Kyk 31 EDITED BY A. J. SEYMOUR AND IAN McDONALD
TABLE OF CONTENDS .
Poetry Mosaic How and Why -:
You have returned; There's a finished
play; Silent my heart; For Patrick -
Long Time; To a Poet M.C.; Tricks -
The Southern Cross First
Remembering; Screws Loose; A
Case for Pause
For Neville Robinson; Soon you
will be gone
Travelling; I have seen the Miles Grow
Tired; Time and the Fortunes -
For Indira Gandhi
For Eric Williams
Dreams Leave me Alone -
Cattle Wash: The Cruel Sea -
The Lesser Known Tradition of
Guyanese Writing (2) -
The Guyaneseness of Guyanese
Anancy Strategies in The Whole
Taster: 'Recent Guyanese Writing -
from the U.K.'
Tradition and Change in Music in
Guyana and the West Indies -
Edward Kamau BrathWaite 11
Mahadai Dag 16
Stanley Greaves 19
Pamela Mordecai 21
Velma Pollard 25
C. G. Aird 27
Steve Persaud 28
Michael Aarons 30
Cleveland Hamilton 31
Ian McDonald 33
A. J. Seymour 34
Tony Kellman 35
The cost of printing and distributing a literary magazine is very heavy.
Please help us to keep Kyk-over-Al going by serd'ng your annual subscriptions
(two issues June and December) to either of the Joint Editors as follows:
A. J. Seymour
23 North Road,
22, Church Street,
Tel. No. 63170
Tel. No. 67329
Annual subscription rates: G$40. or EC$30.
The Editors of Kyk-over-Al would welcome the submission of poems, short
stories, articles and reviews to consider for publication. Publication of course
cannot be guaranteed and because of expense it will not be possible to return
OVER THE EDITOR'S DESK
Caribbean Year 1986 in U.K
From the Commonwealth Institute in London came a Newsletter, an-
nouncing that the Institute is planning a projection of the Caribbean in the
United Kingdom, to run from March 1986 and concluding in November 1986.
Imaginatively planned, Caribbean Year has many aspects the brochure
mentions the renewal of all Caribbean national exhibits, especially The Today
Gallery (to travel to other venues also), film and television seminars (as in Africa
Year 1984), conferences and educational activities.
Caribbean Sunday will be April 27, 1986 with a service at Westminister
Abbey. A Caribbean Boat with groups of performing artistes, starting from
the Thames will tour the West of the U.K., putting into Leith and possibly going
on to Rotterdam; Extra-mural Focuses on Caribbean Affairs, possibly in Liver-
pool, Birmingham and Northeast or Devon.
Guyanese Poet wins 1984 Commonwealth Poetry Prize
David Dabydeen, a Guyanese lecturer on English Literature at Warwick
University in Britain, has been awarded the 1984 Commonwealth Poetry Prize
with a collection of poems Slave Song.
The news sheet Commonwealth Currents, describes the collection as
"showing the creole mind striving and struggling after concepts of beauty and
purity, tho hampered by the harsh experience of daily existence".
We Must Educate Our Women More
At a Charter Presentation Ceremony on March 16, of The Inner Wheel
Club of Georgetown, the UNDP Representative in Guyana, Miss Cecile Davis,
addressing the 60 persons present, stressed the great importance of women in
society, especially when moral values are concerned. Since change and tech-
nology bring dislocation in their train, there is great need to educate our women
more, so that they can equip the next generation to sustain and improve the
quality of living.
We Must Know Our Heritage Better
UNESCO has given the Guyana Heritage Society a grant of $15,000 (US)
to complete a Cultural Inventory of Guyana for all to know. The Society has
begun to work on (1) the Immovabl. Material Heritage of important buildings
forts etc. and (2) the Non-Material Heritage of the folk traditions, ceremonies
and customs of the various ethnic groups.
The Turkeyen Journal of the Arts Vol. 1, 1985
The University of Guyana Faculty of Arts in its first Journal issue sets
out an intellectual forum: In its 46 pages, it presents six articles and three poems
by Stanley Greaves. Bill Carr commends the Idea of the University with pride.
He has served in three universities Cambridge, U.W.I., and now 18 years with
U.G. which he f:els is "Validating it-elf in the context of the Guyanese com-
munity" "encouraging a liberal quality of mind." Roberta Kilkenny, in
close on 4,000 words, has built a dense and successful structure of "productive
labour" from the French Physiocrats showirg how the concept paved the way
from feudalism to modern capitalism thru Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Jean
Say to a go:d bas' for Karl Marx.
Drnald Sinclair reflects upon Claude McKay and his protest literature.
He claims that "social commitment does not exempt an artist from art" "his
primary obligation translating the private and particular unto the universal".
Rayman Mandal deals with La Noche de Tlateolco as a successful documentary
of the 1968 student agitation in Mexico City and the massacre and imprisonment
Two other articles complete the journal in 5,000 words, Alan Hosein
discusses the quality of "seeing" in Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" in Leaves
of Grass and A-drew B'shop sets out the various factors as the study of Geo-
graphy evolved from the Mddle Ages to modern times.
Stanley Greaves presents three beautiful philosophically-toned poems.
H. A. Vaughan Is Dead
The Barbados poet, Hon. Hilton Augustus Vaughan, born 1901, has died.
He served his country well as Judge, Attorrey General and Ambassador to the
U.S.A. and the U N.. and had acted as Governor General of Barbados. He was
Queen's Counsel and OBE.
With Frank Collymore he was one of the two outstanding poe's of Bar-
bados of his time and although he published only one collection, Sandy Lane and
other Poems, in the 1940's, his poems have been widely anthologised. As AJS
wrote some years ago, "The word of Vaughan is classical in temper, shrewd in
analysis and nationalistic and political in content; he was one of the early pro-
ponents cf the maxim that 'B'ack is beautiful'."
We recall with great pleasure his lines beginning: "Turn sideways now
and let them see what loveliness escapes the schools."
Senator John Wickham remembers him as the "embodiment of so many
qualities which seem essentially Barbadian", with a profound knowledge of
the lives and times of patriots and "an inveterate and unrepentant punster". Sir
Alexander Hoyos recalled him as his "guide, philosopher and friend in the
journalistic records of the Barbados past" and who had a "common interest in
the treasures of literature, philosophy and religion".
We are grateful to see the favourable reception of Kyk 30 so far as
readers were concerned, and we are happy at the poetry coming in for Kyk 31.
We would like to receive good short fiction but that seems in short supply at the
A VERY SPECIAL THANKS
The reappearance of KYK-OVER-AL could not pos-
sibly have been achieved without the support of a number
of people and organizations in the community. We are more
than grateful to those who so readily supported this effort
to keep alive an important part of Guyana's cultural tra-
dition. Everyone concerned and interested in the literary life
of the nation owe these sponsors a debt of gratitude.
Bank of Nova Scotia
Bel Park Guyana Agencies (Solo)
C & F Meat Centre
Central Garage of Guyana Limited
Chase Manhattan Bank
Colonial Life Insurance Company
Demerara Mutual Life Assurance Society
Demerara Tobacco Company Limited
John Fernandes Limited
Friendship Industries Limited
GEB Security Services
Guyana Airways Corporation
Guyana Broadcasting Corporation
Guyana National Trading Corporation
Guyana Oil Company Limited
Guyana Refrigerators Limited
Guyana Rice Board
Guyana Telecommunications Corporation
Guyana & Trinidad Mutual
Jaikaran Drug Store
Republic Soda Factory
Ricks & Sari Industry Limited
J. P. Santos and Company Limited
Sterling Products Limited
Water Chris Hotel Restaurant
Willems Timber & Trading Company Limited
"Supporting KYK-OVER-AL Guyara's literary magazine".
Editors: A. J. SEYMOUR and IAN McDONALD.
POETRY MOSAIC HOW AND WHY
Reading and writing poetry is to me a daily joy. I have always been
puzzled why poetry is so often considered either as an irrelevance in the ordinary
course of life or as the exotic indulgence of a peculiar few. Not long ago, in an
issue of "The American Scholar", Karl Shapiro wrote:
"There is no poetry audience. Only a great population who claim the
title of poet. In my experience nobody in this country reads poetry
except poets, writers, and teachers of poetry".
As a West Indian that is the sad bell I hear tolling too. It should not be
so. Recently, in the space of a few days, I read two pieces which I thought got
to the heart of poetry better than most of what I have seen written about it.
The first piece was an article by Robert Pring-Mill entitled "The 'Work-
shop Poetry' of Sandinista Nicaragua" which appeared in Volume 1, Number 2,
of the journal Antilia published in 1984 by the Faculty of Arts at U.W.I. in
Trinidad. This article describes in a most stimulating way the "poesia de taller"
which emerged in Nicaragua soon after the defeat of Somoza. This poetry, pro-
duced by a generation of peasants and town-dwellers, many of whom could
neither read nor write let alone aspire to compose poems before the literacy
campaign in 1980, emerged under the inspiration of Ernesto Cardenal, the poet-
priest. Cardenal was appointed Minister of Culture in the first Sandinista Revo-
lutionary Government and was recently expelled by Pope John Paul II from the
Jesuit Order because of his refusal to resign his Cabinet post in Nicaragua.
The key teaching document in this surprising flowering of poetry among
ordinary people was a pamphlet issued by the Ministry of Culture and the work
of Ernesto Cardenal himself. In his article Robert Pring-Mill comments on this
"Its rules may look naive, and the style is so 'deadpan' that one is
tempted to see ironies where none were intended; but even if the intro-
ductory sentence was meant as 'one in the eye' for academic critics and
established poets, Cardenal undoubtedly wanted his young workshop
poets to take that startling affirmation as literally as the rest".
Here is the pamphlet in full.
"SOME RULES FOR WRITING POETRY'
by Ernesto Cardenal
Writing good poetry is easy, and the rules for doing it are few and simple.
1. Verse need not rhyme. If one line ends with Sandino, do not try to end an-
other with destine; if one ends with Leon, there is no need to make another
end in corazon. Rhyme is a good thing in songs, and very suitable for slogans
('WE WON IN THE RISING WE SHALL WIN ALPHABETISING'),
but rhyme is not a good thing in modern poetry. Nor is it a good thing to
have a regular rhythm (all the lines with the same number of syllables):
verse should be completely free, with long lines or short, as the poet chooses.
2. One should prefer more concrete terms to vaguer ones. To say "tree" is
vaguer or more abstract than saying quayacan (liqnum vitae), quesimo (a
sturdy tropical tree), malinche (flamboyant), which is more concrete. "Ani-
mal" is more abstract than "iguana", "rabbit", culumuco (Felis jaguarondi).
And it is more abstract to say "liquor" than to say "whiskey", "champagne",
cususa (a strong alcoholic drink of varying composition). Good poetry is
usually made out of very concrete things.
3. Poetry has an added appeal if it includes proper names : the names of rivers,
towns, and villages. And people's names. Part of the charm of Carlos Mejia
Godoy's songs lies in the wealth of proper names complete with surnames
and even nicknames to be found in them: "la Amanda Aguilar", irso
Mondragon", "Quincho Barrilete", "the almond tree at Tere's place".
4. Rather than being based on ideas, poetry needs to be based on things which
reach us through our senses : which can be felt with the touch, which can be
tasted with the palate, which can be heard, which can be seen, which can be
smelt. It is good to make a point of saying that corrugated iron is "rusty",
that a river stone is "shiny", that an iguana is "rough-skinned", that a macaw
is "red, yellow and blue" (and to try to describe the sound a macaw makes).
The most important images are visual ones: most things reach us through
5. One must write as one speaks. With the natural plainness of the spoken
language, not the written language. To put the adjective first, as in "los
sombrios senderos" (the shady paths), is not natural in our language, but
rather: "los senderos sombrios". By the same token, it is preferable not to
use tu but vos (i.e. for the second person singular) in our Nicaraguan
poetry, since that is how we speak in daily life. The greater part of the new
Nicaraguan poetry is now using vos, and it is also rightly being used in
advertising, mottoes, slogans, etc. (Vos is used in almost all of Latin
America, but there are few places where it is used as much as in Nicaragua;
the new Nicaraguan poetry is going to impose the use of vos throughout
6. Avoid what are called commonplaces, cliches, or hackneyed expressions. In
other words, whatever has gone on being repeated in the same way for a long
time, For example: "burning sun", "icy cold", "cruel tyrant", "heroic
fighters", etc. The poet should try to discover new ways of putting things; if
what he writes is made up of expressions blunted by use, it is not poetry.
7. Try lo condense the language as much as possible. In other words, to abridge.
All words which are not absolutely necessary should be left out. If there are
two ways of putting something, one should choose the shorter. One should
economise on words as though one were writing a telegram; or as in the
phrases on the roadside billboards, which are made as short as possible. The
The real difference between prose and verse is that prose uses many words,
while verse uses few. An editorial or a news story in Barricada is prose be-
cause it is written with many words; if the same thing were condensed into
just a few lines, it would be "verse". A poem may be a very long one, but
each of its lines should be in very condensed language".
The second piece is an essay written by Philip Larkin in 1957 and repro-
duced in a volume of his miscellaneous writing entitled "Required Writing"
published by Faber and Faber in 1983. Concisely and with telling clarity it sums
up, infinitely better than I ever could, the essential fact that "poetry, like all art,
is inextricably bound up with giving pleasure". The essay was written nearly 30
years ago but what it says is never out of date. Here are extracts:
"THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE'
It is sometimes useful to remind ourselves of the simpler
aspects of things normally regarded as complicated. Take, for
instance, the writing of a poem. It consists of three stages : the first
is when a man becomes obsessed with an emotional concept to such
a degree that he is compelled to do something about it. What he
does is the second stage, namely, construct a verbal device that will
reproduce this emotional concept in anyone who cares to read it,
anywhere, any time. The third stage is the recurrent situation of
people in different times and places setting off the device and re-
creating in themselves what the pcet felt when he wrote it. The
stages are interdependent and all necessary. If there has been no
preliminary feeling, the device has nothing to reproduce and the
reader will experience nothing. If the second stage has not been well
done, the device will not deliver the goods, or will deliver only a
few goods to a few people, or will slop delivering them after aa
absurdly short while. And if there is no third stage, no successful
reading, the poem can hardly be said to exist in a practical sense
What a description of this basic tripartite structure shows is that
that poetry is emotional in nature and theatrical in operation, a
skilled recreation of emotion in other people, and that, conversely, a
bad poem is one that never succeeds in dcing this. All modes of
critical derogation are no more than different ways of saying this,
whatever literary, philosophical cr moral terminology they employ,
and it would not be necessary to point out anything so obvious if
present-day poetry did not suggest that it had been forgotten.
