Calazaza’s Delicious Dereliction
by Suzanne Dracius, translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson
In her polyphonic poems, Suzanne Dracius creates protagonists—usually calazazas, light-skinned mulatto women with red or blond hair—who fight like Amazons against racial and gender discrimination. Dracius’s voice is leaping and exalted, often sexually charged, and infused with allusions to Greek and Roman mythology.
Nancy Naomi Carlson has translated Dracius’s Exquise déréliction métisse, poems written in French yet including some Creole versions, and with Creole expressions sprinkled throughout. In French, this book was awarded the prestigious Prix Fètkann, whose judges cited the poet’s richness of language, with varied linguistic registers.
[Excerpt from “Subnigra Sum Sed Formosa”]
Incantatory, your lament ascends:
Nigra sum sed formosa.
“I am black, but beautiful,” dixit the Queen of Sheba.
What about those who are only subnigra?
What is there below nigra?
You beg for respect from the Other —
But which Other, for all that? —
To comprehend that you exist,
Crush the “ravet” with resolve,
Crush the “ravet” to the end,
Affirm your mixed descent.
O victory, let your song of songs ascend:
Subnigra sum sed formosa.
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“Suzanne Dracius’s reputation and renown have grown steadily over the years. Hers is an important voice in French Caribbean literature, one that deserves to reach as wide an audience as possible. The combination of literary sophistication, historical accuracy, and feminist valorization makes this work a literary and cultural landmark.”
—H. Adlai Murdoch
“How can we resist Suzanne Dracius’s bewitching book, her sorcerous verses, her gorgeous songs of the Caribbean’s painful colonial history, the horror transformed to beauty? We are swept deliriously as French, Creole, and Latin copiously flow in and out of one another, what she might call a poetics of ‘independence, cadence, and dance.’ Heir to Franz Fanon and Aimé Césaire, Kamau Brathwaite and Lorna Goodison too, Dracius of Martinique is a fierce griot who celebrates her ‘féte of flavors of mixed descent,’ a Calibana who sings of her Antilles’s ‘fervent métissage.’
We are awed by Dracius’s intellectual acuity, the speed by which the mythic collapses into the quotidian, then back again, the sonic playfulness of her pastiches of the Creole French and the Greco-Roman. We are indebted to Naomi Nancy Carlson who transported these verses into English with verve and piquancy, aural skill and consummate knowledge. We should give high praise to this expert translation of a formidable poet.”
—Orlando Ricardo Menes
“In dazzling hybridity, Suzanne Dracius dances with racial, social, sexual, and linguistic identities, bridging flavors and full-bodied figures of speech from the Latin and Greek to French and Creole, addressing friends, challenging categories and -isms, triumphantly celebrating her ‘frank Creolity’ throughout this jubilant collection of poems. Dracius is fortunate indeed in her translator, Nancy Naomi Carlson, who beautifully renders the dense word and sonic play Dracius trades in. The rhetoric here has ancient roots; the figures and issues are contemporary, compelling, and profound.”
— Sidney Wade
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