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Self-Portrait as Othello
Categories: 21st Century, BAME, Bestsellers, British, Caribbean, Second Collections
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (80 pages)
(Pub. Mar 2023)
eBook (EPUB) Needs ADE!
(Pub. Mar 2023)
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Winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection 2023
Winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize 2023
Shortlisted for the Writers’ Prize 2024
The Poetry Book Society Spring Choice 2023
A Guardian and The Irish Times Book of the Year
Jason Allen-Paisant's debut collection Thinking With Trees won the 2022 OCM Bocas Prize for poetry and was an Irish Times and White Review Book of the Year 2021. In Poetry London Maryam Hessavi wrote, 'Jason Allen-Paisant is uncompromising when digging down through the undergrowth of our imperialist past – and yet he succeeds in replanting new narratives in the same soil where these toxic ideologies used to, and still, reside.'
The interlocking poems of his second collection, Self-Portrait as Othello, imagine Othello in the urban landscapes of modern London, Paris and Venice and invent the kinds of narrative he might tell about his intersecting identities. Poetic memoir and ekphrastic experiment, Self-Portrait as Othello focuses on a character at once fictional and real. Othello here represents a structure of feeling that was emerging in seventeenth-century Venice, and is still with us.
Portraiting himself as Othello, Allen-Paisant refracts his European travels and considers the Black male body, its presence, transgressiveness and vulnerabilities. Othello's intertwined identities as 'immigrant' and 'Black', which often operate as mutually reinforcing vectors, speak to us in the landscape of twenty-first-century Europe.
Awards won by Jason Allen-Paisant Winner, 2023 The Forward Prize for Best Collection
(Self-Portrait as Othello) Winner, 2023 The T.S. Eliot Prize (Self-Portrait as Othello) Short-listed, 2024 The Writers' Prize
(Self-Portrait as Othello) Winner, 2023 The Poetry Book Society Spring Choice (Self-Portrait as Othello) Short-listed, 2023 The Michael Murphy Memorial Prize
(Thinking with Trees) Winner, 2022 The Poetry Category OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature
(Thinking with Trees)
Self-Portrait as Othello is a book with large ambitions that are met with great imaginative capacity, freshness and technical flair. As the title would suggest, the poetry is delivered with theatricality and in a range of voices and registers, across geographies and eras. It takes real nerve to pull off a work like this with such style and integrity. We are confident that Self-Portrait as Othello is a book to which readers will return for many years.
T.S. Eliot Prize Judges Paul Muldoon (Chair), Sasha Dugdale and Denise Saul
'Part I of Self-Portrait as Othello is a tour de force of language slippage in a journey from Jamaica to Paris (the allure of 'French' and Europe, focalising later in the book around Venice). In a fusing of modes of irony and almost painful recollection, Allen-Paisant lets language suggest language, just as conditions suggest conditions... His method is to know language, remake it, call it out, shift into different streams of articulation.'
John Kinsella, Poetry Society
'Self-Portrait as Othello is a collection which explores narrative from all angles, how a story is told and who becomes the main character through this telling. Allen-Paisant disrupts time and space, and asks what may be left behind, and/or what stands outside the frame.'
SK Grout, The Alchemy Spoon
'Jason Allen-Paisant's Self-Portrait as Othello whisks its readers along like a confident lead (there is much dancing-related imagery to enjoy throughout), offering rich descriptions, lingual agility, and poignant social criticism along the way.'
Aaron Barry, World Literature Today
'Jason Allen-Paisant's second collection, Self-Portrait as Othello, is an erudite and expansive reflection on how identity, political and artistic, is composed, consolidated and made fragile... There is a compelling, essayistic quality to these poems.'
Stephen Sexton, Irish Times
'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 'In Jason Allen-Paisant's Self-Portrait as Othello we take a deep dive not only into the formation of a literary self but also into a compelling narrative of the body and its visual history. Brilliantly insightful and strikingly lyrical, it accrues significant emotional heft in its movements from Othello to self and back. But underlying it all is a rich seam of commentary on Othello's subtexts that makes you constantly reconsider who might be the exploiter and who might be the exploited. Exhilarating - I recommend it highly.'
