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Poetry preview: Rajiv Mohabir deconstructs identity

As a queer, Indo-Caribbean man who has lived much of his life in American cities that lack diversity, poet Rajiv Mohabir blends the different facets of his personality in his work to discuss themes such as violence, love and history.

The College will host Mohabir on Sept. 18 for a poetry reading that will feature works from his two collections The Taxidermist’s Cut and The Cowherd’s Son, among other poems.

Mohabir was not always comfortable writing about his identity, though it is a main focus of his poetry.

“It’s taken a long time for me to see beauty in my particular assemblages of identities,” he said in an interview with John Hoppenthaler of Connotation Press. “When I was younger I wanted an uncomplicated narrative, something easy and accessible so others could read me like a text. It was after I stopped praying to be white, to fit the norm, that I was able to envision life by using many eyes.”

According to Four Way Books, a publishing company that awarded the collection the Intro Prize in Poetry in 2014, The Taxidermist’s Cut is “a collection of twisted love stories-as-slits that exposes the meat and bone of trauma and relief.” Featuring passages from taxidermy manuals and erasure poetry, it deals primarily with violence and how it intersects with queer identity. In “Ritual,” Mohabir writes,

“…withdraw the marble box

from the dark. Inside is a sword.

Inside is a mantra that calls

blood to the skin

you never asked for.”

An excerpt from “Blind Man’s Whist” from The Taxidermist’s Cut (c)  2016 by Rajiv Mohabir. Appears with the permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.

In this selection, Mohabir describes self-harm in the face of discrimination. This self-harm is rooted in problems related to Mohabir’s own experience as a queer, Indo-Caribbean man with “skin [he] never asked for.” Mohabir uses words that relate to his Indian heritage to describe how the speaker’s violence has become a ritual. He writes about his knife as if it is a sword he stores in a ceremonial box, and describes the cutting as a mantra to imply that it is a repetitive action.

In The Cowherd’s Son, Mohabir focuses more on his caste identities and his family history. In “Blind Man’s Whist,” he writes about the British government’s failed promise to send Indian contract workers in the Caribbean back to India. He writes of this uncomfortable circumstance:

“The gamble is you never see

            your own assets, you try to drown

yourself in rum, stuffing English

            into your mouth and still allow

magistrates to fill you with silence.”

From The Cowherd’s Son, published by Tupelo Press, copyright 2017 Rajiv Mohabir. Used with permission.

By placing his personal history in context with wider social issues, Rajiv Mohabir’s poetry promises to bring a unique look at identity to the Hill.

Mohabir will perform his reading at 7 p.m. on Sept. 18 in Cheever Room.

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