The Red Thread Cycle by Sonia Farmer

$1,250.00
“The Red Thread Cycle” (2019) provides gut-wrenching witness to the realities of overlooked and silenced sexual assault in the Caribbean region. The starting point for this work is a series of seven poems by Trinidadian writer Shivanee Ramlochan that appear in her first book of poetry, “Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting” (Peepal Tree Press, 2017). Sonia felt a powerful connection with what Shivanee calls the “spine” of this collection that catalogues seven experiences of sexual assault and its aftermath, “The Red Thread Cycle.” Rooted in the cultural space of Trinidad, the poems engage with the gender-based violence that disproportionately affects people the Caribbean region. They are hard poems to digest, but we must be open to what the pain of these poems teaches us about trauma and survival in the Caribbean. We have to look.

That realization, or command, or mantra—we have to look—became Sonia’s guide for engaging meaningfully with the poems through an artist’s book that demands careful but sustained engagement with the trauma and survival that they document. Each poem deserves its own consideration of form, pacing, and reading, so she used a different folding structure for each one, allowing the seven different voices in the poems to share their own individual encounters within the overall experience of sexual trauma. These books reinterpret the original linear poetic forms, each structure inhabiting the individual voice of the poem to refract and reflect its narrative, allowing the reader to access their core emotional complexity as they engage with each piece. For example," Book I: On the Third Anniversary of the Rape," uses an “ox-plow” structure to locate the reader within the labyrinthine environment of the poem.

Though they utilize different structures, these books are linked by typeface (Centaur), materials, color palette, medium, proportions, and most importantly, repetitive imagery. These images, made through pressure printing and experimental platemaking techniques with often unpredictable outcomes, create a necessary raw aesthetic to accompany the prose, which is layered and repeated throughout the books to take on multiple meanings in their fragmented silhouettes and abstract forms.

Presented as a rape kit, each book is stored in a black Tyvek envelope with their corresponding numbers letterpress-printed on the outside flaps, and the first line of the poems on the inside of the flaps, as if they are numbered pieces of evidence with accompanying notes. The reader encounters a red stain on the inside when they lift the flap to remove the book. Housed in a handmade filing box, the set also includes an envelope containing an audio recording of Shivanee reading all seven poems to provide readers with an immersive experience of listening as well as engaging, a total confrontation of the senses that readers must find the willingness to endure for all of the insight that such witness can hold.

Artist Bio

Sonia Farmer is a Bahamian writer, book artist, publisher, and educator whose practice aims to shift the gaze in forming Caribbean identity, culture, and space to empower a diversity of self-actualized narratives. Through her small press, Poinciana Paper Press, she works with writers and artists to advance cultural ownership and voice in Caribbean narratives and self-publishes her poetry collections, chapbooks, and artist’s books, including "Infidelities" (longlist, 2018 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature) and "A True & Exact History" (winner, 2019 Holle Award for Excellence in Book Arts & semi-finalist, the 2020 MCBA Prize). She holds a BFA in writing from Pratt Institute and an MFA in book arts from the University of Iowa, where she completed her thesis “Poinciana Paper Press: A Publishing Model for the Caribbean.” She is currently building a center for book arts in The Bahamas.