We seem to be producing a new kind of bad poetry, not the old
kind that tries to move the reader and fails, but one that does not
even try. Repeatedly he is confronted with pieces that cannot be
understood without reference beyond their own limits or whose
contented insipidity argues that their authors are merely reminding
themselves of what they know already, rather than re-creating it
for a third party. The reader, in fact, seems no longer present in
the poet's mind as he used to be, as someone who must understand
and enjoy the finished product if it is to be a success at all; the
assumption now is that no one will read it, and wouldn't understand
or enjoy it if they did.
Why should this be so? It is not sufficient to say that poetry has
lost its audience, and so need no longer consider it: lots of people
still read and even buy poetry. More accurately, poetry has lost
its old audience, and gained a new one. This has been caused by
the consequence of a cunning merger between pcet, literary critic
and academic critic (three classes now notoriously indistinguish-
able); it is hardly an exaggeration to say that the poet has gained
the happy position wherein he can praise his own poetry in the press
and explain it in the class-room, and the reader has been bullied
into giving up the consumer's power to say 'I don't like this, bring
me something different'. Let him now so much as breathe a word
about not liking a poem, and he is in the dock before he can say
Edwin Arlington Robinson.
The cash customers of poetry, therefore, who used to put down their
money in the sure and certain hope of enjoyment as if at a theatre
or concert hall, were quick to move elsewhere. Poetry was no longer
a pleasure. They have been replaced by a humbler squad, whose aim
is not pleasure but self-improvement, and who have uncritically ac-
cepted the contention that they cannot appreciate poetry without
preliminary investment in the intellectual equipment which, by the
merest chance, their tutor happens to have about him. In short,
the modern poetic audience, when it is not taking in its own wash-
ing, is a student audience, pure and simple. At first sight this may
not seem a bad thing. The poet has at last a moral ascendancy, and
his new clientele not only pay for the poetry but pay to have it
explained afterwards. Again, if the pcet has only himself to please,
he is no longer handicapped by the limitations of his audience. And
in any case nobody nowadays believes that a worthwhile artist can
rely on anything but his own judgement: Public taste is always
twenty-five years behind, and picks up a style only when it is ex-
ploited by the second-rate. All this is true enough. But at bottom
poetry, like all art, is inextricably bound up with giving pleasure
and if a poet loses his pleasure-seeking audience he has lost the only
audience worth having, for which the dutiful mob that signs on
every September is no substitute. And the effect will be felt through-
out his work. He will forget that even if he finds what he has to
say interesting, others may not. He will concentrate on moral worth
or semantic intricacy. Worst of all, his poems will no longer be
born of the tension between what he non-verbally feels and what
can be got over in common word-usage to someone who hasn't had
his experience of education or travel grant, and once the other end
of the rope is dropped what results will not be so much obscure or
piffling (though it may be both) as an unrealised, 'undramatised'
slackness, because he will have lost the habit of testing what he
writes by this particular standard. Hence, no pleasure. Hence, no
What can be done about this? Who wants anything done about
it? Certainly not ihe poet, who is in the unprecedented position of
peddling both his work and the standard by which it is judged.
Certainly not only the new reader, who, like a partner of some
unconsummated marriage, has no idea of anything better. Certainly
not the eld reader, who has simply replaced one pleasure with
another. Only the romantic loiterer who recalls the days when
poetry was condemned as sinful might wish things different. But if
the medium is in fact to be rescued from among our duties and
restored to our pleasures, I can only think that a large-scale revul-
sion has got to set in against present notions, and that will have to
start with poetry readers asking themselves more frequently whether
they do in fact enjoy what they read, and, if not what the point
is of carrying on. And I use 'enjoy' in the commonest of senses,
the sense in which we leave a radio on or off. These interested
m;ght like to read David Daiches's essay 'The New Cri icism:
Some Qualifications' (in Literary Essays, 1956); in the meantime,
the following note by Samuel Butler may reawaken a furtive itch
for freedom : 'I should like to like Schumann's music better than I
do; I dare say I could make myself like it better if I tried; but I
do not like having to try to make myself like things; I like things
that make me like them at once and no trying at all'. (Notebooks,
As I happened to read these articles almost one after the other it became
clearer than ever to me why and how poetry could and should be more central
in ordinary, as well as extraordinary, lives. I hope it may be so one day among
people in our West Indian nations. Listen to Osip Mandelstam:
"The people need poetry that will be their own secret
To keep them awake forever,
And bathe them in the bright-haired wave
Of its breathing".
for ROBIN DOBRU
She's dark and her voice sings
of the dark river. her eyes
hold the soft fire that only the warm
night knows her skin is musky and soft
she travels far back explores
ruins touches on old immemorial legends
everyone but herself has forgotten she
becomes warrior and queen and keeper of the
tribe there is no fear
where she walks although drums speak
to announce the immanent death of a tyrant
and although her song is sad there is no sorrow
where she sings she walks in a world
where the river whispers of certainties
that only she can acknowledge the trees
touch confident and unassuming she hopes
that light will break in the clearing before her song ends...
The night before he died
the Bird walked on and played his heart out
like figure forming pebbles
in a pond he
was angry and we
knew he wept to know his time had come
so soon o
little had been done
little time to do it
he wished to hold the night from burning all time
his fingers fixed
upon a minor key
his bright eyes blazed and bulged against the death in him then knock-
ing at the door
as one will watch
a great clock striking time from a great booming midnight bell
the silence slowly throbbing in behind the dying bell
the night before he died
the Bird walked on through fear through faith through frenzy that he
tried to hide
but could not stop that bell
Music will never fly out of your green horn in squares
nor out of your harp nor out of your thumb pianos
because it does not grow on cotton wool plantations
it is not manufactured good nor made of metal neither
it can never go straight up to heaven
clambering up its notes from a ladder in the sky
for it curls like your hair around its alabama root. circles
like fishwater around your children's sticks
has deep watery eyes like a sea lion has clear fiery eyes like a hawk
it sees through stone and dynamites itself in quarries
of deep bone bringing our riddim home
it is the blue lagoon inside your slide trombone
it is the echo not the rock that does
it is the reggae reggae riddim that explodes the prison bums the clock
Its when the bamboo from its clip of yellow groan and wrestle
begins to glow and the wind learns the shape of its fixes
and my fingers following the termites drill
find their hollows of silence shatters of echoes of tone
that my eyes close all along the wall all along the branches all along the
and that dry creak and spirits walking these graves of sunlight
spiders over the water cobwebs crawling in whispers over the stampen
from a distance so cool it is a hill in haze
it is a fish of shadow along the sandy bottom
that the wind is following my footsteps
all along the rustle all along the branches all along the
and that that stutter i had heard in some dark summer freedom
startles and slips from fingertip to fingerstop
into the float of the morning into the throat of its sound
it is a baby mouth but softer than the suck it makes
it is a hammock sleeping in the woodland
it is a hammer shining in the shade
it is the kite ascending chord and croon and screamers
it is the cloud that curls to hide the eagle
it is the ripple of the stream from bamboo
it is the ripple of the stream from blue
it is the gurgle pigeon dream the ground dove coo
it is the sun approaching midday listening its splendour
it is your voice alight with echo. with the birth of sound
When the stone fall that morning out of the johncrow sky
it was not dark at first. that opening on to the red sea sky'
but something in my mouth like feathers blue like bubbles and light
carrying signals & planets & the sliding curve of the world like a water pic
ture in a raindrop when the pressure drop
When the stone fall that morning i
couldn't cry out because my mouth was full of beast & plunder
as if i was gnashing badwords among tombstones
as if angry water was beating up against the curbstones of the palisadoes
as if that road up Stony Hill round the bend by the churchyard on the
way to the
post office was a bad bad dream and the dream was on fire all the way
white houses higher up the hill and the ogogs bark
ing all teeth & furnace and my mother like she upside down up a Iree like
she was screaming and nobody i could hear could hear a word i shout
ing even though there were so many poems left and the tape was switched
on & runn
ing and the green light was red and they was standing up everywhere in
& Amsterdam & at UNESCO in Paris & in West Berlin & clapping &
clapping & clapp
ing & not a soul on Stony Hill to even say amen and yet it was happening
the fences began to crack in my skull and there were loud boodooooongs
guns going off them ole time magnums or like fireworks where i
dreadlocks were in fire
and the gaps where the river coming down and the dry gully where my
teeth used to be
smiling and my tuff gong tongue that used to press against them &
now unannounce and like a black wick in i head & dead
and it was like a heavy heavy riddim low down in i belly bleeding dub
and there was like this heavy black dog thumping in i chest &
and my throat like dem tie like dem tie a tight tie around it. twist
ing my neck quick crick quick crick and a never wear neck
tie yet and a laughing more blood an spittin out lawwwwwwwwwwd
and i two eye lock to the sun and the two sun staring back bright from
the grass and i
bline to de butterfly flittin but i hear de tread of my heart
the heavy flux of the blood in my veins silver tambourine*
closer & closer. st joseph band crashing &
closer & bom sicai sica boom ship bell &
closer & bom sicai sica boom ship bell &
when the saints ...
and it was like a wave on Stony Hill caught in a crust of sunlight
and it was like a broken schooner into harbour muffled in the silence of
of its wound
and it was like the blue of peace was filling up the heavens with its thunder
and it was like the wind was growing skin the skin had hard hairs
it was like Marcus Garvey rising frcm his coin stepping towards his
crying dark and every mighty word he trod the ground fell dark & hole
him like it was a scream i did not know and yet it was a scream my
ears were bleeding
sound and i was quiet now because i had become that sound
the sunlit morning washed the coral limestone harsh against the soft
i was & it was slipping past me into water & it was slipping past me into
i was & it was slipping past me into flower & it was ripping upward into
while every tongue in town was lashing me with spit & cutrass wit &
ivy whip &
wrinkle jumbimum it was like warihcg grunting in the ground and
ing down the hill run right on through the splashes
that my breathing made when it was howl & rd & bubble and sparrow
twits pluck tic & tapworm from the grass
as if i-man did never have no face as if i-man did never in this place
When the stone fell that morning out of the johncrow sky
i could not hold it back or black it back or block it off or limp away
or roll it from me into memory or light or rock it steady into night be
cause it builds me now and fills my blood with deaf my bone with dumb &
i am the stone that kills me.
EDWARD KAMAU BRATHWAITE
YOU HAVE RETURNED
You have returned.
some fount in my heart
is unscrewed; the poetry
flows and flows tonight,
a fall or a fountain,
a forest stream quietly
overcoming stones in
love, what were you doing
there; that place so far
away from my heart that
in your absence, my very
blood seemed to run more
slowly; all my tangible
tempos seemed to sigh
and turn away from
implementing their previous
mad, wild dance in my temples,
or heart, or inside my wrists.
What have you done to me,
love, when your absences
slow me down to inaction,
that slow metabolism of
despair, while your returniggs
quicken my pulse excitedly,
the circulatory map of my
eager blood going to riot.
THERE'S A FINISHED PLAY
There's a finished play
in my head.
in a large, empty
drawn, heavy curtains,
the whole act's
"at the climax
the heroine fell,
with all her skirts,
deep into his eyes.
he. a chivalric lover,
eyes masked from the world,
his ready feet in love's stirrups -
galloped in upon the moment -
snatched her up with
a passionate kiss,
to his breast.
to the land of love ............"
But you, sweetheart,
watching me intently,
are you sitting in the wings?
SILENT MY HEART
Silent, my heart.
She will take him in good care.
See how tightly he holds
her little hand.
He is sleeved, this wintry
afternoon, in black, and
a girl who, scarfed in
a homely plaid, hangs
on his arm, may yet be his wife.
Hush, my heart
you knew him when he walked
against the cold wind, coatless,
lost, like a small-town boy with
faraway eyes in a big impersonal city.
She will care for him.
He won't buy many sandwiches now.
The deli people will be sad.
After home-made suppers, nights
kissing her besides red glowing
candles; after she's hung his
shirts out in the bathroom,
stayed up with him while
he writes his book-
He won't lack for company.
You were never in the picture,
my girl, you were an extra
who thought herself a star;
you were never in his picture,
only in a dream that wasn't
his only in a beautiful dmam.
A dream nevertheless.
So hush my heart.
Be happy he's found
one to sit with him
in front of the home-fires,
who seems good and true
enough to bear his child.
you let my brother
be lost like a common snail
You let him grow mad,
pacing the iron space
two straight lines confined,
measuring his steps keenly
between impossible parallels
in his life, grieved and bewildered.
Into that primeval and city-forgotten
jungle which dragged him into its own
remembrance, the twin geography of this
world and the next, unwittingly he went,
without even maps of child-young crayon
lines, without the golden compass of
your sure guidance, without your
Was it his appointed time to fill
that high office I mentioned previously?
Is that why you called him
from all my carefully-constructed
dreams, my sandpapered corridors,
my high-glaze windows?
Or did my desperate brother play,
like Bergman's mediaeval antihero,
a grim game of chess with inflexible
death, and lose?
IF LINES IN MY HAND
HAVE BECOME MY FACE
YOU HAVE BEEN A LONG TIME COMING.
THE ECSTASY OF CLOUDS
NEVER PAINTS RAINBOWS
FOR ANTS RUNNING MY MIND ,
AND I DID NOT RECOGNIZE YOUR FACE
WHO SHELTER UNDER DIVINE LOVE.
YOU HAVE BEEN A LONG TIME COMING.
EACH DAY IS TODAY
FOR TOMORROW NEVER COMES
TO STEAL MY SHADOW
OF EXULTANT BOUQUETS.
"TO A POET M.C."
AND THE HORSES
AND THE DRUMS,
THE NIGHT DOES NOT STILL
DOGS PRACTISING TO HOWL.
