Dancing Steph
Celebrating Phagwah/Holi (Hindu Spring Festival) in Guyana, 2014.

I have been in Guyana (South America) almost six months. Supported by a Canada Council Grant and on sabbatical from Memorial University (Grenfell Campus) where I teach, I came here to continue work on an in-progress manuscript I had begun in Jamaica (where I have lived and spent significant time)—entitled As Crows and John-Crows Fly. This was to be my next book of poetry.

I thought I wanted to write a book fueled by the historical connections between the former British West Indies and Newfoundland & Labrador. For several centuries, Newfoundland saltfish was imported into the former British West Indies, including Guyana, and, in return, Newfoundland received, amongst other goods, molasses and rum from the West Indies.

In particular, I wanted to write about the role of women in economic and cultural networks, especially about their roles in the saltfish-rum trade. However, it has only been in the past six weeks that I realized I am writing a novel, or some kind of extended prose work, about identity, gender and sexuality.

I am writing about subjects which appeared by surprise as I first compared these regions in terms of landscape and saltfish-rum history—what I now recognize as “props.” They seem to have been standing in the way of some other story that waits to be told.

I’m not sure what the story is yet, exactly, but I do know I quickly grew frustrated and bored with the idea that to engage with the history of saltfish would mean I would largely be writing about a history that effaces or makes no mention of women’s voices. It seems the story that is emerging is one which mixes a consideration of gender, sexuality and fundamentalist religion.