Letitia Pratt recently obtained her Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature from the College of the Bahamas. An avid reader of fantastic fiction, most of her writing navigates the existence of black (feminine) bodies within that genre and draws heavily on stories within Bahamian folklore. Her themes often explore the function of art and literature within the Bahamas, and her most recent published work, ‘A Scene (of Two Lovers Contemplating Suicide)‘ discusses the concept of liminality within artwork, and how it’s the ability to occupy multiple spaces creates an active exchange of ideologies.
This Fresh Milk Residency that I was awarded is truly an invaluable opportunity, and I am immensely grateful to be here. When I received the acceptance letter, I knew its weight would be something that haunted me if I decided to let this residency slip through my fingers. So I prepared to make this trip, driven by the…feeling that this June, this residency is where I am supposed to be.
As I landed in Barbados late Sunday afternoon, I was immediately overwhelmed by the spiritual energy of this place. It was bright and rushed over me like rain water. I came here intending to write poems of a woman and her lover, but I am letting the piece run away with the aura of this island. I let it go freely, allowing the words to find themselves on their own, and soon, my protagonist began to show herself to me.
The poetic narrative that I am writing centers around a Hag Woman (or the Ole-Higue, the Soucouyant, the Loogaroo) that my grandmother told me stories of just to frighten me as a child. Prior to my arrival here, my research on this character focused primarily on what the legend meant to Bahamian women in particular. However, as she found her words, the character began to reflect the feminine resistance to the silencing that patriarchal religions (read: Christianity) have enforced on African women over centuries of colonization. I began researching the religious origins of her story and discovered that the Hag character is a woman who holds great spiritual power. It is appropriate, then, that I write of this woman in a place that is enveloped in great spiritual energy.
The misogyny reflected in the relationship between the woman and her lover, then, intensifies if one considers the religious (read: Christian) demonization of the feminine. The Hag Woman’s reputation reflects the effort of the patriarchy to proclaim that non-Christian feminine religious symbols and people (i.e. cats, witches) are inherently evil. Presently, I am still researching the religious role of the Hag character in African religion, and every so often, Katherine or Annalee would silently place a book on Caribbean myths and religions beside me as I am lost in thought about the Hag Woman and her words.
Katherine and Annalee have been so helpful and accommodating during my welcome here that I hardly realized that the week went by. I am thankful for their support and really admire the artistic community that they have created here at Fresh Milk. Hopefully, the wisdom that I gain here from them both, the other artists, and the spirits of this place will be reflected in the piece as I write.
This week went by as quickly as it came as I further explored my project. I found myself deep in search for the Hag Woman’s voice. The words were coming, yes, but trickling slowly. This character is taking her time forming herself, and I am letting her take all the time she needs! I spent most of my days at the studio, sketching her out in my mind. She forms like a cloud, and I reach for her, but she disappears between the cracks of my fingers. Needless to say, this project is taking quite a while to materialize.
As I continued working, I contemplated the effects of trauma on my protagonist. Last week I thought about the silencing of feminine experiences under the patriarchy and I thought I’d make it a goal this week to tap into the communal trauma that this fosters. The Hag Woman, while tapping into the powers of her femininity, is responding to this trauma.
These thoughts were inspired by my sit down with Karen Lord (who was gracious enough to do so and learn me some things) who offered an interesting perspective on folklore and trauma. Trauma inspires folklore, and while some draws from spiritual roots, they are responses of a community to explain a shared traumatic experience. What this conversation prompted me to think of is what trauma could inspire a story about a lady who strips her skin at night and terrorizes the town.
I am still developing this idea and by no means is this project complete. Currently, it is not only responding to the traumatic silencing women face because of the patriarchy, but it is also growing in the direction of responding to the specific type of misogyny that black women endure because of their own blackness. This is a community of people that experiences a particular type of misogynistic violence on the basis of their skin. Consequently, I want my protagonist to embrace the power of her skin: instead of “running away” from it, she uses it as a tool to absorb her power (sunlight) so that she can transform into a glorious ball of fire during the nighttime.
This project will take a little more time than I imagined to complete itself (I came here with a plan, I promise) but fortunately, I have the brilliant company of Katherine and Annalee to discuss these ideas with. Even more fortunate is that I have the solitude of the studio, where my thoughts have all the time in the world.
This week, I went exploring. Stir crazy from the isolation of my own head, I decided to give myself a break and travel all over the island. I thought it would be good to do this because I was having trouble formulating the narrative of my poem, and a break was necessary to gather my thoughts.
My week started off with an island tour that Natalie McGuire took Nyugen and I on. We were able to watch the island come alive through her lead. With good company, I allowed the spirit of the island to speak to me. We explored caves and cavernous cliffs that overlooked the sea at the east and north points of the island. It was a beautiful thing to experience, and from the natural beauty of this place, I was able to find some melody to my writing. But it wasn’t quite there yet.
During the week I decided to go walking around in Bridgetown. The bustling activity of the place immediately overwhelmed me. It was quite different from the silent stillness of Walkers Dairy and reminded me of the hullabaloo of Downtown Nassau. Because of this, I found it kind of homey as I walked through the busy crowds that were ambling towards shops. I visited libraries, souvenir shops, produce markets, and stalls on Swan Street. The Bridgetown atmosphere was definitely invigorating, but did not unblock the words I needed for the piece.
Feeling frustrated I confided in Sonia Williams, a Barbadian performance artist, theatre director, writer, and educator in Theatre Arts at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, about the construction of my Hag Woman character. She suggested, because the character was so connected to the woods and trees of her environment, that I immerse myself in the woodsy areas of Barbados for inspiration. So one morning, pulling on my T-Shirt and very long jeans, I ventured into the woodsy trees that surrounded Walkers dairy. The stillness of these woods inspired some of the words for my poem. I was able to indulge in what my protagonist would be able to see when she transforms herself, and her voice came passionately.
When I left the woods I felt reassured. I knew the words were coming. But I needed a bit more help, and Annalee was able to provide some for me. Later on in the day, she gave me a copy of Everybody Knows I am Haunting by Trinidadian writer Shivanee Ramlochan. Her words were vivid enough to fuel dreams and spark my imagination. The story of the Hag Woman comes from the inspiration I gathered from reading this book. It came from those dreams.
After all the exploring, all the reading, my piece began to take on form. I was delighted. Again, I would like to thank Annalee and Katherine for letting me indulge in this amazing experience here at Fresh Milk. The Hag Woman and I are immensely grateful.