Natasha Ramoutar is an Indo-Guyanese writer by way of Scarborough (Ganatsekwyagon) at the east side of Toronto. She is the author of Bittersweet (Mawenzi House, 2020), a volunteer with the Festival of Literary Diversity, and the co-editor of FEEL WAYS, an anthology of Scarborough writing.
For the wonderful folks at the Brockton Writers Series, I, Adrian De Leon, had the chance to interview one of my best friends and co-conspirators, Natasha Ramoutar, author of Bittersweet (Mawenzi House, 2018), and co-editor of FEEL WAYS: A Scarborough Anthology. When you, dear reader, get the chance to hear her read, you might experience what she calls the ‘dreamspace’ of poetry, and listen for yourself the type of ethereal and speculative mood threaded throughout her art.
The brief conversation that follows is but a sliver of the kinds of theoretical and literary brilliance that Natasha weaves into her writing. Much like her poems, she takes you across space and time, through literary traditions, then back to our hometown of Scarborough, Ontario.
While Bittersweet is steeped in history, and particularly histories of migration and empire, to me, your book is a masterclass in a subjunctive poetics—that is, in imagining, speculating, wishing, and dreaming up new possible futures. Many of your poems ask questions that make the fantastical seem possible, e.g. “Is there a way to fry accents into our doubles?” (26). How does the subjunctive mood enable you to invent new types of verses? And how does your current work continue (or not) the work of speculation that Bittersweet does so well?
While particular histories of migration and empire serve as the backbone of Bittersweet, the collection is also an exercise of collaging together a lineage when personal and historical archives may be lost or suppressed. I naturally gravitated towards the subjunctive poetics because it allowed me to go beyond the limits of reality and the constraints of linear time. It felt important to place many of these poems in what I have come to think of as a “dreamspace,” where inconsistent, conflicting, or hazy timelines and stories could exist side by side.
Outside of poetry, the subjunctive mood is something that I find myself most comfortable working within. My fiction work has always been speculative, in part because of my interest in folklore and urban legends. In my current poetry and fiction alike, I continue to use the fantastical to explore and reinvent familiar tropes.
What is it about writing from and with Scarborough, our hometown, that enables you to stretch your writerly (and our readerly) imagination across space, time, continents, islands, and oceans?
On many occasions, I have heard others describe Scarborough as a “microcosm of the world.” Inside this microcosm, the chorus of voices of the suburb come to harmonize. I describe it as harmonization because that is what I have felt with other Scarborough artists – there is always a willingness to support, uplift, and collaborate. This kinship is something that enables me to feel audacious enough to stretch my imagination and take risks in my writing that I wouldn’t be confident in trying alone. While Bittersweet is technically a single-authored book, I owe a lot to our writing community in its creation.
What poets, and what writers, from the many traditions and literary scenes you’ve read, do you consider as part of Bittersweet’s genealogy?
I am very grateful to have had many literary traditions to draw inspiration from during the process of putting Bittersweet together. Books like Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman, Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return, and Carrianne Leung’s That Time I Loved You – among many, many other works – gave me a foundation to dream up different parts of the poetry collection.
What kind of future writing do you imagine your book might enable, whether in our hometown, or among audiences you haven’t yet imagined?
In the same way that [the aforementioned] texts afforded me the capacity to create my collection, I hope that Bittersweet might serve as a catalyst to further work. For me, the biggest marker of success for this collection would be if someone read these poems, felt a resonance with them, and then were spurred to work on their own art. I would like Bittersweet to be one part of larger conversations.
Natasha Ramoutar visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, March 10, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Gavin Jones, Andrew Wilmot, and Laila Malik. Our guest speaker Jen Sookfong Lee addresses how publishing is hard to navigate for BIPOC and offers practical tips for managing the publishing process in her talk, “The Business of Publishing and Inclusion”.
Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.