Title: Pitch Lake
Author: Andre Bagoo
Genre: Prose poetry
Where I got the book: I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: A poetry collection divided into three distinctive parts. It includes a variety of themes, such as reflections around art, Trinidad’s history and its threatened ecosystem, and queer sexuality in a homophobic climate.
“Maybe loving is like ironing a shirt.
Only through heat and pressure does it yield
take the form which best fits.”
– “Monday” in Pitch Lake, Andre Bagoo
Andre Bagoo is a Trinidadian poet and journalist, and “Pitch Lake” is his third published book. This collection is divided into three parts – “Pitch”, “Black Box”, and “Lake” – which are all distinctly different. In “Pitch”, Bagoo places reflections around topics such as art and Trinidad’s history of slavery next to poems that respond to Trinidad’s disappearing fauna and threatened ecosystem. “Black Box” deals with queer sexuality, most notably reimagined through literary figures such as Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. At last, “Lake” is a series of prose poetry pieces that invite the reader to explore what’s hidden beneath the surface of what might seem immediately predictable.
This is an interesting collection that reaches widely. It varies in length and structure just as much as it varies in themes; some poems are bound by a certain rhyme and rhythm, while others again are completely experimental and free-form. Added to this there are longer pieces of prose poetry, including one (“The Art Teacher”) that to me personally read more like a short story than a poem. While the three separate parts might be dealing with different central themes, all of the topics discussed are repeatedly scattered throughout the collection, which adds to its overall cohesiveness.
I thoroughly enjoyed the poems revolving around Trinidad’s history and climate. While some of the meanings and references in these probably went over my head, I appreciate the vivid imagery and how atmospheric these poems were. There’s something very real yet faintly surreal present in them, they’re warm and fleeting and hard to grasp, but some of them do have the power to truly reel you in and take you places. There is a subtle drama in them that can be really captivating. I also liked the poems exploring queer sexuality and homophobia. I particularly loved the contrasts between the direct and the indirect; some poems are straightforward and completely explicit about their meaning, while others have a more subtle and secretive tone to them. Some of my favorite poems from the first two parts are “Poui”, “Contacts”, “Monday”, “The Beach House”, and “After Andil Gosine, Portrait No. 20 from (Made in Love)”, just to mention a few. These are good examples of vivid and sometimes striking imagery wrapped in absolutely beautiful prose.
My favorite part however was by far “Lake” with its pieces of varying length and content. I experienced many of them differently and some didn’t read like poems at all but instead more like diary entires, memoirs, and social commentary. I really enjoyed the longest piece, “The Art Teacher”, as it was so structurally solid and layered with a nice twist and open ending. Other notable favorites of mine from this part are “The Forgetful Friend”, “At the Gym”, and “Mistaken Identity”. I also feel like the shorter the pieces, the more of a punch they pack, which just demonstrates how talented a poet Bagoo is.
Overall this is a different, dreamlike, atmospheric, and thematically strong collection. It makes for a very interesting and insightful read, and the prose is beautiful and smooth. Definitely recommended for everyone who loves poetry!