Music for Exile

by Nehassaiu deGannes


“What an incredible accomplishment! Nehassaiu deGannes has deftly and expertly crafted a book of poems that will shake you to your core, remind us from whence we came and shake loose our homesickness and shaky memory. This book made me weep.
— Cynthia Oliver, Choreographer, author of Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean


Format: Paperback
Published: February 2021

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ISBN: 978-1-946482-46-4 Categories: ,

Through history, as through memory, these wide-ranging, rapturous poems roam. What they gather— and what they set free— sing and grieve the miracle of ‘love’s small galaxy.’”

—Tracy K. Smith, former U.S. Poet Laureate

Music for Exile has an incantatory grace. This brilliant book sings out a powerful longing for refuge— ‘I cannot hum home,’ an evocation of the past— ‘no one can say gone is gone,’ and a concern for the future— ‘Dear brethren, The Future Might be Long, so decide what to take.’ DeGannes poetically excavates the map of Providence, RI and finds a palimpsest of history, in which place names give way to the legacy of slavery. The reader wants to travel backwards and forwards in time and place with the poems—from the Caribbean to Canada to Providence, from the wounds of childhood to a present day mercy for the self. This book marks the arrival of an important and compassionate voice in poetry.

—Sarah Ruhl, MacArthur award winner, 44 Poems for You

“How remarkable when a poet can seamlessly make an altar of languages and intuition then feverishly foot-stomp us toward sight and renewal. Such are the gifts in deGannes’ flaming songs of remembrance and refuge!

—Major Jackson, Absurd Man, Poetry Editor of the Harvard Review

Music for Exile is a dazzling ode to what one chooses to bear in times of migration. DeGannes’ sojourn through memory and cultural and personal mythology shimmers with candor and undeniable acuity.”

—Aleshea Harris, Obie award and Windham-Campbell prize winner, Is God Is

“What an incredible accomplishment! Nehassaiu deGannes has deftly and expertly crafted a book of poems that will shake you to your core, remind us from whence we came and shake loose our homesickness and shaky memory. This book made me weep. It is a revelation, as breathtaking and beautiful as Nehassaiu herself. It is a journey through landscapes – both interior and not; it coils and unravels. With an acute eye, and observations so detailed in her recollecting, all the details are like fine lace dusting our wrists on long velvet sleeves, or the tops of feet on long cotton madras skirts. She offers heartbreaking stories of pain and torment; of survival and forgetting, the forgetting necessary for survival and the slow recollection of those seeping through in safety. DeGannes doesn’t let you linger and savor nostalgia. She shakes it from you with a brutal story of abuse and/or violence. Then she turns around and soothes with an ocean breeze and the subtle flavor of sweet guinep. I did not want it to end.” 

— Cynthia Oliver, Choreographer, Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean

Music for Exile unfolds the panorama of diaspora, revealing that ‘Home / is a map salvaged purely from memory.’ Here, myth and history unite as deGannes illustrates the topography of loss, using dynamic forms and intensely musical lines to explore the complex inner lives of those closest to her, even when far in space and time, even when pain is part of the ballast. Music for Exile reconfigues saltwater as blood and sweat as hurricane to form the question, ‘Could I invent the drum?’ The answer is this very book. The answer is a resounding yes!

— Phillip B. Williams, Thief in the Interior, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award

“‘It seems we’re all traveling/the circumference of a creole skirt,’ yes we are when the journey’s map is Nehassaiu deGannes’ first book, Music for Exile. Sail a global Caribbean, where ‘home’ is Chile, Brazil, Iceland and Jordan. Take a moment on land with folks like Kamau Braithwaite, Harryette Mullen, Jay Wright, Kate Rushin. You ready to ‘blossom: sweet corn; raw pine; the plum kitchen cosmos’? Here’s your chance, a fresh voice, unafraid of labels or schools, formalism/experimental in the same poem. The same line! A vortex where politics and race, reportage, athletics, history, and etymology all whirl in the gyres of poetry. And love. DeGannes lives in the place where poetry is born— shout hallelujah!

—Bob Holman, The UnSpoken, Sing This One Back To Me

Trekking from the U.S. to the Caribbean and Canada— wind at their back, ear to the ground, listening for “the logos of what trembles underfoot”— the poems in Music For Exile syncretize a host of lyrical, received and invented forms to beckon a “mythic assemblage,” an aggregation of personal and historical losses, intimate and en masse. From walking up Canefield River to hearing a thief on the stairs in Philadelphia, from dredging the voices of New England’s enslaved to confronting familial grief, these poems trouble the ache, that “ironic hunger for home” when home is itself a vortex of violence. In poems of place, poems of encounter, domestic epics and epistolary calls, deGannes allows both the narrative and associative to limn the caesurae in one immigrant woman’s arc. The poems trace and retrace, they crossover, they “draw poison out” they “fissure desire” and proclaim “no one can say gone is gone,” enacting and inviting an expansive reckoning of all that has brought us here. From this, might be salvaged a radical sense of belonging, Glissant’s “knowledge of the Whole, greater for having been at the abyss.” Music For Exile is Nehassaiu deGannes’ first book-length collection of poems.

Nehassaiu deGannes was born in Trinidad & Tobago, grew up in Canada and spent time in the Middle East with her family. She studied English Lit at McGill (B.A.), African American Studies at Temple (M.A.,) earned an M.F.A. in Literary Arts (Poetry) at Brown, where she also uncovered a parallel passion for acting, and went on to train professionally at Trinity Rep Conservatory. Nehassaiu now acts Off-Broadway, regionally and internationally. Her writing has appeared in American Poetry Review, Callaloo, The Caribbean Writer, Poem/Memoir/Story, as well as two-award winning chapbooks, Percussion, Salt & Honey (Philbrick Prize,) and Undressing The River (Center For Book Arts National Award.) Recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Vermont Studio Center, Community of Writers, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and The James Michener Caribbean Writers Institute, Nehassaiu has taught at RISD, Goddard, Rhode Island College and, most recently, Princeton. She has been recognized with a Wall Street Journal national citation and a Berkshire Theatre Critics Award for her outstanding work as an actor. Nehassaiu lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Additional information

Weight 0.34 lbs
Dimensions 7 × 9 in