Celia Sorhaindo: Guabancex

H2.5AZ (Strong Ties, Galvanized)

They are building me a new roof since the old one went

with the wind—category 5 +. I have learnt a whole new

vocabulary—purlins, rafters, wall plates, hurricane ties.

It is chaos on top of chaos—the necessary brutal breaking

down to build back better, stronger—mitigate against future

blows they say will come more frequently—ferociously unpredictable.

I look up—sturdy wet new treated pine above my head, see the thicker

rafters—bird beaked—sitting tied down on edge of anchored plate.

They say you must have such cuts and ties to firmly lodge onto ledges—

the price to be secure—to be more—permanent; more knowledgeable?

My chapbook Guabancex is about that traumatic and emotionally complicated period when in 2017 Dominica suffered a category five devastating hurricane, Maria. Poetry was my way of working through some of that mental chaos. I wanted to think more deeply about some of the complex nuances I observed and experienced; all the issues bubbling under the surface that a devastating event can uncover – but also the love, resilience, empowerment and community spirit that was there too. Often, what gets portrayed on the news when a catastrophic event occurs, can be very different to the lived reality of the people going through the experience, so I also wanted to record some of that in poetry.

I try to pay attention to what’s in the space , what words I keep seeing over and over again.  I had been coming across articles and videos about the indigenous Taino people of the Caribbean region, and their female deity Guabancex, associated with all natural destructive forces, including hurricanes. She’s known as “one whose fury destroys everything”, but she’s not only the goddess of disaster, she’s also the goddess of rebirth and renewal. Even though there is no evidence the Taino reached as far as Dominica, it seemed an appropriate title for the book and a way of honoring the Taino memory and the memory of all the indigenous people who perished due to colonization. We still have an indigenous population here in Dominica, the Kalinago, and people often aren’t aware of this. So, I felt it important, especially  in terms of climate change that the knowledge indigenous peoples seemed to have about weather patterns, where to build your house, how to build your house — we can learn their knowledge in these current times.

Immediately after the hurricane, there was no headspace for writing, it was mentally and physically an exhausting time, and we were just concentrating on the day-to-day basics of food, water, rainproof shelter etc.  It was six months after that I really began writing the poems in earnest and about one year after that I sent a few to Papillote Press for publication consideration. The final book was officially published in February 2020. Writing the poems was empowering and cathartic and it felt amazing to see something aesthetically beautiful, come out of the devastation of the hurricane. I agree with Kamau Brathwaite that art can come out of catastrophe. We had a physical book launch in Dominica, then the pandemic really kicked in, the lockdowns etc…

I never consciously have an audience in mind when I’m writing, because it makes me prone to self-censor. Hopefully during these testing time, readers will be able to relate to the themes of resilience of the human spirit, how we survive and over time heal from traumatic events, the importance of community, family, friends, faith, compassion and love; and the ‘collateral beauty’ of Guabancex.

Everything impacts my writing because for me writing is not separate to life. The world feels completely unstable and unpredictable; every area of life has been affected; I am just trying to stay balanced and healthy. I have a full-length collection of poetry which will hopefully be published at the end of next year.

I don’t have a formalized writing process. I read a lot and take a lot of notes. Sometimes I use writing prompts and writing exercises to get poems started; sometimes I work to deadlines for journals and competitions; sometimes poems subconsciously arrive unbidden which I always give thanks for and I use the craft tools I have learned to make them more potent. But every day, even though I am not writing, I am probably doing something related to my craft.

I’m a bit hesitant about giving myself a “writer” label, because there are so many expectations and assumptions as to what “a writer” should be and do and I’m just not sure yet how much of that world I want to be a part of. At the moment I am just enjoying having this creative outlet in my life; it is one of my health and wellness activities. I just want to keep enjoying the creative process, keep courageously experimenting and exploring with words and my imagination.

I have many quirks and idiosyncrasies but nothing in particular I think you should know.

 a poem filled with words not metaphors

im not going to sit here and paint a heavy hurricane picture for you to

visualise in pretty clever metaphor words will never carry you to what

its like actually lets just leave it like that words cannot ever take you

there at all although to be fair Mum is always saying kannót is a boat

all word is metaphor

this will never be real

in a billion years i dont

want some reader to come here think

this world of words was literal think

this blank ink represents black feeling

or that this white page feels any thing

this is what the hurricane left me with

go out and experience it for your self

metaphor the world however you want



Instagram @tropicaltiesdominica


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