-KYK NO. 43 CONTRIBUTORS
JOHN FIGUEROA Jamaican by birth; distinguished poet, critic, lecturer, broadcaster;
now lives in the UK
RALPH THOMPSON Jamaican businessman, poet and critic.
HERBERT INNIS Guyanese Amerindian; writer and teacher.
ROOPLALL MONAR Guyanese poet, short story writer and novelist; Peepal Tree
Press has published a collection of short stories, Backdam People, and a volume of poems,
Koker, his first novelJhanjat was published in 1990 and a further collection of stories,High
House and Radio, is due to be published in 1992, both by Peepal Tree Press.
CECIL GRAY Noted Trinidadian poet, short story writer, editor and lecturer; now lives
TONY KELLMAN Barbados poet and short story writer; his collection of poems
include: The Black Madonna and Other Poems (1975); In Depths ofBurning Light (1982);
The Broken Sun (1984); currently teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Augusta
College, Georgia, USA; Peepal Tree Press published a full-length collection of his poems,
Watercourse, in 1990 and is to publish his novel The Coral Rooms in 1992.
MAHADAI DAS Guyanese poet; M.A. (Philosophy) University of Chicago; her collec-
tion of poems, Bones, was published in 1989 by Peepal Tree Press.
STEWART BROWN Lecturer at Centre of West African Studies, University of
Birmingham; has taught in Jamaica and Nigeria; editor of anthology Caribbean Poetry
Now and joint editor of Voiceprint; author of collections of poems Zinder and Lugard's
Bridge; editor of The Art ofDerek Walcott., a collection of essays.
BRENDAN DE CAIRES Young Guyanese; Honours Degree in English Literature at
Oxford University in 1991; works for Human Rights Association in Guyana.
ALIM IIOSEIN Guyanese art and literature critic; lecturer in the Department of
English, University of Guyana.
E.A. MARKHAM Born in Montserrat; lives in England; poet, editor, critic, lecturer; his
books include Human Rites (Anvil Press, 1984), Living in Disguise (Anvil Press, 1986),
Towards the End of a Century (Anvil Press, 1989), and a collection of short stories,
Something Unusual (Ambit Books, 1986).
BRIAN BOWEN Young Guyanese poet.
STANLEY GREAVES Distinguished Guyanese painter, teacher and writer on art; poet;
now lives in Barbados.
JOHN GILMORE Barbadian historian and writer; edited Banja, a magazine of
Barbadian life, history and culture; co-editor Caribbean Week.
GRACE NICHOLS Guyanese poet; Winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1983
for i is a long memoried woman (Karnac House); has also published The Fat Black
Woman's Poems (Virago 1984), Lazy Thoughts of a Lazy Woman (Virago 1989), a novel
Whole ofa Morning Sky (Virago 1986), and books of stories and poems for children; lives
LORNA GOODISON Jamaican poet; artist, designer, illustrator; books include Tamar-
ind Season (Institute of Jamaica, 1980), lam becoming my Mother (New Beacon, 1986),
Heartease (New Beacon, 1989).
JOSEPI SINGII Guyanese; Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force.
DAVID FORD Guyanese; former Permanent Secretary; has published an excellent
SASENARINE PERSAUD Guyanese novelist, short story writer, poet; novels Dear
Death and The Ghost of Bellows Man published by Peepal Tree Press; lives in Canada.
SIIRIDATH RAMPIIAL Guyanese; former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth;
Chancellor of the University of the West Indies and the University of Guyana.
FRANK BIRBALSINGII Born in Guyana; literary critic; senior lecturer in Caribbean
literature, York University, Canada; important promoter of West Indian writers.
LMICIIAEL AARONS Guyanese poet now living in the United States.
KYK-OVER-AL No. 43 Edited by Ian McDonald
STABLE OF CONTENTS
Across the Editors' Desk .......................... ....................... ..................................... 2
Leda and the Swan (3 drawings)
The Other Island
The Church at Brou : 4 poems
On hearing Dvorak's
"New World" Symphony
Cast Offs; The Yawn
Morning Song; School Days
Rice Pot; Off Campus.
Only an Osric
On Reading 'Omeros; Stephen
Three Haiku; Victorian Tragedy
Everybody Tun Selfish
The River Wanted Out
to Adrian Thompson
Iis Father's House
Extracts From the Coral Rooms
The Power to Exclude
"One Touch of Nature
Makes the Whole World Kin"
with Roy Heath
Dimensions of a Creole
Continuum by John Rickford
Shape Shifter by Pauline Melville
Alim Hosein .........................39, 70, 99
Ralph Thompson ............................12
John Figueroa ..................................15
E.R. Markham .................................20
Grace Nichols ..................................21
Ian McDonald ..................................22
Brian Bowen ....................................23
Mahadai Das ......................................24
Herbert Innis ...................................25
Stanley Greaves ...............................26
Cecil Gray ...........................................28
John Gilmore ...................................31
Rooplal Monar ................................33
Michael Aarons ...............................35
Lorna Goodison ..............................37
Joseph Singh ....................................40
David Ford .........................................44
Sasenarine Persaud ...........................48
Rooplal Monar ..................................53
Tony Kellman ..................................67
Stcwart Brown .................................71
Shridath Ramphal ...........................77
Frank Birbalsingh ............................81
Alim Iosein ...................................100
Brendan DeCairies .......................103
Notes on Contributors
KYK Credits and Information
Inside Front Cover
Inside Back Cover -
KYK # 43
ACROSS THE EDITOR'S DESK
Apology and Appreciation
Kyk 43 has been delayed, as was Kyk 42. We apologise to subscribers
in particular most sincerely for this. Kyk 42 was supposed to come out in
December, 1990, and came out in July, 1991. Kyk 43 was then supposed to
come out in December, 1991, and comes out now in June, 1992. We are
averaging one issue, when we had originally planned two issues, per year.
There are two reasons for delay. One is the sheer cost in time and
perseverance in getting the material collected, sorted, edited, printed and
published. One's personal time slips by insidiously fast and Kyk deadlines
are lost in the plethora of other deadlines. The need is for more help both
on the editorial and business sides of bringing out the magazine and this is
being pursued. Brendan De Caires and Vanda Radzik have rendered
invaluable help in releasing this issue without them the issue might well
have been delayed even longer.
The other reason for delay is financial. Kyk gets no subsidy and sales
in Guyana and the West Indies, sadly, do not come near covering costs.
What keeps Kyk alive is the generous and imaginative support by the
business community in Guyana and the contributions which overseas
subscribers, especially in the UK, make to the magazine. We are more
grateful than we can say for the assistance we get from business houses in
Guyana and from the foreign exchange subscribers in Britain -they are our
lifeblood. In respect of our support from the business community, how-
ever, there is a limit to what we can ask and this limit tends also to limit the
number of issues we can bring out per year.
Bill Carr A Love and Reverence for Literature
Bill Carr, born in England, educated at Cambridge, but very much a
West Indian for the rest of his life died on February 25th, 1992, at the age
of 60. His career was spent lecturing and writing on literature first at UWI
in Jamaica and then at the University of Guyana until the end of his life. His
lecturing was inspiring, his writing lucid, his criticism perceptive, and his
conception of what mattered in literature clear, firmly expressed, and more
likely than most critical writings to out- last the temporary formulations of
KYK # 43
fashion. He was also a devoted lover of the theatre and in his prime played
many memorable roles. When he died I wrote an appreciation which
appeared in Stabroek News in Georgetown.
Two weeks before Bill Carr died I had got a book of essays on
the poetry of Derek Walcott to give to him. Between visits abroad I
never got around to giving the book to him. I feel sad he never got
to see these essays and I am sorry I will miss his commentary,
disdainful and delighted by turns on what the essayists might have
dared to say about his much-loved poet. I am even more sorry that
I will miss his exulting joy in Walcott's words themselves. How he
would have loved the lines from Omeros quoted in John Figueroa's
good essay on that great poem:-
"but the right journey
is motionless; as the sea moves round an island
that appears to be moving, love moves round the heart
with encircling salt, and the slowly travelling hand
knows it returns to the port from which it must start.
Therefore, this is what this island has meant to you
why my bust spoke, why the sea-swift was sent to you:
to circle yourself and your island with this art".
And these other lines in which, as an adopted West Indian, Bill
would have recognized the slow coalescence and growth of the
unique culture he had grown over long years to love:
"Why waste lines on Achille, a shade on the sea floor?
Because strong as self-healing coral a quiet culture
is branching from the white ribs of each ancestor,
deeper than it seems on the surface; slowly but sure,
it will change us with the fluent sculpture of Time".
He himself was writing a book on Walcott whose poetry he loved
measurelessly. Over the years I saw some of the completed chapters.
He never finished the book he grumbled to me once that Walcott
was writing so much great poetry so fast that lesser men could not
hope to keep up with critical comment on his output but I hope the
completed part will be preserved and published sometime.
Bill Carr was a Yorkshireman he could not be weaned away from
KYK # 43
his admiration for the dull but dogged opening batsman Boycott -
but the main part of his life was spent lecturing in English first at
Mona and then at Turkeyen. At his best Bill Carr was an incisive,
brilliant lecturer and a piercingly lucid literary critic. A few years
ago, when he was up between bouts of illness that laid him low, Iwent
to hear him give a lecture on the poetry of Martin Carter. I thought
he might be too weakand unwell to be much more than ordinary. But
without a note and holding only the poems in his hands like a prized
possession, he gave the perfect lecture pithy, loving, original, witty,
and assured and his reading of the poetry was loving also, faultless
and informed with deep understanding. For an hour and more his
originality, intelligence, and obvious love of his subject held us
almost tranced at the cusp of our attention. I went away thinking to
myself that that performance multiplied would have made him one
of the very great teachers. It is sad now to think how much more he
might have achieved if he had allowed himself to be at his best more
of the time. I think he might have measured himself among the great
literary critics of the region, men like Ken Ramchand and Gordon
He was an astonishingly brave man. A few years ago, when his
strength had ebbed and his body become frail and worn, he said he
would do the demanding part of the Englishman Harry Trewe in
Walcott's play Pantomime, a play with just two actors. No one could
have believed that he would succeed in the attempt. It seemed a sort
of mad over- estimate of his remaining strength. But he carried off
the performance for all the run of the play with gallantry and the
theatrical flair which once had made him memorable in King Lear,
Hamlet, and Walcott's Franklin in the old Theatre Guild days. It
must have been pure courage that saw him through borne up, also,
no doubt, by his abiding reverence for Walcott's undyingwork. In his
last years he was in and out of hospital, very weak often, very sick
sometimes, but never once that I saw in a dull, ill humour and
certainly never complaining about life which held for him always to
the end the zest and promise that makes every passing hour matter.
Some of that tenacity in holding on to the richness of life must have
flowed from his wife, Marjorie, but the strength was in him too,
perhaps as deep down as his faith as a Catholic which he did not
speak much about (at least to me) but which was rock-steady
through all the bad, enfeebling days.
Bill had his hates as well as his loves. He harboured a special
loathing for the pretensions of political power. Those who lorded it
KYK # 43
over others, he felt, almost invariably had no good reason or right to
do so and the worst of them were the most likely to act the over-
mighty autocrat. In the heyday of party paramountcy, the manifes-
tations of which he utterly despised, he would quote to good effect
one of Karl Marx's better remarks:
"But the more these conscious illusions
of the ruling classes are shown to be
false and the less they satisfy common-
sense, the more dogmatically they are
asserted and the more deceitful
moralising and spiritual becomes the
language of established society".
Above all, when all is said and done, Bill Carr loved, respected, and
relished good writing he revelled in what was best in literature. His
knowledge of all the classics of Western literature was unsurpassed.
I learned so much about literature from him I cannot begin to list the
insights he carelessly bestowed on me in the course of conversations.
I thought I knew Walcott's work well until Birr Carr spoke to me
about the complexity and beauty of his art. He introduced me to the
innerworkings of many great writers. I thank him for that out of a full
heart. His favourite almost over all as an essayist was Matthew
Arnold whom he thought much underestimated. Over the years he
pointed out to me more times than I can remember parts of Arnold's
writing peculiarly appropriate to the happenings of our day. He
seemed to know Arnold's work by heart. He liked to quote Arnold's
words about literary criticism: I am bound by my own definition of
criticism: a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that
is thought and known in the world. He thought anyone interested in
well-written, common-sensical, clear and clarifying prose should
read Arnold's essay Culture andAnarchy. The best writing, Bill Carr
said to me not long ago, is always more up-to-date than today.
When Bill died I looked up my Newman the great Cardinal John
Henry Newman, convert-scholar of the Catholic Church. Bill loved
the cardinal Newman was not only a man of the most unflinching
Catholic faith but also an absolute master of language. I found some
words from a sermon Newman once gave simple words but I write
them down now with feeling for Bill Carr who taught me so much
about what is worth our love and reverence in literature.
KYK # 43
"May He support us all the day long,
till the shades lengthen, and the
evening comes, and the busy world
is hushed and the fever of life
is over, and our work is done! Then
in His mercy may He give us a safe
lodging, and a holy rest, and peace
at the last".
Adrian Thompson Explorer and Naturalist
Adrian Thompson never wrote for Kyk or for any other literary maga-
zine. But his life was filled with the presence of Guyana's forests, rivers,
mountains, savannas, wild-life, flowers, birds and all this land's great
inheritance of beauty and mystery and filled with the presence too of the
ancestral people who live at one with all of it. An appreciation of the man
and his work deserves a place in the pages of Kyk and we are pleased to
include in this issue pieces by Brigadier Joe Singh and David Ford on this
We give below an extract from an interview which Seamus Heaney
gave to the Economist.
What is your own apology~ for poetry? What is poetry good for?
To quote my friend Derek Mahon, they keep the colours new.
They rinse things...
What sort of things?
Well, first of all rinse the words, yes. But also perhaps rinse and
hang out again on the line values of freedom of spirit and play, but
also values which are fundamental to the culture, the myth values of
the culture ...You see, I think poetry's also domestic. It lives within
certain cultural borders. It can transcend them, it can broadcast
beyond them, but its first life is within its language borders and then
maybewithin a certain domain of that language... The kind of poetwho
founds and reconstitutes values is somebody like Yeats or Whitman -
these are public value-founders. Then you can put beside Whitman in
KYK # 43
19th-century America Emily Dickinson, who is a reconstitutor of an
inner metaphysic for human creatures...The poet is one the side of un-
deceiving the world. It means being vigilant in the public realm. But
you can go furtherstill and say that poetry tries tohelpyou to bea truer,
purer, wholer being, you know. This doesn't mean that each poem has
to be something like Eliot's Four Quartets... It can mean a haiku such
Farmer pointing the way
with a radish.. You suddenly see the world renewed.
The kinds of truth that art gives us many, many times are small
truths.. They don't have the resonance of an encyclical from the Pope
stating an eternal truth, but they partake of the quality of eternity.
There is a sort of timeless delight in them. And it's that timeless
delighting, the timeless rightness of a little thing or the resonant
rightness of a bigger thing that's what it can do. Let a blind up for a
You 'e talked about the public role ofpoetry, but you have also said
that poetry can't afford as it did in the 19th century to indulge in
Yes. That is true, I was talking about the suspicion that Irish poets
in particular had had induced in them by the scoldings of Patrick Kava-
nagh against a national theme. And Kavanagh said: there's nothing as
damned as the important thing. But then there was also the caution
that came upon us in the late 1960s, early 1970s because of the
collusion between high national rhetoric and possibly low, dangerous
activities the IRA and so on... The appetite for uttering a big truth
shouldn't be altogether rebuked, you know. But how is it to be uttered?
That is the question.
To go back to the present collection, you seem to use bigger words
than you 've ever dared use before soul and spirit, for example. There is
one line in particular where the soul is hung out like a white...
...handkerchief, which, in a sense, goes back to the very beginnings
of religious instruction, to the school catechism, where the innocent
soul was a white handkerchief and then sin came along like a stain of
soot or a piece of tar and the soul had to be cleansed at confession. It
was pretty coarse stuff..l think that those primary images retain as
Wordsworth would have said a vivifying force, but they can also be
constricting in a subliminal way right throughout your life. And that
poem was a discovery of a delight in realising that eternal life is cred-
ible, you know...One associated it, first ofall, with a mystery, and itwas,
in the first world. The religious language was entirely radiant and
KYK # 43
mysterious but it was unquestioned. Then you come to the detached,
self-secularising period, and you say: eternal life? It's all language, you
know. There's no afterlife. There's no paved floor of heaven. The
seraphim aren't there.
And then, suddenly, you say: Well, wait! Eternal life can mean
utter reverence for life itself. And that's what there is. And our care in
a green age, so to speak, in an age that's conscious of the ravages that
have been done to the planet, the sacred value is actually eternal life.
So that language is perfectly proper. It can be used again. It can be
revived. It's not necessarily a mystifying language. It's a purifying lan-
guage. And I suppose that's what I would like to do...This was not an
ambition, but is a kind of apologia for using words like soul and spirit.
You want them to ... yes, to be available, to purify possibilities again.
We reprint an extract from a Commentary by John Gross entitled The
Man of Letters in a Closed Shop taken from The Times Literary Supplement
of November 15th, 1991. It exactly expresses our sentiments.
Literary theory, in one form or another, is at least as old as
Plato so why all the fuss? In the first place, there is the sheer
unparalleled quantity of theory that has come rolling off the assem-
bly lines in recent years, the startling proliferation of doctrines,
vocabularies and interpretive strategies. You could spend half a
lifetime mastering what has already been written; then you would
have to start catching up all over again. Nor do I believe that there
is any real analogy here with the explosion of knowledge inside a
truly scientific subject. Above all, the growth of theory seems to be
an index of the ambitions of theory, of the determination of the
cuckoo to take over the nest.
The expansionist designs of theorists are nowhere more appar-
ent than in their terminology. To make sense (where possible) of
what they are saying, you have to submit to a new language, with a
dozen different dialects. You have to train yourself to see the world
in terms of metonymy and semioclasm, marginalization and aporia,
jouissance and difference, and misprision as a mode of partial recu-
peration. If you don't end up brooding over the materiality of the
signifier, you are liable to find yourself wandering between the
hegemonic and the agonistic, or trying to work our exactly what is
KYK # 43
meant I n 'y a pas de hors-texte.
