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The Perseverance

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A beautiful work of poetry that shows us how poetry, a spoken art form, can be transformed by someone who cannot hear. We love how Antrobus brings us to another world. It makes us joyful that once again poetry, and reading for that matter, brings so many experiences to our doorsteps.

Featured on NPR's Morning Edition

A Best Book of the Year at The Guardian, The Sunday Times, Poetry School, New York Public Library, and Entropy Magazine

Winner of the Ted Hughes Award, Rathbones Folio Prize, and Somerset Maugham Award; finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize and Reading the West Book Award

In the wake of his father’s death, the speaker in Raymond Antrobus’ The Perseverance travels to Barcelona. In Gaudi’s Cathedral, he meditates on the idea of silence and sound, wondering whether acoustics really can bring us closer to God. Receiving information through his hearing aid technology, he considers how deaf people are included in this idea. “Even though,” he says, “I have not heard / the golden decibel of angels, / I have been living in a noiseless / palace where the doorbell is pulsating / light and I am able to answer.”

The Perseverance is a collection of poems examining a d/Deaf experience alongside meditations on loss, grief, education, and language, both spoken and signed. It is a book about communication and connection, about cultural inheritance, about identity in a hearing world that takes everything for granted, about the dangers we may find (both individually and as a society) if we fail to understand each other.

ISBN-13: 9781951142421

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Tin House Books

Publication Date: 03-30-2021

Pages: 96

Product Dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Raymond Antrobus was born in London to an English mother and Jamaican father. He was awarded the 2017 Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, judged by Ocean Vuong, as well as the 2019 Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award. His second full-length collection of poems, All The Names Given, is forthcoming from Tin House and Picador in 2021. Raymond is currently based between London and Oklahoma City.

Read an Excerpt



My ear amps whistle as if singing to Echo, Goddess of Noise,
the ravelled knot of tongues,
of blaring birds, consonant crumbs of dull doorbells, sounds swamped in my misty hearing aid tubes.
Gaudí believed in holy sound and built a cathedral to contain it,
pulling hearing men from their knees as though Deafness is a kind of Atheism.
Who would turn down God?
Even though I have not heard the golden decibel of angels,
I have been living in a noiseless palace where the doorbell is pulsating light and I am able to answer.


A word that keeps looking in mirrors, in love with its own volume.


I am a one-word question,
a one-man patience test.


What language would we speak without ears?


Is paradise a world where I hear everything?


How will my brain know what to hold if it has too many arms?

The day I clear out my dead father's flat,
I throw away boxes of moulding LPs:
Garvey, Malcolm X, Mandela speeches on vinyl.

I find a TDK cassette tape on the shelf.
The smudged green label reads Raymond Speaking.
I play the tape in his vintage cassette player

and hear my two-year-old voice chanting my name, Antrob,
and Dad's laughter crackling in the background,
not knowing I couldn't hear the word "bus"

and wouldn't until I got my hearing aids.
Now I sit here listening to the space of deafness —

Antrob, Antrob, Antrob.

'And if you don't catch nothing then something wrong with your ears —
they been tuned to de wrong frequency.'


So maybe I belong to the universe underwater, where all songs are smeared wailings for Salacia,
Goddess of Salt Water, healer of infected ears, which is what the doctor thought I had, since deafness did not run in the family but came from nowhere;
so they syringed olive oil and salt water, and we all waited to see what would come out.

And no one knew what I was missing until a doctor gave me a handful of Lego and said to put a brick on the table every time I heard a sound.
After the test I still held enough bricks in my hand to build a house and call it my sanctuary,
call it the reason I sat in saintly silence during my grandfather's sermons when he preached The Good News I only heard as Babylon's babbling echoes.

Aunt Beryl Meets Castro

listen listen, you know I met Castro in Jamaica in
'77 mi work with government under Manley yessir you should'da seen me up in mi younger day mi give Castro flowers a blue warm warm welcome to we and mi know people who nuh like it who say him should stay smokin' in him bush, our water and wood nuh want problem with dat blaze, but Castro,
him understan' the history of dem who harm us, who make the Caribbean a kind of mix up mix up pain. Me believe him come to look us Black people in the eye and say we come from the same madness but most people nah wan brave no war and mi understand dem, but mi also know how we all swallow different stones on the same stony path.
Most dem on the Island hear life in some Queen's English voice but I was tuned to dem real power lines, I was picking up all the signals. Some of dem say, you know too much yuh go mad, there a fear of knowledge for the power it bring and mi understand dem just trying to live and cruise through life like raft cruise Black River,

