The Poetry Book Society Spring Choice 2023
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.
‘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
‘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.’ – Roger Robinson
‘A rich and twisty linguistic collection that finely balances the inner and outer space of black embodiment… a fine, fine accomplishment.’ – Raymond Antrobus
‘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