The peculiar dichotomy that is evident in Anatomy of a Scream (Pudding House Press, 30pp, 2007) suggests there is a beauty and redemption in the inevitable sufferings and tribulations that are seemingly our birthright. The work as a whole is modern and edgy, and typifies a pre-apocalyptic view of humanity as it tethers on the brink of sanity.
This tenuous link between sanity and insanity is represented by a protagonist who struggles to come to grips with the terror of her past, cajoled as another expendable component of a bleak, dark and disinterested cityverse where struggle is seemingly amplified. Take this from “Storm in an Old Tin Cup”:
Lyric crossed St. John’s
against blaring traffic
and the whirling stream of air, against the farce of space and the derelict human
lying outside the context
of a local newsstand.
Gilkes suggests we are born into the world screaming, temporarily pacified by our misconceptions, only to be rudely awakened to the reality of vacuity and the coldness of a modern ideology that chokes us to a stifling loneliness. Her language is sparse and tempered as a heartbeat; as in “Aftermath,” it is raw yet poignant and as pungent as a placenta, funneling through the brain like a freight train through a cane field, with unexpected twists that act like rickety potholes not to derail us but keep us focused and in check:
What about those nights
she did fall asleep
and the lizard hounded her
with a saw-toothed grin
while the stars that bore witness
sided with the lizard
and pretended to see nothing,
touchy because she had scorned
their inexact pieces?
The originality in the use of language is refreshing as well as the mishmoshing of metropolitan landscapes with island landscapes, on both physical and mental plains. It’s like Gabby doing hip hop or if Edvard Munch was a Bajan Yankee. And it works. Gilkes skillfully prepackages a shrinking global village via the reality that for an increasing number of us our identity is not simply defined by an island upbringing but by a number of extraneous factors. The code switching, dichotomy and sparseness evident in Anatomy of a Scream are testament to the void created and the disparity that exists as a result of the indelible need to assimilate these experiences.
The overall tone of the collection—a long poem, really—is undeniably bleak but hearkens to the contemporary notions of search for self and purpose that is a leitmotif in modern art. The sense of suffering imbued from the text brings attention to the plight of modern man who, though advancing on some levels, seems increasingly alone and susceptible to the ravages of sanity/ failure/ heartbreak/abuse and self-aggrandizement.
Working with ancient traditions, many texts and sages promote the confrontation and embracing of suffering as a sure path to enlightenment and understanding. So, then, the selfhood becomes a matter of choice and decision. What shapes you? Who are you? And why? These are important questions that may be interrogated through the work, specifically in light of the expanding notions of what constitutes national identity within Barbados’ cultural panorama (not to mention that of other nations). The vibrant spoken-word scene affirms this not by confronting the written word but ignoring it completely; existing in an improvisational, off-the-cuff literary environment that arrests the organization and crafting evident in words on the page. Gilke’s work, however, with its specific play on language and sensibility to sights and sounds, links arms with the spoken-word practitioners in its vibrancy. The central character, maligned by repeated rape and abuse, constantly negotiating treacherous physical and mental landscapes, speaks to the depths of angst experienced by burgeoning generations to forge new paths. Indeed, to own their own scream.
This review first appeared as "Like Gabby doing hip hop" on June 15, 2010, at artsetcbarbados.com.