The Wrong Poem and Others Like It
Review of Jerome Ramcharitar’s latest poetry collection
By Willow Loveday Little
February 3, 2022
Jerome Ramcharitar’s The Wrong Poem and Others Like It is wrong in all the right ways. This is poetry that whispers there’s something to investigate here – a deeper truth to know. The Wrong Poem does more than subvert the reader’s expectations; with deceptively conversational dialogue it gets you reflecting on your own perspective, questioning shifting truths in context, and speaking riddles in answer to riddle. Lines like “Thought and syntax are still unbecoming to me, / forced to use them as I am” explore the very building blocks of language. They are themselves beautiful dares to join in unbecoming, if only so we can ourselves become.
Something I love about Ramcharitar’s writing is that it affirms that questions are infinitely more interesting than answers. In the aptly named Where, the voice of the poem addresses the reader, deft fingered: ‘you begin to poke through the pieces / not to ask, “Where did this come from?” / but rather, / “What is this supposed to be?”’ The lines are puzzle-like, at once direct and cryptic, and have the effect of bouncing back onto the reader, so they’re left thinking, “well, what IS it supposed to be?” Unlike a typical riddle, where the answer is something like “footsteps,” “shadow,” or “a penny,” Ramcharitar’s tricksy collection hits deep while maintaining its lightheartedness.
The Wrong Poem does more than subvert the reader’s expectations; with deceptively conversational dialogue it gets you reflecting on your own perspective, questioning shifting truths in context, and speaking riddles in answer to riddle.
Even a poem like To Those Who Robbed Me is at once a knife’s edge of glee and daring. Addressed to a post-burglary burglar, it wonders why someone would steal a grimy container of Cetaphil or a single scoop of powdered detergent, before settling on the cryptic final warning: “Even more dangerous than the smile, / more devastating than the sword, / is the symbol.” The meaning represented by a symbol is far more potent than the threat carried by a menacing smile or fear of physical consequence to one’s person. Ramcharitar is a poet who hides behind neither his wit nor his imagery. Everything is at work within his words. Everything considered.
While the first half of the collection is composed of poems occupying the human world, the second half trades the mysterious for the mystical. These poems ask big questions – questions about language, mortality, existence, the eternal. Alphabet of God informs us that “seasons are forgetful” before explaining that “God cannot speak / our language / but communicates in weather patterns / across centuries,” a stunning invitation to ruminate on memory.
Between Languages invokes a female divinity with the lines “And in case you’re wondering, yes, / it is she who designed me: / I am her finger and blueprint, / the harsh hand that twiddled / the unscented synapses.” The lines lilt and rise like they’re letting you in on a secret.
‘While the first half of the collection is composed of poems occupying the human world, the second half trades the mysterious for the mystical. These poems ask big questions – questions about language, mortality, existence, the eternal.’
The collection ends with Flysong, a chorus in the singular, unified voice of a swarm of flies. Ramcharitar again shows his prowess with perspective. “Only a vague afterthought was blood, only a cheap night’s binge was mammal,” the flies tell us with the calm assurance of the superior. There are no questions in Flysong, yet the reader is left to imagine the space between worlds.
Equal parts wise, numinous, and sidesplittingly funny, Ramcharitar’s impressive debut belongs on the bookshelf of CanLit aficionados, LOTR fans, comedians, and anyone ready to meet the poet’s challenge of self-discovery.
The Wrong Poem and Others Like It by Jerome Ramcharitar is available for purchase at cactuspresspoetry.com/chapbooks
Read also: other articles by Willow Loveday Little
Willow Loveday Little is a British-Canadian writer whose work has appeared in several publications; notably, The Dalhousie Review, yolk literary, The Selkie’s Very Much Alive: Stories of Resilience anthology, and On Spec. A poem is forthcoming in Hamilton Arts Literary. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from McGill University and has been a featured reader at McGill’s Poetry Matters, Argo Reading Series, the Visual Learning Centre, and Accent Poetry Night. Her chapbook, Xenia, was published by Cactus Press (2021). A full-length collection is forthcoming.