from Flagelliform 61: Tilted Away

Shane Book

copyright ©Shane Book 2014

I broke off the dangling shrub     and inserted it     above my ear.
Bent in at the belly     I sweated,     to fit     to try to fit.

The dangling shrub     was bruised
It moved a little move     and Lady Song-of-Jamestown
said in my hear: Why     is broken.

Spooked     I
leapt     a leafy thwart
into my thinking vessel     the aluminum canoe
and in my here said Lady Song-of-Jamestown:
“Why     its smelters long ago felled at The-Task-Is-
    Incomplete,     a falling
artist felling them     name of
who wears     crown of shells     partly concealing
a turban of layered light.”

I stared straight ahead,     paddling
My canoe walls hung with barkcloth     a giant dentalium
and four figureheads in lignified paste     (We watching).

The ivory one, called     Tapping-Out-of-Time.
And the dark muscular one,     Below-the-Galleon-Decks.
And the remembered one named,     Palm-Thatch-Floor.
And the little one called,     Fruit-of-the-Distant-Weep
    (mothered black,     from sleeping).

Lady Song-of-Jamestown     mending her fishnets
pulled the water-hook     from my hand.

Notes on the Poem

What clues will help us solve the mystery pulsing through Shane Book's Flagelliform poems, from his 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Congotronic? Let's find out more about the vivid word associated with the title of a series of poems in Congotronic. The adjective "flagelliform" means to be shaped like a whiplash; long, slender, round, flexible, tapered. This chillingly connects the poems to some of Book's stated sources for the collection: slave narratives and the diaries of plantation owners. The poet has also revealed in the notes accompanying Congotronic that some of the Flagelliforms are inspired by the West African epic of Sundiata (also known as Sundiata Keita or Sunjata Epic). Sundiata is an epic poem originating around the 13th century of Africa's Malinke people, descendants of the Mali Empire. The poem had a strong oral tradition from those early times, narrated by generations of griot poets, and then started to be gathered in written form in the early 20th century. Wonderfully, examples and insights into the story of Sundiata Keita and how he fought to found Mali and how those stories were conveyed abound, including this recent rendition: Read this Flagelliform excerpt aloud and its roots in the Sundiata oral tradition are loud, clear and draw you in to its fascinating storytelling. At the same time, gaze at it on the page or screen and you'll discover that Book has deftly melded oral and written traditions, by virtue of subtle and mischievous wordplay, including: "said in my hear" then "and in my here" ... grounding the words in place as well as time. The reader is enticingly invited to steer and turn one's "thinking vessel" to these words with one's full attention. As this reviewer of Congotronic expresses it: "Sometimes the words flow with a rhythm of a rap, other times they flow like cut-up, making the reader stop, think, and reorganize the words he read."

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