Some of this jargon no doubt serves a justifiable purpose: every
discipline needs its specialized vocabulary. But, once again, you
wonder why there has to be so much of it; you can't in fact travel very
far in this particular territory without encountering unmistakable
specimens of deliberate obscurity, wild generalizations and high-
To insist on the priority of theory over literature is bad enough.
It is as though no one were allowed to go to church without first
taking a degree in theology. But, in practice, the situation is even
worse, since a great deal of critical theory is devoted not so much to
illuminating literature as to undermining it, robbing it of its auton-
omy. In the kingdom of theory the author's role is reduced to that of
a meeting-point of external forces; the text itself is no longer the
privileged container of meaning; reading a poem or novel for its own
sake becomes a mere naive prologue to the serious business of
analysis. Everything is up for interpretive grabs.
A full account of critical theory, with all its subdivisions, would
be an enormous task, but I have no doubt myself that its deepest
appeal is political. In some cases this is obvious: in the campaigns
that have been waged to open up or abandon the canon of standard
authors. (Beware of Shakespeare too hegemonic) But even the
more rarefied varieties of theory generally carry an implicit political
message. By their very nature they presuppose that traditional
Western values are illusory; that re-definition is always better than
transmission; that the intellectual is "privileged" bybeing able to see
through the facades that deceive other people. In many respects
modern theory might have been invented (and in some respects
perhaps it was) in order to fill the gap left by the decline of classical
But it also offers more immediate satisfactions. The artist
whose work has been deconstructed or demystified has also been
demoted. The critic (the critic turned theorist, that is) need no
longer worry about playing a subordinate role. Better still, he can
persuade himself that he, too, is engaged in a form of artistic activity.
Readers new to critical theory must often be puzzled by its ex-
travagance and apparent playfulness. True, there are sober-minded
theorists too. But all those cute titles, bad puns and "ludic" conceits!
All those frisky parentheses and whimsical oblique strokes! The
rhetoric and the tone hardly seem those of an asp-.ing science, or
even a pseudo-science; and they are not meant to be. One recent
KYK # 43
commentator, Howard Felperin, spells out the position with com-
mendable candour in his book Beyond Dconstruion. Deconstruction,
relinquishes any claim to status as science, but only to make an
equally ambitious or pretentious claim to status as literature.
Criticism has always made this claim implicitly, furtively, embar-
rassedly. Which of us would deny the prestige offidl literary status
to the essays of Sidney, Johnson, Shelley, Arnold or Eliot? Which
of us has not thought, secretly and wishfidly, his own essays their
equal? In deconstructive criticism that claim comes out ofhiding;
the writer inside the critic comes out of his closet.
Re-enter the critic as artist. The claim, or ambition, has always
seemed to me a dubious one except in a few rare instances, more
likely to produce delusions of grandeur than anythingelse. But I find
it hard to believe that Felperin is speaking purely for himself; at any
rate, I can't think of a better explanation for the immodesty which is
one of critical theory's most striking features.
The upgrading of the critic applies strictly to theorists: need-
less to say, it doesn't confer any benefits on the non-theorizing man
of letters. There is a very revealing passage in this connection in a
booklet published in 1989 by the American Council of Learned
Societies, Speakingfor the Humanities the work of no fewer than six
authors, all of them occupying influential positions at leading
universitics.(They include Peter Brooks of Yale and Jonathan Culler
of Cornell). Their main brief seems to have been to defend recent
developments in the teaching of the humanities against conserva-
tive critics such as William Bennett, who was US Secretary of
Education at the time, but in the course of developing their case they
also felt impelled to speak up for academic specialization in the
It is precisely because the teachers of the
humanities take their subject seriously that they
become .specialists, allow themselves to be professionals rather than
amateurs belle-lettrists who
unselfconsciously sustain traditional hierarchies,
traditional social and cultural exclusions, assuming that their
audience is both universal and
- 10 -
KYK # 43
The arrogance (posing as openness) is breath-taking. In the
words of American critic Roger Kimball, who responded to the
report in the spirit it deserved, what we are being asked to accept is
that only your professional academic is canny enough to escape
bondage to naive and intellectually crippling assumptions about social
and cultural power. No mere Mencken or Orwell orAuden could do it,
you see, because, as amateurs and belle-lettrists, they were just too
unaware of 'traditional hierarchies' to tell us anything of much value.
I can't improve on that, but it is still worth asking why the
authors of Speakingfor the Humanities bothered to bring belle-
lettrists into the arguments in the first place. It is not as though
America were in danger of being overrun by old-style men of letters:
at a conservative estimate, ninety-nine percent of the literary criti-
cism now published in the Republic emanates from universities. No,
Professor Brooks, Professor Culler and their colleagues plainly find
something troublesome in the very notion of a man of letters, the
mere possibility of a serious critic operating outside the academic
fold. How else can one account for the element of blatant caricature
in their argument, with its suggestion that an Edmund Wilson shall
we say? was guilty of cultural exclusion that a Brooks or a Culler
manage to transcend? (Compare Wilson's essay on Flaubert with
Culler's books on the same subject, and judge for yourself which of
the two is more likely to reach out to readers at large).
At thevery least, the attitudes enshrined in SpeakingfortheHu-
manities hold out the threat of an academic closed shop. But there
is something in them that goes deeper than that, there is a hostility
not merely towards the freelance, but towards the free response. For
in spite of its apparent variety, a great deal of critical theory is
coercive, designed to enforce approved social and political attitudes
(roughly speaking, any attitude that rejects traditional hierarchies).
The belittling of the belle lettrist, the person who writes as he
pleases, is at bottom a demand for ideological conformity.
None of this is meant to imply that contemporary literary
theory doesn't offer intermittent insights. It does. But the price that
has to be paid for them is a hundred times too high, if they can only
be acquired at the cost of accepting everythingthat comes with them.
The body of theory that has accumulated over the past few years,
taken as a whole, seems to me a monstrous excresence, a vast
distraction, a paltry substitute for the experience of literature itself.
I believe that in time it will fade, but I am filled with a cold horror at
the thought of how much further it could spread before it does.
THE OTHER ISLAND (December 1991)
He stood in uniform at sunset
on the brink of bombed out Tokyo
watching a fishing boat cut from the river
into the bay, the fisherman standing
in the stern rolling a single oar
from side to side. Back home
it would have been a cotton tree canoe,
rowed blindly backward, towing an island.
This squint eyed craft, hull high,
looked where it was going, not
where it had been, the blade of the oar
unscrolling in Japanese the warning
of a wake which he could not decipher.
A wave of homesickness slopped into nausea.
When he showed the cable to his mother
she had crumpled it and cried:
"I will never see you again"
She took to bed but asthma had taught her
how to sleep with eyes half open,
pupils pulled up under the lids,
mouth half open too, still echoing
its oracle. In World War 1,
two days before the armistice,
a German gunner had stitched a row
of medals into her brother's chest,
their red ribbons trickling down.
The army sent his binoculars back
in a tiny coffin lined with silk.
She would not let him play with it.
Into thedoorof his room at the BOQ
was hinged a smaller door, a flap
through which Yasuko, his maid,
would peek, down on her knees,
careful not to ruffle his imperial
sleep. She always spied, it seemed,
when he was standing naked. Their eyes
would meet and she would giggle,
holding the sleeve of the kimono
over her mouth the same gesture
his mother used to hide her crooked teeth.
When he paid the fees for her
return to university
she alleged her love in English
less tenuous than his Japanese.
Their body language tested every
consonant and vowel, slurring
only when they talked of islands.
Fujisan, he claimed, was like Mount Fancy
looking from the gap toward Buff Bay,
its slopes as lovely and symmetrical.
Like her neighbour, old women
in Jamaica swept the yard
with tied-together branches, a green
broom that might sprout new leaves
if planted. Jealous islands! In revenge
one night, proving a talent for saving face,
she touched his cheek and whispered, "I think
that you are not completely black"
A southern colonel, veteran
of all bamboo battles, drawled:
"Never tell them you're returning Stateside.
Marriage is their one way ticket
to paradise. When you explain
that miscegenation is illegal
they take the law into their own hands,
so to speak, cut off your prick
with one of their Samurai razors,
so quick you hardly feel the swipe.
But there you are sitting upright
on the tatami, legs spread,
KYK # 43
Po tr ---- ---
blood pulsing from an interior pipe -
and where do you tie the tourniquet, boy,
around your waist?"
Bang on the door. "Telephone call
for you lieutenant". He ran down
the hall in jockey shorts to where
the receiver dangled against the wall.
It was a college girl friend calling
from New York. "I was sorry
to hear about your mother's passing.
I just got the news..." Crackle, Crackle,
The line went dead. A cable had been sent
but war had intercepted it.
Among so many deaths what
was notable about this one?
A severe attack of asthma,
an accidental overdose
of morphine? He remembered then
his first evening in Japan,
the dying sun, a solitary
fishing boat hauling into
Tokyo Bay, the message of its wake
wet with ambiguities.
- 14 -
KYK # 43
John Figueroa was awarded a gold medallionfor these poems by the
town of BROU.
THE FACADE of the EGLISE de BROU
The birds that sing
the birds that fly
are birds that live
and birds that die.
The men who build
the men who break
the simple arc
construct in stone
what men alone
of animals remark:
the straight assault
too simply makes
the point, and fades.
The twist constructs
the cloth that lasts.
The jaguar arc
efficient to a fault,
direct, deadly and
BROU, PHILIBERT le BEAU
Take a bit of well-baked, light, golden well knit, smooth grained corn
cake; place it in a silver plate, a plate deep and shaped like a stylised
fish, a flat, longish balanced fish; let the corn cake rest, and pour, not on
it but beside it, into the well shaped silver platter, rich but clear sauce,
the colour of yellow chartreuse, but with the slightest touch of rose in it,
- 15 -
KYK # 43
the very slightest touch of the rosy first light of day on a cool tropical
morning. The sauce must be rich, but not viscous; golden-rose; clear but
not thin. Slowly the corn cake will absorb it; the corn cake will remain
firm but its yellow pulp and brown rind will be completed, softened,
enriched by the absorbed liquid. So stands the church at Brou, built by
Margaret of Austria for Philibert le Beau, when between 11 in the
morning and early afternoon it takes to itself the firm, rich golden
sunlight, and absorbs it, softens it, enriches it, and with its carved fruits,
and oft repeated initials of P le B, makes the sunlight part of it, and in
so doing manages to suggest a slightly rosy sky, or the palest of rose
BROU, PHILIBERT le BEA U H
Choose golden, well-knit, smooth-grained corn cake,
Place it in a silver plate, shaped like a stylised fish,
Let the corn cake rest, and pour, not on but beside it,
a clear rich sauce.
the colour of yellow chartreuse,
Golden, rose clear, but not thin;
The brown rind is enriched
By this liquid
The yellow pulp completed.
So stands the church at Brou,
Built by Margaret of Austria for Philibert le Beau,
When between morning and fore-noon
It takes to itself the gold sunlight.
Absorbs it, softens, enriches it, and with
And the often repeated initials
ofP leB, Ple B.
Makes sunlight a part of it:
Carved sky of dawn,
Palest of rose petals.
(with Derek Walcott)
- 16 -
KYK # 43
KYK # 43
In Memorial John Cunneen
Gray and rust
and gently pink against the blue
but no one stops
and no one stops
and no one stops to think of you
The light is fading
the virgins pass
the young are full of juice
like a slice of endless time
you face the fading sun
the cruel cross is marked on you
your windows pattern endlessly
the sorrow to something new
you stand so clean
you are not seen
And no one stops
and on one stops
and no one stops to think of you
The thighs that pass are firm
the faces dull
they cannot notice you
your whisper is so light
you are so still
you are so still
that no one stops to think of you
Just before night the light whitens
in different planes you stand
but no one slops
- 17 -
Three upright planes
where late but one
as light lessons improving sight
the geometry of your windows
of your looped facades
of your whole self
measures the earth
and sorrow's faith
you stand a well worked sign
and no one stops
and no one stops
and on one stops to think of you
Your endless geometry is sure and calm
built on a love-match that did
not seem to last
0 your quiet speaks across the roar
and stink of diesel engines
and faint aroma ofapertifs
it speaks it sings it soothes
for one building
in gray and rust
KYK # 43
KYK # 43 Poetry
ON HEARING DVORAK'S
"NEW WORLD" SYMPHONY
The chestnut trunks arc dark
Their massive manes are green
And lightly float on dark
Breathing of music wind.
The while swans sail the pond
Before the music wind,
And arch white necks among
The waving chestnut trees.
The music wind billows,
The dark trunks toss green manes:
The swans have felt darkness
Weave slowly through the waves.
I am kneeling in
A night-fall church beyond
The rings of candle light
Which shake in music wind.
One by one acolytes
Arc candles leaving dark
The altar whose candles
One by one flicker out.
The night-fall church is night
Except for sanctuary lamp;
I taste the lamp and know
The song of music wind.
- 19 -
KYK # 43
E .R. MARKIAM
(A Poem about a Savant, a Sister & a Person very grand at a
Function who must first look around the Room for someone
more important to talk to, and then relent.)
He was the Stapleton who matured
like cheese which reminds you of something else
into a Character the village loved
to offer to strangers as evidence
of a sophisticated palate. Old Stapleton
talked calmly of violence and death
unlike the preacher, to banish both as a daily fear
without condemning the island to something folksy.
He preserved the risk that he could do worse
if he tried, to confirm the family's dread
of savant as something others called strange
in whispers or with after-dinner relish.
Though for a sister, visiting,
how irksome this man without family
making death & violence a party piece, neighbours
she'd kept at bay by effort in a life
ministering to others! And here they are together
at a function, approached by a person very grand,
contrition on his face. And yes, women
are like wives to public men at times like these:
Old Stapleton tells the story of his sister's
daughter when young, helping to pull weeds
from the driveway, from the garden: why then
is she crying, the happy child? Those flowers
in an adult hand, though green, have done no harm,
and calling them names won't make it better.
This story of death & violence in the family
softens the sister and intrigues a person very grand.
- 20 -
KYK # 43
KYK #43 Poetry
Blackout is endemic to the land.
People have grown sixthsense
and sonic ways, like bats,
emerging out of the shadows
into the light of their own flesh.
But the car headlamps coming towards us
make it seem we're in some thirdworld movie,
throwing up potholes and houses exaggeratedly,
the fresh white painted and grey ramshackle
blending into snug relief.
And inside, the children are still hovering,
hopeful moths around The flickerless Box,
immune to the cloying stench of toilets
that can't be Ilushed. The children,
all waiting on electric-spell to come
and trigger a movie, the one featuring America,
played out endlessly in their heads.
While back outside, coconut vendors decapitate
the night, husky heads cutlassed off
in the medieval glow of bottle lamps.
And everywhere there are flittings
and things coming into being,
in a night where footfall is an act of faith -
A group of young girls huddled in a questionable
The sudden dim horizontal of an alleyway;
And the occasional generator-lit big house,
obscenely bright -
hurting the soft iris of darkness
in this worn-out movie, slow reeling
Under the endless cinema of the skies.
KYK # 43
The death of beasts, heavy-shoulderd:
Beneath the ox-tail, shit bubbles and descends.
Peasant fare, smell of cake-stalls in the air.
At last he wakes, bolt-straight,
Eyes afire, from his complex sleep,
Throws off the embroidered heavy clothes,
Sets about the task, self-given:
Matches the multiplying suns,
The green glaze of leaves, the Plato cave,
The bears, the waterfall, the galleries of love.
He makes the single candle-stick
Golden, polished, perfect, sure,
Sets in it one perfect candle
And lights it to light the world.
Though the taper's frail
And the wind a-howl
Full of the hiss of serpents
Blows the flame flat
And the flame flutters, fails,
Nothing can be put out again,
Far darkness is illumined.
The candle-stick maker
Ah, his craft is needed.
Nothing ceases when he begins
The sift and seethe of endless time:
Light will last forever now
Radiance starts in every tumbled grave.
- 22 -
KYK # 43
CAST OFFS (Monday. 1990-08-27)
Ruy Lopez' lasting
and cinders cloud;
yet poly ply programs2
while trash tumbles
who wasting when
1. A f~l <'ml oIod'.hess Opelh'.mg
2. A chess cCwvputo
.. To include i tF onw-laC'er delle~('iw, and the (ireCnhrtis effect.
i. I'Phllxits cix .xcriist ihi v, 'entsi ~f n Cnff d pik's .g. uxsiing manthc,,, tical
language like (1). there result ahv a "i thrim arcanunm.
THE YAWN (Satnurlday 1991-02-23)
Far from Korea
they say of inside that
there they yawn
quite plainly -
eyes wide a-mirror
and Oh. they're wise! -
lips firmly together.
KYK # 43
I am still a unicorn. Only I know it.
Consigned to the ocean, I cower
in a man-cage while the great, white shark
tries to consume me.
Put here by my captors, I take photographs
of my fellow ocean creatures.
Once I owned my own brain
though I traversed Libyan desert sands,
a loaded camel ridden by the Arab prince
with his long robes.
Now I am a prisoner not of land
but of ocean, with only the promise
I will serenade you through the night
with harps, luring your ship of men
who, starved and lost, swoon when I sing.
I hope that you, captain, will take me
but you turn away blocking your cars
with wax. You will not listen.
My songs fade away in the wind.
I am a captive unicorn!
KYK # 43
Daddy, staggered swayed and stumbled
And sometimes slept in the yard
Or crawled like a dog up the front steps
And even dribbled on the floor
He repeated one idea a thousand times
While he turned the pages of his children's future
The final oration before he drifted off to sleep
Professed how much he loved his wife
And she, exasperated, would shout
Shut yuh mouth yuh damn drunk dankey.
I cannot remember the sound of his voice
when he was sober.
