Chanel M. Sutherland

June 9, 2024

A Journey through Heart and Homeland: A Review of “The Mother Island” by Jacinth Howard

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“The Mother Island” by Jacinth Howard is a literary gem that resonated deeply with me, not just as a reader but as a Caribbean woman. This poetry collection is an eloquent exploration of the female experience, woven with rich imagery and a precision that evokes a profound sense of place and identity.

From the very first poem, Howard’s deft use of language transported me to a world that feels simultaneously familiar and mysterious. Her vivid descriptions paint the disorientation, displacement, and longing of those of us Caribbean folks living outside of our native countries with such clarity that I felt as though she was speaking directly to my soul.

I used to think I had lost myself,
Engulfed in whistling gales.
Swept away, like hurricane come,
Windswept hair and waterworks,
Wild, chaotic rooms in greyscale,
Scattered leaves, torn newspaper debris
Waiting to be kissed by order:
Re-embraced by a familiar island girl,
Beneath the harmony of the sun.

(Excerpt from “Oya”)

Howard’s poems are imbued with a profound sense of place, drawing on the rich tapestry of Caribbean landscapes, sounds, and scents to evoke a deep emotional response. The imagery is not just visual but tactile, auditory, and even olfactory, immersing the reader in a sensory experience that is both captivating and comforting.

One of the most compelling aspects of “The Mother Island” is its exploration of the multifaceted lives of women. Howard’s insights into the struggles, triumphs, and resilience of women are both poignant and empowering. She captures the essence of womanhood in a way that feels authentic and relatable, offering a window into the shared experiences that bind us together. Her poems are not just about individual women but about the collective spirit of womanhood, highlighting the solidarity that exists even in the face of adversity.

The themes of belonging and displacement are intricately woven throughout the collection, resonating deeply with my own experiences. Howard’s poetry speaks to the heart of what it means to be a Caribbean woman, caught between the love for a beautiful, unique homeland and the feelings of alienation that can arise from being away from it. Her words reflect the complex emotions of longing, pride, and sometimes sorrow, painting a picture of a home that is as complex and multifaceted as the people who inhabit it.

There is a musicality to Howard’s writing that adds another layer of richness to her poetry. Her verses often feel like songs, with a rhythm and flow that mirror the natural cadence of Caribbean speech and music. This musicality enhances the emotional impact of her poems, making them not just read but felt deeply within the soul.

Somebody suck
Two breaths out
From under muh nose
In two minutes flat
Muh eyes was close
And duppy done climb in

(Excerpt from “Horseman Pass By”)

In “The Mother Island,” Jacinth Howard has created a work that is both a tribute to the beauty and uniqueness of the Caribbean and a powerful commentary on the female experience. Her poetry is a celebration of resilience, solidarity, and the enduring spirit of women. As someone who appreciates the art of writing, I found this collection to be a profound and moving read that left a lasting impression on me.

“The Mother Island” is more than just a collection of poems; it is a journey through the landscapes of the heart and soul, guided by the skilled hand of a poet who understands the power of words. For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the Caribbean experience, or simply looking to be moved by beautiful writing, this collection is a must-read.

Get your copy of “The Mother Island”

About the Author

Chanel M. Sutherland is the winner of the 2021 CBC Nonfiction prize and the 2022 CBC Short Story Prize. In addition, she was awarded the 2022 Mairuth Sarsfield Mentorship, longlisted for the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and shortlisted for the Max Margles Fiction Prize. Chanel was also included on the CBC Books 30 Writers to Watch list for 2022.

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