WITH LEAVES STUCK TO FEET
THE CONDEMNED COMMIT MISERIES
WHICH EVEN LILIES
IN THEIR HEARTS
THE ABSENCE OF TRUTH
HOODS EAGLES' EYES,
ANGELS CANNOT BE HEARD,
ONLY THE WARDEN OF WORDS
AS THE PRECIPITATE WREN
ITS GALAXY OF SONGS.
SHAPE AND COLOUR OF AFRICA,
CLOSE CURLED SKULL
SINGING THE SONGS OF SLEEP.
SKINS OF PLASTIC LEOPARDS
INHABIT THE MARKET PLACE
WHERE BLUE INDIGO IS COINAGE.
ESIU SITS IN THE CROSSROADS
SIGNALLING TRICKS FOR SALE.
MAD SAHARAN SINGING SANDS
AND BLUE BUSH DEVILS.
STOP ME AND BUY
FOLLOWING SECRET CURVES
WHISPERING AT SHAVED TANGENTS.
THE DESPERATE TRICK
AFRICA TO AMERICA
FLAMES A RED RAINBOW
OVER THE SARGASSO OF SINS.
LIFE IS THE BIGGEST TRICK
EACH BREATH IS NO MORE
THAN ONE LESS TO BREATHE.
First Movement Granny Amy
1. An a must get a chick
But you na get no chick
And a must get a chick
But you na get no chick
Ard a must get a chick
Mi say you nah get no chick!
Pinyaah di hawk is coming down ..
2. You know what is
a Leghorn chick?
You know yaws?
You too fool, yaw -
Yaws is a disease
that fowls suffer from.
You must be a fowl.
3. A company of shadow
under the coolie plum tree
each stump a windy tale
the dark earth storing history
4. Here in this place of greening
orange tree, civil orange tree,
coolie plum, naseberry,
the family chickens
came to meet their death.
You put the body under
a old pan, leave the head
outside, press down knife to neck
with a clean stroke, let the pan
up: see the chicken flatter ...
5. And a must get a chick
But you naw get no chick
And a must get a chick
But you naw get no chick
And a must get a chick
Mi say you nah get no chick
Pinyaah di hawk is coming down.
6. Papa kept a nanny goat
in the backyard.
I see him milk it still
his fingers deft white milk
answering them in small
clean streams into
the noisy pan.
Not a grass was ever
so green as the guinea
grass that goat ate
in that yard. No
mint smell so sharp
as the small clump
halfway down the slope
to the back gate.
7. Is grass and ashes
you take to clean pot
you know. You never
know? Beat the clothes
on the big beating stone
beside the pipe, bleach them,
starch them (blue in
the starch) and set cleanly
orderly on the line
Not a clothes so white
Not a collar so starch
Not a pot so clean.
8. Papa's carpenter's bench
stood against the orange tree.
Every so often it get shaky
and he shore it up.
What my father could do
with a nail and two
sure strokes of a hammer!
I see him plane wood, now,
and the shavings curl
bright browny-red like
the sun catch in the wood
and he planing leaves of light,
so and so, so and so,
and the warm steady
noise of the plane, the comfort
On that bench
one Good Friday I set
a egg white in a jam bottle
to see the shape of the crucified
Christ. Not a shape was a shape.
9. Blue bird, blue bird
in and out the window
blue bird, blue bird
in and out the window
Oh Janey I am tired
Take a little girl
and pat her on the shoulder
Take a little girl
and pat her on
10. Who pat that pat?
My granny had
a big mouth
She pat that pat.
It was a waking pat;
I pray God, when
I have grans, I have
a pat like that.
11. One day down by the beating store
Dzlores say she wish my mother
womb would drop out.
She was a evil-looking woman
head like medusa, plants
showing clenched fists
from her yellow face
like small tough snakes.
Why my mother womb to drop out?
Who not to born?
Which one, as Father Roy
say, would she
have savaged in the egg?
12. At Papa's workbench also
I beat out Pascal's wager,
If God, then hell;
if no God, what the hell
But if hell, well?
If hell, well God.
13. Papa and Mr. Holness built
our house. He looked
just like Delores: high cheekbones
yellow bronzing into gold
for he worked
in the sun. He wasn't old
nor young. Just
ageless, decent, good, Him
Papa, seive and saw,
cement and sand and sweat,
These raised the walls
we lived in, set
a roof firmly astride,
When man and man
build so, it give a
meaning to abide.
Pearldrops she said
and smiled towards her breasts ...
too cold for turning on, I said.
my poets warm to raisins tipping
naseberries on the limb
pearldrops are cold and white
how ever came that image in your head?
Now that the doctors say
the end is on its way
I find me thinking .. pearldrops...
"pearls lie deep"
storing on its floor
cold people with cold pearls
I hear her say
and note (too late)
the wanness of her voice.
I do not wish to sit and smile
too sweetly where the pavement ends
nor set small windy fires at Papine
nor scrupulously cleanse myself in streams
guttering too slowly
gathering stench on stench
I do not wish to mumble as I go
gesturing wildly as the voice grows loud
eyes staring wide
and crude uneasy laugh
mad people whisper late
sane peoples early dreams
beware my inmost thoughts
that wait mad mind's release
too much too soon
the mind rejects it all
uncensored now and overflowing here
flotsam and jetsam mixed with precious pearl
and so my love my seraph dear go home
mad women whisper sane men's names
and not in jest
leave me my dreams of growing calmly old
turning thin pages in moth ridden books
rocking my evening bones
watching each sun go down
A CASE FOR PAUSE
Arrest the sense
and let the fancy flow
collecting cloud and air
petal and leaf .
Rein in the fancy now
unleash the sense .
constructs and theories
not yet pursued
rush in perfected, whole.
Each pausing briefly rests
to rising work its best
shadows and moonlight
dust and then the rain
each dies the while
to brightly live again.
FOR NEVILLE ROBINSON
The light tread of the rat's paw
on the stair
Will not disturb your sleep now.
It is clear that men
are tco much like rats.
And your fear of rats
and men alike has been transcended.
I remember when you paused
to consider, in your way, the setting sun.
You always loved, I feel, what you condemned.
Life, I see, you found not easily
reducible to rhyme
or is it that you understood in time
that, despite our tongue,
death rhymes fiercely with life.
SOON YOU WILL BE GONE
Soon you will be gone
Jacketed in a metal tube
cutting to the hearts of clouds,
destroying splashes of
sunlight as you pass
casting your dark,
winged shadow over me.
Soon you will be gone
and I will stand below
my tear torn face turned
How will I find you
when distance winters you.
How will I know your frozen life.
I who have known only the sun.
C. G. AIRD
Travelling along the country reads
Faces peer from dark doorways
Tough looking people move around
With huge grins on their faces
Old women carrying large
R-'ndles on their small heads
Men with bicycles as old as
The music pWays with the loudness
Of a cathedral bell
Houses that look small
But hold huge families
Horses cats dogs
Seem to know each other well
Long backyards whose trees
Always seem to bear fruit
And everything move on
As though the healthy greens
Move them on
I HAVE SEEN THE MILES GROW TIRED
I have seen the miles grow tired
I have seen flowers burst with
Expectancy only to die from
The raging sun
I have seen the earth
Cracked brown, dying from thirst
Her trees refusing to speak
Only their silence with their anguished
As to live or die
Waiting for the rains to come
Praying for the rains to come
And the rains never come
Listening to the voice of the moclkng heat
Telling them to be patient with
And they hoping it would be soon
Sooner than before
Later than never.
TIME AND THE FORTUNES
Time and the fortunes
Life and its dreams
Madness with its anger
Solitude with its loneliness
Laughter with its sadness
Discussion with its intent
Running with its freedom
And love beckons them all
Mountains that we yearn to climb
Forests where we long to sleep
Places where we long to walk
Promises that we must keep
Hands that we hold
Things that mean a lot to us
The crying faces of hungry children
And love beckons them all
Beaches churches factories
Dark and bright nights
Sick men with healthy mirds
Women with exposed breasts
Brave men with cringing fears
Old people with young hearts
And love beckons them all
FOR INDIRA GANDHI
You let the hawk in you
That, you seemed to think,
would bring the dove back
to a disastrous sky.
Perhaps you stood too firm
and so were unbalanced
when you tried to throw
a lariat over a lion's head.
You wanted the garden whole.
What you saw as weeds
might only have been flowers
of a different kind;
and the wi.4 horses
that would not be stabled
nor join the herd
were perhaps lions
that would have given too many tears.
For some, Indira,
You still are,
a bright mark in the sky, your memory
a suddenly appearing star
in their heart's, gloom.
For others, you were
the sky's starring sore,
the disastra that only
hate's keen surgery
could have removed.
Raincloud in drought,
sore or star.
you made your mark high,
upon the heavens.
You were spectacular,
and when you fell, all
looked your way
again, and wondered.
FOR ERIC WILLIAMS
And so the daylight crumbles
and the night moves in
The tower tumbles
and the crash resounds
all through the vast Columbus rounds
The pieces must be picked
and put in place
Doom's machinations must be licked
the flowing Caribbean waters
are not tears
but cleansing streams of hope
to give its people impetus to cope.
Dusk has been fleet
a trade wind breath
to cool the shock of death. Right
in the strife of life
sharp like a knife
The Trinity rose high
not to cry.
The crowds will brood
upon the scholar's cradled head
the creeping, stalking, ghostly hood
insists in Port-of-Spain
the statesman's dead
The historian will not write again
only be read.
An erstwhile politician wears a shroud
no more the hustings
but a Carib cloud
smudges the features
of a Tobagonian sun
the wisdom, victories of Woodford Square
The hurricanes retreat, the floods subside
Paria chides her tide
The hills, the mountains throb
the palm trees genuflect
in solemn homage for the man who died.
A sweating Windian heat speaks out,
this is a tragic thing.
The king is dead.
Who will be King?
DREAMS, LEAVE ME ALONE
I am going along fine in the middle years.
I've left youth like a blazing fire
Guttering out in albums, in old letters full of puzzles.
I am heavy with the stone of middle age:
The skin of all I touch is thickened,
A glaze on what I see,
Sounds muffle like a pillow cuffed,
Tastes furr like old peppers left in vinegar.
I smell the air, it has no smell at all.
I think the well-considered thoughts
That other men have thought before.
Unusual beauty I quite ignore or shun.
Like an old car on a cold morning,
I need a kick start.
But it's all right, lives find their level:
Comfortable, not vivid, are the passing hours.
The joy of the world
Is faded like a worn rug
In a sunny room.
It looks as if the time left
Will be serviceable but not astonishing:
A walk, eyes down, through brilliant forests.
I have written a million words,
Life-long a single poem,
In my hallelujah chorus.
Celebrating the skipping boy
Girl flaunting her curving beauty
The old man shuffling along
The leaf with the rain on it.
Celebrating my human tree,
The memories that whisper of childhood
And its care-free happiness
My memory, nameless and vast,
Pushes roots in the nation's past
And the past coming leaping to life,
Defying time to print
The black velvet of my mind.
The happy cascading bells
Trembling in songs of joy
A crystal contains them all.
The tilapia in the trench
Burrow deep in a cave of mud
Fancying themselves to be safe,
From fingers impregnable
But the secrets, dark in the heart
Yield their jewels at harvest time,
The creative imagination.
A. J. SEYMOUR
*CATTLEWASH: THE CRUEL SEA
Lions roarr .. Their brazen
Claws dig deep in the shore. Non stop,
These carnivorous whiteheads chop
And plough, splaying across the sand.
The routed pebbles rattle
Like bones around my ankles.
One, sharpened by time
And the water's grinding stone
Slices me, I groan and whine
Bending, clapping salt-water to my ankle-boie.
Few are the hotels sunbathing here
In this primal place,
Only the wake of the boulders' impervious stare
And the flowing hair of the seagrape.
The water pelts its deadly jabs,
The scathed rocks are cornered there.
These choiceless labourers tighten their belts,
The boulders' eyesockets weep crabs.
Trapped in this shout
Of salty ravenous mouths,
A middle-aged man flays his small arms all about,
And, the wind howls, and, the sea
Roars, and, the waves plough
A blight in this geography.
*Cattlewash is a beach along the east coast of Barbados,
known for its scenic beauty but deadly tides.
THE LESSER-KNOWN TRADITION OF
A Preliminary Bibliographical Survey
(Continued from Kyk-over-al No. 30, Dec., 1984)
by JOEL BENJAMIN
The interval since the publication of the first part of this essay permits
my acknowledgement of indebtedness to Fr. Matthew De Souza and lan
McDonald who were able to point out two important omissions. Christopher
Nicole's Off white (1959), a work set in Guyana, certainly should have been
included. Very interesting is the inclusion of the name of Evelyn Waugh in the
theme of this paper. Evelyn Waugh had travelled into the interior of Guyana
and to Boa Vista in 1933, subsequently producing his travelogue Ninety two
days (1934). His novel A handful of dust (1934) is a rKsult of his experiences during
that journey. The latter part of the book is based on one of Waugh's short
stories (The man who liked Dickens) in which the hero is kept prisoner by a
semi-insane character who compels him to read to him, interminably, the
works of Dickens (Sykes 1977: 194-196).
Inevitably, that interval has allowed an awareness of other new material.
Frederick Cranmore, a Guyanese, published his first novel, The West Indian
(1978), in Brooklyn. The story, dealing broadly with the theme of cultural ad-
justment of the emigrant, is set both in the United States of America and
Guyana. Most intriguing was the discovery that the 1763 Berbice Uprising
led to an awakening of the consciousness and conscience of Dutch writers
of the period (Lichtveld and Vocrhoeve 1958: 236). (The play Monzorgo
of de koninklyke slaaf (1774) by N. S. van Winter was one such admitted literary
outcome of that awakening). The obvious implication of this Dutch develop-
ment in terms of an expanded bibliographical search for works of fiction rooted
in the Guyana experience is fascinating.