Praise for Jason Allen-Paisant 'Allen-Paisant is uncompromising when digging down through the undergrowth of our imperialist past - and yet he succeeds in replanting new narratives in the same soil where these toxic ideologies used to, and still, reside.'
Maryam Hessavi, Poetry London
'Original, masterful, and beautiful ... invites us to think about a perpetual condition of 'marronage' for the Caribbean writer.'
Bocas 2022 Prize Judges, where Thinking with Trees was shortlisted
'This is a collection that engages with the fluidity of form and rhythm, the poems spread out on the page like roots and leaves... this is a collection that moves the conversation into something much deeper, much richer, more contemplative and more pressing'
SK Grout, The Alchemy Spoon
'As he cuts a radical response to the pastoral in a Leeds forest where dogs are welcomed but black men are suspect, he echoes June Jordan's 40-year-old question, "suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/ or far into the woods I wanted to go?"'
Martina Evans, Irish Times Best Books of the Year 2021
'Thinking with Trees has a narrative arc - it reads like a walking diary, though not signposted as such or always in order through the seasons.'
Fiona Moore, The Friday Poem
'To hear this new sound, one is invited to cross the threshold into something "accidental / so entire so free", away from an exclusive lyric past and beyond the inherited traumas of slave labour. This crossing, the speaker of poems like 'Black Walking' informs us, is not only a physical passage but a leap over the precipice of racial asymmetry.'
Mantra Mukim, The Poetry Review
'The power of this expansive, original book is in its attention to the ways in which a sense of leisure, territory and belonging is an implicit, racialised underpinning in the long tradition of nature writing ... Thinking with Trees is an expansive, fracturing, subversive book.'
Sean Hewitt, The Irish Times
'A remarkable work... It's a stunning debut collection'
Richard Price & Sally Price, 'Bookshelf 2021', New West Indian Guide'The poet scrupulously decouples nature from any sense of private ownership, opening himself up to more generous, alternative worldviews. This is a bold and impressive debut.'
David Wheatley, Guardian Review Roundup
'Allen-Paisant has penned a debut that may be years ahead of its time.''Jason Allen-Paisant deftly inscribes his own signature on worlds inner and outer in these gorgeous poems. The future of Caribbean lyric poetry is in great hands'
'Jason Allen-Paisant maps a complex and multifaceted internal landscape in these astounding poems. How does the person occupy a poem? How does the poem speak back to a person? How does a poem then speak to the world?... Tough queries on language and personhood are posed through Paisant's extraordinary line and sense of image; every poem seems a painting with their flashes of colour, their broad scope of place, the vivid characters of the people and animals who inhabit them. In these quietly subversive lyrics, expectations are undone, of ecologies, of people, of poems: trees, dogs, thoughts, cells, the daily world here is rendered wholly new.'
'Allen-Paisant's poetic ruminations deceptively radicalise Wordsworth's pastoral scenic daffodils; here the body is never restful or relaxed due to a lingering unease in these British parks and woodlands. He employs the usual meditative tropes found in nature writing, in order to exploit and amplify the psychological sense of entitlement this relationship with the land denotes. These penetrable lyrical verses and essays deconstruct democratic notions of green space in the British landscape by racialising contemporary ecological poetics. The collection's power lies in Allen-Paisant's subtle destabilization of the ordinary dog walker's right to space, territory, property and leisure by positioning the colonised Black male body's complicated and unsafe reality in these spaces.'
'These observant poems lay their burdens down by the rivers of Babylon and try to sing the Lord's song in a strange land. What might it mean for the black body to experience nature, not as labour, but as leisure? What might it mean to simply walk through a park and observe the birds and the trees? The poems are beautiful and gentle, but the questions they raise are difficult and important.'
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