especially moved by the ‘Samantha’ poems which Antrobus wrote after doing a series of interviews with a Deaf woman about her move to the UK. These poems move through various speakers in Samantha’s life, from her mother to her British Sign Language teacher, to even the devil. It is a very effective way to tell the story and create layers of compassion, frustration, and hope.
Dear Hearing World, Deaf School by Ted Hughs, among other poems, are passionate and direct calls for accountability and justice both from institutions and from hearing folks. Researching Daniel Harris, Mable Gardiner Hubbards, Doctor Marigold, Laura Bridgeman, and the many other people mentioned or referenced in this collection has added to my understanding of D/deafness and how much work there still is to do to advance disability justice.
Favourite and Best Bits:
My Mother Remembers (pg. 23)
The Perseverance (pg. 29)
Dear Hearing World (pg. 36)
‘Deaf School’ by Ted Hughs (pg. 39)
For Jesula Gelin, Vanessa Previl, and Monique Vincent (pg. 43)
Conversation with the Art Teacher (a Translation Attempt) (pg. 47)
The Ghose of Laura Bridgeman Warns Hellen Keller About Fame (pg.48)
To Sweeten Bitter (pg. 57)
I Want the Confidence of (pg. 58)
Samantha (pg. 65)
Dementia (pg. 81)