Carmin Wong was born in Georgetown, Guyana, and raised in Jamaica, Queens, New York. She is pursuing a dual-title PhD in English Literature and African American and Diasporic Studies at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), where she studies transnational Black literature, with attention to spoken and written poetries
Autobiography for the body that won’t leave
“Autobiography for the body that won’t leave” is an homage to my beloved grandmother, who departed this earth last year in our home country of Guyana. I also give credit to my mother for making the bold choice to move with her children, leaving family physically behind. Because I am an extension of them, these poems grapple with the possibilities and impossibilities of shared challenges faced across generations and national borders.
The pieces in print and online for this Obsidian issue are a part of a larger collection I am working on, wherein the poems write back to empires that have used language as a tool to colonize and erase non-western cultures, linguistic traditions, and familial values. These poems follow the women in my life, including myself, to bring together collective and individual experiences of survival, loss, and celebration.
The poems I craft—either by spoken word or written language—are birthed from a spiritual practice of naming, listening, remembering, and (re)imagining. These poems call into question the impact of colonial history and observe language as a weapon of domination and control, but also as a tool of liberation and assertiveness. I turned to words, poetry to be exact, because I felt there was little agency given to the voices and experiences of women and girls of my culture and upbringing. In poetry, I found a way to combat the feelings I carried with me of alienation and insecurity, often tethered to stereotypes of “otherness” as a Guyanese-american immigrant. However, it wasn’t until my adult life that I was introduced to Caribbean poets like the late, great Kamau Braithwaite, whose words forged a path between reconciliation and recollection, between nation and “national identity”—the historical phenomenon, that is, of the transnational journeying, wherein one experiences, by birth or lineage, a forced departure, and a never-completed sense of arrival. I think it was then that I discovered my own quest to write about home(lands) as a demarcation and excavation of “belonging.” It was then that I saw myself in a tradition of orators and storytellers, whose orature and literature broke the silences they dreamt about breaking.
I still remember being a young girl sitting at the foot of my bunk bed, in my family’s house in South Jamaica, Queens, conjuring rhythmic lines into the air, how the intonations of my words echoed back to me like the Rocksteady and Reggae musicians my father blasted on the stereo every night or weekend. The first poets I believed in were Caribbean lyricists, who cried about heartbreak, spoke about disproportionate poverty in ghettos around the world, or rallied youths over a pulsating beat. It was, for example, Carol Gonzalez’s refrain “Don’t gimme no second-class love” that stuck with me through the decades, along with the Rastafarian musicians who turned their noses up to the west because they sought after and instilled a kind of harmony detached from the dystopia of western capitalism. These vocal artists taught me how to use words to describe the feelings ailing inside of me, how to exhale and release a poem in public, and how to search for the song stuck in my diaphragm. Through language I found the courage to bemoan any expectation that this breath and body is not all mine.
Later, I found favor with Dub musicians and poets, who summoned my ears with their playfulness, conviction, and tonality, the gurus who took up space and chanted songs, sometimes without instruments. These poets were evocative; they challenged everything american writing had taught me about line breaks with a slight cursive in their registers. When they tapped their feet or held onto rhymes like an eight-count stuck in the back of their throat, they proved to me that the tongue and body are vessels for carrying memories. Along with the sonic qualities of Dub Poetry, I always took a liking to how these spoken word poems, and poets, highlighted unifying experiences of Afro-Caribbean peoples across the diaspora.
Still, even in spaces where Black history, culture, and voices are celebrated, it has always been apparent how Black women, Black queer women, and those who take on a myriad of marginalized identities, like myself, have been erased or minimalized from public accessibility and acceptance. Therefore, my poems are also greatly influenced by Black feminists, such as Ntozake Shange, Sonia Sanchez, June Jordan, Shauna Morgan, and DaMaris B. Hill, to name a few, who are concerned with exploring silences and interrogating systems that have trivialized the experiences of Black and brown bodies.
For me, writing is the responsibility to take up space and humanize our conditions. It is the audacity to mobilize from truth and arm ourselves with collective power.
Carmin Wong was born in Georgetown, Guyana, and raised in Jamaica, Queens, New York. She is pursuing a dual-title PhD in English Literature and African American and Diasporic Studies at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), where she studies transnational Black literature, with attention to spoken and written poetries. A graduate of Howard University, Carmin earned a BA in English with a minor in playwriting from the Chadwick Boseman College of Fine Arts and was inducted into the Sigma Tau Delta International English Society. She holds an MFA in poetry writing from the University of New Orleans, where she served as Associate Poetry Editor of Bayou Magazine.
Her poetry has received recognition from the Academy of American Poets, and she has been awarded grants by Poets & Writers, Jeremy O. Harris, and The Bushwick Starr. Carmin has received fellowships from The Watering Hole, Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University, (IRT) Institute for Recruitment of Teachers at Phillips Academy—Andover, and the Cooper-DuBois Mentoring program at Penn State. Recently, she joined the Wild Seeds Writers Retreat, sponsored by the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY, and her research has been supported with a grant from the Africana Research Center at Penn State.
Carmin’s poetry has been broadcasted on WRBH: Radio for the Blind & Print Impaired and featured in Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, The Quarry, Sou’wester, Xavier Review, Antenna.Works, and elsewhere. She has performed at Lincoln Center, Scholastic auditorium, and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Her playwriting debut took place in 2018 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She is the co-author of the 2021 choreopoem A Chorus Within Her, produced by Theater Alliance