Winter/Spring 2024 Poetry Preview: Oh Witness Dey! by Shani Mootoo | Book*hug Press

Winter/Spring 2024 Poetry Preview: Oh Witness Dey! by Shani Mootoo

Today we’re sharing the third title in our Winter/Spring 2024 Poetry Preview: Oh Witness Dey! by Shani Mootoo!

Shani Mootoo’s great-great-grandparents were brought to Trinidad as indentured labourers by the British. There is no record of where they were from in India or whether it was kidnapping, trickery, or false promises of wealth that took them to the Caribbean.

In Oh Witness Dey! Mootoo expands the question of origins, from ancestry percentages and journey narratives, through memory, story, and lyric fragments. These vibrant poems transcend the tropes of colonial violence through saints and spices, rebellion and joy, to reimagine tensions and solidarities among various diasporas. They circumvent traditional conventions of style to find new routes toward understanding. They invite the reader to witness history, displacements, and the legacies of our inheritance.

Oh Witness Dey! reminds us that we see through the eyes of past generations as readers and as people of the Americas. These poems remind us of the importance of looking back, because history defines our present and our future, as the past is not past, and the greed and violence echo down generations. Shani Mootoo’s voice captures that echo and yet transmutes it, elevates it into song. Oh Witness Dey! fuses emotional momentum with discursive energy, which is underscored by carefully researched knowledge of colonial practices dating back to Columbus. The story of how Europe’s rapacity accelerated in the wake of ’discovery’ is timely and inexhaustible, and these poems bear impassioned witness to a world that has raced past its precipice.” —Kaie Kellough, Griffin Poetry Prize–winning author of Magnetic Equator

Shani Mootoo has shared a video to introduce to Oh Witness Dey! to readers!

Additionally, we’d like to share an excerpt from the collection! Oh Witness Dey! will be released on March 26, 2024, and is available for pre-order from our online shop or from your local independent bookstore.

Praise Be

There is no racing
Past the backs
Of Samarsingh and Bulaki
What point pulling hair, digging dirt
With DNA shovels?
Fingernails scraping columns
Of a ship’s registry
Entertaining fantasies of brotherhood
Forged in the house-home
Of a stinking hull
An emptying well
Just a(s) well

My ancestry is the Big Bang
My ancestry is pepper and spice
My ancestry is a Spanish Queen
My ancestry is a Genoese navigator
My ancestry is Taíno and Lucayan
My ancestry is sugar and rum
Everything nice and not so nice
My ancestry is the African Slave Trade
My ancestry is the British in India
My ancestry is coolie ships
My ancestry is an eighteen-hundreds village
Somewhere somewhere


Shani Mootoo was born in Ireland and raised in Trinidad. Mootoo’s highly acclaimed writing includes the novels Polar VortexMoving Forward Sideways Like a CrabValmiki’s DaughterHe Drown She in the Sea, and Cereus Blooms at Night, as well as the poetry collections The Predicament of OrCane | Fire, and Oh Witness Dey! Her poetry has appeared in WasafiriPoetry Magazine, and Room Magazine. She has been awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa from Western University, is a recipient of Lambda Literary’s James Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize, and the Writers’ Trust Engel Findley Award. She lives in Southern Ontario, Canada.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content