intellectual engagement with India defines his imaginative
In a Boston Night is Sasenarine
Persaud’s seventh collection of poems. Also a novelist and
short story writer, his awards include the K. M. Hunter
Foundation’s Emerging Artist Award (1996), and the Arthur
Schomburg Award (1999) for his literary aesthetics which he
refers to as Yogic Realism. Persaud’s fiction was
shortlisted for the 1997 Journey Prize (Toronto) while his
poetry was nominated for the 1998 Canadian National Magazine
Award, and twice (1989 and 1998) shortlisted for The Guyana
Prize for Literature.
A recipient of several fellowships and
scholarships, his most recent was the Leslie Epstein
Fellowship at Boston University, 2005-06. Persaud’s work has
been included in major anthologies such as the Anthology
of Colonial and Post Colonial Short Fiction
(Houghton Mifflin, Boston & New York, 2006 &
Journey Prize Anthology: short fiction from the best
of Canada’s new writers (McClelland &
Stewart, Toronto, 1997), The Oxford
Book of Caribbean Verse (Oxford University
Press, 2005) and The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories
University Press, 2000) among others.
Persaud left Guyana
joining a growing community of migrant Guyanese
writers in Canada, mainly Toronto, before moving to the USA,
where he now lives in Tampa, Florida. It is Boston however that is
the focal point of this collection, and as the blurb on the back
cover of the book reminds us, it “deftly threads his reflections about
places, events, and histories” which include “a conflict between Anglo- and
Franco-Canadians at a Brookline art exhibition; the ‘Boston Tea
Party’ as a symbol of resistance to American English, subtly
underlined by the description of a Walcott reading in an overflowing
As Persaud recounts, “In a Boston Night”
came about as he was on his way to a literary party at the
house of the poet, Robert Pinsky. “It was early evening going across
the river from Boston/ Brookline where I was staying and dark when
returning. It came to me as we were crossing the river that I would
write a book of poems, that a book of poems was being gifted to me. My
best books of poetry have all come to me this way, in an instant
even before writing the first poem knowing that a book was upon you, a
gift of the ‘gods’ or the Muse if you will.” In “Green Line, Boston,”
Persaud writes: “You are searching/ the night for the perfect
imagery. You are/ that which we see, cannot get, cannot be.”
with all of this in the poem “In a Boston Night” (and throughout
the book) is poetry about love and desire in its erotic sense as
much as in a broader sense i.e. desire and “want” in the sense of
love and also in the sense of “fame”, “recognition”. The poem
ends with the persona’s voice repeating the voice of another: “I
want it now. I want it all, every time, and/ if you will you will.
If you must you must.”
This collection contains various ‘voices’,
which are easy to confuse with the poet’s, especially in some
of the poems such as “Revision, World War II”. The book is a
richly nuanced, multilayered collection of voices that speak with equal
ease of “a wasteful war could buy/ healthcare for the nation,”
(“Backing the Charles”) or of “gulab jamuns soaked in red wine”
“In a Boston Night” also references Derek
Walcott’s In a Green Night and the poet’s own
engagement with Walcott in several ways: styles of writing, on craft, and as symbol
of the Establishment and the so-called School of “new formalism”
as well as his ‘quarrel’ with Walcott’s quarrel with Naipaul, which
is described in the long poem “Audience: Walcott in Boston”.
Persaud is also writing about his engagement with language (English
versus American English versus Caribbean English etc) and
In a Boston Night is packed with
allusions and inter-textual cross-references to other works, writers,
mythologies; and of course his favourite subject, Hinduism and/or
Indianness. Even a casual reader of Persaud’s poetry cannot miss this
element in his poetry. The third line of “In a Boston Night” refers to
“a Krishna-blue bulb.” There are several deeper references to
various aspects of Hindu philosophy and aesthetics.
