Poetry News

Vahni Capildeo Talks to Loretta Collins Klobah About Poetry in the Caribbean Diaspora

By Harriet Staff
Loretta Collins Klobah, Ricantations, cover

For the July–August 2018 issue of PN Review, poet Vahni Capildeo interviews Loretta Collins Klobah, author of Ricantations (Peepal Tree Press, UK, 2018), a collection of poems where "New World English and Spanish rub shoulders." "How would you situate your work?" asks Capildeo. "As women’s writing? In the Americas? The Antilles? Is there an archipelagic consciousness or aesthetic?" Klobah's response, and more:

I write out of the troubled tension of my limbo subject position as a large woman, phenotypically white, California-born from the lower working classes; living in, teaching Anglophone Caribbean literature in, and feeling my profound connection to and cultural involvement in the still-colonised Spanish-speaking territory of the island of Puerto Rico, while collaborating with and forming literary friendships with writers from the larger Caribbean and its diaspora(s). My poetry, engaged with the traditions of both [email protected] and Caribbean literature, is grounded in historical readings, archival work, popular culture, Caribbean spiritualities, the natural environs and the everyday – the warmth and angst of the pueblo. The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman (Peepal Tree Press, 2011) situates poems in Carriacou in the Grenadines, Grenada, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, St Croix, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Britain and the US. Poems in the new collection, Ricantations (Peepal Tree Press, 2018), are set in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Jamaica, Britain and California. I recall once more the range of places in which I have lived: Iowa and Georgia in the US, London, Toronto and Kingston, Jamaica. Yet, from my poetic approaches and the subjects that concern me, it’s evident that my poetry, overall, has a Caribbean archipelagic aesthetic, commitment and consciousness, with poems straying into other geographical and cultural regions linked to Caribbean experience, my past and travels. 

The extraordinary sequence ‘Novena a la Reina María Líonza’ (‘The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman’) haunts me, yet I can’t unriddle it. What moves you in composing longer forms? What’s the process? 

I would love to know what you couldn’t unriddle about it! I can spend years on a long poem sequence, connecting the dots, little by little. This one charts its own genesis. During Hurricane Jeanne (2004), a huge boa constrictor bumped around in the attic of a wooden casita occupied by an elderly mother and her grown, mentally challenged, deaf-mute daughter. For days, the snake visited the bed of the daughter, who could not communicate that to her mother. That prompted me to think of the Taíno-Spanish-African goddess María Líonza of Venezuela, who was swallowed and rebirthed by a snake, and to go in search of her figurine and prayers at botánicas, listen to the Rubén Blades song about her, think about regional connections and write about the damage and aftermath of the storm in Haiti, Grenada, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Cosmic woman energy was summoned to the mourning and natural restoration. Ricantations also has two long poem sequences.  

Find the full conversation at PN Review.

Originally Published: July 18th, 2018