Finally, as corrections to the first part of this essay (p. 40), it should be
noted that the 1983 first edition of Shiva Naipaul's novel took the different
title of Love and death in a hot country, and the name of the country in this work
was 'Cuyama' and not 'Cuyana' as stated. The name 'Peasman' (p. 39) should
THE SHORT STORY TRADITION
Although the short story tradition for Guyana is old, there are few works
by writers who fall into the 'outside' category. The oldest recorded work of
short stories pertaining to Guyana is arguably in this category. Matthew Barker,
who was once an editor of a local newspaper in the 1820s, published his Tough
yarns: a series of naval tales and sketches to please all hands in London in
1835. It is under the nom-de-plume 'The Old Sailor', a name which he used in
his contributions to Bentley's Miscellany (Rodway 1896: 224). Included in this
rare book is the sketch of "Daddy Davy" (p. 153-169). Daddy Davv. left a free
man in Demerara, meets his former master in Britain on a cold winter's night
as a beggar. The following scene (reproduced in Rodway 1918:138-139) is
significant for the use of a creole speech form, and very much indicative of the
stereotype of the black which obtained at the time :
"My own massa! what for you give Davy him life? What for you give Davy
him freedom? and now de poor nigger die for want But no?" checking
himself, "neber see the day for go dead, now me find my massa !" 'Confound
the cold !' said my grandfather, thrusting his thumb and forefinger to his eyes,
'how it makes one's eyes run William, my boy,' turning to me, 'fetch that
pocket hankerchief off the sofa.'
"I immediately obeyed, and felt as if the cold had affected me too; for I
employed my grandfather's handkerchief two or three times to wipe the
trickling drops from my face before I delivered it into his hands."
Wilfred Ashton's The syndicate horse and other stories (1898) is also very
rare, the copy of this book in the Royal Commonwealth Society (London) being
the only recorded one. The seven stories (with quaint titles like 'The syndicate
horse'. 'The missing link', 'Maior MacMurdc's manservant', 'The black dog',
'Mrs. Dreevor's little dodge', 'The promotion of Mervyn Daynter', and 'Felo de
Se') are all set in a local environment. To judge from these stories, AMhton was
most likely an expatriate, but details on him and his life in Guyana are not
Somewhat uneasily in the tradition of the outside perspective is A.
Oswald's It happened in Brit'sh Guiana: stories by an overseer on a sugar
estate (1955). This is a miscellaneous collection of odd stories, yet clearly indi-
cative of the author's practical knowledge of the country. Jewels of the sun (1979)
by the Antiguan-born Ralph Prince deserves inclusion at this point, not only
because Prince took up residence in Guyana at Linden, but because some of the
stories are distinctly set in a Guyana environment.
Eric Walrond (1898-1966) is the most remarkable case of a Guyana-born
author who turned 'emisr6". Tror.c death (1976) is a collection of interesting
short stories, one of which is set in Guyana. Walrond arguably occupies the
three peculiar positions of being one of the earliest indigenous Caribbean
writers, the Caribbean author with perhaps visibly the least developed potential,
and one of the least known figures in Guyanese literary history. In the 1920s
he had settled in the United States of America, involving himself in the literary
movement known as the Haarlem Renaissance. Some mystery once surrounded
Walrond's origins, and evidently some confusion still persists on this. It is
erroneously stated in some sources (e.g. Herdeck 1979: 220; and the blurb
to the 1972 reprint of this collection of stories) that Walrond was Jamaican-
born. Kenneth Ramchand (1970a: 240-241) writes, "Walrond's collection of
stories set in Panama and in the islands, Tropic Death [...], is a work of blis-
tering imaginative power and compassion. Walrond's life of exile, journalism
and vagabondage, his promise and his strange failure to produce must form an
importantt chapter in West Indian literary history [...]". Ramchand has pub,
lished (1970b: 67-75) a more detailed examination of Walrond's contribution
to West Indian literature. (See also Hughes 1979 : 131).
Although in the main tradition of Guyanese writers, Jan Carew has
published a number of lesser known short stories on themes of the future, the
bizarre and the supernatural. These include Stranger than tomorrow: three
stories of the future (1976), Save the last tan"o for me and other stories (1976)
and Don't go near the water : three stories (1982).
Lawrence Blackman is very little known as a Guyanese short story
writer. His Three short stories (1977) was published in Sweden. Blackman
migrated to England in 1962 and to Sweden in 1969, training as a radiographer.
The first of his three stories is about the fumbling efforts of a Guyanese abroad
to escape from a life of isolation and bookishness. Blackman (1977) has himself
described this particular story as 'taken from life' and one may assume that it
contains a disguised autobiographical statement.
Short story writing by locally-based Guyanese authors probably has a
much older history than is now known. In the 1860s the locally published The
Guiana Magazine contained short s'ories, some in serial form. The one known
issue of this journal (for 1861) is in the University of Guyana Library. This in-
cludes two stories entitled 'Sloppytown, or a tale of cholera in 1857' and 'Obeah
curse'. There is no reason to suppose that the authors were not Guyanese. Yet
the first distinctly identified book of short stories published by a resident Guy-
anese was that by Egbert Martin. His Scriptology, published in Georgetcwn in
1885, is also very rare, the only recorded copy being in the Moorland-Suringarn
Library of Howard University. The work consists of four short stories (Seymour
1978 : 38). Egbert Martin, writing under the pseudonym of 'Leo', is arguably the
leading figure in the history of Guyanese poetry. (See Seymour 1946).
Writing about the modern short story writers of his time, Cameron (1950 :
64) refers to an emergence of an active tradition, but there is no indication as
to whether or not any of the persons concerned ever published outside of local
magazines like the Chronicle Xmas Annual. In terms of separately published
works, there appears to be a massive chronological gap between that of Martin
and the next recorded one of J. A. V. Bourne. Bourne's Dreams, devi's, vampIres
(1940), composed of spooky and horror stories and originally published in the
ChronicleI ~ras Annual between 1925 and 1937. is an odd entry into an
area which is little touched by Guyanese authors. The list grows rapidly after
this date, as can be seen in S. A. Sattaur's For the glory of Islam (c 1941), a
story set on a religious theme; H. J. M. Hubbard's Poor man's Christmas (1944),
a curious little work with an obvious political and social message; Rajkumari
Singh's A garland of stories (196-?), six stories relating to East Indian life;
Bertram Charles' Our dilemma: (short stories) (196-); Hugh Wharton's Some
Guianese short stories (1963), four stories originally published in 1960 in The
Daily Argosy newspaper; Rick Ferreira's Are you stone cold, Santa Claus?: a
'calypso' collection; stories, poems, articles (1973); John Why's Nice and nasty
tales (1976), a collection of eleven stories set in a Guyana environmental Thp
river between (1979) edited by Liz Cromwell, comprising twenty-five stories by
eight Linden writers; Ramcharran Sawh's Hidden treasure and other stories
(1979), four stories on local themes; and Harry Narine's Grassroot people:
thirteen stories on one theme (1981). Narine won a 1981 Casa de las Americas
prize with this collection of stories set in Guyana. Sheik Sadeek has brought
out five collections of short stories, all exploring the reality of Guyanese every-
day life. Some of these stories were published in the local newspaper and maga-
zines as early as 1949. The collections are Windswept & other stories (1970),
Across the green fields and five other stories (1974), The diamond thieves and
four more stories (1974), The porkknockers and 4 other stories (1974), and No
greater day and four more adult stories (1974).
The sympathetic editorial contribution of Arthur Seymour to the publi-
cation and promotion of the genre of the short story needs to be recorded.
Besides his editing of New writing in the Caribbean (1972) and Independence 10:
Guyanese writing 1966-1976 (1976), both of which include short stories by both
the major and lesser known names in Guyanese literature, Seymour has published
between 1976 and 1982 at least four collections in mimeograph of stories by
young writers who had participated in his fiction-writing course at either the
then National History and Arts Council or at the Department of Extra Mural
Studies at the University of Guyana.
Some recent works fall into a special class of locally-produced short
stories. Frances Tracey's and Beverley Dawson's Maroro-nawa Samrao kotu-
ainanoun (1975) is a mimeographed compilation of stories in the Wapishana
language. As explained in the introduction to this work, these stories were
written by adult Amerindians frcm the village of Maroro-nawa in the South
Rupununi. The authors had learnt to read and write English in school, and
during a two-week course in 1974 they received instruction in the reading and
writing of their own language. The short stories were produced during that
course. More recently, the Akawaio Translation Project has attempted to make
religious texts available to the Akawaio in their own language. The missionary
group responsible for this operation embarked on a programme for first getting
Akawaios to read and write in their own language. Of the fourteen mimeo-
graphed booklets (all by Akawaics) so far produced, the following can be placed
in the class of short stories : Rita Hunter's Male yamak itanomasak kon yuk
yau (1984). Doris Will'ams' (et al.) Awale amak pantoma (1984)' Charles George's
(et al.) All ek ton pantoma (1984), and Isaac Jerry's (et al.) Aliton ok amak
THE CREOLE PERSPECTIVE
The dividing line, if it exists, between fiction and social description is not
always clear. In this respect, in discussing the writer from inside, one cannot
ignore the nearly continuous tradition of story-telling and social description/
commentary in the creole language which began in the later nineteenth century.
In this genre, the form is more important than the message, and stories (where
they exist) are usually devices for illustrating the actual way of life of a people.
The earliest work in this form is Michael McTurk's Essays and fables in prose
and verse (1881) which was published under the pseudonym of 'Quow'. This was
revised and enlarged in an edition of 1899. G. H. Hawtayne's West Indian yarns
(1884), written under the pseudonym of 'X. Beke', was re-published in a revised
and enlarged edition of 1890. It comprises a number of fascinating stories set
in a wider Caribbean environment. With its dual publishers in Georgetown and
London, it is an interesting point that, at this early stage, a work of such a
nature should have been directed at an international audience. The writings of
J. Van Sertima are worthy of special note. His Among the common people of
British Guiana (1897) and Scenes & sketches of Demerara life (1899) comprise
several short descriptions of Afro-Guyanese social life and individual behaviour,
largely set around the vivacious character of "Rebecca". The sketches in these
books had appeared originally in the local newspapers in a serial form. It would
appear that Van Sertima also published Rebecca rediviva before 1909, and this
was in the same category as the two works mentioned above (Argosy Company
1910: 498). Unfortunately no copy of this work is now known to exist. Van
Sertima's approach to his subject matter, important as this is for historical
sociology, is slightly ambivalent: at one level he distances himself by his
writings on 'popular zoology', and at another he is the sympathetic recorder of
the Afro-Guyanese way of life.
As an amateur student of the creole language of Guyana, the Rev. James
Speirs made a major contribution to social history with his book on proverbs.
His other work, Creole life in British Guiana (1902), is accessible only through
very scant references to it in other works. It would appear that, like Van Sertima's
earlier writings, this book contains sketches or stories on creole life. In this
vein are J. G. Cruickshank's Negro humour (1905) and E. N. Woolford's
Georgetown vignettes: sidelights on local life (1917). This last work, though
marred by the obvious social prejudices of the author, has a number of sketches
which are important for an understanding of the everyday life of the
earlier part of this century. (The only recorded copy of this work in a public
institution is the one in the University of Guyana Library).
The writings of Leonard Evelyn-Moe deserve a special mention here.
Evelyn-Moe (under the pseudonym of 'Uncle Stapie') wrote a number of
articles in the Daily Argosy in the 1930s and 1940s. These charming creole lan-
guage sketches, anecdotes and general social commentary have been partly
reproduced in two mimeographed volumes by the Department of English at the
University of Guyana. The story-teller and social commentator in Evelyn-Moe
were probably reflected in a booklet of short stories which he is recorded as
having produced. J. W. Smith (1952 : 31) writes, "those of us who are old enough
will remember his humorous series on the adventures of the wayward boy
"Theo". These stories were printed in booklet form, but like so many other
Guianese books, the work is out of print and unobtainable."
Somewhat in the tradition of Hawtayne and McTurk would be Edgar
Mittelholzer's little known Creole chips (1937) and George Mc Lellan's Old
time story: some old Guianese yarns re-spun (1943). McLellan's work, under
the pseudonym of 'Pugagee Puncuss', comprises some two hundred and twenty-
eight stories etc. which were originally published in the Daily Chronicle news-
paper between 1937 and 1938.
One of the noticeable features of these earlier story writers in this genre
is that they unconsciously make a link between the use of the creole language
and humour. The recent attempts to see this language form as a vehicle for
themes of tragedy and serious human concern have largely been in the nature
of a cultural statement. Yet conscious humour is a valid element in the short
story, and there are a few works which, although net fully in a creole language
form, treat humorously of creole life. Sydney Martin's Humour, sketches etc.
(1916) includes a few stories, the most extensive being 'Mrs. Farrington's third
husband'. Martin was a Portuguese comedian (Camercn 1950 : 85). As with so
many other early local publications, this work is rare; and, indeed, the biblio-
graphical data is incomplete, as the only recorded surviving copy of it in the
University of Guyana Library is defective. In this genre one could note the
somewhat bawdy and humorous sketches of Sam Chase's Laugh with Sam
Chase (1967) and the two volumes of C. A. Farrier's Guyanese humour store
(1968 & 1969) written under the pseudonym of 'Uncle Scudie (Skewdie)'. The
curious nature of this last work is probably best described by its sub-title, viz.
"Comprised of anecdotes and tit-bits etc., well interspersed with creolese and
calculated to provide readers with mirth and laughter". Farrier had worked for
years in the interior of Guyana in such jobs as logging and mining.
MYTHS, LEGENDS AND FOLK TALES
Spanning the worlds of adult and children's literature are the published
myths, legends and folk tales of Guyana. The work of the Rev. William
Brett in the nineteenth century must surely be the most important here. His
Legends and myths of the Aboriginal Indians of Guiana (c 1880) is really prose
in poetry, and is based on his systematic collection of Amerindian oral tra-
ditions. Brett's work was issued as Guiana legends (1931), an abridged prose
version edited by Leonard Lambert. (James Veecock's Legends of British
Guiana (1888) is almost completely based on Brett's work, and is more of an
attempt to give an account of Amerindian legends than to reproduce them in
their own right. This work was originally published in issues of the West Indian
Quarterly in the 1880s. Walter Roth's An inquiry into the animism and folk-
lore of the Guiana Indians (1915), containing a number of such Amerindian
myths and legends, is of a similar type). A number of recent publications have
dealt with Amerindian legends and folk tales in most cases they have been
re-told for children's reading. These include Frances Tracey's Wapichan kotu'
ainaoun = Wapishana legends (1974), a mimeographed work. Frances Tracey
and Beverley Dawson, working for the Unevangelized Fields Mission in Lethem,
have been responsible for two publications by the Curriculum Development
Centre of the Ministry of Education, viz. Amerindian stories (1976) and More
Amerindian stories (1977). Also published by the Ministry of Education are
Folk tales and legends of some Guyana Amerindians, edited by Edwards and
Hubbard (1979), and Sister Rose Magdalene's Amerindian stories for young
The only other collections of folk tales of ethnic groups are those relating
to Afro-Guyanese, and these deal specifically with Anansi stories. A few, and
indeed the earliest recorded Guyanese Anansi stories, are to be found in the
Rev. Charles Dance's Chapters from a Guianese log-book (1881), a miscellany
of observations on local life. David Makhanlall, a Guyanese author, Ihs pub-
lished a number of collections of such Anansi tales which have been adapted for
children's reading, viz. The best of Brer Aransi (1973), The invincible Brer
Anansi (1974), and Brer Anansi strikes again (1976).
