Book Review: All The Names Given – Raymond Antrobus


Posted 3 months ago in Book Review

All The Names Given

Raymond Antrobus

Pan MacMillan

“[sound of self divided]

[running]

[breath on paper]”

“Antrobus confronts an ancestry, even a familial name, fraught with the violent legacy of colonialism; travels between homes real, imagined, or long forgotten across continents and generations.”

It’s 6am. I sit silently in my city room, waiting for the world to wake up. I hear the rumble of the bin truck that woke me, as every morning, though these days my body wakes me in expectation of its arrival, pre-emptive irritation rousing me from humid, restless sleep. I haven’t yet prised the earplugs from my ears, but I hear it anyway, so etched is the sound in my morning mind. Perhaps I’d miss it if I moved to a quieter part of town, or if one day it failed to arrive? Just like I missed the sound of the football crowds when I first left home, the melody of inane commentaries on twenty-two grown men chasing a ball (and each other) around my parents’ living room. Why is it so hard to sit in silence? Did you notice that even this year, with no spectators in the stands, their roar was nonetheless amplified into our homes? Impartial this time, cheering for everyone and no one, a tinny celebration of a goal no one was there to see.

So not silent is the silence; I’ve given up on sleep. I open a book and begin to read. I don’t know this poet’s voice, haven’t heard him speak, but I hear him reading to me nonetheless. I hear his mother and grandmother and girlfriend and father have their say through his words, too. For this is not a book about silence; it’s a book about being heard. Following on from his acclaimed debut collection drawing from D/deaf experience, British-Jamaican poet Raymond Antrobus offers up All The Names Given, a continued investigation of language, (mis)communication, sound and silence. Punctuated with [Caption Poems] inspired by Deaf sound artist Christine Sun Kim, this is a collection which dwells in the spaces between poems as much as it does within them.

Indeed, space and place are this new collection’s key themes, too, as Antrobus confronts an ancestry, even a familial name, fraught with the violent legacy of colonialism; travels between homes real, imagined, or long forgotten across continents and generations; gets lost in love and lust and inherited memory; and shifts between forms and breathes into the space of the page. Personal and profound, there’s a tenderness in these poems, as Antrobus reflects on relationships past and present: the reappearance of a drink-addled father in grieving dreams; the intimacy of visiting the barber to get the same haircut once admired by a childhood teacher crush; an encounter at the chicken shop with an old friend. His tone isn’t sentimental, but rather startlingly direct. These are poems that want us to sit up and listen, to shake us out of silence and sleep. Fluid in form, yet grounded in perception, these are poems one hears on the page.

Words: Hannah Clarkson

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