My Mother Remembers

serving Robert Plant, cheeky bugger,
tried to haggle my prices down.
I didn't care about velvet nothing.
I'm just out in snow on a Saturday market morning trying to make rent and this is it:
when you're raised poor the world is touched different, like you have to feel something, know it with your hand. You need to know what is worth what to who. I've served plonkers in my time. That singer, Seal, tried to croon my prices down. I was like, no no, I'm one missed meal away from misery, mate!
I used to squat in abandoned factories,
go to jumble sales and come home to piece together this cupboard, filling it with fabrics.
Then I met this wood sculptor, had these tree-trunk forearms, said, why not go to Camden Passage on Wednesday?
I had this van, made twenty-eight quid.
Look, everything I sold is listed in this notebook.
Fabrics, cleaned from your Great Gran's house.
Vintage. People always reach back to times gone and that's what I'm saying,
people want to carry the past. Make it fit them, make it say, this is still us.
I'd take sewn dresses made in the '20s.
Your Great Gran was a dressmaker,
you know, dresses carried her. I wore this white and green thing to her funeral. Sorry, guess everything has its time. Are you ready to eat or am I holding you up?

Jamaican British

after Aaron Samuels

Some people would deny that I'm Jamaican British.
Anglo nose. Hair straight. No way I can be Jamaican British.

They think I say I'm black when I say Jamaican British but the English boys at school made me choose: Jamaican, British?

Half-caste, half mule, house slave — Jamaican British.
Light skin, straight male, privileged — Jamaican British.

Eat callaloo, plantain, jerk chicken — I'm Jamaican.
British don't know how to serve our dishes; they enslaved us.

In school I fought a boy in the lunch hall — Jamaican.
At home, told Dad, I hate dem, all dem Jamaicans — I'm British.

He laughed, said, you cannot love sugar and hate your sweetness,
took me straight to Jamaica — passport: British.

Cousins in Kingston called me Jah-English,
proud to have someone in their family — British.

Plantation lineage, World War service, how do I serve Jamaican British?
When knowing how to war is Jamaican British.

Ode to My Hair

When a black woman with straightened hair looks at you, says

nothing black about you,
do you rise like wild wheat or a dark field of frightened strings?

For years I hide you under hats and, still, cleanly you cling to my scalp,
conceding nothing

when they call you too soft,
too thin for the texture of your own roots.

Look, the day is yellow Shea butter,
the night is my Jamaican cousin saying your skin and hair mean

you're treated better than us,

the clippings of a hot razor trailing the back of my neck.

Scissor away the voice of the barber who charges more to cut this thick tangle of Coolie

now you've grown a wildness,
trying to be my father's 'fro to grow him out, to see him again.

The Perseverance

'Love is the man overstanding'


I wait outside THE PERSEVERANCE.

Just popping in here a minute.

I'd heard him say it many times before like all kids with a drinking father,
watch him disappear into smoke and laughter.

There is no such thing as too much laughter,
my father says, drinking in THE PERSEVERANCE until everything disappears —
I'm outside counting minutes,
waiting for the man, my father
to finish his shot and take me home before

it gets dark. We've been here before,
no such thing as too much laughter unless you're my mother without my father,
working weekends while THE PERSEVERANCE spits him out for a minute.
He gives me 50p to make me disappear.

50p in my hand, I disappear like a coin in a parking meter before the time runs out. How many minutes will I lose listening to the laughter spilling from THE PERSEVERANCE while strangers ask, where is your father?

I stare at the doors and say, my father is working. Strangers who don't disappear but hug me for my perseverance.
Dad said this will be the last time before,
while the TV spilled canned laughter,
us, on the sofa in his council flat, knowing any minute

the yams will boil, any minute,
I will eat again with my father,
who cooks and serves laughter good as any Jamaican who disappeared from the Island I tasted before
overstanding our heat and perseverance.

I still hear popping in for a minute, see him disappear.
We lose our fathers before we know it.
I am still outside THE PERSEVERANCE, listening for the laughter.