Defining the boundaries of children's literature is not so easy. There is
a sense in which such novels as the earlier mentioned The emigrant's lost son
by George Wall could be said to fall into this category. Either way, the unam-
biguous class of children's literature is quite extensive.
The earliest known work in this category is Gertrude Shaw's West Indian
fairy tales (1914). A. J. Seymour (1978 : 101) refers to the contents of this
work as "Jumbie stories about the Ogre of Kykoveral, the Witch of Baracara,
and about spirits identified with other Guyanese place names". Nothing is known
about Shaw whether she was Guyanese or not, or even if the name itself was
Foreign writers of children's literature have produced a number of inter-
esting works. Somewhat in a category of their own are those children's books
which have had as their objective nothing more than a description of the real
animal life of the Guyana jungle. Outstanding in this respect is Charles Livings-
ton Bull's Under the roof of the jungle: a book of animal life in the Guiana
wilds (1911). The ecology of the jungle and the intimate behaviour patterns of
the many animals are introduced in attractively illustrated stories which reflect
the detailed powers of observation of a naturalist.
Theodore J. Waldeck went on an expedition to Guyana in 1937-38, and
his The white panther (1941) is within the Bull tradition. The bibliography is-
sued by the Information Centre on Children's Cultures (1969 : 25) states about
this book, "...this story cf the maturing of a jaguar remarkable for his white
color shows insight into the behaviour of this cunning, ferocious beast. It is a
gripping, fast-moving adventure which gives a good picture of wild life in the
jungle. There are several slighting references to Indian hunters". Jo Besse
Waldeck (the wife of Theodore Waldeck?) wrote in a similar vein on the local
environment, viz. Little jungle village (1940) and Exploring the jungle (c 1941).
The former work, according to the Library of Congress catalogue, deals specifi-
cally with children in 'Guiana'. Jo Waldeck's other work Little lost monkey
(1942) comprises legends and stories relating to monkeys, but it has not been
possible to establish a direct Guyana relevance of these.
David Chamberlin, better known for his popular biographical study of
John Smith, produced Ebony Bob: the adventures of a slave boy around
1920. The story is set during the 1823 Demerara Slave Uprising. The book itself
is extremely rare. Helen Tee-Van's Red howling monkey: the tale of a South
American boy (1926) still stands on its own merits. The story concerns the life
of Arauta (Red Howling Monkey), a young Amerindian, and gives a reasonably
accurate account of the life-style of the Akawaio Indians and of the animal
life of the jungle. Helen Tee-Van was the wife of John Tee-Van, one of the
researchers at the Tropical Research Station of the New York Zoological Society
at Cartabo. William O'Grady's Princess Marie Minnehaha of Manoa, Guiana
(1934) is ndeed a curiosity of children's fiction. Its sub-title is "Princess Min-
nehaha of the White Indians, of the El Dorado before Pizarro's time", and al-
though the work is supposed to be set in the Guiana region, all of the illustrations
in the book are of North American Indians. Bim: a boy in British Guiana
(1947) by Stella Mead deals with the varied experiences of an East Indian boy,
including his stay in the Mahaica Hospital for leprosy. If only in its sympathetic
treatment of this subject, there is a social message in this book. (Naar de Bar-
biesjes is a children's book recently published in the Netherlands. It is set in
Suriname and Guyana in the nineteenth century when slavery was abolished
only in the latter territory. Information on this work is incomplete at the mo-
In this category of children's literature the Guyanese writers abroad are
few. Marilyn Awoonor-Renner (n6e Jack) lived in Sierra Leone where she
lectured in geography at an advanced teacher training college. Her Ndapi's
childhood (1976) is one of the several books for children which she has written.
Ndapi's childhood is about a boy who was born in Sierra Leone at the end of
the nineteenth century, and who experiences major changes in his life with the
coming of the railway and the missionaries. Jan Carew, famous for his novels,
has published some excellent children's stories, e.g. The third gift (1974) and
Children of the sun (c 1981). The latter is a tale created out of a mixture of
myths, mainly of the Amerirdians of Guyana. The beautiful illustrations are
set in a timeless African world, but the names in the tale (e.g. 'Makunaima',
'Roraima', and 'Akarai') are distinctly Amerindian in origin. Jacqueline De
Weever's The bamboo flute and other stories (c 1979) is a local mimeographed
publication with some of the stories relating to a Guyana theme. De Weever is
now resident in the United States of America.
John Agard and Grace Nichols are, perhaps, temporary exiles in England.
Nichols' Trust you Wriggly (1981) and Baby fish and other stories from village
to rainforest (1983) are full of promise. John Agard's locally published Quetzy
as saviour (1976) is an exciting first effort in the area of children's literature. As
with Carew's work, a specially devised Amerindian atmosphere is used. The
story, written in a form of creole language, lies ambivalently between prose and
poetry. Agard's London-published Letters for Lettie and other stories (1979)
is a set of related stories placed in Guyana.
A few works by Guyanese authors have been published in recent decades,
viz. Joy Allsopp's The tale of Teddy the toucan (1960), Henry Jcsiah's Mako-
naima returns (1966), Sheila King's (et al.) Stories from Guyana (c 1967),
Gloria Jones' Tales the honey-bear told (1974) and Krishna Prasad's Addie the
alligator (1982). The last two are in mimeograph. Invariably the potential of
these storytellers is marred by the limited attractiveness of the physical publica-
tion. (Joy Allsopp (now Joy Bland) lives today in Barbados, having recently
published there a fascinating children's book of stories, Crossing the water: a
story about mongooses in Barbados (1984)).
Numerous children's stories have been published in Guyana as part of
a broader educational programme in which reading improvement and the
teaching of history have been the main objectives. As the work of a private
individual this latter objective is illustrated in Walter Rodney's Kofi Baadu out
of Africa (1980). This story, initially in the form of a radio script, is an effort
to show Guyanese the richness of their African heritage and the historical pro-
cess by which they were brought to Guyana. Although described as aimed at
an all-age audience, the material is clearly written for the easy understanding
of young readers. Somewhat earlier, but similar in conception to Rodney's book,
is Celeste Dolphin's Children of Guiana (1953), based on radio talks and in-
tended to introduce the history of the 'six' races of Guyana. A number of well-
illustrated children's stories, intended to be used in the English and Social
Studies curriculum programmes, have been published by the Ministry of Educa-
tion through the Guyana National Service Publishing Centre and the Curriculum
Development Centre. These include Sibil Cort's Farmer Smith (1973), Victor
Davson's How the Warraus came (1972), Allan Fenty's Cumfa drums are calling
(1973) and Stories of protest (1978), Barbara Greaves' The big bit (1973) and
The new fence (1973), H. F. Meerabux's Balram's new home (1972), Sharon
Mentore's The little man (1972), Maureen Newton's Rebel (1974), Yvonne
Wray's Shanta and Rajah (1974), and Evelyn Wallace's The moco moco tree:
(an ol'higue story) (1973).
THE COMIC AS SHORT STORY
It would not be a new idea to treat comic book stories as a form of
literature, but a detailed examination of this dimension cannot be undertaken
here. It is worth noting, however, that the identifiable Guyanese tradition of the
comic is not particularly old. although the cartoon, its precursor, has an honour-
able history going back to the pages of the local newspapers in the nineteenth
century, and continuing in the form of printed collections from the first World
War onwards. Although account needs to be taken of the fact that much has
disappeared from our cultural memory, it would appear that the first comics
were produced by Rudy Seymour in the 1960s. His 'Preacher' series still makes
THE STORY THAT NEVER WAS
There are some significant references within the Guyana literary tradition
to the novel or short story that was conceived and never written, or written and
never published. The latter category has a long history if one is to include the
intriguing twenty-eight page typescript (now in the Attorney General's Office,
Georgetown) which was produced in 1899 by one of the persons present at the
Paris Arbitral Tribunal for the British Guiana/Venezuela boundary. This
bound work carries the prosaic title British Guiana.Venezuela boundary arbitra.
tion: (Paris June-October 1899), and is a satirical response to the interminable
process of argument before that Tribunal. In a preliminary 'Synopsis of events
in connection with the boundary question', the humorous entry for the year
2162 is "Original members of tribunal having all left Purgatory-but all not
having gone to the same place, proceedings terminate by agreement, when it is
discovered that it has since been proved to demonstration [by] leading Counsel
on one side in one place and the leading Counsel on the other side in another
that no such place as Guiana ever existed but was merely a myth prevalent in
the 19th century". There is a great irony in this, given the resurgence of the
boundary dispute in the 1960s.
A. J. Seymour (1974: 44) refers to 'chapters from unpublished novels
which have appeared in Kyk-over-al such as P. H. Dajy's "The Bearded Trees",
and Ivan Van Sertima's "The lost and the lonely"'. Sevmour (1972: 267-271)
also publishes an extract from Ivan Van Sertima's unpublished novel, The Black
Prince. Sections from an unpublished novel by Henry Josiah on the theme of
slave rebellion appeared some years ago in a local newspaper.
Of some interest are the unpublished works of S. A. Sattaur, the author
of the earlier mentioned For the glory of Islam (c 1941). In that work there is
an advertisement stating that a number of novels were to be released by the
author, viz. Islam and its worth, The cool hand, The moment of hesitation, Islam
the reviver, The mystery of the septangular mirror, For the sake of revenge or
When eternal remorse steps in etc. Elsewhere The cool hand is described as a
full-length detective mystery. The other works, however, are more aptly des-
cribed as short stories. Sattaur, once President cf the Young Men's Muslim
League, never got any success with the publishing of his works, and in his later
days (until his death in 1983) worked in a secondhand bookstore in the Bourda
Market. The manuscripts of his works are now in the possession of his widow.
The completed manuscripts, tucked away in drawers and trunks, are
perhaps more significant in terms of the literary heritage, even in instances
where the authors have not found it possible or wished to have these published.
In this category one could mention the unpublished work on the El Dorado
theme by J. T. Seymour, the father of A. J. Seymour, which was completed in
1924 (Seymour 1978 : 66), and a manuscript of a novel by Martin Carter, now
in the poet's personal possession.
ARGOSY COMPANY 1909 The Argosy handbook of British Guiana and directory for
1910 Georgetown: "The Argosy" Co., Ltd., 1910.
AHMED, Rollo 1971 The black art/with an introduction by Dennis Wheatley. London:
Arrow Books Ltd., 1971.
BANDARA, S. B. 1980 A bibliography of Caribbean novels in English. Journal of Com-
monwealth Literature, Vol. 15, No. 1, Aug., 1980, p. 141-170.
BLACKMAN, Lawrence 1977 Typescript letter, dated 26.9.77, to the Librarian of the
University of Guyana Library. (Attached to a copy of Blackman's Three short
CAMERON, Norman E. 1950 Thoughts on life and literature Georgetown: F. A. Persick,
HERDECK, Donald E. et al. 1979 Caribbean writers: a blo-bibliographical-critical en-
cyclopaedia Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1979.
HUGHES, Michael 1979 A companion to West Indian literature [S. 1.]: Collins, 1979.
INFORMATION CENTRE ON CHILDREN'S CULTURES 1969 Latin America: an
annotated list of materials for children [S. 1.]: United States Committee for
UNICEF, Information Centre on Children's Cultures, 1969.
IM THURN, Everard F. 1883 The barbarian view of Guiana. Timehri, Vol. 2, Pt. 1, Jun.,
1883, p. 358-359.
[JUBILEE] 1984 Jubilee celebration. Timehri, New Ser., Vol. 8, No. 1, 1894, p. 198-203.
MCDOWELL, R. E. 1975 Bibliography of literature from Guyana Arlington (Texas):
Sable Publishing Corp., 1975.
PAASMAN, A. N. 1974 Elisabeth Maria Post (1755-1812) Amsterdam: Thespa, 1974.
PAASMAN, A. N. 1979 Reinhart, of literatuur en werklijkheid. Documentatieblad (Werk-
groep 18e-eeuw), No. 41-42, Feb., 1979, p. 41-61 (ill.).
PAASMAN, A. N. 1982 Wat bezielde de literaire kolonisten: het beeld van de Westin-
dische kolonist in de literatuur 1670-1830. OSO, Yr. 1, No. 2, Dec., 1982, p. 44-62.
RAMCHAND, Kenneth 1970a The West Indian novel and its background London: Faber
and Faber, 1970.
RAMCHAND, Kenneth 1970b The writer who ran away: Eric Walrond and Tropic
Death. Savacou, No. 2, Sep., 1970, p. 67-75.
RODWAY, James 1897 Abortive colonial publications. Timehri, New Ser., Vol. 11, Pt. 1,
Jun., 1897, p. 229-247.
RODWAY, James 1918 The "good old times" in Guiana. Timehri, Vol. 5, Aug., 1918, p.
RODWAY, James 1896 Other times, other manners. Timehri, New Ser., Vol. 10, Pt.
2, Dec., 1896, p. 223-257.
RODWAY, James 1921 Stages of progress. Timehri, 1921, p. 1-23.
RODWAY, James 1887 Notes and queries. The West Indian Quarterly, Vol. 3, Jul., 1887,
RODWAY, James 1920 Romance of our pioneers. The Daily Chronicle Christmas Annual,
1920, p. 19-22.
SEYMOUR, Arthur J. 1946 The poetry of Egbert Martin (Leo). Kyk-over-al, Vol. 1, No. 3,
Dec., 1946,  p.
SEYMOUR, Arthur J. (ed.) 1972 New writing in the Caribbean Georgetown: Guyana
Lithographic Co., Ltd., 1972.
