I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara
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About the Author
Rajiv Mohabir is the author of The Cowherd's Son (2017, winner of the 2015 Kundiman Prize) and The Taxidermist's Cut (2016, winner of the Four Way Books Intro to Poetry Prize and finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry in 2017), and translator of I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara (1916) (2019), which received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant Award. His essays can be found in places like Asian American Writers Workshop's The Margins, Bamboo Ridge Journal, Moko Magazine, Cherry Tree, Kweli, and others, and he has a "Notable Essay" in Best American Essays 2018. Currently he is an Assistant Professor of poetry in the MFA program at Emerson College and the translations editor at Waxwing Journal.
Much has been written about the people who were brought-- at the end of the 19th and into the early 20th century-- to the British West Indian colonies to work the cane fields, but the voices of the workers themselves have been either silent or imagined by theorists and by their yearning ancestors. And if we do hear from them, it is usually, until now, about their very real tribulations as indentured laborers. Rajiv Mohabir's important translation of Lalbihari Sharma's poems, a literary expression that will challenge and alter our preconceptions of the early Indian worker in the Caribbean, is a rare and important glimpse into the life and mind of a man whose voice soars well above the position of laborer in someone's else's service. The cane field is and is not present in these poems, it is not the whole, the laborer is an individual, a learned person, humanist, poet, lover and dreamer; he is undefeated because of creativity and the richness of his mind. Mohabir's essay on how he himself came to poetry and to this work by Sharma, is itself an enlightening and delightful revelation. Thank you Rajiv, for this beautiful service to our past, and to our future.--Shani Mootoo
A suddenly recovered world of American spiritual folksong opens up here, in these celebrations by Lalbihari Sharma. Mohabir's "chutney" translations make the loss, longing, and hope, sting again. It is as though Guyana's cane plantations always harbored India's gods of the dispossessed. Here is Kabir's tradition, here Mirabai's, but native to the soil of the Americas: pungent, salty, hopeful, quick. These songs make your hair stand up. Mohabir gives them with a stirring account of translation as family-discovery. Gauitra Bahadur in a sharp essay tells the near-miracle of finding a lost manuscript, and with it, an all but lost history.--Andrew Schelling