Auntie kept a vacant stool at her door
And made gossip
As sweet as kankies wrapped in plantain leaves
She shared strong coffee to her guests
Who belched out the latest
Which was passed on to the next arrivant
With warnings of confidence
Good kind hearted soul
She traded local news
For she never understood the radio
Nor could she tell the newsprint upside down
It did pay off
For when she died
She had the biggest turn out.
KYK # 43
MORNING SONG (1986)
THE MORNING IS DRY,
BEETLES HAVE LOST TIIE RACE
AGAINST THE RISE OF THE SUN.
ON A BED OF RUMPLED DREAMS
I ENCOUNTER COMPLEXITIES
BETWEEN THINGS TIAT COME BY NIGHT
AND WHAT EYES S.EE BY DAY.
KNOCKS ON MY DOOR,
CONVERSATIONS TI [AT GO NOWHERE,
FOOTFALLS AND TWO NOTES
OF THE FROG'S CALL
PROPOUND TIE QUESTION
OF WHAT TO DO WITI SILENCE.
THE MORNING IS DRY
AND BEETLES HAVE I.OST 'THE RACE.
SCHOOL DAYS (1991)
EVERY NUN WEARS A RING,
THE BRIDE OF GOD,
AN ASTONISHING ACT
AS IF IDEPICIONS OF IIEL.
CAME TRUE WITH EACII BRUSH
AND ARTISTS CHEERING.
RAIN IS WET'IING WINDOWS,
BUT WI [AT ABOUT TREES
WITNESSING TI HI BRIDE OF GOD
DEPRIVE LITTLE BOYS OF SIN.
- 26 -
KYK # 43
FOR EACH NUN GOD AND BOY
STRINGS OF COLOUR
AND SEPARATE BAI.CONIES
LINK ALL REALITIES
AS ONE ASTONISHI NG ACT,
BUT TI IE SUNSET IS YOURS
THE GARDEN OF GUAVAS MINE
AND GOD CAN HAVE '1HE REST.
RICE POT (1990)
FOREVER IN TI IlA EASY DIET OF RICE
WI IAT DOES IT MAITE'R IF AN EMPTY hAG
HANGS ON MY SI IOUIDER.
A UNIVERSE IS NOT STARS IN THII NIGHT
IUT EVERY SINGLE IBUI.LET GRAIN
COUNTED ON A SI MAKING SPOON.
OFF CAMPUS (DEDICATED-) TO HILL CA RR) (1990)
TIWO-I IAN I)D SPEED,
DRINKS AND) O.D )OORS,
RUM IS A COLLECTIfON OF USED) SHOES
JOURNEYS OUTSIDE TIME
AND SUDDEN FRIENDSHIPS
MEASURING TI II 11IRST POUR.
IIOW MUCIIH? WIT I WIIOM?
A TORTUOUS BIED OF I'T IICS,
ICE, EXUBliERANT SPIT
AND D)IIEMMAS DIAGNOSED FROM NINE.
IT IS A REAL UNIVERSITY BETWEEN BENCHES.
T' Il OTHIlER PACE IS OBSTACI.E TO WIND.
(Althoughl KYK cannot transcribe Stanley's Calligraphic
handwriting, an attempt has been made to approximate
the capital letters he consistently used to style his poems.)
KYK # 43
Poetry KYK #43
I am only an Osric
come to serve at a duel.
I ply my handkerchief with courtly style
and call a hit, a very palpable hit,
as if my function had some greater size.
Perhaps I overdo it, like a fag,
mincing with secrets quivering in my feathers.
Called to the ringside, my presence tolerated,
tragedy spews stray specks of spittle
on me. Yet to be an extra in that scene
fulfils some destiny a cruel hand
had penned for minor functionaries,
foolish but necessary. Later, before the
tumultuous applause cracks and dies
already I'm forgotten aisle by aisle.
But I will play it again. Strut again
to. be in company of such noble men,
suffer the wrath of leading members
of the cast for hogging for a minute
centre-stage. The wine giddies my head.
We play our parts, we Osrics of the world,
whenever patronage demands. We magnify
the sweep of bonnet, the elegance of bow,
to serve as footmen follies of the time.
KYK # 43
ON READING OMEROS (For Derek Walcott)
The patio bent its hooked finger around us,
a tiled ell splitting our thoughts at its crux,
snapping the faith we had that a poet
at the helm of his craft could unfix
the blank stare aimed at scenes in his mirror.
Each slow lift of the head raised the question
whose ears turned, whose eyes locked on his vision,
who listened from here and heard and applauded
him lifting like Atlas the lives of these islands
from the flat monotone of the ocean.
Trawling lines we caught worlds that magician
created and found our little green places
drawn with strokes of his words on mapsof the globe.
An X-ray of pride suffused us. But faces
clouded with queries and quickly changed season.
Our sentences cried. Are aloof New York Times
reviewers blinded by stereotypes unravellers
of metaphors smelt from links of our chain?
Are they by proxy readers that strain at the seine
while the catch that is ours drifts without owners?
We sat and we wondered what suckles that power
to labour in wood and in stone without answer
that comes from the shape when its done. The far
away blur of the traffic responded. The work
is the host of the poet at peace in his yoke.
KYK # 43
I remember Stephen with the sticking wince
of censored sorrow that has kept its sting
unlessened through the thirty years now since
a tightened grimace stretched beneath the grin
that lied and said he understood my going.
'It's just three years,' I said, 'and if you need..'
Another scrap, like those his world regaled
him with from birth. The cheek he turned had burned
with slaps, and all his simple dreams had failed
to even splutter with some heartening light.
I'd seen his anchor slip across the stones
he wanted it to catch on, tugged in fright.
Five years of school had taught him just to read
a tabloid and the bible's parables.
The pennies for his labour mocked his creed.
A woman wed him and he spoke of home,
but nothing changed. He found he lived alone.
The years I knew him sprouted pricking weeds.
They that extract no comfort from this world
just sink their heads like ships that disappear
without a ripple. The desperate wait
for miracles is drowned by death. I stare
across that sea where Stephen sank and know
he waited for a line I did not throw.
KYK # 43
VIOLENCE: THREE HAIKU
Grasshopper flies in.
Fur flashes across my room.
Green salad for cat.
Swift, on host of feet,
black in armour, parcel gilt --
Careless, I crush him.
A triumphant slap.
Tangled legs, a spot of blood.
Yet, an itch remains.
Mrs. Smith-Poulter, descending the stairs
Of her elegant mansion, is free from all cares.
Enfolded in satins, bedizened with pearls,
She's quite scornful of dukes, and despises as churls
The invisible hirelings with dustpan and broom
Who may go through the house to sweep room after room
And receive from their mistress no word, not a nod,
Save the voice of complaint when the topmost stair-rod
Should reveal on its surface the tiniest speck:
Which is why it's now gone, to be polished below,
And the carpel is loose, and the tumble's not slow --
Dear, dear! Mrs. Smith-Pouller has broken her neck!
KYK # 43
"...the Reflection of a Negro much quoted by the Inhabitants...
The Devel was in the English-man, that he makes
eryvething work; he makes the Negro work, the Horse work, the
Ass work, the Wood work, the Water work, and the Winde work."
Anon., Great Newesfrom the Barbadoes (1676).
Stretched on wood the canvas strains
And makes the free-born wind a slave,
Toiling for the backra's gains.
Black men helpless lie in chains:
Salt waters now the ship's hull lave;
Stretched on wood the canvas strains.
Torn from their ancestral fans --
Prey to some man-stealing knave,
Toiling for the backra's gains --
Destined for a life of pains,
No rest awaits them till the grave.
Stretched on wood the canvas strains.
They must hoe the island's plains,
Weed and cut and torments brave,
Toiling for the backra's gains,
And feed the whirling mill with canes --
Can none them from this Moloch save?
Stretched on wood the canvas strains,
Toiling for the backra's gains.
KYK # 43
KYK #43 Poetry
EVERYBODY TUN SELFISH
Pardna! see how this place tun?
you own-own eyesight fooling you!
na even know when tree in fulsome fruit
na able make head and tail a' the balckbird hooting...
Is why the cage-parrot screeching so much?
donkey-throat come parch
like deadish land in you backyard...
gal-picknee so hungry fo American visa...
O Gaad, like selfishness is a curse in ahwe blood!
Don't tell me
taja drum tune na sweet no more
cumfa and quch-quch
goin' out ah style,
calypsonian song tun mocking stock?
na tell me selfishness is all in ahwe bone?
O Gaad, you see how Sukdai daughta
prancing she behind clip clop, clip
cause she just come from Toronto?
high-heel shoe want bore thru the street,
as she big-talk so damn long
like coconul-walk dam
When you look you own face in the mirror
you sec yousclf a total stranger...
grey hair telling you plain and straight,
na trust you own friend
who planning to sleep with you good-minded wife...
Like selfishness is weed round you house-post?
You na see mumma and picknee
come like cat chasing one big fat rat,
hot-hot tar-road is fright in the eye
disgust is sheer wrinkle in the face?
KYK # 43
KYK # 43
You so much right...
is every manjack tun selfish this time
hours in clock-hand just ticking away
and everything is a grass-lice pest in you way
is good you tun mad
like one-foot Langrooo
tearing you mouth with big-big laugh
til you whole bottom blow-up like balloon
cause in truth, you can't trust you own mind
Is everybody tun selfish
just as the fence in you yard.
- 34 -
VENITA DUESBURY (1901-1986)
even when the drum of the sun
goes silent or jars
like the heart's.
Dance springs music,
a bequest of dance.
what is spun for
or from us here
is not silken.
Even when your bolt was finishing,
you were designing dreams,
could strip you of them.
Granny, you tilled hearts
as though we have grounds
only for flowers,
though there were also spots of weeds
upon your heart and lot.
We are not enough
under the sway of sunlight.
How you swayed to the sun,
as though dance and laughter are dams
against the flood!
The dark flood is not dark
as its source,
the dark flood
with which all are swept away.
Under the eternal Sun
the dark flood must run
KYK # 43
Poetry KYK #43
That is what illumined
and brightened you.
Laughter towered from you
like a lighthouse.
Death is a fly
not to be too much
That was your version and text.
The Nazarene crushed the fly
when it stung him.
Death is a fly
caught in the web
of your laughter.
You fell dancing
as though music never falls,
raising a glass of sunlight
to your lips:
KYK # 43
KYK #43 Poetry
At first, we liked to describe them
The white pigeons who came to live
at this house.
Appearing first as a circle with wings,
then some blessing pulling the circle in,
so that its centre became our house.
Now in these caves
a benediction of bird.
Their nervous hearts
in sync enough
with our rhythms
they enter into this house.
So sometimes in the middle
of doing some woman's thing
I look up to find us
in a new painting.
House in a rock
with wooden floors
a boy and white pigeons!
KYK # 43
THE RIVER WANTED OUT
Things are changing this side of the forest
the river is ostriching into the sand
leaving dense stones to mark its place.
The crayfish grow thick flattened shells
and imitate land turtles.
The bulrushes, wild-haired and long limbed
when asked if they will remain
to remind us that here passed a river,
shake their locks till they blur and shriek
"We're going to be palm trees in the King's garden".
Now nobody will sec their faces in this water mirror.
The ticki ticki will have no riverbottom
to shield them from the long lances of May rains.
But the worst fate of all will befall river Mumma.
She, stunning except for her scaly thighs and legs.
She who looked fine in the setting of the river,
will now have to land on her feet and learn walking,
a task requiring division of herself.
And when she walks like any ordinary woman,
she will have to sell her gold comb to buy unguents.
Unguents to smooth her scaly skin
in order to gain flat earth acceptance.
First the gold comb, then maybe herself,
the worst fate of all will befall the river Mumma
all because the river wanted out.
KYK # 43
KYK # 43
LEDA AND THE SWAN
These drawings are part of a continuing series being done
in response to the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, and
especially to W.B. Yeats' poetic interpretation of the same
Brigadier Joseph G. Singh MSS
Botanist, Explorer, Gentleman, Friend
Those who have been in the primary jungles of Guyana and have seen
and listened to the falling of a giant mora tree, know only too well that
feeling of loss that something powerful, enduring and ancient, had finally
succumbed to age and the laws of nature.
Like that great mora tree, a giant of a man, Adrian Duncan-Thompson,
retired public servant, bontanist, explorer and Guyanese to the core, fell on
Wednesday, May 29, 1991 at age 78 and the sound of that fall reverberated
in the Kanukus, the Kamoas and the Pakaraimas.
Adrian was a dedicated public servant who attained the rank of Perma-
nent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and, during his years in the Minis-
try, he made full use of the access which he had, to the hinterland of
There he made his mark as a botanist, more particularly in the collec-
tion and identification of botanical species peculiar to the Amazon forests.
He enjoyed international prestige and worked closely with the Royal
Botanical Gardens at Kew; was a Fellow of the Linnean Society; Fellow of
the Royal Geographic Society; Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society
and received the Ness Award in 1975 for botanical and other surveys in
His interest in orchids was legendary and he transferred this fixation to
his thriving farm at Timehri where, at one time, he had an inventory com-
prising every known orchid in Guyana.
He was also engaged in commercial landscaping and his handiwork can
be seen in many public places and private homes.
It was however as an explorer that his name became a household word
in Guyana when, in 1966, as leader of a mountaineering expedition, he and
his team climbed Mount Ayanganna, 7 800 feet high, and planted the
Golden Arrowhead on May 26,1966 -- Independence Day. Adrian was then
53 years old and those who have climbed in Guyana know that for him, that
Ayanganna climb was no mean feat.
Adrian's interest in the mountains started much earlier than Inde-
pendence. In 1963, with Adrian Cowell and a team from the University
College, Bangor, he made the first ascent of the 8 000 feet Mount Kuke-
naam located approximately 20 miles west of Roraima.
The Ayanganna climb in 1966 seemed to give Adrian his second wind
and for the next six years, he undertook and completed some memorable
feats. It ws during this period that I had the privilege ofworking closelywith
him and benefited from his infectious quest for adventure, his desire to
climb the proverbial mountain because "it is there", to experience the ex-
hilaration of success and to display that tenacity of purpose to continue in
spite of the odds.
In 1968, Thompson led the first cross-country expedition from the Ru-
pununi to the Brazilian Port cityof Manaus and therebystimulated the idea
of a road link between the coast lands of Guyana and North Eastern Brazil.
He collected and identified many species of flora and also made contact
with remote Amerindian tribes.
In 1969, he traversed the Kanuku Mountains between Moco Moco
Valley and Mountain Point, and encouraged me to climb Schomburgk's
Peak the same year, which I did with six soldiers and an Amerindian guide.
On the summit, we experienced the same wonder as Adrian had said we
would, in viewing the Harpy Eagle and the beautiful Cock of the Rock in
That same year Adrian accompanied our late Governor-General, Sir
David Rose on horseback from Good Hope in the North Rupununi
Savannahs, to Orinduik -- no easy task when one considers that they had to
traverse the Monkey Mountain escarpment.
In 1970, Thompson single-mindedly set his sights on Roraima and for
the next three years he excitedly sketched out his routes for reconnaissance
by air and on foot.
In 1971 he was retained as Scientific Adviser to the British Roraima
Expedition led by Adrian Warren and including British and Guyanese
army officers, accompanied by civilian resource persons from Guyana and
The 1971 Expedition,duringJuly and September, pioneered the route
along the North Ridge of Roraima to 8500 feet but the 1 200 to the summit,
comprising over-hanging sandstone, proved difficult without technically-
qualified climbers and equipment.
In 1972 with Bev Clark and John Strectly, both Alpine and Himalayan
climbers, Thompson used the Adrian Warren route along the North Ridge
and made an attempt on the summit.
Sadly they only managed 400 feet on the cliff face before recognizing
KYK # 43
that they needed more climbers and technical equipment. This expedition
had the support of the Mount Everest Foundation.
Undeterred by the disappointment of 1971, Thompson brought his
international influence to bear and managed to interest the BBC and other
scientific and exploration groups to support a 1973 Roraima expedition
comprising technically -proficient climbers and appropriate mountaineer-
Meanwhile in 1972, he and John Streetly continued to re-connoitre the
foothills of Roraima across the Waruma and Paikwa Rivers hoping to find
a more direct route to the North Ridge of Roraima.
His persistence and optimism finally bore fruit on November 11, 1973.
The UK climbing team of Don Whillans (co-leader with Adrian) Hamish
Mac Innes, Joe Brown and Mo Anthoine succeeded in climbing for the first
time, the great Northern prow of Roraima -- an achievement of which
Adrian felt justifiably proud.
Having conquered the higher peaks in Guyana, Adrian turned his at-
tention to other scientific projects. In 1976, he interested me in a recon-
naisance of the Murawawe River along the Ekereku escarpment, where he
believed caves existed in the river's cliff face. His research indicated that
Amerindians fled to these caves centuries ago to escape Spanish Maraud-
ers who crossed over from Venezuela. Michael Atherley, who, like me,
came under Adrian's influence did confirm that such caves exist and more
follow up work was to be programmed by Adrian. However, as age slowed
his step, Adrian spent more time on his farm among his orchids, and
heliconias and bromeliads but his real joy ws in reminiscing of his experi-
ences in the high country; his respect for the loyalty of the Amerindians like
the Akawaio, Isaac Jerry MS; his hope that the younger Guyanese would
develop the love of adventure which he and his charming wife Phyllis
shared over the years.
It was no surprise when, years ago, as he recognized the debilitating
effects and deterioration of his memory as a result of Alzheimer's syn-
drome, he requested of Phyllis and me and actually put in writing, that if
he died in Guyana, he wanted "no fuss, pomp nor ceremony". He wished
to be buried in a simple grave on the Kato tableland facing Mount
Kowatipu or as the Patamona Indians call it -- Cow Mountain, after the
shape of summit, at 4 200 feet, as seen from Kato Village.
Adrian and Phyllis had, in earlier years, climbed this mountain and
Adrian had explored along the foothills and ridge lines leading from
Kowatipu Mountain North-Westerly along the Pakaraima range to Mount
Ayanganna, Mount Wei-Assipu, Roraima and Kukenaam.