SEYMOUR, Arthur J. 1974 I live In Georgetown Georgetown: [A. J. Seymour], 1974.
SEYMOUR, Arthur J. 1978 The making of Guyanese literature Georgetown: [A. J.
SMITH, J. W. 1952 "Uncle Staple": (Leonard Evelyn-Moe). Kyk-over-al, Vol. 5, No. 15
1952, p. 31
SYKES, Christopher 1977 Evelyn Waugh: a biography Harmondsworth: Penguin Books,
TYLER, Priscilla c 1979 (Unpublished draft of a bibliography of Guyanese literature).
The Guyaneseness of Guyanese Writing
by JEFFREY ROBINSON
I should apologise for inflicting the word "Guyaneseness" on the public
but I can think of no better way of expressing the same idea. Some years ago,
I was asked by Mr. A. J. Seymour whether I thought there was such a thing as
Guyanese Literature and, if so, what were its characteristics. I replied, fumbling
for a word to describe our Literature, that it seemed strangely mystical. I should
now prefer to say that there is, in the major works by Guyanese writers, a
similarity of theme and attitude. The theme is the relationship between the
mind and the world and between both of these, considered as a dialectic, and
time. The attitude is one that renders these relationships not so much as philo-
sophy or theory but rather as riddle or mystery.
The relationship between mind and landscape is often such that the lat-
ter functions as a mirror, becomes, in short, the ground of dreams. John Hearne
has written of the Guyanese landscape that it is "one of the great primary
landscapes of the world, and it can crush the mind like sleep. Like sleep, it
inspires the dreams by which we record the progress of our waking life."
Whether the ultimate source of this Literature of dreams is indeed landscape
remains itself a mystery to me.
At any rate, the formal concomitant of such emphases, mind and world
caught up in time in a way that brings perception itself into question, is a more
or less self-conscious art. For if art is vision and if the premises or the pos-
sibility of vision must be questioned, then art must question itself. This, of
course, is a modern, rather than a peculiarly Guyanese, process. As Roland
Barthes puts it in Writing Degree Zero, "the ideological unity of the bourgeoisie
gave rise to a single mode of writing in the bourgeois periods (classical
and romantic) literary form could not be divided because consciousness was
not; whereas, as soon as the writer ceased to be a witness to the universal ....
his first gesture was to choose the commitment of his form by either accepting
or rejecting the writing of his past. Classical writing therefore disintegrated and
the whole of Literature from Flaubert to the present day, became the proble-
matics of language."
However, it seems to me that the writer in the Third World must con-
front the problem in an even more acute form because the undivided conscious-
ness, the ideology implicit in the literary and linguistic traditions he must enter,
may not only seem flatly opposed to his own divided condition but may even
be said to subsist upon it. For instance, as Wilson Harris has pointed out, the
concept of the person as a closed or complete entity wholly constituted by the
attributes of a given plane of a given society seems to have little to do with the
condition of the slave or, by extension, the materially and culturally deprived
man. Can one, in the Third World, consider the formal and thematic order of
Pope without thinking of the imperial disorder that was its material under-
pinning and towards which, by the absoluteness of its exclusion of any such
contradiction, it always seems to be gesturing?
It is at once comical and revealing that the best known poem in praise
of Guyana, Walter McA. Lawrence's "O Beautiful Guyana", should issue from
a poet who seems to be somewhere cn the sea-wall, his back resolutely turned to
most of the eighty three thousand square miles that are his ostensible subject,
in rapt contemplation of the Atlantic Ocean. It is as if his absolute fidelity to
a borrowed form drags up from his subconscious a content that undermines his
patriotic intent by parodying both form and patriotism. To say this is not to
complain that Lawrence was not several decades ahead of his time. The point is
that form is not simply a container into which one can pour new thoughts. Also
interesting is the unconscious subversiveness of the imagination; it is precisely in
unconscious self-parody that the glimmer of an awareness of a problem of
language or a problem of form may appear, ending Ihe illusion of a perfect under-
standing between writer and reader based on their common acceptance of
"universally valid" forms.
Martin Carter's Poems of Succession can be read as a meditation on the
nature of language and cognition. The selections from Poems of Res:stance,
for the most part, belong to a tradition of public poetry which makes use of a
rhetoric that assumes no gap between poet and audience. The later poems
discover a gap between speaker and hearer, initially located in a specific social,
political and historical context. In "Groaning in the Wilderness", the poet in-
volved in a breakdown of community so complete that it entails the destruction
of a social product, language, and thus of the humanity of the individuals in
the broken community, finds himself barking. "A Mouth is always Muzzled"
seems to me much less specific in its historical and political reference even though
it is usually taken to be about the politics of Guyana and nothing else.
A close analysis of "A Mouth is always Muzzled" would show that the
first stanza describes a breakdown first in speech and then in perception. In the
case of speech, there is a movement from the self out into the world ending in
In the premises of the tongue
dwells the anarchy of the ear
The second movement is the reverse of this since it proceeds from the
world to the self;
In the chaos of the vision
resolution of the purpose
In this case, there is a certain ambiguity; is it that the purpose orders
chaos or that the purpose is founded, despite its "resolution", upon chaotic
premises? The second stanza describes two movements; one movement is speech
which goes from the self out into the world and the other is the processes, eating,
by which part of the world enters the self and actually becomes "self";
But a mouth is always muzzled
by the food it cats to live.
The two movements result in a kind collision and in silence. The third
stanza describes one movement from the world to the self with a benevolent-
because man-made- interposition and one movement form the self into the
world aided by human inventiveness;
Rain was the cause of roofs.
Birth was the cause of beds.
These are riddling statements that make the human powers of speech
and cognition seem beset by difficulties everywhere in the environment. The
final riddle grows out of this view of the human condition;
But life is the question asking
what is the way to die.
Greater than the demand for roofs and beds or, perhaps, subsuming all
such demands is the need to live in such a way that the final absurdity, death,
shall acquire meaning. The poem describes life more as a riddle than as a
question, but then, says Carter in an earlier poem, "if these are riddles, riddles
The order of time in the poems is frequently confused. Only the end of
an experience can make complete sense of the experience ("only where our
footprints end can tell/whelher the journey was an old advance/or a new retreat")
so that one lives "forward" and understands "backwards". This makes speech
doubly difficult as time reveals new meanings ("So sudden and so hurting/is the
bitten tongue of memory"). One normally bites one's tongue because something
that lay in the future when one began to speak contradicts the intent. Carter
has reversed the order of time by applying this to memory.
One poem brings together the question of the relation of self to world
and the sense of time as running backwards in the order of cognition. It does so
in the form of a dream-like experience. "About to Pass Me" presents the poet
leaving a house (so that the experience of being in the house is in the past) and
meeting himself approaching the house (when the experience of being in the
house is in the future). One recognizes that the house and the person addressed
are important to the poet and that the dream-like experience expresses his own
reluctance to leave. In other words, the contents of consciousness are being
projected on to "reality" so as partly to displace it. The "practical" need to leave
is seen in the poet leaving while the desire not to leave becomes the poet ap-
proaching. The double image is a curious balance of the pressure of internal
and external or emotional and "practical" elements and also a balance of past
and future in a dream where "faces that never lived stared at" the poet.
The poetry of Martin Carter undergoes a radical transformation after
Poems of Resistance. This is usually explained wholly in terms of political
disillusionment. Yet the consequences of so radical an exploration of the most
basic premises of experience can only be a drastic alteration of form and a sort
of difficulty best described as that of the riddle.
The art of Wilson Harris is rather more obviously based on the dream-
like state. In Palace of the Peacock, the break between inner and outer worlds
is represented, in part, by the relationship between the narrator, whose closed,
spiritual eye is turned inward to a world of feeling, and the central character,
Donne, whose seeing, material eye is turned outwards to the world of action.
The literal journey into the interior of Guyara is the correlative of a spiritual
journey to reverse this ancient "dissociation of sensibility". It is a journey into
the past in the sense that the journey has been made before and the members
of the crew are returning to the places where they died before in a "mixed
futuristic order of events". Since the journey is a metaphor, it is possible to see
all the characters as aspects of one character or, as Harris puts it, "the crew
that every man mans in his inmost ship and theatre and mind". The novelist thus
makes it clear that the tale is a kind of dream of a single mind. Indeed, I am
told that the original title of the book was The Dream of the Pilgrim.
In The Who'e Armour, Harris describes a journey simultaneously into
past and future. The hero, Cristo, during his stay in the wilderness, goes farther
back into the past than the time of Noah and imagines himself a monkey swing-
ing from a tree (the cavalier fusion of Darwin and the Bible is characteristic).
He also hears of a glass factory which did not exist in Guyana at the time
Harris wrote. Within this curious temporal order, landscape becomes a sort of
mirror of Cristo's spiritual development. The same may be said of the landscape in
Pa'ace of the Peacock; the crew are actually journeying in pursuit of some
Amerindian labourers, "the folk" who have the "only real devil of a title to the
land". They eventually find themselves pursued instead although "the folk"
never actually appear. The reason is that they are themselves "the folk" as soon
as they choose to be and so to pursue the folk is to pursue themselves. Thus the
land gives back the terror and oppression they bring to it.
Few writers in English have mounted as concerted an attack on the
traditional form of the novel as Wilson Harris has done. The point of the
exercise is not to be exotic but to find a form appropriate to a reality very
different from the one that English nineteenth-century novelists lived in. I
suspect that Harris underestimates both the power and the complexity of what
he calls "the conventional mould" but his sensitivity to the implications of
borrowed forms is probably justified.
Edgar Mittelholzer's experiments with leitmotifs and "telescopic ob-
jectivity" testify to his own, less systematic, interest in developing the form of
the novel. In his novels, the dream state becomes the experience of the super-
natural which, very often, mirrors the consciousness of the experiencing subject.
In A Morning at the Office, a young woman thinking of having an affair, has
her thigh caressed by a ghostly hand coming out of her desk. In Sylvia, the
"brown jumbies" taunt the heroine with her own sexual repression. Sometimes
the landscape seems to have a personality, as in Of Trees and the Sea. Mittel-
holzer's interest in the supernatural can thus be seen as part of his interest in
abnormal states of consciousness that are capable, at least partly, of displacing
In Mittelholzer's case, the question of time appears as a sense of the
weight of history. He is said to have written the Kaywana trilogy partly to give
Guyanese a sense of their own history. The inanimate objects that contain their
past like an electric charge, the key in A Morning at the Office, the Dutchman's
map in My Bones and my Flute, indicate a way of looking at history that is
quite different from, say, V. S. Naipaul's history of "futility" or Edward
Brathwaite's African Journey or the allegations of an absence of ruins. Mittel-
holzer repeatedly suggests that the past inheres in the present as a kind of
potency released by human consciousness. This is not very different from the
recurrence of the past in Harris's novels or from Martin Carter's poem "What
The vision of the past as dream inherent in the present may also be seen
in A. J. Seymour's well-known pcem, "There Runs A Dream". The poem has
been criticized for expressing "a romantic view of history". The poet's obvious
distaste for the rather sinister forest and tangled vegetation and his equally
obvious appreciation of the "trim dwellings" and broad fields are decidedly
unromantic; no enthusiasm for untamed nature is allowed. However the vanished
order persists mysteriously in the ancient symbol of time, the river, despite
the anarchic jungle. The sense of mystery is conveyed by the "black waters"
because a normally transparent element has become opaque and dark; the
past persists as mystery and dream just as it does in the art of Mittelholzer,
Harris and Carter.
Anancy-strategies in THE WHOLE ARMOUR
by JOYCE JONAS
A concept that is crucial to an understanding of Wilson Harris's art is
that of liminality. Taken from the Latin limen (threshold), this term is used by
anthropologists to denote the limbo which lies beyond a society's institutions
and norms. Liminality is expressed symbolically in a variety of ways. In the
realm of the religious it may be the shaman's trek into the wilderness in search
of a vision that transcends society's concept of reality. In the secular, it occurs
during times of carnival-when the fool becomes king, when sacred tenets of
social order are mocked, and hierarchies are momentarily inverted. During rites
of passage, liminality protrays that no-man's land to which persons positioned
ambiguously between given states are relegated.
But whether it wears a tragic mask (as with the shaman) or a comic one
(as with the fool or trickster of carnival), liminality is a ritualised expression of
man's capacity to imagine something above and beyond experienced reality:
it is, as Barbara Babcock-Abrahams so aptly puts it, a "tolerated margin of
mess"1 in which societies and individuals do their creative dreaming. Charac-
terised by paradox and ambiguity, the liminal is a place outside our everyday
conceptions-a vantage point from which we can see clearly the premises on
which we have structured our cosmos, and can reflect on those constructs in
The liminal is situated "betwixt and between"2 known structures. The
shaman, for instance, enters a realm between the human and the spiritual, and
the moment of carnival occurs in intervals between periods of structure. Simil-
arly, in rites of passage, the initiand passes through an in-between stage where
he is neither/nor. A bride on honeymooon, for instance, is neither a girl nor a
wife. Further, in traditional societies, the neither/nor paradox is symbolically
represented in a variety of ways : initiands are dressed in clothing that deprives
them of sexual identity, or are dressed in shrouds to indicate their "death" to
a former state; and ceremonial sacred images, half-beast/half-bird, half-bird/
half-fish, suggest the limbo of incomplete metamorphosis.
Still more significant, for our purpose, is the liminal zone that lies at the
meeting point of different cultures. In his seminal study of rites of passage,
Belgian anthropologist Arnold van Gennep identified various inter-cultural
meeting places that are neither-nor zones.3 Market places, battle fields, common
hunting grounds and territorial boundaries are all regarded as sacred thresholds
-crossroads guarded by the gods. Being in this limbo space "between two
worlds" is precisely the experience of the West Indian, suspended as he is be-
tween the culture of his forebears and the imposed culture of Europe, yet exiled
The paradox, though, of limbo, is that although it is the locus for the
"dirt"4 that is swept out when society structures itself, it is also the place from
which renewal of the society must come. Limina'ity, says Victor Turner, "may
perhaps be regarded as the Nay to all positive structural assertions, but as in
some sense the source of them all, and more than 1hat, as a realm of pure pos-
sibility whence novel configurations cf ideas and relations may arise."5 It is this
aspect of the liminal-its "pure possibility" that informs all of Wilson Harris's
work: his preoccupation being with the creative potential lying at the inter-
stices of structure. He asserts that the limbo or void of West Indian experience
is a deprivation or dispossession only when viewed from a particular and arbit-
rary structured perspective. From a different vantage pint, the loss and history-
lessness are transformed into a potential ground of original creativity and fulness.
