Janet Naidu, Sacred Silence, Hertford, Hansib, 2009,
pp. 104, ISBN 978-1-906190-33-0
Reviewed by Frank Birbalsingh
Sacred Silence is a third collection of poems by Janet Naidu who emigrated from her homeland of Guyana to Canada in 1975. Like her previous poetry collections – Winged Heart (1999) and Rainwater (2005), Sacred Silence considers themes mainly of love and loss in the context of migration, and the struggle for fresh identity in a new land. But the three volumes are not identical: poems in this third volume appear more steeped in spiritual meditation than those in the first two.
Sacred Silence consists of fifty-nine poems divided into four sections. In several poems in the first section – “Fields to Seashore” – the persona speaks from a vantage point in Canada and introduces us to remembered scenes of life in rural Guyana.
In “Selflessness”, for example, we are shown the rough and ready life of an Indian peasant family as the mother, “honoring her duty,” (p.30) gets up early in the morning to cook paratha and sada roti with “bare hands” (p.30) while the father prepares for a long day of hard labor “on the backdam [plantation].” (p.30) In “Cane Dust at My Feet”, a woman sweeps away cane dust “on a clean mud floor” (p.37) before setting off with a heavy basket of vegetables on her head to sell in the market.
Clearly, these rustic, plantation folk scrape the barrel to survive; and their plight is heightened by the strangeness of their indentured background evoked, for instance, in “A Deeper Ocean” where the persona imagines a female ancestor newly arrived from India in: “red and gold bodice, // nose ring, foot ring and silver bangle”. (p.36) – dress which almost mocks the harshness and penury of actual living conditions in Guyana.
Pin-pointing her own South Indian heritage, in “Movements”, the poet reflects on indentured Indians who traveled to the Caribbean from the South Indian port of Madras: “Departure and arrival// fills me with endless yearning// from the shores of Madras// to the green fields of Demerara.” (p.40) The point is that the yearning stays with her even in Canada. …
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