It was in this area, which he called nature's forum, that his adventurous
spirit found its release.
And so, on the peaceful afternoon of Saturday, June 1, 1991, on a
hillock 2 500 feet above sea level, South West of Kato Airstrip, in the
magnificent Kato tableland, the earthly remains of Adrian Duncan Thompson
were interred, facing Mount Kowatipu, in accordance with his wishes.
Along with Phyllis, his brother, sister, children and friends who had
travelled by air from Georgetown, were the Patamona villagers of Kato and
surrounding areas. Some of them like the Touchou Ronald Abraham, were
children and grandchildren of the great Patamona guides who had accom-
panied Adrian on his expeditions in the Pakaraimas.
Phyllis received the National Flag which Adrian had taken on allof his
expeditions since Independence Day 1966. This flag had draped his coffin
during the funeral service at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church; on its
journey from Georgetown via Ogle Airstrip; and in the Skyvan aircraft
winging over Kowatipu Mountain to Kato. Not many tears were shed at the
grave side and this was how Adrian would have wished it.
Instead, the Thompson family and the Patamonas exchanged pleasant-
ries, reminisced-about the man and his exploits, took photographs and
As we descended the hillock, I looked at the flag flying at half staff on
the pole erected by the gravesite. The wind had picked up, the flag flapped
joyously and Kowatipu in the distance seemed closer reaching out through
the haze as if to welcome Adrian home to his beloved Pakaraimas.
As with every Mora tree that falls, other seedlings germinate, there is
re-birth and re-discovery.
The life of this great Guyanese was an inspiration to those of my
generation who knew him. His example and ideals must continue to
motivate as long as there are challenges and higher plateaus of human
endeavour to be attained.
...leave not the mystery unsolved, the marvel uncared for...
Farewell Adrian, Gentleman, Botanist, Explorer, Friend.
KYK # 43
ADRIAN DUNCAN THOMPSON, A.A.
(1913 to 1991)
The death of Adrian Thompson, on 29th May, 1991, in the seventy-
ninth year of his age, removed from our midst a quite unique kind of 20th
century Renaissance man. It would have called for several of us to attempt
to deal adequately with the Remembrances called for in his Funeral
Service. I shall here make bold to report on his life.
Adrian was born on 20th January, 1913, at Chiswick (not in my Lands
and Surveys Gazetteer), on the East Coast of Berbice, the eldest son of
Claud Gill Austin Thompson, a District Commissary, and his wife Magno-
lia. He attended the Berbice High School, founded and run by the Cana-
dian Presbyterian Church, in New Amsterdam, and the Jesuit run St.
Stanislaus College, in Georgetown. I remember him speaking of taking his
turn at reading for the Jesuit Fathers as they had their lunch at the
Brickdam Presbytery; the readingwas not exclusively devotional, and must,
I think, in some way, have affected the directions his life took.
Adrian's working life started, when he was eighteen, as a Sugar Estate
Overseer at Plantation Cornelia Ida on the West Coast Demerara. In
addition to the usual overseer's duties he was made responsible for the
Sugar Industry's Mosquito Control Programme at Cornelia Ida which
came under the overall direction of Harold W.B. Moore, F.R.E.S., who
wrote of him in 1938: "he has proved himself capable in every respect. It is
in fact a form of work for which he seems peculiarly fitted." During World
War II Adrian was responsible for hundreds of rubber trees at Cornelia Ida
and in 1942 was in charge of the Coagulating Station there, doing useful
work training the tappers and organising the work of rubber production
After over ten years of plantation work at C.I. Adrian was appointed,
as from 1st February, 1943, Overseer, Government Estates (Windsor
Forest, Hague and La Jalousie), West Demerara, the position being
redesignated Superintendent two years later. He was transferred to the
Vergenoegen Land Settlement on East Coast, Essequibo, from January
1947, and, after acting from April 1951 was appointed Land Settlement
Officer, Local Government Department, as from 1st July, 1952. Land Set-
tlement became, as from 1st July, 1954, a separate Department in which
Adrian was an Assistant Director until 31st December 1956. He was made
KYK # 43
Deputy Director, under Mr. W.A. Macnie, as from 1st January, 1957. The
department was redesignated Land Development during 1959, by which
time work was underway on the development of the Black Bush Polder
Scheme on the Corentyne as well as on other large schemes in several parts
of the coastlands.
Despite his protests over the change in designation, Adrian was ap-
pointed Principal Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources
in April 1961 and, as from December 1964, was assigned the duties of
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Forests Lands and Mines. Effective from
1st January 1965, he was appointed Permanent Secretary, Ministry of
Agriculture and National Resources, in which position he remained until
he retired with effect from 1st April, 1968.
In addition to being Plantation Agriculturist, Land Developer, and, on
his own behalf, horticulturist and floriculturist, Adrian was also an ex-
plorer and mountaineer. At midnight on the 25th of May 1966, twenty five
years and four days before his death, with Isaac Jerry, his long- time
climbing companion, and a Guyana Defence Force team he raised the
Golden Arrowhead on the summit of Mount Ayanganna in the Pakaraimas,
the tallest mountain entirely in Guyana. Brigadier Joe Singh has ade-
quately covered Adrian's accomplishments as a mountaineer and organ-
iser of the eventually successful three year effort to climb Roraima without
leaving Guyanese territory (Sunday Chronicle 23rd June, 1991).
Adrian was long associated with the Georgetown Gardeners Club
until he resigned in July 1970. He played a leading part in the club's
activities, particularly in relation to flower shows and garden competitions,
and was responsible in large measure for kindling the interest of young
people in gardening and flower arranging.
Even during his demanding twenty five years in the public service
Adrian contrived to pursue many scientific predilections; he may be said to
have literally made himself a botanist/horticulturist. In this area he earned
the respect of professional scientists in Britain, Europe and the U.S.A. and
often became their Guyanese collaorator. Fellowship in the Linnean
Society; the Royal Geographical Society; and the Royal Horticultural
Society; Membership of the Royal National Rose Society, were among the
signs of recognition he received. At home he was awarded the Golden
Arrow of Achievement (A.A.) in 1973.
When he was eligible for four months leave in November 1959, Adrian
proposed that he spend it in the Upper Mazaruni area examining the
Kamarang Valley, thence proceeding towards the northern end of Ro-
raima, with a view to trying to find an ascent between Mt. Kukenaam and
Roraima; thence to Mts. Ayanganna and Wokomung in the Ireng/Takutu
KYK # 43
area, also "spending three weeks travelling across a section of the Kanuku
mountains". He reported in support of this proposal that during his leave
in the United Kingdom in 1957 he had had discussions with the Director,
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Dr. Taylor about these journeys and that the
latter had "expressed the view that they would be valuable and of much
interest". His request to use his passage entitlement to the United King-
dom towards the cost of local travel was at the time virtually unprecedented
but it was approved by the Officer Administering the Government after
having been blessed by the Minister and the Financial Secretary. The
followingyear, in May, hewas given a month's leave to complete part of this
proposed 1959 exercise which, through no fault of his, had not been
undertaken. His wife Phyllis accompanied him during this May 1960 trip to
In 1962 (or 1963) I had persuaded Adrian to take me on an interior
walk he was organising and had begun to prepare for its rigours. But we
were in the midst of the violent troubles of those times and the Governor,
Sir Ralph Grey, saw fit to rule that it would be inopportune for two senior
officers to be inaccessibly away from Georgetown and the trip had to be
called off. An opportune time never came.
From April 1968 Adrian was free to pursue his manifold interests as
he wished. He was able to get on with the development of Arawak Farm,
his 174 acre project on the Yarowkabra Creek at Timehri. There he
cultivated pineapples, plumrose, citrus and other local crops; introduced,
with a view to acclimatisation, such exotics as rambutans, calmonian
oranges, kumquats; continued work with orchids and noteworthily, devel-
oped heliconias in a wide variety. Some export of heliconias was done, but
since he declined to be used by several prospective partners an export
business was never established. His work on heliconias was more successful
at home and this species has become one of the staples used by our florists.
In July 1975 the Royal Horticultural Society awarded Adrian, in collabo-
ration with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the Lindley Silver Medal
for an exhibit of heliconias at its Summer Show.
In tandem with development work at Arawak Farm, Adrian carried on
a landscaping practice in Georgetown assisted by Phyllis. The best known
example of his work in this area is the roof garden of the Bank of Guyana,
at one time a popular venue for official receptions; but he also provided
similar services for embassies and private individuals and introduced office
landscaping to insurance companies, banks, etc.
In regard to this work there were the usual difficulties to be contended
with. His house on the farm was repeatedly burgled; there was praedial
larceny; worse, some of this was the work of employees whose duty it was
KYK # 43
KYK # 43
to protect the property. I used to marvel at his determination to carry on
and at his enduring the law's delays and such other obstacles. But Adrian
was not a quitter; he never, 1 am sure, conceived of living anywhere other
than his lovely native land.
Well into the 1980's Adrian continued bringing to the notice of Dr.
Ptolemy Reid and his successors concerned with Agriculture in Govern-
ment, measures that he felt might be pursued to improve Guyana's
position in that area. One was the cultivation of the Babassu Palm, widely
grown in Brazil, which he believed could have provided all our needs for
edible oil and leave a surplus for export. Another was the establishment of
an Arboretum. His knowledge and his willingness to share it, no less than
the public offices that he held, led to membership of such bodies as various
Rice Boards, the Museum and Zoo Committee, the Botanic Gardens
Restoration Committee and the National Parks Commission among oth-
ers. On all of these he must, I am sure, have made valuable contributions.
As long ago as 1977 Adrian became associated with the Head of the
Botanical Department of the University of Utrecht, Holland, in the
collection of the flora of Guyana. This work which is continuing has since
developed into the compilation of the Flora of the Guianas (French
Guiana, Suriname and Guyana), involving in addition to the University
of Utrecht German, English, French and U.S. institutions as well as those
in the territories being studied.
To me Adrian was a personal friend of well over thirty years and a
mentor in his areas of expertise. Helpful, kind, humorous, always consid-
erate; compassionate when compassion was called for. But in addition to
memories, there is a more tangible memorial in my front yard a forest-
sized phyllocarpus tree which this year (1991) flowered satisfactorily for
the first time producing cascades of carmine flowers from its top to the
ground facing east as well as west. It made me happy that Adrian was able
to enjoy the sight of it.
Ironically, Adrian's last "walk" in Guyana was with me in October
1987 when we went up the Corentyne river on a trip to Orealla. After
several days upriver, in the charge of the late IvelawEmanuel Hartman, we
returned to Corriverton and while I was engaged visiting newly made
friends on the coast, Adrian held court at the Mahogany Hotel, being called
on by the Mayor of Corriverton and other local eminences. And then we
returned to Georgetown after a week, having done most of the travel
between Georgetown and Corriverton and back in the now departed Sanos
buses which provided excellently high seating for sight-seeing over their
Adrian is no more in his life. His body is at Kato Tableland where he
wished it to be. His soul is with his Maker. Farewell Friend till we meet
HIS FATHER'S HOUSE
I had just finished reading Singer's In My Father's Court and was
wondering about my father's when Uncle Sonny died. I had been unable to
go to the wake which was held in Clonbrook, eighteen miles from the city
but I was determined to attend his funeral as he was my mother's favourite
brother my mother's favourite half-brother and because I wanted to see
my Nana, my mother's father, to see the huge old house where long ago I
had had pleasant August vacations. I almost thought of it as my revisit to
my grandfather's court Singer's journey into Poland singing in my ears.
It was a wet day, a rainy day and I enjoyed the drive along the North East
Coast of South America, down into time. It was to be a journey into a time
I could never re-enter! Not the old Dutch plantations, or the newer British
ones as evidenced by the names of villages retained not the psyche of my
grandfather. But I was curious.
Uncle Sonny had left Guyana years ago for America. I must have been
about five, but I always remembered him and we heard from him regularly
until my mother died when I was about ten. In America he had divorced his
Dharm Paini, who went with him to America. He had married a 'white'
woman, who was a Roman Catholic, in a church just before my mother
died. Perhaps it was a good thing his wedding photographs and the news
that he had converted from Hinduism to Christianity arrived after my
mother's death. He was the only one of my mother's step-brothers who
until then had not converted and apart from the fact that he and my mother
were of the same age, this had had great influence on their closeness. I lost
track of him completely with my mother's death as I lost track too of my
Nana. My mother was the unifying force. When she was alive all our
relatives were constantly visiting our home and we theirs. We were all such
a huge happy family! Almost every August we spent time with my Nana, in
Clonbrook. I enjoyed all of these holidays in spite of the tensions at my
Nana's house, caused by my other two step-uncles who were younger than
my mother. These two step-uncles were Christians, were 'brothers' and
were at constant war with my Nana who though he was Hindu never
quarrelled with them for being Christian. I had got the impression that he
disapproved, especially when they took me to their church and open-air
~ _~~ _~
crusades. If I were fascinated by the open-air Christian crusades, I was even
more fascinated when every night, just before dusk, my Nana would sit
down at the table and very reverently unwrap the red cotton cloth in which
he kept his Ramayan wrapped to protect it from dust. He would read in
Hindi sometimes silently, sometimes aloud in his deep melodious voice.
The poetry charmed me, awakened the poetry in me and then I had prom-
ised myself I would learn to read Hindi, that I would read the Ramayan,
which I felt by watching him and listening to him to be the greatest book in
the world. Little did I realize then that the Tulsidas Ramayan was indeed
the longest poem in the world 47,000 couplets, and certainly one of, if not
the greatest book of poetry in the world! But my Nana was my hero then by
being unruffled by the caustic, anti-Hindu remarks of my converted step-
But my mother died and my father remarried and I lost track of my
Nana and my step-uncles though from cousins I would occasionally hear of
them. I had not wanted to go back to Clonbrook until I had learnt the Hindi
and could converse with my Nana, so slowly I learnt Hindi in the city and
when I was finished I learned to my utter astonishment that my Nana had
converted to Christianity! I had not returned until Uncle Sonny's funeral.
The yard was jam-packed as I approached and on the mud and brick
road there were clusters of men cousins, uncles, relatives, strangers. I saw
my mother's eldest brother and went over to him.
"Hi Mamoo Mohan..."
"Hi Raju, you come alone?"
"Yes what, what's that..." I said turning towards the crowd around the
coffin as the chanting began.
"They're singing bhajans."
"But isn't he, wasn't he Christian?" I asked perplexed.
"Yes, but when he left he was Hindu, and he married here according to
Hindu rites before he left for America... Most of his cousins here, his
mother and his mother's relatives still see him as Hindu."
"What about, about...grandfather?" I asked hesitantly. It was difficult to
think, to call him Nana now that he too had converted.
"And the, the Christian brothers, my Christian step-uncles?" I could not
hide the contempt in my voice. Mamoo Mohan smiled.
"Oh, they will have their say too. When we leave here the body goes to the
Roman Catholic Church near the cemetery for service..."
"Has his wife come from America?" I asked.
"No. But she has sent a cable saying that she is expected next Monday. That
is too long..."
That was strange I thought. "Are they separated?" 1 asked. I felt comfort-
- 49 -
KYK # 43
Fiction KYK # 43
able with Mamoo Mohan who had always taken an active interest in my
activities since my mother died and I knew that he was proud of my
scholastic reputation and ability both in the English and Hindi Languages.
"Sonny has had an interesting life. Yes they separated last year. Actu-
ally she left him you wouldn't believe it but shortly after he divorced his
second wife he had a car accident. Couldn't walk. She was a nurse and she
married him. For years she worked and supported him and help him mend.
And bam! After he strong enough for walk and wuk she lef he!"
"Yes a girl about four cute little girl. The mother and the girl were here
in January for almost a month I saw them when I was here. the child like
one a we children running barefoot all about the place..." In the back-
ground I heard a Pandit reading from the Bhagavat Gita, but my interest in
Uncle Sonny was greater...
"How long he came back?"
"Oh sometime in November last year. He had tuberculosis. He brought
back everything with him that Jaguar there is he own." The silver-grey
Jaguar was a beauty. "But he used to drink too much since he come back,"
continued Mamoo Mohan somewhat sadly, "he come back hey fo die. He
couldn't bear he wife leffing he. A day when we drinking he say that even
if he didn't love she, he had to fall in love with her look at the sacrifice -
to marry a cripple and mind him, and nurse him back to good health then
leave him after years... White people strange!" Mamoo Mohan said, evi-
The Pandit had finished his short sermon and following the coffin, the
crowd headed for the Roman Catholic Church thence to the cemetery.
Mamoo Mohan and I waited until the crowd was ahead of us and we too
followed, slowly picking our way around puddles. The overcast had cleared
slightly and we were glad. The May-June rains had come and saved us from
a drought, but had fallen so heavily when they came that there were floods
in some areas. The mud and brick road from the church to the cemetery was
impassable for vehicles.
Limping slowly ahead of us I saw a familiar figure.
"Isn't that Nana?" I asked my Mamoo. He shook his head in the affirma-
tive. As weapproached him I slowed. Mamoo Mohan did not pause, did not
utter a word to Nana, his own father, but walked on. I suppose Mamoo was
right there was no fool like an old fool. To live Hinduism all his life and
to convert in his old age! I was angry too, but in a cold, hurtful way.
"Ram Ram Nana!" I greeted him deliberately, Hindu fashion as he had
taught me twenty-five years ago. He looked at me puzzled for sometime.
Perhaps he did not recognize me he was seventy-eight or seventy-nine
"Hi, he said.
"You don't recognize me!" I said. He looked at me as he limped. After a
while he said, "Yes you a city bai. You one a Meena son." "Yes. I'm Raju."
I knew he did not really know me but seeing me with Mamoo Mohan he had
deduced, quite logically, that Meena was my mother, and I one of his
grandsons but perhaps my facial features had not changed.
"By the way Nana do you still have your Ramayan?" I asked knowing that
he had given it away.
"No. I gave it to a man in Trinidad," he said in his strong voice and
gesticulated vaguely with his free right hand. In his left hand there was a
walking stick. Despite his slight stoop and contraction of his bones due to
old age I noted that he was taller than me.