Turning from anthropological discourse to Wilson Harris's aesthetic
theories, we find the idea of liminality referred to constantly, and in a variety of
images. Always, though, the common picture is of the artist filling empty spaces
with a creation generated from his own substance. In his early volume, Tra-
dition, the Writer and Society (1967), Harris identifies the role of the artist as
It is as if within his work he sets out again and again across a certain
territory of primordial but broken recollection in search of a species of
In the same passage, Harris speaks of entering "overlapping capacities of
nature" to break through "the one-sidedness of se f-sufficient social character."
Here the artist is depicted as society's scapegoat, driven into a barren wilderness
from which he must wrest some healing vision.
A later article7 draws together the concept of limbo with that of the
mythic trickster Anancy. The spider, spinning in the interstices of structured
premises, is developed into a symbol of folk creativity. His web fills the void
between existing structures, turning deprivation into plenitude. Such "arts of
the dispossessed" Harris sees as being of the utmost importance in a society
moving from a state of cramp to articulate a new growth." For an art that
fills the interstructural void with richness is a "ground of accommodation, an
art of creative co-existence, painting away from apartheid and ghetto fixations."8
Situated as he is in the limbo-void of dispossession, yet converting this
lack into a ground of creativity, the artist, Harris suggests in a third image,
resembles the vodun dancer of Haitian culture. Harris's commentary on the
statuesque poses of dancers in a state of trance demonstrates the way in which
empty space is given shape by the body of the dancer-as if the dancer herself
were the axis holding together the entire cosmos.9
Art in the Caribbean, then, must, like the vodun or limbo dancer, like
the anancy-spider, and like the visionary shaman, give shape to the void-the
liminal space that lies at the boundaries where cultures meet. The artist, ac-
cording to Harris, is essentially the inhabitant of the margins-shaman, anancy-
trickster, Idiot Nameless. Reflecting ironically on the partial structures and
limited conceptions on which the social framework is premised, the artist leads
the reader away from his preconceptions into the limbo-space of fiction-itself
a world outside of daily reality-to a liminal region where certainties melt,
where premises are challenged, where ambiguities and paradoxes jostle together
in a fantastic carnival offering unlimited scope for the imaginative re-creation
of our mental cosmos.
Carnival, the questing shaman, the fool or clown, and the figure of
Anancy-all these and other supporting symbols of liminality are omnipresent
in Harris's fiction. His racially-mixed character groupings represent the hetero-
geneity of the Caribbean and of modern society in general. The landscapes
of his novels, too, especially of those set in Guyana, are landscapes in which
boundaries are threatened by gargantuan forces: flood and erosion, eclipse
and tidal movement, death and decay. Curiously, within, this liminal world
of threatened boundaries that Harris creates, each structured premise finds it-
self being mirrored. It is as if the boundary line defining the self is merely a mirror
surface, and that the self has its being only by virtue of the shadowy non-self
that it forms into an image of "the Other." Reflections (a key pun in Harris's
work) occur at liminal meeting points, permitting us the self-knowledge that
wounds yet can bring healing.
I have chosen The Whole Armour to illustrate the liminality discussed
thus far because this novel is one of the easier roads of access to Harris's
admittedly difficult corpus. The story is quickly told. Magda, a black prostitute
in a Pomeroon village, seeks a way to save her son, Cristo, from being appre-
hended by the police for the alleged murder of a rival suitor to Sharon-a well-
educated "lily-white" virgin living in the village. She asks the recluse Abram,
one of her clients, to conceal the boy in the hut he occupies away from the
village down by the shore. In an angry altercation with the youth, the old man
suddenly collapses and dies and, while Cristo is off to seek Magda's advice,,
Abram's corpse is dragged into the jungle by a tiger. Magda, returning with
Cristo, finds the mangled and rotting body, and insists that Cristo don Abram's
clothes. Armed with her fiction that Cristo is dead and that Abram has gone
to hunt the tiger in the jungle, Magda returns to the village and arranges a wake
for her son. Cristo, meanwhile, has a dream-like experience in which he finds
himself running in a long history of escaped slaves. Mortally wounded, he is
healed by medicine men, and clothed in the skin of the marauding tiger. (The
prosaic explanation is that he ran into a mock battle staged by a local Amer-
indian reservation during carnival festivities). Clothed in the tiger skin, Cristo
returns to the village. There he is joined by Sharon, whom the villagers have
dubbed a witch, and together they flee into the forest. Exiled from society, the
two scapegoats experience a sense of inner wholeness, "communitas" with each
other and with the society from which they spring, and a oneness with nature
itself-all symbolised in a sexual union that must be one of the most lyrical
moments in West Indian writing. Magda arrives, in great anxiety, urgently
warning them to escape from the police, who, undeceived, are in search of
Cristo. To his mother's horror, Cristo, whose new-found freedom far transcends
the merely physical, decides to hand himself over to justice, leaving Sharon to
bring forth the child she has conceived through his embrace.
This brief summary points to many aspects of the novel's liminality. The
landscape images man's tenacious and tenuous hold on life, threatened on the
one hand by the "violent and treacherous erosive impact of the sullen seas'
(p. 34),10 and on the other by fears of "the visitation of the tiger descending
from the headwaters of the Venezuelan Cuyuni across the jungled Guiana
watershed into the half-settled Pomeroon" (p. 37). Magda as prostitute, and
Abram as recluse are both society's marginals, as are Cristo as criminal and
Sharon as witch; while Magda's wake for Cristo places the action between the
living and the dead, between fact and fiction (since Cristo is in reality, alive).
Cristo himself fulfils the role of the mythic tricks'er or shaman. Symbols
of his ambiguous status proliferate. He is both dead ard alive, innocent and
guilty; he is both man and tiger, both himself and every runaway fleeing before
conquering forces. Murderer and lifegiver, devil and saviour, violent rapist and
bridegroom of love, he embodies every dimension of the paradox which is
human personality. His forty-day period in the wilderness is a shamanistic quest,
and when he gets mixed up with the carnivalesque mock battle, he inhabits a
liminal zone between dream and reality, between present and past. And, like
the mythic shaman or trickster, he returns to society with healing for his people.
Fiction leads Cristo to spiritual reality, and indeed it is the nature of
carnival to show the king his own face in the grotesque mask of the clown.
Mirroring and reflections, then, are important aspects of the liminal. Magda's
home, during the wake, is a landscape of inversions and shadowy reflections :
A single lantern was hanging behind her, dim, accentuating a wave of
shadows crowding the house, still abstracts, they appeared at times cast
up through the floor by the living souls that stopped and seethed again
in the brilliant bottomyard under her feet .
The lights suspended from the floor, over everyone's head, were intense
fuel lamps un'ike Magda's ancient upstairs illumination; and the tall
stilts and wooden posts upholding the house sent stalwart confirming
shadows to the water. (pp. 50-51).
In this passage, Harris, with great economy, transforms a common enough
Guyanese setting-the "bottom house" beneath raised living quarters-into a
mythic network of inverted images representing the mirror-reflection of the self
creating its identity from the shadowy non-self reflected in the Other. Dominating
this scene of reflections is the "compulsive oblique mirror of Magda's counten-
ance": the face of the whore reflecting respectability's self-righteous image.
In her gown of royal purple, Magda is the archetypical sacred prostitute.
It is in Magda's face that Sharon finds her reflection-Sharon, the virgin
whose "purity" of image has been retained at the cost of three men's lives.
Sharon stares into Magda's countenance "for all the world like a dark flickering
terrible mirror reflecting every dim consciousness in the house" (p. 77). Watching
the two women we realise the falsity of all polarising dualities; the traditional
male "naming" of woman as "unattainable idol on the highest blossom in the
world or ... compulsive fantastic whore with its black roots in the wilderness"
(p. 87) is seen to be totally inadequate.
Stripped of her "virgin" image and cast out of society as a witch, Sharon
moves, under Cristo's shamanistic tutelage, fiom misconception into a true
"conception." In the embrace of Cristo the tiger, she receives the death wound
that brings her to a truer dimension of life. She "felt she was suffocating and
dying on a scaffold crushed in the arms of a wild beast" (p. 84), but realises
that she is really "in the arms of the universal bridegroom of love, pierced by all
the ecstasy of constructive innocence" (p. 85).
Magda, unable to face the void and discover her own paradoxical nature,
is repeatedly associated with the adjective "sculptured." Because she refuses to
be "broken", she cannot share the vision that is available to Sharon and Cristo
when they are wounded and exiled by society. Like other of the villagers, she is
anxious to preserve her "armour" whole against any invasion of her ideniity-
false though that person may be. Sharon and Cristo, though, take the perilous
journey into the self. As they sit, retelling Cristo's dream-encounter with his past,
their world is filled with radiance. For, springing from their recounting of myths
of origins," the spirit of Anancy stretches a web of new relationships where
before there had been a void:
The spider of dawn had appeared and the moon had far descended. The
morning star spun its long frail threads to touch scattered islands of
cloud in a delicate wheel whose radii and circumference rolled on every
high peak, foothill and valley. (p. 98).
From the point of view of Magda's "sculptured" structure, Sharon and
Cristo are the dispossessed-eternal scapegoats and runaway slaves. But from
the new vantage point of visionary relationships, symbolised by the spider's
wed filling the void and so becoming itself the axis and hub of the world, they
and the baby in Sharon's womb are found to be the creators of a new world.
iBarbara Babcock-Abrahams, "'A Tolerated Margin of Mess': The Trickster
and His Tales Reconsidered," in The Journal of the Folklore Institute, Vol. 11 (1975),
pp. 147-86. Ms Abrahams borrows her title from Aldous Huxley.
2The title of Chapter IV in Victor Turner's study of symbolic ritual, The Forest of
Symbols (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967).
3Arnold van Gennep, Rites of Passage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1960), pp. 15-20.
4See Mary Douglas's study of taboo entitled Purity and Danger (London : Rout-
ledge and Kegan Paul, 1966). Ms Douglas observes that "our pollution behaviour is the
reaction which condemns any object or idea likely to confuse or contradict cherished
5Turner, Forest of Symbols, p. 97.
SWilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society (London: New Beacon Publica-
TWilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and the Guianas," in
Anagogic Qualities of Literature, ed. Joseph Strelka (University Park: Pennsylvania State
University Press, 1971).
SIbid., p. 122.
9Ibid., pp. 126-28.
10Wilson Harris, The Whole Armour (London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1973) p. 34.
All subsequent references are to this edition.
llMircea Eliade discusses the potency of retelling myths of origin in his Myth and
Reality (New York: Harper and Row, 1963)
Taster: RECENT GUYANESE WRITING FROM THE U.K.
by STEWART BROWN
Roy A. K. Heath, The Murderer, Flamingo/Fontana Paperbacks, pp. 190, 1.95,
Roy A. K. Heath, Orealla, Alison & Busby, pp. 255, 8.95., hardback.
Wilson Harris, Carnival, Faber & Faber, pp. 172, 10.95., hardback.
David Dabydeen, Slave Song, Dangaroo Press, Pinds Hus, Geding Sovj 21, 8381
Mundelstrup, Denmark. 72pp. 2.95 pb.
Grace Nichols, The Fat Black Woman's Poems, Virago Press, London, 64 pp.
Grace Nichos, i is a long memoried woman, Karnak House, 300 Westbourne
Park Road, London WII IEH, 80pp. unpriced.
John Agard, Limbo Dancer in Dark Glasses, Greenheart Press, c/o 30 Aberga-
venny Road, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1SN 51pp. no price.
Jamrs Berry, Ed. News for Babylon; the Chatto Book of Westindian-British
Poetry, Chatto & Windus, 212 pp., 4.95 pb.
The recent crop of important works by Guyanese writers exiled in the
UK constitutes a rich literary harvest; this brief review constitutes just a taster.
It is interesting to speculate on influences on a writer's development. With
Roy Heath, perhaps the most widely read Guyanese author, one can perhaps
discern the shadowy presence of Edgar Mittelholzer haunting his style and
concerns. Certainly the hero of Mittelholzer's classic study of a psychotic, The
Piling of Clouds, is a forebear of Galton, the central character in Heath's prize
winning novel, recently re-issued in this paperback edition, The Murderer. What
is so disturbing about Galton is his ordinariness; his claustrophobic upbringing,
his adolescent hangs-ups about sex, his social unease-all are familiar enough.
It is the shock of such mundane pressures producing, by a kind of inevitable
logic, the tortured soul Galton becomes that so haunts the reader of this justly
Ben, the key figure in Roy Heath's latest novel Orealla is also driven, by
a compound of deep psychic hurts, to commit murder. But this novel perhaps
owes as much to Wilson Harris as to Mittelholzer, contrasting as it does the
communal, spiritual and moral values of traditional Amerindian life-repre-
sented by the idea of Orealla, a village in the far bush which Ben's "buck"
comrade Carl asserts to be the last outpost of his people's traditional culture-
with the crass, petty, vain intrigues of Georgetown society in the 1930's. Ben is
a complex character deeply embroiled in emotional traumas with Tina, his
model but barren wife, and Mabel his fiery, passionate mistress. In a passage
which is a trigger to all the subsequent events of the novel and is typical of Roy
Heath's dark evocations of character, Ben is impelled by a fundamental need to
assert his separate, free identity;
He had to do some evil deed, just one, as an
epitaph to his old criminal life, before the
women appeared from nowhere to domesticate
him like a sheep or a hog or a dog wrenched
from its freedom on the streets and alleyways .
Ben is possesed; his inability to reconcile his self-image to the lot fate has as-
signed him culminates in a startling dreamtrial sequence which is the real climax
of this disturbing and compelling novel.