Challenged at a conference of mainly Caribbean scholars at
the University of Miami to define his ‘Indianness’ manifest
at the center of his work, Persaud replied that if you took
Indianness/ Hinduism away from his work it could not exist,
that he could not exist. This is not unusual among poets and
writers; one would not understand a lot of Eliot without
Christianity. But for someone who has never been to India,
Persaud’s intellectual, philosophical engagement with India
defines his inner self and imaginative landscape.
In an essay entitled “Kevat:
Waiting on Yogic Realism”
Persaud defined yogic realism as a continuation of a
literary tradition going back centuries and which has at its
core the concepts of yoga. Yogic Realism, in a nutshell, in
the words of Persaud is “the application of the spirit of
yogic principles and forms, the application of Indian
philosophy and concepts, to writing...where the writing is
serving as a conduit or yoga for union with the divine
spirit/consciousness -- not yoga serving ‘art’.” This
concept of art and the imagination at the service of a
higher consciousness is not confined to Indian thought
though its philosophy is more congenial to such endeavors.
Reflecting on Persaud’s concern with life,
art, language, it is worth pointing out that when they come
together in words that achieve an unity with ease as in
“Christmas” where “… the Florida sun rubbing our heads/ like
Granny’s hand as she poured fresh coconut oil, in our hair…”
or when he urges Bostonians: “Do not grow older by a second/
do not let spears grow into leaves/ and goodbyes and the
rustling/ of dresses; a friction of summer trees.” (“Spring:
Toronto-Boston”). Here the images are free, unselfconscious,
not weighed down by the message.
Boston Night has many poems
dealing with what Persaud refers to as his “odyssey”
includinghis past life in Guyana and his travels through
North America. The poem, “Odysseys, My Love” depicts his
own journey away from home, his keeping faith: “I have kept faith, I tell you – Ulysses’/
Nothing and Rama’s knowing Hanuman’s/ Chest, when opened to
Sita, is a flower/ Still scented and waiting your touch.”
Interweaving his own persona with that of the protagonists of Greek and Hindu
mythologies, placing himself alongside the Greek hero Ulysses
(Odysseus) and the divine Ram (Rama), Persaud is placing his personal
exile in context.
Unpacking his richly layered text would
indeed be a challenging assignment for students of literary
criticism. For readers who simply enjoy words, settle for not wishing to
‘understand’ the meaning of everything, I direct them to “Her Dancing On
Leaves: Re-reading Palace Of
“An exile is always lonely, I would/ call after your back,
we tend to look behind once/ in a while. I head outside
instead, the Boston snow/ like white sands on the edges of a
tropical forest –/ I went there once, enchanted. I loved –
was born there –/ a shout rang out. We died and yet we lived
and lived again.” The nature of exile, the role of language
and poetry in defining a new personal identity are common
among creative writers and thinkers, but more so among
exiled poets. Poetry is not only the way home; it is also a
way of coping with the loneliness of exile.
Inspired By Love, Politics
Sasenarine Persaud spends
his days working as an analyst for a major banking firm.
The job is a paycheck, he said. Writing poetry and fiction
is his passion.
Persaud, 51, was born and raised in Guyana, where political
tensions inspired him to begin writing. He spent years as a
working writer in Canada, winning awards such as the Ontario
Arts Council Award for Fiction and Poetry. He then moved to
the United States, where he found it difficult to support
himself by art alone.
Persaud has published two novels, a book of short stories and seven
books of poetry. His latest poetry collection,
In a Boston
Night, was published by TSAR
publications and is available at all major bookstores.
Persaud lives in New Tampa.
When did you start writing?
I have been dabbling with writing since I was a teenager. I
got started, without realizing it, by writing to various pen
pals. I just kept writing.
Growing up in Guyana, Indian culture and life were
trivialized, ignored, made invisible. As a teenager, I saw
this. This, and the study of English literature, helped me
see how writing could be used to record the culture and
lives of the Indians.
Did you study writing?
I have a master's in creative writing from Boston
What inspires you?
