Rebecca's Reviews > The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion

The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion by Kei Miller
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bookshelves: poetry, postcolonial

This was the perfect poetry collection to be reading in tandem with A Brief History of Seven Killings. Like Marlon James, Kei Miller is a Jamaican writer who uses island patois and slang, and Rastafarian images and language, alongside standard English. Here he sets up (especially with the long, multi-part title poem) a playful contrast between the cartographer, emblem of civilization and unbiased science, and the rastaman, who takes an altogether more laidback approach to mapping his homeland:

“My job is / to untangle the tangled, / to unworry the concerned, / to guide you out from cul-de-sacs / into which you may have wrongly turned,” the cartographer boasts.

Rastaman counters: “the mapmaker’s work is to make visible / all them things that shoulda never exist in the first place / like the conquest of pirates, like borders, / like the viral spread of governments.”

As Miller put it when I saw him give the annual lecture and a reading at Reading Poetry Festival (October 2015), this is all about maps as colonial discourse.

I especially loved this take on the creation story: “In the long ago beginning / the world was unmapped. // It was nothing really – just a shrug of Jah / something he hadn’t thought all the way through.”

Most of the poetry is about Jamaica – its place names, its roads, its creatures – but one of my favorite individual poems is actually an unconnected one: “When Considering the Long, Long Journey of 28,000 Rubber Ducks” (on the same subject as Moby-Duck).

Here are two images I’ll take away to keep with me as I finish Seven Killings:

This is no paradise – / not yet – not this unfriendly, untamed island – // this unsanitised, unstructured island – this unmannered, unmeasured island; // this island: unwritten, unsettled, unmapped.

Welcome to de dread / circle of carnage – blade to blade, bullet / to bullet, body to body, this is our country.
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Reading Progress

October 27, 2014 – Shelved
October 27, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
October 14, 2015 – Started Reading
October 14, 2015 – Shelved as: poetry
October 14, 2015 – Shelved as: postcolonial
October 19, 2015 – Finished Reading

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