Wilson Harris has written a new novel of his own, and like most of his
previous work it seems beyond influences, an unparaphrasable expression of
Harris's unique and idiocyncratic talent. Readers of the first issue of the revived
Kyk-Over-Al (no. 30) will have read an extract from the novel which provides
a far better taster of the book than I can give here. Essentially it develops the
idea of Carnival as "the terror of dying, the bliss of reciprocal penetration of
masks" through a typically Harrisonian psycho-drama which intrigues, enthralls
and, at times, exasperates. For me Wilson Harris's work has become more ap-
proachable, easier to read, in the magical-realist tradition of works by other
South American writers like Marquez and Borges rather than in the Caribbean
tradition of an essentially socio-realist approach. His work is certainly an
'acquired taste'; perhaps, like other exquisite dishes, only really appreciated
by the connoisseur.
Guyanese poets have been winning prizes all over the place in recent years.
Grace Nichols won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for her brilliant sequence
I is a long memoried woman in 1983. Edward Kamau Brathwaite is certainly an
influence discernible in both the style and the concern of this her-story of the
Caribbean experience, but Grace Nichols's work is imbued wi'h her own particu-
lar sense of gender-hurt. There is a distinctly sensual quality in much of the
writing, as in the excellent Sugar Cane,
He cast his shadow
to the earth
the wind is
his only mistress
I hear them
in rustling tones
his hard reserve
all his length
A truncated version of i is a long memoried woman is included in The
Fat Black Woman's Poems but although it selects the stronger individual poems
in the sequence it loses the "pout" and long suffering weariness that the full
sequence evokes so powerfully. The Fat Black Woman's Poems is a treasure of
a book all the same. The title sequence locates the heritage of the "long mem-
oried woman" in the self assured persona of a 'fully rounded' contemporary
heroine. She knows herself, knows her place-in every sense-and knows what
she wants. A black advocate of "fat is a feminist issue" she's nobody's stereotype
of femininity and she "ain't no Jemima", she
curses in Swahili/Yoruba
and nation language under her breathing
at a world that must learn to accommodate her. The other sections of the collection
are made up of short poems whose characteristic tone is nostalgic for
where the sun reaches down
mangoes fall to the ground
politicians turn cruel crowns
and poignant images of that life from the "long memory" like
sweeping in the childish rivers
of my eyes
and the fish slipping
through their laughing thighs
Grace Nichols's language is like those fish, lithe, shining, life sustaining.
David Dabydeen's 'creole' is much rawer, as unrefined as the sugar that domin-
ated the lives of those for whom it was/is the language of self. David Dabydeen,
in a scholarly and lucid introduction to the fifteen poems that make up Slave
Song-the 1984 winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize-asserts that the
'vulgarity' of the language reflects
the vulgarity of their way of life. There is little grace, peace, politeness
in their lives, only a lot of cane The language is angry, crude,
energetic. The cane cutter chopping away at the crops bursts out in a
spate of obscene words, a natural gush from the gut, like fresh faeces.
It's hard to put two words together in creole without swearing. Words
are spat out from the mouth like live squibs, not pronounced with
Slave Song employs that language brilliantly to convey the harshness of the
cane-cutters'-and their women's-lives.
Wuk, nuttin bu wuk
Maan noon an night nuttin bu wuk
Booker own me patacake
Booker own me pickni.
Pain, nuttin bu pain.
Waan million tons 'ne acre cane.
0 since me baan-juk! juk! juk!
So sun in me eye like taan
So Booker saach deep in me flesh
Kase Booker own me rass
An Booker own me cutlass-
Bu me dun cuss ... Gaad leh me no cuss no mo!
(Song of the Creole Gang Woman)
A graduate of the 'University of Hunger' speaks? Such languages makes no
concession to the metropolitan reader of poetry and for that reason, perhaps,
the poems are followed by 'translations' into standard English and a commentary
that contextualises the drama of each individual poem as the introduction sets
the scene for the sequence as a whole. Though I am glad to have all the informa-
tion contained in these glosses I have some reservations about all this apparatus
-but only to the extent that they distract from the poems themselves-begin
to neutralise or domesticate the anger that is live in the language itself.
John Agard won the Casa de las Americas prize for his Man to Pan
sequence in 1982. Limbo Dancer in Dark Glasses collects a group of more recent
poems which all explore the metaphor of the limbo dancer as the symbol of the
West Indian survivor, somehow keeping his identity and his dignity while bend-
ing over backwards to avoid the perils of a hostile world where "stick is the
whip/and the deck is slavery" as Brathwaite puts it. John Agard acknowledges
the sparking influence of Brathwaite and Wilson Harris in making him "aware
of the limbo dance/slaveship connection."
The poems are characteristically ironic, full of puns and John Agard's
wry, black-in both senses-humour. He is a celebrated performer of his own
work but unlike much of the recent wave of performance rants these subtle,
deceptively simple poems don't depend on the personality of the performer for
their effect. However, because they are intended for performance many of the
best poems are quite long and difficult to effectively quote from but the concise
'Once' has all the hallmarks of Agard's wit and style,
Once they gave a smile
& called me ethnic
once they looked amazed
& called me kinetic
once they applauded
& called me magic
now they say get out from under there
we know you're hiding under that stick
come out now or we'll shoot you hear
Other poems are less restrained in their political commentary, though never
teeter into polemic. A poem like 'Come from that Window Child', dedicated
to Walter Rodney's widow, recalls Martin Carter's 'This is the Dark Time My
Love' in the lyrical poignancy of its critique
Come from that window child
to live for truth ain't no easy fight
when some believe power is their right
Come from that window child
a bomb blow up daddy car tonight
but daddy words still burning bright
Come from that window child
tonight you turn a man before your time
tonight you turn a man before your time
That echo in the last line of "when a city of clerks/turn a city of men" from
Carter's 'B'ack Friday 1962' reinforces the comparison. John Agard is a worthy
inheritor of that mantle.
Guyanese born poets are well represented in James Berry's impressive
anthology of poetry written by authors whose roots are in the Caribbean but
who have lived substantially in the UK. Perhaps the most interesting new
writer in News for Babylon is Frederick d'Aguir who grew up in Guyana but
is presently studying in the UK. Many of d'Aguir's poems utilise folk forms and
a language live with the authentic tone and rhythms of Guyanese speech to
comment on aspects of Caribbean history and its people's present condition. The
character 'Old Mama Dot' dramatises that concern in vivid poems like 'Doctor
She measures string from navel
To each nipple in turn;
Where the string is shortest
I am knotted in pain. She kneads
Deep into my belly, as if to drive
The devil out of my enforced fasting.
The bush boiled to a green
Alluvium, I must drink
In one headback slake,
For the fevers to subside
And a return to bouncing around.
Word comes that Chatto are to publish a full collection of Frederick d'Aguir's
work this summer. My tip for the next Commonwealth Prize.
TRADITION AND CHANGE IN MUSIC IN GUYANA
AND THE WEST INDIES.
by OLIVIA AHYOUNG
The opinions expressed in this article have been formed from some fifteen
to twenty years of private and formal music teaching, workshops, radio broad-
casts, and currently teacher training, mainly in Guyana. References to the West
Indies are centred on Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica, which I feel are suf-
ficiently representative of certain musical characteristics in the region.
The cultural traditions of any people or country are almost inevitably
tied up with other aspects of their community life, and the West Indies is no
exception. Despite its position on the northern coast of the continent of South
America, Guyana has always been culturally linked with the West Indies, which
has experienced a confluence of cultures (British, Spanish, Dutch, French,
African, Amerindian and Indian) brought about by its diverse history.
In the colonial past here in Guyana, from among the six races which
comprise our communities, the British made the strongest contribution to the
music and culture of the people. The music of this small elite group enjoyed
both a superior and respected position, and represented status and social position.
This was easily achieved because this small elite group ruled the larid. They
used every means to promote their music as being superior, and desirable, and
to underline the belief that if anyone wanted to achieve some measure of respecta-
bility in the society they had to adopt their cultural values. The result of all this
was that a snob attitude was created among those of us who inherited this
background and had the opportunity of "classical" music training. Generations
of young people were taught and are still being taught the art of piano playing
in preparation for the grade and diploma examinations of the Royal Schools and
Trinity College of Music. They helped to create an audience of music lovers who
go to hear performances based on the classical repertoire, but to this day they have
remained a minority number. Classical concerts were and continue to be an
elite affair, for the average Guyanese or West Indian is not familiar enough with
classical repertoire to appreciate it. To the minority who attended these concerts
the vast majority was considered "uncultured", because they had no desire to
listen to this type of music, which really related to very little in their everyday
experience. The average West Indian could not be concerned with the aesthetic
value of music, music existing for its own sake and beauty. Because of his
background music for him served a functional purpose. One reacted to it. It
was therefore not very natural for him to sit quietly throughout a four move-
ment (section) work lasting about twenty or more minutes without wanting to
respond after every movement. Up until some years ago, this was common
practice, but in recent years audiences have become more educated in their
responses. Although the number of concert-goers remains small, a greater cross-
section of the public is involved. This is due to the fact that 1) radio in Guyana
and television in the West Indies have made people a little more familiar with
this type of music, and 2) the region has produced performers of an interna-
tional standard with whom our audiences are familiar and therefore want to
support. In the process, some of them learnt to like "classical music", but this
European style of music continues to have interest and relevance for only a small
percentage of the people. It can never be considered as "music of the people".
On the other hand, many of the peoples who were brought to live and
work in the West Indian regions. came from cultures where music had not only
reached a very high standard of development, but was also functional, being
tied in with work. welfare and worship. To these people, music was inextricably
bound up with their lives, and they continued its practice (song, dance and
drumming) despite the fact that it was proclaimed savage and barbaric by law.
This view relegated it to a position where it had to be practised underground.
This "music of the peoples" was of an oral tradition, so many streams of ethnic
music entered and blossomed into a rich and varied body of folk music. Used
as a medium of expression it was rapidly assimilated, becoming an integral part
of daily life. In Guyana, the pioneer in this field has been Vesta Lowe, who in
the mid-fifties had been a rural youth instructor in the Agricultural Department.
She graduated from Tuskegee University, U.S.A. and on her return to Guyana
began collecting the Boat Songs, Work Songs. Que-Que and Cumfa rhythms of the
hinterland and rural districts, from the inhabitants of these areas. She proceeded
to popularise these songs by presenting them in choral form through the Daw-
son's Music Lovers Club, and the Vesta Lowe Choir, at concerts given through-
out the coastal region. As a result, audiences became aware of this aspect of
Guyanese culture. This was further enhanced by the publication of some of these
songs in a little booklet entitled Guyana Sings, dedicated to the 4H clubs of the
then British Guiana. These songs were generally sung in creolese, and performed
by people mainly of African descent. Within the West Indian region, these songs
are very similar in character, to the extent that a few are claimed by more than
one territory. However, there is a marked difference between the West Indian and
European-style folk-song, especially as regards rhythm.
But traditional folk music no longer flourishes. Technological advance
has made rural communities less isolated, and as a result more urbanised. The
atmosphere in which folk music thrives hardly exists any more. What exists is
a situation where much of the folk art is staged in an attempt to rekindle the
dying interest in this art form. But removed from its natural habitat, folk art
tends to lose some of its natural flavour. I suppose however that this is one way
of preserving the art. An example of this is the Masquerade of Guyana. which is
going through a very lean period. During her stay in Guvana to establish a very
successful School of Dance, Haitian ballerina Lavinia Williams noted and col-
lected the steps of the Masquerade, and later choreographed them, and others
have followed suit.
So with art music appealing to a very small percentage of the population,
and folk music no longer having the same effect on the masses of the people,
the time is possibly ripe for the establishment of a truly West Indian style of
Every country has some specific method of making its own music. In
Guyana there are a handful of people who have written music (mainly songs,
with a few piano compositions and a smattering of larger scale works). Among
the much older generation, the majority of whom are now deceased, were names
like Chapman-Edwards, Martin Sperry, Nichols, Dummett, Koulen, DeWeever,
and Smellie. A worthwhile contribution in this field was the compositions of Major
S. W. Henwood, a former Director of Music, who encouraged the members of
the then "Militia Band" to compose. The composers included Harry Mayers,
Alan Briggs, and Clem Nichols whose "Dear Demerara" is still performed in
the concert repertoire.
The art of composition was really fostered through the Guyana Music
Festival first held in 1952. A special composition class was established to en-
courage musical settings to Guyanese poems, and this later gave rise to two
collections of Guyanese national songs. (Contemporary composers who are
writing national and patriotic songs in a style which reflects our West Indian
culture are Hilton Hemerding, George Noel, Eddie Hooper and Olivia Ahyoung,
as well as a number of others who use the pop idiom as a means of expression).
Among earlier composers of national songs are two ministers of religion -
Rev. Hawley Bryant who wrote the words and music of "Song of Guyana's
children", and Rev. Mortimer Cossou who wrote "My Native Land". Notable
contributions have come from the pen of Percy Loncke, Walter Franker, Cecile
Nobrega and Horace Taitt, Hugh Sam, Valerie Rodway, Bill Pilgrim, and
R. C. G. Potter, the composer of our National Anthem. The latter three are
among our most prolific composers of songs, with Potter's works reflecting the
Moravian church music tradition. None of the composers listed above can be
considered to be professional, by which I mean one who can make a living by com-
posing large scale works like a symphony or concerto. The only Guyanese who
approached this standard was Philip Pilgrim whose musical setting of A. J.
Seymour's "Legend of Kaieteur" stands out as a monument among local and
West Indian works. Originally intended for orchestra, the work was written
for three pianos, two soloists and a choir of 100 voices. It was performed in this
way in 1944 and in 1970, but for the 1972 Carifesta performance, the instrumental
music was rewritten by Bill Pilgrim for two pianos and steel orchestra. As far
as is known, it was the first time that a steel orchestra was used in an extended
work of its kind, and served to point up the need for our indigenous instruments
to be fully recognized and used in non-traditional ways.
But despite the fact that composers like George Noel, Eddie Hooper and
Hilton Hemerding have shown an understanding of the need for our national
songs to reflect a more indigenous style, and have done so in their compositions,
it is in the field of pop music in the West Indies that we have begun to see what
can be regarded as a local and indigenous pop style. The leader in this field has
been Jamaica, where the style known as reggae, an outgrowth of the Rasta-
farian songs, has immense popular appeal, and is beginning to get wide recog-
nition and acceptance outside of Jamaica. It has developed out of the basic
rhythms and style of the main type of Jamaican folk music-the Mento, A