Photo by Denise Noone - Empire Cafe, Glasgow 1

Sasenarine Persaud’s new book, Monsoon on the Fingers of God is his fourteenth. Persaud, a New Tampa resident, was born in South America and has lived in Canada for several years before relocating to Florida. Already, Monsoon on the Fingers of God has received rave reviews and notices in The West Indian (New York City) and Stabroek News (Georgetown). Dr. Vishnu Bisram writing in IDCN.Today calls this book, “an extraordinary collection” of “unmistakable originality” and a “deep meditation on identity and migrations.” 

While in the UK in 2014 for presentations and interviews in Glasgow, the Edinburgh International Book Festival and at the BBC, just before the Scottish referendum to separate from the UK, Persaud came face to face with his own angst regarding identity and belonging. Persaud’s family and community, who came from India as indentured labourers to work the sugar plantations in British Guiana (now Guyana) have lived in the Americas for over 180 years. In a recent Author Event at the New Tampa library, he traced the 10,000 miles sea voyage over three months that his ancestors undertook in some of the roughest seas in the world. Persaud has never visited India, yet ancestral stories, culture, music and rhythms, and those of all the countries in which he has lived, feature in his work.

The Scottish referendum and need to affirm Scottish ancestral identity became the touchstone for his latest book. Identity, he suggests, is fluid depending on the places in which we live and our own understanding of our roles in, and indebtedness to, those societies. Persaud notes that the poetry in this book examines the tensions attendant on identity and belonging inherent in a world where peoples, ideas and cultures migrate and interact on a scale never before seen in human history—a flux and tension which energizes his work.      

The title of the book, Monsoon on the Fingers of God is from a tribute to the late sitar maestro, Pandit Ravi Shankar, whose electrifying performance at Monterery in 1967, and later at Woodstock, significantly impacted American and world music. Persaud himself owes a debt to Ravi Shankar whose influence inspired him to learn to play the sitar and deepened his interest in Indian classical music.    

Sasenarine Persaud, also an essayist and novelist, is arguably the most distinguished and internationally published poet in Tampa Bay. His work has been published on both sides of the Atlantic and included in such anthologies as the Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories, the Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse and Another Way to Dance: Contemporary Asian Poetry in Canada and the United States. His work is used in schools, colleges and universities in Canada, the Caribbean, the UK, India, Italy, Mauritius and the US, and has been reviewed by publications and critics from Japan to Los Angeles, to Halifax, to London and to South America.

Not surprisingly, Florida, where he has lived for close to two decades, features in his poetry beginning with A Surf of Sparrows’ Songs (1996), the first of his “Miami Trilogy,” to his most recent books, Monsoon on the Fingers of God (2018), Love in a Time of Technology (2014), Lantana Strangling Ixora (2011) and In A Boston Night (2008), which feature poetry stimulated by and set in the Tampa Bay Area such as New Tampa’s Flatwoods Park, Tampa’s Hickson Park and, of course, Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts. While not anti-development, Persaud advocates in his poetry for preserving Florida’s unique ecosystems, which are rapidly being decimated by urban sprawl.       

His most significant contribution to arts and letters is his origination of the term Yogic Realism to define his aesthetics, and he has published essays in Canada, India and the US on Yogic Realism. Inventing a term for an aesthetics wasn’t something he set out to do, or ever thought he would do. He considers it his immense good fortune, when he was challenged by critics and scholars at the University of Miami to define his Indian based aesthetics. This led him to do so in a ground-breaking essay, “Kevat: Waiting on Yogic Realism.” This essay became the basis for a PhD dissertation by an Indian scholar, which focused on Persaud’s work and on Yogic Realism.

Persaud has just been named recipient of the 2018 Dharmic Arts and Humanities Award to be presented on November 17, by the Tampa Chapter of HAF, the Hindu American Foundation based in Washington, DC.  Other awards include: the K.M Hunter Award (Toronto), the Arthur Schomburg Award (New York) and the Leslie Epstein Fellowship at Boston University.