"Oh!" I tried to sound surprised. "What a pity!" I need one in Hindi, I can
read the Hindi fairly competently you know..." I felt disgusted with myself.
I couldn't needle him anymore and I couldn't stand being with him. I
walked away without another word. Mamoo Mohan was standing under a
huge neem tree outside the small, dilapidated church. I joined him. I knew
that he would not go into the church. We both had great contempt for
"Indian Christianity". No doubt, were the funeral that of a non-Indian ac-
quaintance or friend, like myself, he would have entered the Christian
church, would even have sung the hymns but to condescend to enter the
Christian church for the funeral service of an East Indian was repulsive. I
thought as I saw my grandfather approach the church, that he looked
forlorn. He was alone. Maybe it served him right, I thought. Had he not
converted he would have been a respected old man and the walk from his
house to the church would not have been so desolate and lonely.
Before I realized it, a small group of cousins and uncles gathered
around us. No doubt I felt, perhaps Hindu chauvinists, perhaps like myself.
There was an excited babble. A huge family, we met mostly at weddings and
at deaths. I looked up into the huge neem tree under which we all stood -
and I remembered long ago my Nana had planted one in his yard. Under
this neem he had planted hisJhandeep uja flags. Under his neem he offered
Dhaar in the early mornings and when he went out we clambered all over
his sacred neem, swinging from limb to limb. It was there in hisyard still and
I am sure the kiskadees, the blue sakies and the thrushes still sang the
"A hear he does wash fish in heaari now! "oneof my cousins said, her voice
clear and sharp. My grandfather was passing, turning into the church
compound. "Maybe you could excuse Uncle Sonny," she said, "after all he
married two white women and live in America for over twenty five years...
Fiction KYK # 43
"He gave away his Ramayan and I really need one," I added.
"How's your Hindi, Raju?" she asked.
"Bahut achee hai," I said, adding, "Simply fascinating. The amount of
words we use which have come from Hindi which our ancestors brought
from India is staggering. Neem. This very tree we're standing under is an
example. Takerotie. Take saykay, untranslatable when we cook rotie, take
sanaay, when we eat with out fingers, again untranslatable, again correct
Hindi. There are hundreds of words which we use in everyday speech and
dozens of grammatical structures which have crept into our daily usage
which we feel are creole, that is, from the European-slave mixture, but
which have come from the Hindi or Urdu. Words like jamoon, baigan,
curry, daal, rice, taari, lota, chupchaal... You should all learn the language
-"fantastic!" Therewas silenceand everyonewas lookingand listening. The
service in the church was over people were coming out.
The rain burst then. Everyone scattered. I raced for the shop across the
road. I knew then that I would not go to the burial ground and I knew that
I would not go back not even for myNana's funeral. Unlike Singer's pride
in his father's court, and his grandfather I could feel no pride in my
grandfather but here was a lesson. Driving back to the city past the Chateau
Margot chimney on the left and the Atlantic on the right in the heavy rain
Bellowsprang to my mind, Bellow's To Jerusalem and Back- and I let it rest
KYK # 43 Fiction
"Is time enough we run we own affairs you hear", the crowd would say,
hands waving upon seeing an unkempt man streaking naked in the Geor-
getown pavements, shouting: "The British dogs. Heh!"
And don't talk how the crowd clamouring to him like bees attracted to a
hive. "You damn bloody well right, comrade. Is more than time we run we
Is a month before Voting Day in Guyana, 1964. The country was grip
in a tense mood like a strained rope. Anxiety and anticipation filtering in
the air like charcoal embers while, day-by-day, the crowd coming incense
just as when you raise ants-nest.
Yes! would sure definitely be a crucial election, people saying, recov-
ering from the 62-63 race riots which'd cause plenty murder, raping,
looting and arson between the major races living in the country who
ancestors come from different countries in the Old World. Some say down
behind God back.
Now, the country come a real headache to England which been ruling
she straight-out for over a hundred and fifty years after the Spanish, the
French and the Dutch try to make she a decent colony in the South
American mainland, which was real home to the Buck people, beginning
from centuries gone back.
This time the British Parliament done see long time how them Guia-
nese political leaders squabbling among themselfjust like a pack of dogs,
fighting over a piece of bone. "Independence. Independence!"
But the British Colonial Secretary say the only way out of this whole
mess is Proportional Representation. "That's the only bloody solution,"
the British Prime Minister say, stroking he fat face, and bellowing he he...
So after negotiations and counter-negotiations they say, between the
Colonial Secretary and the Guianese political leaders, they all agree to
knock one head and accept the P.R. system, the newspapers say.
So which political Party at the election under this particular system,
command a majority of the seats, would henceforth duly he call-upon to
form the next Government, and usher the country into Independence as
soon as the reigning Queen in England hand-over the Independence-
document to the current Guianese Prime Minister, the B.B.C. say.
"Boy! that going to be a day! Is like salvation to heaven," them P.P.P.
boys talkone dark night under Samuel house, bubbling with happiness, the
kerosene lamp flickering. "Come we own master. Eh! we could walk in any
blasted Guv'ment office and demand we right. Is everything going to
belong to we, you hear? And all eye-pass done."
"And we don't have to pay tax. And police dare not charge we like
now," Stinkman talk, wishing to God the blasted day come fast. Me have a
score to settle with them policeman and some chaps in them big office in
Town, Stinkman tell herself. Stinkman always had a grudge against them
chaps working in big, posh offices. See, Stinkman can't read and write too
proper, but he smart like fly, them boys say.
"And we could walk in them store and pick up anything that fancy we
eye cause all belong to ahwe," Stinkman add, smacking he tongue. Aha!
people have to respect me that time. Think all skin-teeth is laugh nuh! Just
wait and see.
"Damn right!" them other boys say, chuckling, hoping to get posh
office jobs soon as they own Party, the P.P.P., which bound to win the
election, take the country into Independence. Is what Abdul Hamid, the
Party representative, been tell them boys.
"Cast your vote for the cup comrade! Put we in Guv'ment. And when
we kick out them white people, is people like yuh all have to run them
offices..." Abdul Hamid words does give them boys new life. Them boys
could walk in tiger mouth self, while most of them growing a Castro-like
beard, calling theyself Marxist...
True! soon as Abdul Hamid left the night when he done wind-up the
meeting, them boys start pick and choose which office job going to suit
them better. Is like picking and choosing fish in the Market, the final choice
left in the buyers' hand. And which office job them boys choose, the Party
in Guv'ment, once the country come independent, have to ensure them
boys get the very job. If not, them boys have the sole right, as guarantee by
the Constitution, to put a next Guv'ment in office. Abdul Hamid said that
"Remember, the first rights of an independent Nation lies in the
peoples' hands," them politicians does say, loud and clear. "We in Guv'ment
would beyour humbleservants. Whateveryou decideweshall have to abide
by sole right of the Constitution..."
True! soon as them boys hear them swashbuckling statements they
already feel they own the whole country, coast to coast. Yes! they could
walk in the air. Kill any British soldier they spot walking in the streets,
marching like Lord God. Big job in store for them! Eh-eh, they could
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KYK # 43
trample they whole country if they so please cause it belong to them, and
the future of the Nation now dangling in they hands like see- saw...illiterates
turning literates overnight, and is every man with a pen and pencil in they
shirt pockets. They come they own boss. And ifyou hear the sweet-tongue-
ism in they big mouth. Communism. Capitalism, Socialism... backwardism.
Besides, is the whole majority of the people living on the Guiana
coastland sharing the same sentiment: the country going to belong to them
where they navel-string bury. With airs and antics, they could pick and
choose, and make fuss too. Is any job they want. The Guv'ment in Office
bound to carry out they demands by rights of the Constitution. Eh-eh!
think is fun when crab start to march, a old man say, seeing the whole thing
like rigmarole game.
Is like promising manna from heaven, some bigshot people saying.
This time, them poor people unable to divine truth from real falsehood.
Them politician word is bounden law. And because them poor people can't
read and write too proper they couldn't pick-out the real truth from the
B.B.C. station all the way in London, or in the newspapers in Georgetown,
which people say does only print half-truth.
"Is like goat leading goat," one Headteacher say by the street-corner.
"Think independence is like the garden you planting in you backyard?
Eh-ch! is then we going to see the real brimstone and fire. Heh! Think to
run country is playting..."
They say, if them boys been only hear what the Headteacher say they
would eat he out raw-raw someway they eating roast pig. They would call
him British stooge as them politicians does label such people. And is plenty
people in the country acting like the Headteacher who dearly love the
Queen and English culture, dressing up ninety-nine with three-piece suit
in this sunhot weather.
Them politicians does blare they voice in Bourda Green and say
people like those want to de-stabilize the country. "They want to take we
hack to the days of slavery, comrade..." And is a love to see how them
politicians swinging them poor people head day and night. Left to right. Is
like in a Roman arena, the crowd with the speaker all the way once the
speaker playing on they sentiment. "Massa day done, comrade..."
But this election fever was more hot and scorching in Buxton, Annan-
dale, and Lusignan areas, some people say. Is like a bubbling pot rest on
fireside. Is everybody walking the streets with an assured air, flexing they
muscles at anyone who dare to slander the Party they pledge they blood for.
"Weed out the traitors. They like leech...British stooge..."
This time, chaps like Kaatool, Bana, and Stinkman, planning election
KYK # 43
strategy day and night for the Annandale-Lusignan areas. Abdul Hamid
self invest them with special power: to recruit other activists in the
campaign; run a house-to-house survey, and show old people how to mark
the star against the Cup.
And is a month before Voting Day, and them chaps have to sweat they
behind day and night to ensure this Abdul Hamid is elected in Parliament.
Is Hamid self you know, have to give them chaps the big office in Town. And
when Hamid bark in Parliament no man move, them boys say, stroking they
heard by the street-corner.
"Idon't mince matters comrade," Abdul Hamid does tell them people,
standing on the rickety platform by the street-head, he eye fiery and he
teeth gnashing as if he chewing rockstone. "When we, the Guv'ment take
this country to independence, all the traitors have to get out. Run. You, the
people, have to choose your own destiny. We shall become your humble
servants, bound to to your bidding..."
In such rapturous moments them people in Annandale and Lusignan
does want lift-off Hamid out the speaker's platform, place he on they
shoulder, and crown he like a king. This time Hamid does feel like one
Prime Minister. The British and American people should see this, Hamid
does tell herself. Yes! should see how them Guianese people want to govern
they own affairs. Want fashion they own destiny...
And you talking about crowd! Eh-eh! is the whole district turning out,
daddy, mumma and picknee. And if any man in the crowd tell Hamid he eye
black like tar, or he fooling the damn people with big words, God be with
him. The said-name culprit ain't get skin to take cut-ass from them mad
P.Y.O. boys who believe them in Che or Castro. "You eye pass we
candidate?" During that time, Hamid is like God in front them people.
Think is fun when he done swing them head, just like children swinging on
a see-saw. "Massa day done long time, comrade.."
But is quite different and more riotous whenever Maxin Pollard, the
P.N.C. representative, come in the areas to address meeting. If two jee-
pload policemen with gun and helmet didn't accompany Maxin, them
people been done strangle he the same way Crabbe does strangle people
fowl in they fowl-pen. Choke them by they neck. True! is sheer hatred you
seeing in people face, burning Maxin with the eye.
And you know, some peopledoes turn-up at Maxin meeting just to boo
him, mock at him. "Yankee stooge, Yankee stooge..."
This time Kaatool and Stinkman done give them hooligan boys two-
three turn-eggs. So soon as the crowd settle down but they inside boiling
with fury, and Maxin come well-absorb in he address, blashai, one turn-egg
hit poor Maxin straight on he head and buss-open, the white and yellow
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KYK # 43 Fiction
running down, thick thick like ice cream. And you talking about stink! Eh-
eh! it worst than dog dung in the street. And you talking about laugh.
In turn, poor Maxin just take out he handkerchief and wipe he head and
face while the crowd heckling he he he corking they nose from such a
deadman smell. Then is more turn-eggs firing straight at Maxin body
blashai blashai while Mr Stink take over the damn place, and them children
Heh! Poor Maxin tell herself, all this rass-pass in the political game,
then cut-short the bloody meeting, fearing for he own life..Ifweren't for the
policemen, me telling you, them hooligan boys been mount the platform
and smash Maxin head bash bash. "You selling out we right..."
Is just like a meeting held in the area three weeks back. Yes! the U.F.
representative make a sour mistake and arrive to address a meeting,
smiling and swaggering. Is a portuguese man you know. This time, the
crowd turn-up in droves, and the guy believe, so help me God, he would get
a damn good hearing. Aha! some votes in the bargain, he tell heself, eyeing
the crowd, done prepare how to swing them poor people head with big
But soon after he mount the platform and say a few words of welcome,
voice sweetish like honey, the crowd wade- in, full-butt. Boy! if you see
turn-eggs smashing at he. You would believe all to God is bachannal break
out while the damn place reeking as if dog dung infest all the streets. You
talk about vomit! Eh-eh, some people believe was a pasture of animal
carcasses, while the poor guy had to run for he life. This time cuss-words
gushing out people mouth like water from standpipe.
"You f...ing stooge yuh..." If them policemen didn't fire two bullets in
the air bladam bladam, the U.F. guy might have been a dead man already.
The crowd was real maddish, me tell you.
All the while Kaatool, Stinkman and Bana, was in the thick of things
as the maddish crowd at hand-reach to do anything Bana or this Stinkman
say. Think is fun when Hamid been done swing them people head? Left to
right! And onceyou can't read andwrite too properly, and you can't useyou
commonsense, them politicians in the country swinging you head like see-
saw, some educated people say. And Hamid was expert in the art. "Is how
long he going to fool them poor people?" the Headteacher been say.
Well, it coming to three weeks now before Voting Day. People in the
areas walking the streets as if they foot get wings. Is all smiles and greetings
in they face. "Want run we own affairs." They quite confident that the
P.P.P. would emerge victorious in the election. "Walk away cool cool with
the votes," one man say, smiling. And from then after, things going to
change overnight. After all, this they own-own country, not England. Them
children would get better jobs, they believe, kissing the earth lovingly.
And the moment any kiss-me-ass overseer and rasshole driver play the
piss-ass with them sugar workers, them sugar workers have the power to
exercise they due rights. Yes! Throw the bloody overseer and driver aside
so simple without no squeeze, just like when you brush-off dust from you
hand. "The final choice rest in the workers' hand," Hamid been tell them
people. "Workers' power is peoples' power, comrade..."
"But we still gat some traitors in the place you know," Stinkman talk
one night. Was at a meeting taking-place under Samuel house. Them boys
been discussing political strategy the way Hamid been outline it to them,
"I know that," Bana talk. He was the secretary for the area group. He
come important overnight since assuming the position a year ago, playing
big-ass the moment the overseer and driver play the ass with them sugar
workers in Lusignan Estate.
"Down tool boys," Bana would say in a biggittee way, and the sugar
workers ready to follow Bana even if is in the dragon mouth self. "Bana
seeing after we rights," they saying, and is everything going back piece-
piece to the P.P.P. Office in Town, comrade. The same overseer and driver
name going to be in the red list, Bana would say.
And Bana don't mince matters, people does say. Whenever he bark
like Stallion the manager bound to listen. Them boys say Bana words get
steel. "He could make a good politician, you know."
Due to the forthcoming election, the sugar workers does somehow get
the upper edge in one-two industrial disputes, and the overseer and driver
does watch Bana with dagger in they mouth. "Politics messing up this
whole country," them overseer does say, confused, while they playing lawn
tennis in the smooth, grassy Compound. "Run you own affairs! Bah! Look
at Ghana, Kenya? Politics is no game..."
"Think this Bana down here," them people does talk with spit in they
mouth. "He is the next Abdul Hamid. Mark me words. God don't give, He
Hch! Don't talk how this Bana inside does bubble like water in trench
as soon as he hear such remarks. Never mind me can't read and write too
proper, but me going to show them overseer and manager me is who, Bana
does tell herself night- night, wishing on his knee the P.P.P. win the coming
election. Hamid been say Bana would become the Party field organizer, in-
charge of East Demerara electoral district. And that is a big position, you
know. Talking about bribes and women! Eh-eh, whenever Bana see herself
in that position, riding the big German-made motor cycle on the road, he
does want to leave he wife and come bachelor, but he wife is a fire-pot. The
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KYK # 43
woman mouth hot like pepper, people does say. And this Bana too frighten
she mouth. But boy! Bana praying for that day to reach! German motor
cycle! Women! Chach! ever sorry me married. Me foot tie-down...
"You know the traitors?" Bana ask Stinkman, scratching- scratching
the exercise book with a pencil. Is Bana technique to impress them boys
knowing they can't read so catholic.
"Is what to do Bana?" Kaatool ask. "You na know Sugrim and he hole
family going to vote U.F.? And what about Sripal and Jackson?
"Eh-eh, them is dead P.N.C. stooge..."
"Is how we could win them over?" Bana ask, scratching the exercise
book strong with the pencil as though he making notes. Them boys was
damn impress, me telling you. Bana recording everything. But Sugrim is a
hard nut to crack. Sugrim does always tell people he ain't want no blasted
Communist take over the country. Take over he religion. "Take away me
God," Sugrim does say, and stew he teeth. "He Shree Ram..."
And not one damn soul could tell this Sugrim who to vote for. He is he
own big man. And the moment you eye-pass Sugrim, call he a bare-face
U.F. stooge, he ain't arguing too much, he going straight to the Police
Station, saying them P.Y.O. hooligan victimising he.
And is over a year now Bana and Stinkman get Sugrim in they mind like
a weight on they shoulder. They claim Sugrim betraying the people. "He is
a traitor, comrade." They plan to fix up Sugrim well and proper after the
election. "We going to run he out the area," Bana say. "One apple spoil the
whole barrel, you know."
But now the matter stand crucial. Indeed Sugrim could pull away votes
from the P.P.P. Sugrim tongue sweet likesugar, Bana thinking. Is likewhen
Solo tackling Susan. Them words could cut thru rockstone. Them boys say
Solo far better than Romeo, them big words breezing through he mouth
like water through koker.
