Fawzia Muradali Kane

Tantie Diablesse (2011)


Fawzia Kane’s precise and sensual poems range over Borgesian fantasies to historically informed evocations of the poet’s native Trinidad and Tobago. A society steeped in tradition, folklore and myth is brought vividly to life by Kane in poems like ‘Carnevale’: ‘We repaint our skins,/ tighten our masks… … We bind our smiles / with nets of silk’. There’s a sense of timelessness in her poetry, a fusion of past, present and the everlasting: ‘Your treads cause my life to unfold. / Sparked open by your breath’ ( ‘A Bao a Qu’).

Observations on the ongoing legacy of African slavery is a recurrent motif, as in the chilling ‘Douen’: ‘Children with feet turned backwards, / lost, and waiting with slow smiles /that linger cat-like after moving on’. Using her regional dialect and its scornful ‘Robber talk’ style of storytelling, Kane brings Tantie Diablesse, a 300 year old ex-slave, to our rapt attention. ‘La Diablesse’ is described in Caribbean Creole folklore as a devil woman who hides her corpse-like appearance behind a veiled hat and decorative apparel, and lures men to their deaths. ‘So the quicksand of lost hope has sucked you / in. … Come closer, /see how despair sews bells to my hat. /My kind knows death’s long punch line / and it is hilarious. …Step nearer still. Let me wheel /dance your life to shreds’ (‘Tantie Diablesse counsels’).

Shortlisted for the Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, this is a truly beguiling debut collection.

ISBN: ISBN 978-1-906742-41-6 Category:

Praise and Poems

Fawzia Kane is a spinner of tales and tall stories, sometimes in the mischievous and charming voice of Tantie Diablesse (the ageless spirit of an ex-slave who is part-healer, part-witch), on other occasions in the voices of the odd and bright characters who populate this book: Borges’s Imaginary Beings, The Mighty Sparrow (a calypso singer from the 50s), ‘La Cuentista Bonita,’ ‘The Douen’ (the lost souls of children who died before being baptized) and the poet herself, as a child growing up in Trinidad. In these rich and varied poems Kane resurrects ‘buried songs’ and their ‘dreams of disquiet’.
Dr Tamar Yoseloff

In ‘Angelus Novus’ Fawzia Kane considers Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History and writes: ‘Watch how she struggles/to make whole this growing mound/of debris.’. It’s a suitable epigraph for Kane herself, whose richly layered images — as unsettling and illuminating as they are beautiful and musically phrased — make their homes in poems whose architecture ranges from domestic to labrynthine, and whose language sings on the page with an unusual power and subtlety.
Wayne Burrows


An angel settles on the prow
of my pirogue. She dips her head,
then shrugs her shoulders to lift wings
that stay just so, as angels do.

The skin below her mouth is soft,
and folded over feathers filmed
with sand and silt, sievings from the flow
beneath us, where the Orinoco
mixes with the sea.

I wait, then watch
her break the water’s calm, for under
the surface she blossoms, her wings
unfurl to beat an ancient rhythm,
that sacred splendour, as she gathers
her flash of silver from the shoal.

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