I Move Through London like a Hotep

What you need will come to you at the right time, says the Tarot card I overturned at my friend Nathalie's house one evening. I was wondering if she said something worth hearing. What? I'm looking at her face and trying to read it, not a clue what she said but I'll just say yeah and hope. Me, Tabitha and her aunt are waffling in Waffle House by the Mississippi River. Tabitha's aunt is all mumble. She either said do you want a pancake? or you look melancholic. The less I hear the bigger the swamp, so I smile and nod and my head becomes a faint fog horn, a lost river. Why wasn't I asking her to microphone? When you tell someone you read lips you become a mysterious captain. You watch their brains navigate channels with BSL interpreters in the corner of night-time TV. Sometimes it's hard to get back the smooth sailing and you go down with the whole conversation. I'm a haze of broken jars, a purple bucket and only I know there's a hole in it. On Twitter @justnoxy tweets, I can't watch TV / movies / without subtitles. It's just too hard to follow. I'm sitting there pretending and it's just not worth it. I tweet back, you not being able to follow is not your failure and it's weird, giving the advice you need to someone else, as weird as thinking my American friend said, I move through London like a Hotep when she actually said, I'm used to London life with no sales tax. Deanna (my friend who owns crystals and believes in multiple moons) says I should write about my mishearings, she thinks it'll make a good book for her bathroom. I am still afraid I have grown up missing too much information. I think about that episode of The Twilight Zone where an old man walks around the city's bars selling bric-a brac from his suitcase, knowing what people need –– scissors, a leaky pen, a bus ticket, combs. In the scene, music is playing loud, meaning if I were in that bar I would miss the mysticism while the old man's miracles make the barman say, WOAH, this guy is from another planet!

Sound Machine

'My mirth can laugh and talk, but cannot sing;
My grief finds harmonies in everything.'

And what comes out if it isn't the wires Dad welds to his homemade sound system,
which I accidently knock loose while he is recording Talk-Over dubs, killing the bass, flattening the mood and his muses,
making Dad blow his fuses and beat me.
But it wasn't my fault; the things he made could be undone so easily —
and we would keep losing connection.
But praise my Dad's mechanical hands.
Even though he couldn't fix my deafness I still channel him. My sound system plays on Father's Day in Manor Park Cemetery where I find his grave, and for the first time see his middle name, OSBERT, derived from Old English meaning God and bright. Which may have been a way to bleach him, darkest of his five brothers, the only one sent away from the country to live up-town with his light skin aunt. She protected him from police, who didn't believe he belonged unless they heard his English,
which was smooth as some up-town roads.
His aunt loved him and taught him to recite Wordsworth and Coleridge — rhythms that wouldn't save him. He would become Rasta and never tell a soul about the name that undid his blackness. It is his grave that tells me the name his black body, even in death, could not move or mute.

Dear Hearing World

after Danez Smith

I have left Earth in search of sounder orbits,
a solar system where the space between a star and a planet isn't empty. I have left a white beard of noise in my place and many of you won't know the difference. We are indeed the same volume, all of us eventually fade.
I have left Earth in search of an audible God.
I do not trust the sound of yours.
You wouldn't recognise my grandmother's Hallelujah
if she had to sign it, you would have made her sit on her hands and put a ruler in her mouth as if measuring her distance from holy.
Take your God back, though his songs are beautiful, they are not loud enough.
I want the fate of Lazarus for every deaf school you've closed, every deaf child whose confidence has gone to a silent grave, every BSL user who has seen the annihilation of their language,
I want these ghosts to haunt your tongue-tied hands.
I have left Earth, I am equal parts sick of your
oh, I'm hard of hearing too,just because you've been on an airplane or suffered head colds.
Your voice has always been the loudest sound in a room.

I call you out for refusing to acknowledge sign language in classrooms, for assessing deaf students on what they can't say instead of what they can, we did not ask to be a part of the hearing world, I can't hear my joints crack but I can feel them. I am sick of sounding out your rules —
you tell me I breathe too loud and it's rude to make noise when I eat, sent me to speech therapists, said I was speaking a language of holes, I was pronouncing what I heard but your judgment made my syllables disappear,
your magic master trick hearing world — drowning out the quiet,
bursting all speech bubbles in my graphic childhood,
you are glad to benefit from audio supremacy,
I tried, hearing people, I tried to love you, but you laughed at my deaf grammar, I used commas not full stops because everything I said kept running away,
I mulled over long paragraphs because I didn't know what a natural break sounded like, you erased what could have always been poetry

You erased what could have always been poetry.
You taught me I was inferior to standard English expression —
I was a broken speaker, you were never a broken interpreter —
taught me my speech was dry for someone who should sound like they're underwater. It took years to talk with a straight spine and mute red marks on the coursework you assigned.