Is the same with this Sugrim. And seeing he does sell cow-milk and
chicken he get the advantage to sweet-talk people who going to he place.
"Think me want communism take over me business? Me independence?"
Sugrim does ask them people, winking he eye, trying to read they mind.
"Never!" them people does answer forthwith, bit confused. Commu-
nism. Communism. Is different form what Abdul Hamid been tell them.
"Every means of production will be in the hands of the people..."
Some people couldn't make head or tail of Communism but they
believe in this God-sent Abdul Hamid. He would never fool them. Still
Sugrim words does get them people pondering. Communism...And Bana
and Stinkman deeply aware of Sugrim growing influence among the
KYK # 43
Sugrim tongue get honey, they say. Bana and Stinkman never tell
Hamid about Sugrim. But by hooks or crooks they have to shut this Sugrim
mouth once and for all, seeing is three weeks before the election, and the
Party cannot afford to lose a single vote in the area. "Not a single vote
comrade," Hamid been say.
"Me know what me going to do," Stinkman talk with confidence,
brisking. This kiss-me-ass Sugrim. Take away vote...
"Count me in," Kaatool say and shrug he shoulder, then belch, feeling
So while this Bana winding-up the meeting, Stinkman, a broad-built
young man in his early twenties, unemployed so far, done envision clear as
daylight how Sugrim going to bawl for murder tomorrow night. He he he!
And Sugrim wife and high-faluting daughter going to run out the house
too. Sugrim daughter, Sandra, who believe all them young boys in the area
is not-a-rass, not-working millionaire nuh! is she first man, first thing, have
to run out the house, Stinkman say. He he he...Then he see one particular,
joking incident in his mind...
Was a Sunday around ten in the dark night. The area already dead in
sleeping, heavy clouds up in the sky. Stinkman, Kaatool, and Cock-eye,
done anchor by the trench- dam, close to Tamkeen house. This time small
rockstone done lodge in they pocket. "We going make he fart he skin,"
Stinkman whisper, giggling, peering his eyes.
"You mean shit he skin," Kaatool whisper back, grinning like Fore-
man donkey, he mouth all smelling with cigarette. Kaatool fine and thin-
bone, you know, but he beady-eye always sparkle with mischief. And talk
about food! Them boys say Kaatool belly na get bottom. "That man could
eat a hole cow." And Kaatool does meow like cat whenever he thiefing
people fowl in rainfall night.
"And this Kaatool eating so much food and he can't get fat," them old
people does say. "Suppose is jumbie eating the food, or Kaatool belly get
worms? He should drink castor oil."
"And is wonder how Kaatool going to work in the big office when the
Party win the election?"
"Is a hell of a thing when he have to sign them big-big document."
"The party going to educate you," Hamid been tell them boys, sweet-
sweet. So it make little difference whether this Kaatool could read or write
but the office job in he way. Just let the Party win the election.
Now Stinkman, Kaatool, and Cock-eye fortify they position on the
dark trench-dam, aiming at Tamkeen house, eyes turning cat-like. This
time Tamkeen house real quiet inside and dark. "Look like the family
sleeping," Stinkman whisper, cursing Tamkeen in he mind...Yes! Tamkeen
KYK # 43
is a fencesitter. Everybody know he is like goatshit.
This Tamkeen does rear cow and sell cowdung years now. He wife does
sell provision in the market. Tamkeen damn independent, people say.
Tamkeen never show his face at any political meeting held in the area. He
keeping altogether by himself, but punctually at six sharp every evening he
attending Masjid. In the eyes of Bana and Stinkman, Tamkeen is damn
bloody selfish. "Living like leech on the people. Can't trust he. He is a
Come worse whenever Tamkeen does refuse point blank to give
contribution to the area Party group. "Me ain't get a cent to give any kiss-
me-ass group," Tamkeen does tell Bana and Stinkman, armed with a
pitchfork. Is during when Bana, Stinkman and Kaatool does move house-
to-house soliciting contribution, one dollar, two dollar, for the group. Is on
bright Sundays while juke-box blaring in the area, and drunk men bussing-
up bottle in the streets, calling each other, "yuh damn crab-dog..."
And may God be with him who dare refuse to contribute. True! Quick
time Bana would tell them people that so and so is P.N.C., and U.F. stooge.
"Watch them with double-eye, comrade." And once you live in the area
which is diehard P.P.P. it doesn't pay to offend the Party group. Any dark
night you house-top could be stoned, or you fowl missing in you fowlpen,
or you daughter name come a whore in people mouth.
"This Kaatool could skin you like goat, you hear. Never pay to make
bad with he and Stinkman," people does talk, fright showing in they eye,
But this Tamkeen daringly different. He telling you plain and straight
in you face that he ain't get time for no kiss-me-ass Party. "Politicians just
fooling the people, you hear. They all hungry fo power..."
Poor Bana and Stinkman does feel they get a slap blai in they face when
they hear this selfish dog Tamkeen talk that. Is like Tamkeen reducing
them to mere dust, they say.
Make itworsewhen Tamkeen say: "them piss-in-tail crabdogwho ain't
know a, b, and c, telling you, who to vote for, eh! is real eye-pass. Think
politics is tiefing you fowl? Make pass at you daughter?"
"If me Stinkman ain't teach Tamkeen and he big bubby wife one
lesson, change me name," Stinkman does promise Basna, hatred showing
all in he face as if he ready to chew- up Tamkeen raw-raw just how he eating
Now himself, Kaatool, and Cock-eye is about to teach Tamkeen this
lesson. So Stinkman squat on the trench-dam, rockstone in he right hand,
grinding he teeth. Then he aim, and swing he right hand and let-go with
force BLADAM. The rockstone hit Tamkeen house-top like bullet, and
KYK # 43
shake-up the whole zinc.
Kaatool and Cock-eye in action now.
Is like two more bullet explode, shaking up the whole street like
hurricane passing through. This time Tamkeen wife bawling for murder,
murder: "O Gaad, they killing me in me own house..." beating she chest dab
dab dab as though she get heart failure.
Meantime Tamkeen done rush out the house with a paling stave in he
hand, cursing "damn mumma so and so! Me Tamkeen going to smash they
balls. They playing man, nuh? Me know is who."
Stinkman, Kaatool, and Cock-eye disappear long time by the time
Tamkeen rush out he yard, heading for the Trench-dam. Them chaps take
the third street, running, and head for the big dam, laughing he he he as if
is a big joke. Bana would pelt down a laugh. "Good fo he ass, good! Think
we is cockroach P.P.P.?" Bana would say, belly rolling.
"That serve he rass right," Kaatool say now, eye still flitting with
mischief, stomach growling as if he hungry, then he belch.
Don't tell me you hungry so fast man," Stinkman say.
"Eh-eh! is what you think me living for," Kaatool say, belching. Then
he sit-down on a wooden stand by the street-head, night still dark and
silent. Only dogs barking and donkey braying. "We show Tamkeen who is
the power man."
Back by the Trench-dam, Tamkeen in real ravenous passion, cursing
theentire neighbourhood as if them too ought to be blamed. And if you
hear themcurse!Eh-eh,yougoing to believe Tamkeen born with
themwordsinhemouth,or he don't scrub he tongue with
blacksage,somepeoplewould say. Is daddy, and mumma and
pickneeallrollinonc..."Me going to smash they balls like
mincemeat,"Tamkeenbellow like thunder, spitting as if he scorntheground.
"This time you have enemy right in you backyard," he wife saying,
trembling in the front verandah. "Can't trust you own shadow. Like people
throwaway God behind they back."
Tamkeen been suspect truly is Stinkman and Kaatool throw the
missiles at the house-top, but he can't tell Stinkman and Kaatool straight
in they face about it. He didn't see them chaps with he own two eye, and no
eye-witness was present, he argue. But he plan to extract murderous
revenge sometime in the future. "Wait and see. Give cow long rope! Ha!"
In the meantime, he playing it cool cool like cucumber, hardly sleeping in
the night, cutlass by he bed-head. Them piss-in- tail crabdog bound to fall
in me hand some day, Tamkeen tell herself. Think God blind like goat. And
is then me going to trap them like bird. Ha! Mash them ass good and
KYK # 43
proper. May Allah forgive me...
"He won't vote P.P.P. but we learn he ass one lesson," Stinkman been
tell Bana the next morning.
Bana shake he head, killing himself with laugh, belly rolling like barrel.
Just let me get this Organizing job. Is war to play.
Now this Sugrim.
And Stinkman all-set to deal with Sugrim well and proper. A thorn in
the flesh, this Sugrim. Is true thing, he could pull away votes. Can't happen,
Stinkman say one rainy night. And the Party people might blame himself
and Bana, and all too bad, he office job in jeopardy. Can't happen! Each
vote count comrade...
The Thursday night was dark and heavy. Is only crickets and beetles
humming gr gr gr in people front yards and backyards, among flowers and
trees. By now, some dogs done curl-up under bottom-houses, snarling
when-ever a donkey walk the streets, shaking off mosquito and fly off he
skin. Almost everybody in bed now, some cluster-up, some snoring like
when you blowing whistle. True! was real pitch-darkness and sheer silence
in the neighbourhood as if the place self tired after a hard day's work.
Stinkman and Kaatool squat in the fine street, close-by to Sugrim wooden
fence, eye straight in Sugrim house. This time mosquito and ants want kill
them with bite, and they dare not slap the mosquito and ants, else Sugrim
could wake-up, and the whole mission would absolutely flop. So Stinkman
and Kaatool enduring all the sting, crouching like soldiers in ambush,
scratching they skin with vengeance as if cow-itch fall on it.
Meanwhile, two good-size redbrick clasp in they palm, fingers already
baiting it so as to get a perfect aim. But first thing, Stinkman survey the
street first like a perfect thief, eyes sharp in all darkness. Then he whisper:
Stinkman and Kaatool redbrick rebound on Sugrim rooftop one after
the other. It sound like thunder, rattling the whole zinc. Sugrim wife and
children want get crazy.
"O Gawd," they bawling for murder murder...
"Good fo you ass!" Kaatool whisper, attempting to let-go another
redbrick at Sugrim housetop while Stinkman squat low in the street,
looking at the rigmarole, planning how he going to give Bana the joke
tomorrow morning. He he he ...
This time the place so bloody dark you couldn't even see a horse self
in the street don't matter how you strain you eye.
Now, Katool raise hcself and aim, then he swing he right hand
forcefully for the kill, cursing Sugrim damn stinking in he mind. Fence-
KYK # 43
KYK # 43
"Me see you, Kaatool! Me see you," Sugrim voice thunder out quick-
quick thru the window, then a torchlight flash straight at Kaatool CLICKS.
Kaatool freeze. Shocked. He couldn't able move. He feel he body like
"Yes Kaatool! Is you and the police going to talk," Sugrim say,
shouting for the neighbours: "Rambarose. Lettie. Ahyuh see down right
"Run!" Stinkman say and tug at Kaatool. Kaatool shake he body as if
he come out from a trance. Then is speed to kill with he and Stinkman thru
the side street, blowing as if they running race. By the time Sugrim rush out
he yard and flash the torchlight Clicks thru the street, Stinkman and
Kaatool vanish as if they turn spirit.
"Me know the next scamp is Stinkman," Sugrim say with hurt, flashing
the torchlight as if he expect to see a third scamp hiding in the drain. "Me
Meanwhile them neighbours prattling like parrot in thestreet: "Is who
de kiss-me-ass wretch brick Sugrim house?"
"And Sugrim such a quiet man. He don't touch a fly self..."
"Me eye catch them," Sugrim saying in seething anger., "And tomor-
row morning me going to the police. This is kiss-me-ass advantage. Politics
turning people like devil. They don't have respect anymore..."
"You damn right," them neighbour women say top-top. They suspect
is Stinkman and Kaatool do the job but they dare not call name. Stinkman
and Kaatool could easily victimise them, too. God! Politics killing you self
respect, they seem to say, so confused.
Eh-eh! the next morning was like a mini-riot break out in the area.
True to God! Was about ten o' clock and the weather was warm and cozy,
the streets busy like hell. Ajcepload of helmeted policemen with gun strap
to they waist, already roaming the area, eye sharp like hawk, looking for
Stinkman and Kaatool. Sugrim sit-down in the jeep, eye red like fire- ass,
hurt showing in he face. They like take advantage nuh!
This time, them policemen was gruff, grunting like pig. And soon as
they spot a youth walking in the street, they nab at him quicktime, acting
like big bullies, demanding forthwith to know the whereabouts of this
Stinkman and Kaatool.
"They playing bad man nuh," the sergeant shout. "I going to show
them what is communism. Bad man nuh!"
And if you happen to grow a beard, is too had for you. Chu chu chu. If
them policemen only spot you is trouble in store for you. They would
believe all to God you area Communist. Marxist. Quicklime they slapping
- 64 -
you blai blai, and shout: "Get lost!"
And everywhere thejeep driving slow-slow, a small crowd following, eyeing
at Sugrim as if they want to eat this Sugrim raw-raw. And if you hear they
mouth. Them woman teeth grinding gruu gruu like brick rubbing on
rockstone. It could chase lion, some people been say.
This time Bana and Cock-eye done vanish out the district. If they get
caught, they know damn well them policemen going to smash they ass.
Twitch they balls. Baton they behind. "You is a bad man nuh!" And Cock-
eye behind is sheer bones, while this Bana belly round like barrel and soft
like sponge. He damn well know he get sumptuous flesh to take-in police
baton blap blap blap...
So after Bana and Cock-eye envision the whole police brutality, they
mind flash straight at they own balls. "Think me want policeman batter-up
me balls like them boys own in Brickdam jail," Cock-eye think, swallowing
"And you think me want people call me anti-man?" Bana talk. "Is
better me dead if me boy dead. A man without he manhood is no man at
So within minutes Bana and Cock-eye disappear. Them is marked
P.P.P. suspect. Is they the one who leading the people in the communist
way, them policemen does say whenever they hear reports about political
wrangling in the area. "Think they is Marx..."
This time, the crowd following the jeep as it moving from street to
street, loaded with policemen, armed. Then at a sudden, the crowd attempt
a rush at the jeep in sheer haste. The driver panic and draw brakes, and as
the crowd attempt to jump-in the jeep, Sugrim fart seeing he body split in
two half, trembling.
Them policemen had to bodyguard Sugrim all the way home, eyes set
in murderous intention.
This time the sergeant fury unleash. He hungry to clap eye on Bana,
Stinkman, Kaatool, and Cock-eye. "They playing badjohn nuh." And the
bloody people know the whereabouts of these communist hooligans, but
they lip stitch with needle and thread. "But me have to show them where
Is sheer ungrateful people living in this Scheme, Sugrim tell he wife
later. They only talking with you top-top but they get dagger in they mind
for you. "Politics put ting devil in people mind. Not like long time," Sugrim
And from the day after, people in the area start spitting hackuu as if
cold settle in they throat soon as they walk- past in front Sugrim house.
Meanwhile Sugrim and he family shame to show out they face in the street.
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Fiction KYK # 43
True to God! they even afraid to talk too loud in they own own house which
Sugrim built with loan from the Estate paying it back piece- piece. But look
me dilemma now God, Sugrim say later in the night. Like me tie meselfwith
me own rope...
This timejeepload of policemen driving thru the area, street by street,
eye sharp like razor. They could sense trouble in the air, gnashing they
teeth. If they only spot Bana, Stinkman, and Cock-eye, god be with them
chaps behind. Is brutal kick-up and blows on they fat ass. "They playing bad
But them chaps come monkey smart. During the day they hibernating,
surfacing only in the nights just like escaped prisoner, smashing Sugrim
and Tamkeen with they mouth. "Think we done with he? We going smash
them like mosquito."
Meanwhile, Voting Day approach, and was real sour in the area. There
was no Bana and company to guide them people. Policemen still on the
lookout for them, you know.
As regards to Sugrim them people say he and he wife eating-up they
self in the house, direly afraid to show-out they face on Voting Day. This
time, Tamkeen ain't care one ass who voting or not. He in he house, still
mad at Stinkman and Kaatool. "Give cow long rope, ha!"
"If the P.P.P. Party win dis election tink Sugrim and Tamkeen could
live in peace?" some diehard P.P.P. women say early in the morning,
swearing sheer vengeance.
But they always say, never count the chicken before it hatch, and is the
self-same thing happen. The P.P.P. fail to command a majority of the votes
cast under the P.R. system, so they couldn't form a Guv'ment.
Bana and Stinkman want drop dead. Kaatool and Cock-eye hope fall
down like big-big drop rainfall in trench. They get pissing drunk with bush
rum, cussing, "Fraud fraud. England make we a jackass."
"They take we fo a ride," the P.P.P. supporters in the area saying,
mouth droop like turn-starapple. In vengeance they turn at Sugrim and
Tamkeen, grinding the teeth. Bana tell the people Sugrim blight the Party.
"He get black tongue," Bana pounded, thinking of the Organizing
work and the bagful of women. Now them driver and overseer might eye-
pass me. Shit. Politics is a mess-up game.
"Is better me start sell provision," Bana say one night, a week later.
"Me going still be independent, but Sugrim and Tamkeen is dead man.
Me going to blight them back."
"Ever hear lil piss-in-tail boy could do party wuk?" Tamkcen tell he
wife one midday. "Praise be to Allah Rain don't fall at one man door, you
Extract from THE CORAL ROOMS
(Peepal Tree Press, 1992.)
Percy had always known that this passage through the cave was in part
about proving himself, discovering whether he had the faith to stand on his
own two feet, faith to endure in the shadow of death. He had seen visions
in the light thrown by his helmet lamp in the cave. What was inside him?
Could he find illumination there? There was only one way to find out.
