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Front Cover - Providential - Poems by Colin Channer

Front Cover: Providential: Poems by Colin Channer
Photo Credit: Akashic Books

 

My Poetry Corner October 2018 features the poem “Clan” from the poetry collection, Providential, by Colin Channer, a novelist and poet born in Kingston, Jamaica. At eighteen, upon completion of high school, he migrated to New York to pursue a career in journalism. He earned a B.A. in Media Communications from Hunter College of the City University of New York. Father of two, he currently lives in New England.

When Channer was six years old, his father, a policeman, left the family, forcing his mother to work two jobs. After her daytime job as a pharmacist at a local hospital, she worked nights in a drugstore. Channer’s collection explores the violence of policing that ruined his father, their fractured relationship, and the challenges of being a better father to his own teenage son.

Channer’s teenage years contrasts with that of his American-born son. In his poem “Mimic,” he observes his son, born with the ears of a mimic: 

Makonnen, Brooklyn teenager
with Antillean roots
replanted in Rhode Island,
a state petiter than the country
where my navel string was cut.

After guiding his son through the roots of the civil war in Liberia – founded on the coast of Guinea / by ex-chattel – Channer reflects on his kinsmen in Jamaica.

How they discuss a slaughter
with ease, by rote,
never as something spectacular,
absurd. And I belong to them,
on two sides, for generations,
by blood. 

My kinsmen aren’t poets.
They’re cops.

Channer’s ancestral story begins thirty years after the abolition of slavery with the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion. In “First Recruits,” the poet relates how his mother’s ancestors had responded to Queen Victoria’s call for the formation of an improved police force, the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Morant Bay Rebellion - Storming of the Courthouse - Jamaica 1865

Morant Bay Rebellion – Storming of the Courthouse – Jamaica 1865
Painting by Jamaican Barrington Watson (1931-2016)
Photo Credit: National Gallery of Jamaica

 

Of those who came,
nine hundred plus were taken.
Sharp-eyes, big hearts,
plenty meat
between the blades.
Feet with arches. 

Walking proudly. Traitors
falling into place. 

In “Civil Service,” we meet the poet’s paternal grandfather, a man-boy of nearly twenty, who became a police constable because he lacked basic reading skills for employment at the Post Office.

But which colonial system
could afford to waste a fellow
like granddad:
obedient, simple-minded,
burly, color struck. 

They couldn’t trust him
with an envelope. They
issued him a gun.  

The featured poem, “Clan,” captures the legacy of slavery and colonialism in a small island nation. Rival clans wage war with each other. The clan shapes their lives and identity.

Every clan has its colors, its history, its foes,
Its limits, its ways of notching, who’s out and in. 

Every clan has its parlance, its secrets, its publics,
Its fables, its side deals cut with death. 

Survivors must grapple with the corrosive effects of violence – the mounds of buried hurt.

We belongers sieve the fragments
from the midden, make molds.
Shells. Shit. Skin. Seeds. Bone.

To read the complete featured poem and learn more about the work of Colin Channer, go to my Poetry Corner October 2018.

 

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