by Malika Booker
This powerful first collection records the clamour of women’s voices through time and across generations all asunder. From the grandmother whose words bite like ants:
You will end up on your back, scunt spread out
feet sprawl out, whoring.
to the eulogized aunt and aborted child, Malika Booker traces a matrilineal narrative of care, abuse and warnings. The words are hardened with spite and vigilance, and the caution is to 'Barricade your souls, ladies' against an onslaught of harm and grief. But the comfort comes in Edwidge Danticat’s epigram for Epilogue: ‘The women in your family have never lost touch with one another. [...] With every step you take there is an army of women watching over you.’
Throughout the collection runs a theme of fecundity, of fruit and of women. At times these groups are bound in what seems to be an unsettling forecast from The Waste Land. A mother’s cries of 'your womb is becoming stone' is set uneasily alongside the Grenada 'where lush fauna and young girls/ flourish', but where opulent growth is threatened with a lack of interest, and the harvest spoils when everyone leaves for America. Booker presents a recurring image of a Caribbean emptied and an ecology crying out for a reaping in Guyana, where
your children leave you before they can wipe
childhood from their eyes.
But it is perhaps the very first line of PEPPER SEED, in which Booker implores readers to 'Imagine her different..'., which forms the overarching theme of the collection. This task of re-imagining is manifest in a refrain of 'that is not our name'. PEPPER SEED comprises five sections: Testament, Crucial Times, Lamentations, Altars and Epilogue. Each of these Biblical themes is underpinned by Booker’s broad church, whose teachings ripen with each passing year and swell to span the distance of diaspora.
In 2008, Malika Booker’s pamphlet BREADFRUIT was recommended by the Poetry Book Society. PEPPER SEED is her debut full-length collection.
Published by Peepal Tree Press, 84pp.