He turned off his helmet light and fumbled on the ridge, through the
layering darkness, his hands his only guides. True death, he thought, must
be like this: complete obliteration, the black of nothing. Save for the bumpy
touch of the dark earth under his feet and the icywall-faces under his hands,
he would have had the living experience of death. But the stillness here, the
compulsion to listen and see inside, was beautiful, and he felt welling up
inside him, an intensified compassion for the Amerindian and the slave, a
compassion which the darkness forced him to see, to hold and be held by,
an inescapable self, true as sunlight, pure as cave springs. It was as if he was
moulting a restrictive skin, shedding scales from his eyes. Now hewasseeing
more clearly (in this pitch dark) than ever before in his entire life, as if he
was growing new antennae of sensitivity, new antennae of freedom.
He suddenly doubled over, retching, gouts of vomit rushing from his
mouth. He didn't feel nauseous, so why this vomiting? The retching wasn't
even painful. His body had become some curious duct releasing the waste
his soul's island had accumulated ever since its independence from Great
Britain in the sixties when the dead hand of neo-colonialism had moved
swiftly throughout the region burying the hopeful spirit of self-determina-
tion under a dunghill of enormous greed poxed with arrogance and pride.
His sacrificial body contained all the fat black-bellied heads of corpora-
tions, political animals, newspaper publishers, lawyers, all scrambling for
a piece of the earth to plant a flag in the name of the king of the I. The I was
lord and master. Coups. Drug trafficking. Child pornography. Socialist
jargon. All leading to one end: the I and the I and the I.
The fluids washed over the ridge and he heard leaves and bark flutter
away into the highest holes of the cave, shame and guilt dripping from their
wings. His light still turned off, hewalked away from the ridge. Mud. Knee-
deep. He knew where he was. He gauged the clogged distance and then
- 67 -
KYK # 43
proceeded with his arms outstretched. They eventually reached a wall. A
high wall. Yes. Beyond this would be the dream. He clambered up the
twelve-foot face relying only on touch, the curve of the rock the cleft of the
rock the ruk and the tuk and the pour of the rock the lure of the rock and
the voice of the stone calling him, clapping his ankle bones.
He entered into the dark of the dream and heard again its stream
laughter. The black was not black. He had been here on the inward journey,
so he could see the glitter of stalactite and stalagmite, the cascading hairs
of each waterfall, the petroglyphic crystal wonder, the towering rock silos,
the scintillating conical formations. Black had to do with the color of one's
skin, perhaps, but not with ignorance, not unenlightenment. Outside,
where he lived, was sheeted with every light and echo of light, but it was out
there that he had been most blind. His new antennae sensed the pure
element he was in and his hands coiled outward to scoop up the water of
darkness and splash it all over his invisible body. He felt like crying and
laughing, all at once. The tiger of darkness had attacked him, tearing away
every last residue of pride, bringing him finally to his knees so that he could
receive the total quality and dimension of blackness, blackness which was
brighter than any sun or moon.
He felt for the low passage and bored through it and out into the five-
foot deep amniotic pool. Then he climbed up the six- foot dip of stone and
slid down the eight-foot drop into cool water, waist-high at first. Then the
bottom seemed to be swiped away. No bottom any more. Hands up! Touch
a roof! Where am 1? Where am I? He swam back onto the rocks. He pulled
himself out the water, hands searching for clues. This face of stone was the
same one he clutched when he came half- drowning out of the deep waters.
Ah! He knew for sure where he was and now he knew what the difference
was. It was in the water level. It had dropped. That was why there was a large
air-space in the roof of the passage. The water would now be about sixty-
eight feet deep. He wouldn't have to dive through this time. He was spent
and very hungry. Yet, through his weary consciousness, he could hear the
leavening drum taps of freedom, and sensing the nearness of the end of his
beginning, he wasn't at all surprised to find Materia swimming there.
Maieria, Materia? Yes, Mr. Percy. Where are you now? Right here
beside you. IWhat are you doing? Selling clothes. Whatever happened to us?
Who knows, Mr. Percy. Who knows?
He couldn't escape her. He had inhabited and had been inhabited by
her stream laughter. She was an essential thread in the cave's mystery, a
part of all the illuminating blackness seeping into him. She was inside him
and therefore knew his actions before he acted, heard his utterance before
he spoke. The cave knew its geography centuries before he had laid feet
KYK # 43
KYK # 43
here and, in what wisdom, obtained her true cunning and triumph. How
could he have been so dumb to think that she would not have known about
his little secret with Bassie? He had thought of no one but himself in his
quest for power and control. He had allowed Materia to be completely
herself, it was true. Yet, even this "gift", he now became aware, was a web
meant to endear himself to her even more firmly, nothing more than
another selfish act designed to bring him pleasure. When equal submission
existed in relationships, dichotomies vanished and people just were. It was
a simple as that.
He thought of how he had submitted to Cane Arrow and to the cave
and, as he swam through the deep waters (as the water of darkness
continued seeping into him) he saw her on the day before she had left for
her father's. He had been sorry to see her go. Glad to see her go. His
exclusive mania would throw ugly stains on her garments. It was pointless
to think that she could soften stone. She had fled with coalescing looks of
love, fear, worry, dread. He had felt a twinge of sorrow for her as he sat in
the house in stony silence. Her rhythm had been established in rigid
sequence ever since they had got married. She revolved around her work
and social life. It was a steady unchanging rhythm of which she savored
every living second. And now: specters of shame, scandal, pressure, expla-
nations. It would have been hard on any woman to have her river of
certainties clogged by the bleakest decision a husband could ever make,
and the mutation that had befallen him, in which nothing outward had
changed on him yet he was completely different, had forced her to flee.
Each desperate stroke he now made was to free both of them from
guilt. And the leaves and bark of that guilt clapped their wings inside the
passage, and the guilt fell on him and then dripped off him. Time, the
healer. Time, the healer, stream softly until I end my journey; drip gently
until I sing again; flow slowly and lead us to the rock, lead us to the rock that
is higher than us.
He knew he was nearing the end of the passage now for he could
actually see the water haloed with a brownish light. Heclapped-clapped his
way out on to the rocks and into the heart of a sun. Someone was inside the
sun, eating it with dark barks of hands.
KYK # 43
THE POWER TO EXCLUDE
I'm asked to provide a summary of the talk I gave to the Academy's
Gregynog Conference on New Literatures In English back in May. That
shouldn't be too much of a task, except that I didn't actually write that talk,
I worked rather loosely from a few notes made to help me remember things
in the right order! And then, when I got to the guts of the piece, I played
recordings of various poets reading their own work, interspersed with a few
illuminating comments like, this is a super poem, just to maintain the
illusion that I'd earned my fee...
The talk was called Voiceprints: Caribbean Poetry Now, a cunning
conflation of the titles of two of the anthologies of Caribbean poetry that
I've edited in the last decade or so and was intended to share my own sense
of good fortune at discovering the riches of Caribbean poetry in English.
But in order to explain that sense of good fortune I had somehow to give
the poems to the audience who, I guessed, wouldn't have read or,
importantly, heard much Caribbean poetry. So I gave out (probably
illegal) photocopies of poems and made a (probably illegal) tape of the
various poets reading those poems, cut together from assorted public and
private recordings. As usual I vastly over-estimated how much material we
could get through in an hour or so, so that although there were thirteen
poems/poets on the handout/tape we only got around to reading/listening
to five or six. I chose those poets/poems because they seemed to me to
provide both an appetising taster of contemporary Caribbean poetry and
they demonstrated the range of concerns, styles and voices which char-
acterise that body of work. This mini- anthology offered as good a way in
to Caribbean poetry and the discussion of the issues that are raised by
thinkingabout both what the poems say and how they sayit as well as how
we read them as I could construct.
For the record, and for those who weren't there, (to whom, I suppose,
this piece is directed) the poems on the handout that we set out to look at,
listen to, contextualise and discuss were as follows; (the sources of the
poems and recordings are given,with a reference to an accessible anthology
if possible. The anthologies' details are provided at the end of the list).
1. Derek Walcott, Ruins of a Great House, in Collected Poems,(Faber)
& Caribbean Poetry Now.
2. Louise Bennet, Colonisation in Reverse in Selected Poems (Heine-
mann) and Hinterland. Recording from her cassette Yes M'Dear (Is-
3. Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Timbuctu, from Masks (Oxford) & The
Arrivants (Oxford). Recording from British Council Literature Re-
cordings: An Interview with Edward Kamau Brathwaite.
4. Martin Carter, Black Friday 1961 in Collected Poems (Demerara
Pubs., Guyana) and Voiceprint.
5. David Dabydeen, Coolie Mother from Coolie Oddysey (Hansib),
recording on Bluefoot Cassettes (National Sound Archieve).
6. Ian McDonald, God's Work, in Mercy Ward (Peterloo) and Voice
7. Michael Smith, Mi C yaaan Believe It in It A Come (New Beacon)
and Caribbean Poetry Now, recording from his record It A Come.
8. Lorna Goodison, For My Mother, in Tamarind Season (Institute of
Jamaica Pubs.) and Caribbean Poetry Now. Recording off the BBC
Schools Radio cassette, Some Caribbean Writers.
9. Grace Nichols, Sugar Cane, from i is a long memoried woman.
(Karnak House), recording on the National Sound Archive's
Contemporary Literature on Tape 1: Grace Nichols & Samuel
10. Jane King, Fellow Traveller, in Confluence: Nine St. Lucian Poets,
(The Source, Castries).
11. Edward Baugh, Nigger Sweat in A Tale From The Rain Forest
(Sandberry Press, Jamaica) and Voiceprint.
12. John Agard, Stereotype in Mangoes and Bullets (Pluto), recording
from An Evening of International Poetry: Black Book Fair 1982
13. Mervyn Morris, Valley Prince, from The Pond (New Beacon) and
Voiceprint. Recording from Poets of the West Indies (Caedmon)
Caribbean Poetry Now, ed. Stewart Brown, Hodder & Stoughton, 1986
(New edition 1992)
Voiceprint: Caribbean oral andrelatedpoetries, eds, Stewart Brown, Mervyn
Morris and Gordon Rohlehr. Longman 1989
Hinterland, ed. E.A. Markham, Bloodaxe 1988
West Indian Poetry, ed. Ken Ramchand and Cecil Gray, Longman, 1988
The Penguin Book of Caribbean Poetry eds. Stewart Brown and Ian McDonald,
Heineman, 1991 (in press).
KYK # 43
Part of the reason why we didn't get through more than half the poems
on the list was that I felt obliged to preface the demonstration of my disc-
jockey's button-pressing talents with a preamble through the story of my
own involvement with West Indian poetryand a defense of my own practice
as an anthologist, on the way alerting my audience to some of the issues
around the consumption of these poems.
I got into Caribbean poetry as a consequence of finding myself, more-
or less by chance, a teacher in a secondary school in Jamaica, back in the
early 70s. I knew absolutely nothing about West Indian literature, and
finding these new writers Walcott, Brathwaite, Louise Bennett...all the
names on that list above finding them writing so vividly, so vigorously,
about a life I was discovering at the same time as I was discovering their
poetry, was really exciting. Not that it was so easy to get hold of Caribbean
poetry then, especially in a rural market-town on the north coast of the
island. The public library was stocked with sun-foxed, brittle-leaved slim
volumes by Dylan Thomas and T.S. Eliot, hardly read, but no anthologies
of Caribbean poetry. (To be fair to them there were hardly any at that time
that they could have stocked.) The school library, such as it was the World
Bank built all these concrete shells of schools but put nothing inside them
- did provide a way in though; John Figueroa's Caribbean Voices, a
selection from poems and poets represented in the long running BBC
literature programme and Anne Walmsley's anthology The Sun's Eye,
which included fascinating auto biographical notes provided by the au-
thorsAI vividly remember reading Walcott for the first time, and thinking
that he, at least -on the evidence of his poem lamentingA City's Death by
Fire had read his Dylan Thomas.
The next step, and a piece of cultural arrogance I'm rather appalled by
now, was to write to as many of these poets as I could discover addresses for
announcing that I intended to start up a little Caribbean magazine and
begging contributions in the form of new writing and subscriptions. The
magazine, NOW, was a scruffy sub Second Aeon production-duplicated
through the night in the back room of the local betting shop, trimmed on
the school metalwork guillotine, and distributed more or less at random.
NOWwas taken vastly more seriously than it deserved; positively reviewed
in the national papers and on radio, partly financed, though they didn't
know it, by Harvard University, who were persuaded to take out a 'lifetime'
subscription, even though I knew the magazine could hardly survive more
than half dozen issues. More significantly, though,a numberof important
figures in Caribbean poetry actually sent us material Brathwaite, Dennis
Scott, Harold Telemaque, Wayne Brown, Phillip Sherlock, Gloria Escof-
fery, Neville Dawes, Anthony McNeill...And the magazine allowed me an
KYK # 43
entree to their world, it was intoxicating.
Teaching English in the secondary school, though, I hardly came
across West Indies poetry, certainly not at exam level, and this gap between
the study of serious literature (ie, the English canon) and the literature of
the life people the school kids were living was what prompted me to try
and make an anthology that would serve both as an upper- school text in
the Caribbean and spread the word, share the good fortune that I'd had in
finding that new poetry with potential readers in the UK. But it was ten
years between my leaving Jamaica and the appearance of Caribbean Poetry
Now. The reasons for the delay are too complicated to go into here but the
key to the book's appearance, finally, was the establishment of the Carib-
bean Examinations Council to gradually replace the British GCE boards
and their tropical papers. At the same time there was a growing interest in
the UK in Caribbean culture, partly generated by the success of figures like
Walcott and Brathwaite but more to do with reggae and Rastafarian style.
In the meanwhile I'd been getting myself "Doctored" and so become aca-
demically respectable enough to be trusted to edit such a book. All the
same though my approach to Caribbean literature continued/continues to
be that ofthe enthusiastic amateur rather than the academic. The would be
fellow-poet rather than the authoritative editor.
But such special pleadingdoesn't allow me to duck the critical, cultural
and theoretical issues which hedge the production of anthologies like
Caribbean Poetry Now and, later, Voiceprint and the collection of stories
Caribbean New Wave, and, presently, The Ileinemann Book of Caribbean
Poetry. A lot of these issues are familiar in the context of debates about
Anglo-Welsh literature, beginning of course with language. What lan-
guage/s should a West Indian poetry be written in, the standard English
that hardly anyone there (or here!) speaks, or versions of dialect, creole,
nation language even the terminology is fraught which also has social and
political overtones and demand forms that inevitably challenge received
notions of poetic craft etc.
How far do you, as anthologist with the power/responsibility to 'rep-
resent' good' 'writing'to a generation of students in a situation where there
aren't vast numbers of books/alternative presentations, in effect to con-
struct a counter canon how far do you try and represent and so to some
extent legitimise thewhole language continuum? And howdoes that need
for linguistic balance square with the need to represent a fari range of
voices in terms of gender, race, nationality, generation, religion, political
views? And the issues of language meld into questions of form and worth
in terms of the orality/literary struggle that is a vital element of West Indies
culture; are Mikey Smith's dub texis for performance poems? Is a Bob
KYK # 43
KYK # 43 Articles
Marley lyric a poem? Do we misrepresent Louise Bennett either by calling
her a poet or by consigning her work to some special oral category? Should
we have a poem by each of them at the expense of three more poems by
Derek Walcott, unquestionably one of the great poets of our time but
whose language, ideas of form and craft, cultural references, and associa-
tions with a nation of high culture will perhaps exclude or alienate the
readers we are trying reach? And alongside those problematic are ques-
tions of cultural traditions, culturaldirections, attitudes to history, issues of
self definition and national allegiance, etc, etc. All those questions are
raised in the making of an anthology, and heightened by the tension/
contradiction that the anthologist is a foreign, white, male academic who
inevitably makes his selection, in the end, on the basis of his own cultural
conditioning. And the anthologist's power, really, is the power to exclude.
I tend not to push too hard at that paradox, most readers/reviewers
assume that Stewart Brown is a Jamaican and thecultural imposition thing
doesn't come up at all. But maybe that's worse. Pragmatically I tell myself
that in terms of engaging with the poetry, I've immersed myself in it over
the years in a way that few others West Indians or not have been able to
(it's still easier to get hold of books produced in Tunapuna or Castries in
Birmingham or Cardiff or even Sennybridge than it is in Bridgetown,
Barbados or Brownstown, Jamaica); that I've worked and travelled in the
region and that so longas I'm alert to the cultural/theoretical/critical issues
outlined above, and West Indian readers think I've done a good job, then
"No Problem". (In fact the only published concern over the implications
of the racial identity of the anthologists of Caribbean literature that I've
seen has been in a thoughtful essay on canon formation by another white,
British anthologiser, Ann Walmsley.) But still it would make more sense
for these anthologies to be made by West Indians rather than a Brown of
the wrong colour. But, to (misquote) my all time favourite West Indian
poem, Mervyn Morris's Valley Princefhe world don't go so. Part of the
reason I'm able/asked to make these anthologies is that I'm on seat as it
were in the place where the books are published. Heinemann, Longman,
Hodder & Stoughton between them dominate Caribbean publishing,
especially in literature/education, and its easier to work with/through
someone to hand as it were than keep trying to make telephone contact
with Kingston. Perhaps, too, there is an element of race in it most of the
publishers in the multi-nationals are white middle class British people,
who are, maybe, at ease dealing with someone like me in ways they perhaps
can't with (real) West Indians in Britain who might do the editorial jobs
I've done although I'm sure they wouldn't recognize that as a reason for
the decisions they make. And I'm, obviously, not innocent in such transac-
tions. And the Publishing Houses themselves represent the other pres-
sures that bear on the anthologist, for no matter how enlightened individ-
ual publishers might be, the over-riding motive for book production as far
as the companies are concerned is profit. So pressures of cost, of scale, of
imprint tradition, of taste, of expertise (for example, despite accepting the
intellectual/educational -even thesales argument for producing a cassette
to accompany these anthologies none of the publishers I've worked with
have been able to overcome the logistical difficulties of making and distrib-
uting such a tape) all these bear on the book that is finally produced and on
the freedom of the anthologist. It's certainly not a simple process of just
picking a bunch of one's favourite poems.
