Indigenous Species by Khairani Barokka is an innovative lens on the possibilities of poetry. At its core is a mastery of the lyric composed in a literary long form. It transcends the traditional or even contemporary poetry by embarking on new elements of consumption. Its narrative centers a wider margin that Barokka completes with text and art both aflame with image, tension, and honesty. The poem is a brave new example of what poetry can accomplish through craft and truth.
The poem's pairing with visual art furthers a reader's gaze into the collection. Visually multidimensional, the words and text can articulate both the emotion of the speaker and the societal forces that target indigenous bodies. The poem also has three versions that increase accessibility to visually impaired populations by using Braille. In a larger dialogue of language, Indigenous Species is an ode to various forms of communication species have with one another. As noted in the author’s introduction, Indigenous Species began as performance art piece, and translated to a poetry collection. This translation shows the limitations of traditional and contemporary poetry in that poetry has always been a privilege. With its accessibility to visually impaired people, the book is a disruption in mainstream literary canons. Barokka makes language a physical thing that can be touched.
Centered on a story of a girl abducted in her own homeland, the author can navigate environmental despair and struggle through the poem. Barokka writes, “Centrifugal humidity swirling / Into sweltering, heat-soaked, / Drenched evolution – / Centipedes big as your forearm. / Orangutan carcass / The feast of this famine.” Its social comment comes at an opportune time given the world's environmental crisis. The poem itself seeks to tell a story of consumption and degrade from the perspective of an Indigenous eye. The story of an abduction occurring on homeland mirrors today's theft of resources from indigenous populations across the world. I bet you, from the raucous Machinery I’m hearing And the smell of rashness, That this is where the grease deals Are siphoned into miners’ food. And where they are packing down Eons of intricacies and strength From the forest to molecular form On a woman’s lipstick bottle in Iowa,
Most of the poem stops at the end of a page with a comma, pushing the reader directly into the remaining page to further consume the constructed tension. It’s an after-silence needed for every reader.
The physicality of the poetry is an overthrow of the traditional and contemporary poetic page. The authors craft is a continuation of the numerous schools that attack and dispute the poetic page as entrapment. Using its newfound space, Indigenous Species begins the poem that transcends page, page numbers, its binding, and its representational self. It's an attack on those who aim to abduct indigeneity in its own space:
You have blindfolded me, But I’ve been down here before, So I know how there are islands Of roots to stand foot on, Battling for space And historical worth In the eyes of the species We peacock ourselves to be,
Barokka’s poem is an uproarious claim of the indigenous body. The speaker’s captivity is rooted in its existence to the relative habitat and homeland surrounding the narrative. By addressing issues of consumerism and theft, the speaker roots themselves back into the landscape. Of her home, the speaker states: “That is the primordial cunning / With which I will leave this vessel, / And report you to the corrupt authorities of my land, / Because once upon a time in the century before this, / My family lived with tigers who sprang alive / From the girth of their own elongated island.” At its climax is the speaker’s escape from captivity. It’s the embrace and knowing of the collection that can free the speaker from her captivity. The speaker states: “Orang utan means human of the forest, / And we send tourists there to rape this species, / And that is the kind of anger I will take / To slit through this panic / And hone my instinct for city locations / In relation to waters, and not spend a second / On the monster of a false sense of isolation.” The embrace of the habitat is the very key needed to free captivity.
The poem ends on the image of “the wrong kind of silt,” the sediment deposited in a river bed by running water. As the speaker roots themselves back into the landscape, they can unpack (read: erode) the issues that targets that very landscape. The poems act as erosion, unpacking the ills as the speaker narrates a stream of consciousness. This erosion is aimed at the abductor, the people who take things and take people. Barokka captures an honest and intimate moment near the ending of the collection at the escape:
When I get away from you, I will have nightmares about menageries And teeth festering yellow in cages, The flesh of unidentifiable femurs in the fire, And I will apologize all the way home For pouring vapor and rot Down the necks of Kalimantan, And remember the excesses Of forgetting the names of fauna
There is a returning that occurs as the speaker is being stolen. The very truth of the collection is made visible in the speaker’s forgetting and apologizing. As the piece itself aims to construct a physicality and accessibility for language, the speaker and poem are simultaneously constructing a physicality and accessibility for landscape. While the poem's physicality is eroding everything one understands about poetry collections, the speaker erodes the societal capitalist consumption and theft that occurs daily. The speaker’s drive is a pivotal voice in the unpacking and securing of Indigenous worldviews worldwide.