Deaf voices go missing like sound in space and I have left earth to find them.

'Deaf School' by Ted Hughes

The deaf children were monkey nimble, fish tremulous
and sudden.
Their faces were alert and simple Like faces of little animals, small night lemurs caught in
the flash light.
They lacked a dimension,
They lacked a subtle wavering aura of sound and responses
to sound.
The whole body was removed From the vibration of air, they lived through the eyes,
The clear simple look, the instant full attention.
Their selves were not woven into a voice Which was woven into a face Hearing itself, its own public and audience,
An apparition in camouflage, an assertion in doubt Their selves were hidden, and their faces looked out of
What they spoke with was a machine,
A manipulation of fingers, a control-panel of gestures Out there in the alien space Separated from them.
Their unused faces were simple lenses of watchfulness Simple pools of earnest watchfulness

Their bodies were like their hands Nimbler than bodies, like the hammers of a piano,
A puppet agility, a simple mechanical action A blankness of hieroglyph A stylized lettering Spelling out approximate signals

While the self looked through, out of the face of simple
concealment A face not merely deaf, a face in the darkness, a face unaware,
A face that was simply the front skin of the self concealed and

After Reading 'Deaf School' by the Mississippi River

No one wise calls the river unaware or simple pools;
no one wise says it lacks a dimension; no one wise says its body is removed from the vibration of air.

The river is a quiet breath-taker, gargling mud.

Ted is alert and simple.
Ted lacked a subtle wavering aura of sound and responses to Sound.

Ted lived through his eyes. But eye the colossal currents from the bridge. Eye riverboats ghosting a geography of fog.

Mississippi means Big River, named by French colonisers.
The natives laughed at their arrogant maps,
conquering wind and marking mist.

The mouth of the river laughs. A man in a wetsuit emerges,
pulls misty goggles over his head. Couldn't see a thing.
He breathes heavily. My face was in darkness.

No one heard him; the river drowned him out.

For Jesula Gelin, Vanessa Previl and Monique Vincent

When three deaf women were found murdered,
their tongues cut out for speaking sign language,

the papers called it
a savage ritualistic act
but I think the world should have gone silent,

should have heard the deaf gather at Saint Vincent,
should have heard the quiet march towards Port-au-Prince.

'The British government did not recognise British Sign Language until 2002'

Before, all official languages were oral. The Deaf were a colony the hearing world ignored

and now, the irony, that the words noise
and London are the same sign in BSL.
It is getting so loud

audiologists are preparing for the deafest generation in heard history.

In Montego Bay, a sign written on the outside walls of the Christian deaf school says

Isiah 29:18 In that day the deaf shall hear

above a painting of a green hill paradise.
Harriott, the only Deaf teacher in the school,
tells me no one speaks sign well enough to enter any visions of valleys.

My Dad never called me deaf,
even when he saw the audiogram.
He'd say, you're limited,
so you can turn the TV up.

He didn't mean to be cruel.
He was thinking about his friend at school in Jamaica who stabbed another boy's eardrums with pencils.

Dad never saw him in class again.
Maybe that's what he was afraid of;
that the deaf disappear, get carried away bleeding from their ears.


Excerpted from "The Perseverance"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Raymond Antrobus.
Excerpted by permission of Penned in the Margins.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Echo 1

Aunt Beryl Meets Castro 9

My Mother Remembers 11

Jamaican British 13

Ode to My Hair 14

The Perseverance 16

I Move Through London like a Hotep 18

Sound Machine 20

Dear Hearing World 22

'Deaf School' by Ted Hughes 25

After Reading 'Deaf School' by the Mississippi River 27

For Jesula Gelin, Vanessa Previl and Monique Vincent 28

Conversation with the Art Teacher (a Translation Attempt) 32

The Ghost of Laura Bridgman Warns Helen Keller About Fame 33

The Mechanism of Speech 35

Doctor Marigold Re-evaluated 36

The Shame of Mabel Gardiner Hubbard 37

Two Guns in the Sky for Daniel Harris 38

To Sweeten Bitter 40

I Want the Confidence of 42

After Being Called a Fucking Foreigner in London Fields 44

Closure 46

Maybe I Could Love a Man 47

Samantha 49

Thinking of Dads Dick 59

Miami Airport 60

His Heart 62

Dementia 64

Happy Birthday Moon 65

Acknowledgements 67

Notes 69

Further Reading 73

Interview with the Author 75