~Translated by Asoke Chakravarty
“To be black in America is to be endangered. To be the black woman is America is to be the unsung casualty”
African Diasporan poetry, which has a very different texture as compared to general American poetry owing to the influences of black music, speech, and vernacular, takes the readers to the unforgettable period in black history constituting the marginalization of the African-American people, slave trade, and the consequent movements that erupted as a result of years of torture. Kalo Kobita, which has been translated to Bangla by Asoke Chakravarty,contains the soul-stirring poetry by stalwarts in African-American Poetry such as Sojourner Truth, Frances Harper, Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson, Angelina Weld Grimke, Gwendolyn Brooks, B. Richards, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Jayne Cortez, June Jordon, Nikki Giovanni, and Alice Walker. The book, perhaps, intentionally, contains solely women poets, thereby giving a voice to the apparently voiceless, and presenting the heart-wrenching picture of oppression and torture by the worst-hit section of the populace.
The cover art of the book, as illustrated by Sudipta Dutta, is rather fascinating and true to the subject matter of the book. To this reviewer, it presents the image of a black woman punctuated with gunshots, as represented with circular drills in the hard bound cover. The immediate orange coloured paper that follows gives the disturbing image of blood- immediately taking the readers to the Thrice Marginalisation theory which states that a woman in any given society is marginalised three times over, on the basis of her race, class, and sex- thereby rendering the life of a poor, Black female the most useless. However, like any modern art, the cover art of the book is open to interpretations.
The key to understanding any form of literature is to know and truly be able to comprehend the socio-political, economic, historical, and other related contexts behind the same. The lack of a context may take the charm away from even the best of poetry. It is, perhaps, for this reinforcement of a contextual background in the minds of the readers that the book opens with a history of slave culture, from Africa to America, and presents a brief introduction to the Black Art Movement. The poems follow after this point with artistic infusions after non-uniform page breaks.
The importance of this book of poetry from the black women poets of the 20th century, who single-handedly succeeded in creating never-seen-before trends in the African American literary tradition, cannot be understated. The seething self-expression not only succeeded in the creation of a “self” and a “voice” for these women, but also escalated into a movement where more and more people identified with their poetry and thoughts. The poems powerfully express the lack of control that they had over their own bodies, and capture the need to have the most basic rights and respect. These poems also explore their longings, desires, and the grim realities that they were faced with.
The triple oppression and sheer objectification of a black woman as a breeding machine, or a “thing” to do unpleasant work, and the physical, emotional and intellectual impact this had on those very woman is almost palpable in the lines of these poetry. However, the most surprising thing that the reader may come across is the underlying resistance and hope even in face of the worst possible human condition. Poets like Frances Harper and Alice Ruth Dunbar-Nelson made poetry their tool to propagate the notion of equal rights for Black Women. These poets used literature to define themselves rather than being defined by white patriarchy, and to bring down the walls of racism, sexism, and classicism that women of their times and before them were plagued with.
By the end of the book, the readers are sure to undergo a state of catharsis on feeling how truly insignificant their own problems are against what they’ve just read.
‘আর ওরা যখন জঙ্গল কেটে ফেলতে থাকবে
তুমি আরও বৃক্ষরোপণ করতে থাকবে
শুরু করবে একেবারে গোড়া থেকে’
The sheer power of these poems is bound to move the readers in the most intense possible ways. The brilliantly done translation by Mr. Chakravarty is sure to make the readers feel a more personal connection with the poems. The book has been published by Spark Book Company, and distributed and marketed by Virasat Art Publication.