March 1976: St Constance, a tiny Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch. A fisherman sings to himself, waiting for a catch – but attracts a sea-dweller he doesn’t expect. A beautiful young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid has been swimming the Caribbean Sea for centuries. And she is entranced by the fisherman and and his song. But her fascination is her undoing. She hears his boat’s engine again, follows it, and finds herself at the mercy of American tourists. After a fearsome battle, she is pulled out of the sea and strung up on the dock as a trophy. The fisherman rescues her, and gently wins her trust – as she starts to transform into a woman. The novel’s characters are an unlikely mix: a mermaid, a fisherman, a deaf boy, a Caribbean artist and sweetman and a benevolent white landowner.
This collection’s title points to the underlying philosophy expressed in these poems: that earthly joy is, or ought to be, just within, but is often beyond our reach, denied by racism, misogyny, physical cruelty and those with the class power to deny others their share of worldly goods and pleasures.
The poems in ‘Pepper Seed’ reflect the fact that Malika has grown up in several different places including Brooklyn, Brixton and Grenada/Victoria. This complex sense of rootedness shapes the dimensions of her work, giving her the ability to delve into a multiplicity of places, characters, landscapes and languages.