Place de la Nation

Jason Allen-Paisant

For Ahmaud Arbery

You leave the house and head to the gym. You ride the metro.You listen to some music. You read a novel                  try to act coollike you belong here      you’re so FrenchYou travel in the underground     going from side to side of the cityThe darkness helps    the white noise in a crowd                  The crowd must be thickor you will see your body                  raising suspicions by walking                                     you do not want thatBut then you get to another part of the city                  and re-emerge, and you’re hit with images againof yourself in the space, and yourself                  is two beautiful dark-skinned childrenjust innocently sitting on a bench waiting,not bothering anyone, just waiting &                  you want to weep because they are so beautifuland nobody should be wrong to beso beautiful in this world& that beauty lies there knowing that one day       it will liftitself from their bodies                  like a questionYou mourn the future loss of this being,so full in space, so occupying, so sitting before youon the bench. You re-emerge into this liferaising suspicions again.                                                                *They’re from Mauritania they say, brother and sister,     They sit there on a park benchalong the busy way &look at me      with doe eyes    a look of discoveryin the fine grain of skin, the perfect lines of teeththe stillness, as if no language had yet been made                  as if the first day on earth.                  They look into this worlddeciding whether to enternobody should be wrong to be                  so beautiful in this worldAnd he’s running right now...There he goes right now!                                                                *So you try      not to act too muscular       not to look too big                  muscular looks very threatening on your skinyou want to walk hard, jog hard, be hardbut today you think about your motheryou owe it to her to protect her from this     what you can do     what can be done to youyou’ve just come out of the gym      you feel fityou feel strong     you feel large and full of bloodbut you small up yourself     and keep going                  you read endless messages about your bodyyou’re consuming your bodyAll the images fill youAnd he’s running right now...There he goes right now!

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Jason Allen-Paisant is a Jamaican poet, writer and academic who works as an associate professor of Critical Theory and Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. He’s the author of two poetry collections, Thinking with Trees (Carcanet Press, 2021), winner of the 2022 OCM Bocas Prize for poetry, and Self-Portrait as Othello (Carcanet Press, 2023), a 2023 Poetry Book Society Choice. His non-fiction book, Scanning the Bush, will be published by Hutchinson Heinemann in 2024. A critical monograph, Engagements with Aimé Césaire (Oxford University Press), is also appearing in 2024. Jason holds a doctorate in Medieval & Modern Languages from the University of Oxford and is also an alumnus of the École normale supérieure (Ulm). He lives in Leeds with his wife and two daughters.

Manchester, Greater Manchester

"Absolutely astonishing!... Self-portrait as Othello is a masterful second collection: part memoir, part self-invention, part lyrical interrogation of the self as 'other'. These poems force us to reconsider 'the black male body', its presence and absence from the renaissance of Othello to present day migrants and the poet's own experiences of crossing the cities of Europe... Full of geographical crossings and liminal spaces, these poems confront difficult truths, upend stereotypes and the limits of language itself..."
Poetry Book Society

"This indispensable collection explores Shakespeare's pernicious archetype, observing how 'the Moor remains invisible, despite the obsession with his body'. Yet Allen-Paisant makes the historical impasse an occasion for deep, generous interrogation of masculinity, and a linked elevation of the maternal that is at the heart of so many Caribbean and other families... Enriched by historical research, Self-Portrait As Othello celebrates representation, understanding and speech as acts of glorious resistance."
—Fiona Sampson, The Guardian

"A rich and twisty linguistic collection that finely balances the inner and outer space of black embodiment... a fine, fine accomplishment."
—Raymond Antrobus

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