Love, politics, the world in which I live, everything around
me inspires me, especially the quirks in society: the
environment, nature, art, literature, science, space, issues
of race and politics. I have a poem on my Web site and blog
www.poets-and-co.blogspot.com/ on President Barack Obama and
race which would not be popular. As a poet and a writer,
truth, not popularity, concerns me.
What is the most challenging aspect of trying to make it as
I write because I have to write. I will write, regardless of
whether there is recognition. In many ways, I have made it.
My work is taught and studied in schools and universities in
the Caribbean and in several colleges and universities in
the U.S. and Canada.
How much time are you able to dedicate to writing?
I have a full-time job. I write around this job. I generally
write in the early mornings. I leave evenings for e-mails
and correspondence. But this is not a strict rule. I don't
set myself a specified amount of time every day when I have
Are people at your day job surprised to learn you write?
Most have been. Many are very surprised at how much I have
Did you enjoy the book signing?
This was a first. I've never been to an author event without
reading from or formally talking about my work. It was good
to talk to other authors. Overall, it was a positive
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Believe in yourself. Live life fully and consciously. Read
widely on every topic, and above all, write. Don't be afraid
of your voice, and don't be afraid of your vision, even when
it goes against conventional thinking on writing and
A native of Guyana, Sasenarine
Persaud of New Tampa is an author of 10 books of fiction and
poetry. He has worked as a writer in Canada before moving to
the United States. Among his awards include the K M Hunter
Foundation Award, the Arthur Schomburg Award and fellowships
from the University of Miami and Boston University.
The crucial point of the book of poems is Boston but it's
fascinating how Persaud also brings in Mumbai, Tampa,
Toronto, and Georgetown into the mix. In a Boston Night
is a must-read for fans of Persaud and a welcome read for
those new to this talented poet.
— Nitish S. Rele
Among the most recent new
books of poetry is In a Boston Night poems by Guyanese
poet and fiction writer Sasenarine Persaud, published by
TSAR in Canada in 2008. It was one of the many launched
in Georgetown in August during Carifesta’s book fair.
The poet took part in the festival and personally
presented his book in which there are repeated
references to his long absence from home. There are
several other allusions, intertextual cross-references
to other works and writers, to mythologies and to one of
his favourite subjects − Hinduism.
Persaud left Guyana a long time ago and joined a growing
community of migrant Guyanese writers in Canada, mainly
Toronto, before moving to other places, including
Boston, USA and Tampa, Florida where he now lives. This
collection comes after nine other books of poetry and
fiction, and after his receipt of such awards as the KM
Hunter Foundation Award and the Arthur Schomburg Award.
In a Boston Night has many poems dealing with what
Persaud refers to as his “odyssey” including his past
life in Guyana and his travels through North America.
These are mixed with the cross-references such as
‘Audience: Walcott in Boston,’ various hints of Naipaul,
engagement of the Ramayana and other Hindu texts, and
autobiographical pieces such as ‘Half A Life’ (which has
its own faint echo of Naipaul). This poem, ‘Odysseys,
My Love,’ is a very good representative of the
selections in the book because it includes many of the
things Persaud does in several other poems there. He
makes use of his own journeys, his absence from home,
his religion, interweaving them with the Greek and Hindu
mythologies, often placing himself alongside the Greek
hero Ulysses (Odysseus) and even the divine Ram (Rama).
Ulysses finally returned home after twenty years at war
and wandering at sea. After victory in the Trojan War,
he was punished by the vengeful sea god Poseidon, who
was angry at the defeat of Troy. He was made to wander
for ten years, enduring and surviving many dangerous
adventures in his attempt to sail home. Ram was
maliciously exiled from his rightful inheritance of the
throne of Ayodhya and spent fourteen years in the
forests and other lands. He endured adventures
including the battle against Ravan (variously Rawan,
Ravana) and the rescue of Sita from abduction. Ram’s
triumphal return to his kingdom in Kosala, Ayodhya, is
celebrated at Diwali.
