I just finished reading The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion. I liked the book; it feels like an allegorical narrative in verse, punctuated by flashes of other (allegorical) verse. It is dense and multi-layered; I must admit I struggled with all the Biblical/historical/cultural references, and I like to read poetry out loud, but the use of Caribbean creole made things slightly difficult for me, although I got used to it towards the end. I had to look up words, like Quashie and Jah. When I got to the end of the book I discovered these notes that were unmarked inside the text. They explain, for example, the incident of the 28000 yellow rubber ducks which spilled all over the Atlantic from a container ship in 1992, ending up in shores all around the world, giving scientists useful clues about ocean currents. There was a poem about that. So it is also variegated in an entertaining way.
If I had to find one word describing this collection, that would be rupture, in a creative way of course. I can see why Kei Miller has been named one of the 20 Next Generation Poets: his work belongs to an entirely new and fresh and exciting tradition of literature. The story of the rastaman and the cartographer spans the entire book, so I will quote here two pieces that sort of stand on their own:
Swamp, back bush of Moneague, forgotten place until 2003. “Swamp” it was called, though nothing in that brambled landscape bore proof of name – nothing to say moisture, or damp that could set in furniture, no bones of alligators had been found. They cleared the ground and gridded it out for houses. One ram goat was duly killed, blood sprinkled as just-in-case blessing – as if them never know what Quashie did done know, that old magic measures don’t always work here. Today a Ferris wheel spins on the bank of a come-back pond. Boat rides are offered to visitors. Tour guides twang their Hs across wide water: Welcome ya’ll to Swamp – back bush hof Moneague. Forgotten place huntil 2003. Now, we har sailing hover Helizabeth Havenue. Now hacross Martin Boulevard; ladies and gentlemen, below hus in this deep is yards and yards hof grief, plenty plots of soak-up dreams (36-37).
My Mother’s Atlas of Dolls
Unable to travel, my mother makes us
promise to always bring back dolls
as if glass eyes could bear sufficient
witness to where she has not been,
the what of the world she has not seen.
She gathers them – cloth and porcelain
pageant – on her whatnot, makes them
stand regal on white doilies, waving
like queens from their high balconies.
Miss Columbia, Miss Holland, Miss Peru
are just a few who observe, unblinking,
the new world about them. I think
of how we arrange the dead like dolls,
set their arms in precise positions,
how we touch their unseeing eyes;
and how they lie so sweetly still
within their perfect boxes.
It may have been the dolls that taught
my mother how to die, how to travel
once again, how to wave goodbye (64-65).
My verdict on the Kindle: yes, it is convenient but I still prefer a printed book. It’s because I have difficulty navigating digital pages, which eventually results from an inability to juggle abstract ideas in my mind – the same reason why I’m hopeless in maths, I can’t play chess, I’m not good at philosophy and I enjoy empirical research more than theoretical stuff.
And apparently I’m not alone:
“Reading in print helps with comprehension.
A 2014 study found that readers of a short mystery story on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback. Lead researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University concluded that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”
Our brains were not designed for reading, but have adapted and created new circuits to understand letters and texts. The brain reads by constructing a mental representation of the text based on the placement of the page in the book and the word on the page.
The tactile experience of a book aids this process, from the thickness of the pages in your hands as you progress through the story to the placement of a word on the page. Mangen hypothesizes that the difference for Kindle readers “might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading.”
While e-readers try to recreate the sensation of turning pages and pagination, the screen is limited to one ephemeral virtual page. Surveys about the use of e-readers suggest that this affects a reader’s serendipity and sense of control. The inability to flip back to previous pages or control the text physically, either through making written notes or bending pages, limits one’s sensory experience and thus reduces long-term memory of the text.”
This is what I’ve been waiting for 🙂