Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Guest Post: Retelling History Through Poetry by Kate Garrett, Author of Deadly, Delicate

I have a unique offering for you dear readers today! Please join me in welcoming Kate Garrett to Let Them Read Books! Kate is here today to talk about her pirate poetry book—yes, you read that right, pirate poetry!—and I'm excited for you to read her guest post about how she combines her passion for history and poetry while illuminating the very human sides of these larger-than-life legends. Read on and snag your own ecopy of Deadly, Delicate for less than two bucks!

Here are fifteen poems circumnavigating the world of historical piracy, presented at a slant where the mensuch as Calico Jack and Blackbeardare dangerous, and the womenthe likes of Mary Read, Grace O'Malley, Jacquotte Delahaye, Anne Bonnyare lethal. The violence and the sweetness, the freedom and the acceptance of death are all given equal footing. Never straying from the brutality of a lawless life on the seas, Deadly, Delicate welcomes you to the depths…

"You made the pirates feel like people"
Retelling history through poetry in Deadly, Delicate

by Kate Garrett

Combining pirates and poetry in a serious, not-for-kids fashion might seem like a rather niche goal. After all, poetry is a literary form even many avid readers still treat with suspicion, thanks to past school curriculums around the world. As for historical fiction, it’s already a well-established genre in prose and other mediums, so those grown-ups who are interested in pirates already have a wide range of novels, films, even video games at their disposal.

But, as writers do, I had an idea and it snowballed. I started with a poem here and there, about this pirate or that pirate, and became obsessed with turning it into a book. And I hoped to take my own obsessions (poetry, pirates, history) to new audiences—the poetry-shy, the pirate-shy, or the history-shy, depending on who stumbled upon the book and why. I also had specific reasons for using poetry to tell these particular stories.

The romanticised view is of pirates as swashbuckling, freedom-loving rogues, but the historical reality can be just as interesting—possibly even more interesting—than the legends surrounding them. Pirates were human beings with complex lives and thoughts and emotional motivations, just like any of us, and one reason historical fiction exists at all is to give us the people behind the dusty names and dates taught in school. Pirate crews had their own social systems, often resembling democratic socialism, and as individuals were far more diverse—in terms of gender, nationality, race, (dis)ability, sexuality, etc.—than the popular imagination tends to assume.

Part of my focus on the human side of these legendary characters was to include the stories of mostly female pirates. Beyond the most famous names, like Anne Bonny and Mary Read, I also included a few 17th century French-Caribbean buccaneers who predated the Golden Age, like Jacquotte Delahaye, or “Back from the dead Red.” She was so called because she spent several years living as a man—and hiding her bright red hair—having faked her own death. She then returned to her previous identity, very much alive and a woman. It is assumed Jacquotte, who was from a French and Haitian background, took to piracy to support her younger, intellectually disabled brother after their father was murdered, their mother having already died in childbirth. Jacquotte also never married; she was as independent a woman you could ever hope to meet. And for me, a mother of several children and a big sister with many siblings of my own, it made me consider how deeply she must have cared about her brother. This led to my prose poem “Back from the Dead Red,” featured here:

Back from the Dead Red 
Love takes us to extremes, you know? But we’re free like thieves, my brother and me. They all thought we were brothers: I hid it well, fire and brimstone as it is, only a witch could have hair like mine, never a sailor adept with a pistol and dagger. But I have to carry them; the gold, the rum, the ships and the silks keep him fed. He’s got me – that’s his lot. And I do my best with what I’ve got. My brother doesn’t speak, can’t hold a gun, can’t run. He stays behind until I bring back what we need: crates of salt fish, plantain, the smallest pinch of sugar. The threat, the pop and thud of lead, the smell of fear on board are none of his concern. Mother, father, sister—I am all three. He scents the air for me on my return, knows I’m home by the tang of cedarwood and bladderwrack.

Poetry has an immediacy of experience and emotion that I needed for Deadly, Delicate (and its sequel, which I’m currently writing) because I was spending so much time on the pirates’ inner worlds, I needed to produce candid written snapshots of those thoughts and feelings. It isn’t only about what they did or had done to them, but how they responded, either outwardly or inwardly. When you’re reading a history book about Calico Jack being unusual amongst pirates because he had women in his crew—one of whom was his wife, Anne Bonny—you’re left to speculate about how that worked out, about interactions between different personalities. Novels explore this in depth, allowing you to consider the bigger picture, and poetry’s goal is for you to feel it immediately, to empathise or be repulsed, or something in-between. Which reaction you have exactly isn’t up to the poet, but we should be evoking something.

A reader of Deadly, Delicate recently said to me: “I like how you made the pirates feel like people.” I took it as a lovely compliment, but it’s also quite sad. Of course they were people, but that’s the nature of centuries passing and legends springing up—human beings become a little less human as we become something bigger than ourselves. We all become parts of stories. And for pirates like Jacquotte Delahaye, I suppose the goal was to try my best to re-humanise their stories in my own way.

About the Author:

Apart from being a writer, Kate Garrett is a also a history, horror, and folklore obsessive, and the founding editor of Three Drops from a Cauldron, Picaroon Poetry, and Lonesome October Lit. Her own poetry and fiction have been published widely, in journals such as Rust + Moth, Hobo Camp Review, The Literary Hatchet, The Copperfield Review, The Lake, Prole, and Words Dance, among others. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Sheffield Hallam University, her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and longlisted for a Saboteur Award, and her latest pamphlet, "You’ve never seen a doomsday like it," was published by Indigo Dreams in July 2017. She was born in southwestern Ohio in 1980, but moved to England at 19, where she still lives today with her husband, four and a half children, and a sleepy cat. Learn more about Kate's poetry and fiction on her website.

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