Interestingly, Ulysses’ heroic story is narrated in the
great epic The Odyssey while Ram’s heroic exploits are
told in the epic Ramayana, a book sacred to Hinduism.
Ulysses survived with much help from other gods who
helped him fight Poseidon. Ram received immeasurable
assistance from Hanuman and other deities against Ravan.
Persaud places his own migrations away from home in a
similar context, describing his autobiography as an
odyssey. But while there are nostalgic references to
Georgetown and Guyana, where there is also a place
called Ithaca, he also alludes to the crossing of the
Kala Pani. Persaud is, therefore, also talking about an
exile from India. He mentions the hazardous leaving of
India alongside Ulysses and Ram’s hazardous labours,
including details of the attack against Ravan and the
torching of the city state of Lanka. The poet, then, is
concerned with his having been torn away from the seat
of his religion, the heartland of Ayodhya.
In this poem, he keeps repeating that, despite
separation, he has “kept faith.”
Odysseys, My Love
It was easier for Rama
Or Ulysses, whom you may know
Better – I too have kept faith
With Ithaca having never returned
In an hundred years or more, Hanuman –
Who? That one you may call
“the monkey God” was neither monkey
Nor man: my tail lit by a king’s pride
Is torching a city, the yellow-red flames
Visible across the gulf. Why did we
Or was that I, I, I – thin lipped men
Promising forests teeming with parakeets
Beyond the Kala Pani. Ulysses consorted
For seven years with swine loving women
Made music on calypso’s bed. Still
I have not returned after fourteen years
And you will now understand that
What is our Ithaca, where our Ayodhya?
Georgetown, where red samans fall
on Main Street, and cassia-golden rods
rival the midday sun, and sugarcane
swaying to the dholak of coconut palms,
where the sweeter-than-honey sapodillas
ripen and fall on an evening
bed of waiting toast leaves?
I have kept faith, I tell you – Ulysses’
Nothing like Rama’s knowing Hanuman’s
Chest, when opened to Sita, is a flower
Still scented and waiting your touch.
This keeping of faith that is repeated in the poem has
other meanings. The poem, after all, is a love song: to
a woman, but also to Guyana? to India? to the Hindu
faith? He refers to the love between Ram and Sita and
hints at that between Ulysses and his wife Penelope. In
circumstances of great adversity, including their
separation and what happens as a result of it, Ram kept
faith with the faithful Sita, never giving her up. In
fact, the story of Ram and Sita is one of faith, purity
and conquest of good over evil.
Similarly, in twenty years of separation, the Greek
couple kept faith with each other. The poem makes
reference to a few of ULlysses’ adventures, including
his encount-er with the sorceress Calypso who seduced
him and turned his men into swine. He could have
continued his surrender to her sweet charms and remained
on the island “making music in her bed,” but he was
resolved to get back home to his wife and managed after
a while to devise a way of outwitting her.
But the poet missed an irony. While Penelope kept
unshaken faith in her husband, fighting off powerful and
importunate suitors, he showed little trust in her.
When he finally returned home, he did so in disguise,
sneaking up to spy on her, to make sure she had been
faithful to him all those years.
Quite out of line with the rest of the poem, and quite
unnecessarily, Persaud betrays a trait common in his
early poems but much less evident in these, his later
ones. It has to do with unhelpful detail, such as his
mention of “Ulysses, whom you may know better” and
“Hanuman − Who? That one you may call the monkey God”
in a kind of subtle contemptuous reference to western
ignorance of Hinduism as against a common embracing of
the Greek myths.
The poem ‘Odysseys, My Love’ places the poet in these
mythical, archetypal (heroic?) contexts. He exploits
the use of the term ‘odyssey,’ which is derived from
ULlysses’ other name, ‘Odysseus’ and well settled in
normal English usage to articulate a personal journey, a
personal faith, to articulate issues of migration and
‘exile’ in a love poem.