That said though, most of the poems I've listed above as a route into
West Indian poetrywould be in my personalideal anthology of poems from
KYK # 43
Sir Shridath Ramphal
'ONE TOUCH OF NATURE MAKES THE
WHOLE WORLD KIN'
SIR SHRIDATH RAMPHAL
THE SHAKESPEARE BIRTHDAY (427TH) CELEBRATIONS
PROPOSING THE LUNCHEON TOAST TO
"THE IMMORTAL MEMORY OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'
I thank our President, Sir William Dugale, for exceedingly kind
words. To be here is an honour: but honour at these427th anniversary cele-
brations of the birth of William Shakespeare is truly due to him alone.
Indeed, I would find the task of proposing the toast to his immortal
memory almost too daunting were I not conscious that we are as one in this
act of collective homage. And we ourselves are but the present expression
of an absent throng across the world united in appreciation of the genius
of Shakespeare. The Ambassadors and High Commissioners among us
represent their countries; but all who have come from overseas as well as
Britain, dignitaries, scholars and enthusiasts alike, are representative of
the many thousands of visitors of all nationalities drawn here by his magic
And these proceedings are in keeping with Shakespeare's own
society, which was one of much ceremony as well as simplicity. It was
already a very international society. I doubt if he would have found
anythingsurprising in a citizen of Guyana speaking in his honour. After all,
Guiana was part of his world picture, and England its or so at least,
Shakespeare's contemporary, Chapman, claimed:
"Guiana, whose rich seat are mines of gold,
Whose forehead knocks against the roof of stars,
Stands on her tiptoes, atf]iir England looking..."
KYK # 43
Nor would the creator of Othello have baulked at this tribute from
one of another race. True, my being an honorary Warwickshire man, as
Chancellor of its University, might have given him pause. But then, even
Shakespeare could not have foreseen the extent to which he has made us
all, wherever we come from, belong to his world.
Nor is this ex post facto rhetoric. In distant Guiana, Shakespeare
was very much part of my own upbringing introduced to us, for our (then)
Junior and Senior Cambridge and London Higher School Certificates by
teachers who declaimed him with Caribbean eloquence as part of an oral
tradition. I was hooked; and in my turn was responsible for one of the first
joint productions between the leading boys' and girls' secondary schools in
my country (for all I know, the first in the South American continent) of A
Midsummer Night's Dream.
I confess, unlikely though it may look, that there stands before you
a Demetrius a Demetrius pursued, incredibly, by a love-besotted Helena,
through a wood near Athens modelled no doubt on a wood near Stratford
- a long way from the savannahs, cane fields and rain forests of Guyana.
When I came later to London as a student, a pilgrimage to the real
landscape of Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon was obligatory and to
the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. I was there in 1948 as a student in
student's standing room, for Robert Helpmann's Hamlet and Clair Bloom's
Ophelia, and, again, in 1950 for that remarkable Company including Leon
Quartermaine, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Alan Badel and Anthony
Quayle that did KingLear and Measurefor Measure, Julius Caesar and Much
Ado about Nothing.
This is not a unique odyssey. It is typical of the revelation of
Shakespeare across the globe especially, but not only, in the countries of
the English-speaking world. The fifty Commonwealth countries, located in
every continent and ocean, share a many-sided heritage in education,
democracy, commerce, the law and much else; and because they commu-
nicate in the common language of English, they also share in the glories of
English literature, with Shakespeare at its heart. It has, of course, many
other languages in Africa, India orwherever,so it has many literature, and
they too are its pride; but no one writing in English can fail to be touched
and enriched by Shakespeare. In that sense, the Commonwealth's great
writers, whether Nigeria's Wole Soyinka or India's R K Natayan or the
Caribbean's Derek Walcott are Shakespeare's children although Wal-
cott's prize-winning Omeros claims an even earlier ancestry in Homer.
But a prophet can be without honour in his own country. Two
months ago some British teachers complained that in the new syllabuses
Shakespeare had become an optional extra. Springing to his defense, The
KYK # 43
Independent newspaper rightly scorned the very idea that the essential truth
about William Shakespeare is that he was a white, middle-aged, middle class
male who died almost 400 years ago and whose plays are shot though with
negative racial and sexual stereotypes. We must all join The Independent on
the barricades in defense of the Bard. This is not a Shakespeare the world
It would not be too much to claim that Shakespeare is woven deep
into the story of the English-speaking world and particularly the Com-
monwealth story. There is, of course, a Canadian Stratford in Ontario. The
Indian sub-continent has also come under Shakespeare's spell; and not
only through the delightful itinerant performances of the Kendall family
recorded in the film Shakespeare Wallah.
From the start, Shakespeare travelled with the English language to
the farthest outposts throughout the world and was performed every-
where. David Holloway's entertaining bookPlayingtheEmpire tells us that
in the goldfields of Australia in the 1860s diggers sometimes showed their
appreciation of free performances of Shakespeare by throwing gold nug-
gets on to the stage and that on one occasion Macbeth was produced on
top of a billiards table.
But language is no impassable frontier. Shakespeare is infinitely
translatable into other languages, other social settings, other arts. Sea-
soned theatre-goers recall a Zulu Macheth brought to London twenty
years ago by the late Peter Daubeny. Macbeth has been transmuted into an
epic Japanese film, Kurosawa's The Throne of Blood not far from grand
opera, which Macbeth actually became in the hands of Verdi. An equally
operatic Lady Macbeth has taken her dagger to the Soviet Union and
reappeared in modern guise, to Shostakovich's score, as Lady Macbeth of
I was born free as Caesar; so were you: Casius asserts for all who rage
under dominion. In all ages, Shakespeare stands for thought and freedom,
and so is suspect to autocracies, like Iran under the Shah, where Hamlet
could not be played because it showed the killing of a king. Kings are
mortal, Shakespeare is not. Tyranny recognizes itself for ever in the mirror
(it holds) up to nature, and fears its own reflection. Not long before the
Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia -when once again the time (was) out
ofjoint, with all theatre critical of the government banned the country's
best actors retreated into the Living-Room Theatre of Prague, in what was
literally a domestic living- room. When Macbeth was put on, the secret
police outside the door found these assassinations in high places deeply
subversive and wanted to know who the author was. Vaclav Havel and his
colleagues could be arrested. But, Shakespeare was out of reach. In today's
- 79 -
KYK # 43
surge to democracy around the world, Shakespeare remains with the tide
Part of the worldwide appeal of Shakespeare is surely that we can all
find ourselves in his pages. He reflects all walks and conditions of life
because, in comedy, history and tragedy, he reflects and illumines the
human condition. There is a Shakespeare for every type and profession.
For the hard-handed men, the joiners, tinkers and tailors; for soldiers and
lawyers; for lovers and lunatics; for counsellors and kings; for those of great
estate brought tragically low. As The Merchant of Venice somewhat equivo-
cally reminds us, there is a Shakespeare for the bankers even for the Bank
of England, on whose twenty-pound note Shakespeare's portrait has been
circulating since 1970 throughout Britain soon, also, to be replaced.
Shakespeare teaches mercy to the judges and many lessons to us all.
Central among them is a respect for humanity, for life itself respect
preserved forever in his language. It is life in all its variety that, after four
centuries, springs at us with undiminished freshness out of Shakespeare's
plays. In All's Well that Ends Well, he reminds us, through the voice of the
first Lord Dumaine that the web of our life is a mingled yarn. Our virtues
would be proud four faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair,
if they were not cherished by our virtues. The great tragedies show that
Shakespeare does not shrink from depicting the grimmest realities and the
cruellest fates life can hold. Yet he does so in languagewhich itself suggests
the existence of a nobler, betterworld. In the tragedies, compassion may be
absent on stage, but it is engendered by the playwrights' genius where it
counts most in the hearts of the audience.
Four hundred and twenty-seven years after his birth, Shakespeare
speaks particularly to the whole modern world. The totality of his work
enshrines the qualities essential to our human society if we are to survive
and live together in security and prosperity; especially those qualities of
conciliation, harmony and understanding. His message of the interde-
pendence of all human kind -and especially with nature is a very modern
one. In Shakespeare, harmony or discord in man and nature run parallel;
all created nature is organically related. One touch of nature, says Ulysses
in Troilus and Cressida, makes the whole world kin, It could be our text for
saving a planet still in search of its oneness.
It is the depth of the humanity in Shakespeare that makes him im-
mortal, and will always prevent him from becoming, anywhere, an optional
extra,. As his contemporary Ben Jonson put it: he was not of an age but for
all time. And we may add: for all the world.
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the toast to:
'The Immortal Memory of William Shakespeare'.
KYK # 43
by Frank Birbalsingh
INTERVIEW WITH ROY IEATI
FB You were born in Guyana in 1926and came to London in 1950. You
studied for the bar but did not practise law. Instead you became a school
teacher. With your background of teaching in London schools,what do you
think of E R Braithwaite's To Sir With Love?
RH I don't really like to comment on the books of other writers.
FB Whereas the experiences of a black school-teacher are accurately
recorded in To Sir With Love, I would have thought that the book's attitudes
to racial discrimination were unrealistic.
RH It was a book with some good features. Although 1 have lived here
in England longer than I have lived in Guyana, I am not keen on writing
about my experiences here, because I am still an immigrant. My conscious-
ness was formed in Guyana. I feel that in writing about this country I would
becxpendingencrgy thatcould be betterspent in contributing toGuyanese
FB It is interesting how all that Guyanese experience or knowledge
which you brought from 1950 and stored up for twenty odd years suddenly
finds expression in fiction. Afterall,your first bookdid not appear until you
were forty-eight years old. It is not like Dickens who lived in London and
wrote about life in London. Areyou aware of any special difficulties or ad-
vantages in writing with a Proustian sense of recall?
RH It may seem strange that I remember all these things, but it is not
only a question of remembering them because they occurred years ago: it is
the power of evocation, of things remembered from long ago, from
childhood, which have a strange mesmeric power. People think that most
of my books are about the 1920's and 30's. In fact this isn't so. The trilogy
From The Heat Of The Day (1979), One Generation (1981), Genetha (1981)
was really one book. A Man Come Home (1974) was set in the 60's. The
Murderer and Kwaku were set in the 70's I have started a new novel which
is set in the 80's. So you can see my attachment is with Guyana; it is not
necessarily with a long remembered past. I am prepared to writeabout lack
of experience here. Indeed I have; but not in fiction. To me fiction has
somethingveryspecial about it; and I must write about the place that I love.
I have never professed to like England.
FB How different might your writing have been, had you remained in
RH Guyana, like Switzerland, is a very small country, and these two
countries have one thing in common: they produce immigrants. One third
of the Swiss live abroad for the same reason that drives so many Guyanese
abroad, namely their consciousness is highly developed, and they are
unable to engage this consciousness in a country with a very small popula-
tion that is, in effect, parochial in its view.
I think it is not an accident for instance, that the Swiss have
produced someof the most remarkable psychologists Piaget, Carl Gustav
Jung. Their consciousness is so highly developed that something has to
give: they either go abroad or create violently, that is, at a high degree.
FB Why should small countries like Guyana and Switzerland have
people with a more highly developed consciousness than people in larger
countries, like France or Germany?
RH That is an historical question which I would not venture to answer.
I can suggest lines of thought that might lead to an answer. For instance,
Guyana hasa particular historyof the Caribbeanwith someveryodd things
that are crucial in Guyanese minds. One is the presence of a great forest
that covers most of the country. Another is the fact that our experience of
death was remarkable from the time we went to the Caribbean as slaves (in
the seventeenth century) up to 1947 when malaria was eradicated. To have
death all around us must have had an effect. It has had an effect on the
Mexicans, for instance, one that is more demonstrable. They are more
preoccupied with skeletons and myths in their celebrations. Now this is
only a suggestion hut there is no doubt that Guyanese have a highly
developed consciousness. You only have to look at the works of Wilson
Harris or Edgar Mittelholzer to see that they are very interested in inner
states of mind.
KYK # 43
FB More so than other Caribbean writers?
RH It appears so.
FB Quite often people talk about the West Indies or Caribbean collec-
tively, and there are certainly common factors of Caribbean experience
such as slavery and the sugar industry, even the same kind of population.
In the case of the English-speaking territories there is the same language,
and similar institutions of law, government and culture. When you talk
about Guyana do you separate it from the West Indies in any way? How
similar and how different is Guyana from the rest of the West Indies?
You've mentioned the interior the vast hinterland of the Amazon forest.
Does the presence of this large forest encourage a kind of interior self-
examination which is lacking in the writing of people from the islands?
RH I prefer to say this self-examination is particular to the Guyanese
experience. After all, there is no immense forest which covers two-thirds of
the country in any part of the Caribbean. When I was coming to England
by ship in 1950,1 met some Martiniquanson board,who were going to fight
for the French in the Vietnam war. At that time my French was sketchy; but
there was a manifest identity between the Martiniquans and me. No one
can define culture. You can speak of certain aspects of culture such as
language or religion, but not one of them is crucial. There was a certain
identity of psychology between the Martiniquans and me. Therefore there
is a cultural identity throughout the Caribbean including Guyana, al-
though geographically Guyana isn't in the Caribbean at all.
Jamaica has a particular experience. So does Trinidad. Each island
has a particular experience. It is like two people in a family. They belong to
the same family, but they may be quite different in certain ways.
FB Most writers start publishing before the age of forty- eight. There
are famous exceptions. I believe Conrad started quite late in his flrties,
no doubt for special reasons the time he spent at sea, or the effort it took
him to master English. Why did you start late?
RH I had been writing short stories and poetry since my early twenties,
and I did publish some pieces in Guyana, and with the BBC. But writing in
a big way only began at the age of forty, as a result of a deliberate decision
that I had to sit down and discipline myselfand write something long. I was
so alarmed that I had done nothing in life that I simply decided that I should
do what I always thought I could do. I am a hedonist. I love pleasure, and
KYK # 43
I was having a great deal of fun.
FB One of the classic English writers, John Milton, set out at an early
age to write a great poem. He read, and studied, travelled, and prepared
with great deliberation for many years. The result eventually was Paradise
Lost. What I understand from you is that at the age of forty you suddenly
decided to write long fiction. There was no similar sense of commitment or
RH My life was so full that I didn't have the time to sit and write
something big. I did exactly what Milton did; only later. When I was young
there was no question of choosing to write, rather than enjoy myself.
FB Is the creation of fiction therefore a hardship in the sense that it
prevents you from enjoying yourself.
RH No, it is a great pleasure too. There is a scale of pleasures, and I
didn't want to grow old and then look back and say I never had fun. To me
it is essential that one should enjoy oneself. Some people get married very
young when they have not sowed their wild oats and it causes trouble.
FB Did you have difficulty getting your work published?
RH Yes. When I first submitted the trilogy as one long novel, it was not
accepted. Then, I wrote a shorter novel, A Man Come Home, which was
FB Between 1978 and 1984 you produced six novels: an exceptionally
fast rate of publication.
RH People say that I am a prolific writer, but I am not. It is simply that
the trilogy had already been written before The Murderer [19781 was pub-
lished. When The Murderer won the Guardian prize, publication became
relatively easy, though they still wouldn't publish the trilogy as one book.
RH It was 220,(XX) words long. Of the six books I have written, two are
very long the trilogy, and The Shadow Bride (1988).
FB You still think about the trilogy as one book?
RH It is one book. I wrote it as one book. But Longmans claimed they
KYK # 43
could not publish a novel of that length by an unknown writer. At the time,
they were mainly educational publishers.
FB Why did you not seek out other publishers?
RH The reason for publishing my first book, A Man Come Home, with
them is that I used to go to Aubrey Williams' place every Saturday, and met
someone there who was an editor at Longmans. When she heard that I was
writing a novel she asked to do it. That is how I became published. I knew
nothing about publishers or agents.
FB Then you moved to Alison and Busby.
RH. Yes. Being educational publishers, Longmans sent people to sell
their books in schools, whereas the so called trade publishers sent people
to bookshops. It was a different thing altogether. Longmans weren't keen
on publishing original work, and I wasn't keen on remaining with a pub-
lisher whose main outlets were schools.
FB You remained with Alison and Busby until they went out of busi-
ness. Now you arc with Collins. Have you experienced any discrimination
or prejudice from publishers on account of your race or type of writing?
RH I do not say there isn't prejudice against my type ofwriting. All I am
saying is that things have gone smoothly for me. I think the reason is that
I won the Guardian fiction prize in 1978. Therefore it was worthwhile for
the publishing establishment in this country to publish my work. I know
exactly the problems that black writers have. There are a lot of good
manuscripts by such writers that cannot find a publisher. There is an
excellent little press called The Peepal Tree Press. They have done what you
would expect Caribbean publishers to have done before. They have pub-
lished books which won Guyana Literature prizes. I think these books are
FB Would it not be better for all such books to be published in Guyana
or the Caribbean.
RH I made this point in my speech accepting the Guyana Literature
prize for The Shadow Bride last December (1989). 1 said I looked forward
to the time when I could publish successfully and lucratively in Guyana, but
there is a problem in sales and earnings. Still, I am prepared to publish in
KYK # 43
Guyana from time to time without being remunerated. I did a play, Inez
Combray, which was sent in for a drama competition in Guyana. I didn't
send it in for payment, but it won the competition and earned one hundred
pounds that was very useful at the time. So although I have duty to publish
in Guyana, from time to time, without remuneration, when it comes to
publishing my work generally, I have to live.
FB You mention other literary genres like criticism and plays, but I
assume you prefer to write fiction.
RH No, I prefer to write plays.
FB Yet you have been far more productive in fiction.
RH Yes, because I cannot write at arm's length for a theatre. I have to
be with the theatre. I didn't even see Inez Combray performed, which I find
a bit distressing. My fiction contains a lot of dialogue. I function as a
dramatist. I have never been keen on writing fiction.
FB I agree that one of the distinguishing features of your fiction is
dialogue which is dramatic and authentic.
RH That exemplifies my theory that an individual is not separate. The
individual is partof the collection ofexperiences, part of the opportunities
that are there. Since I am not in Guyana, I find it difficult to write for a
theatre that is thousands of miles away. But I am a dramatist, so I have to
give up drama per se to write for a theatre here. In other words, I write
drama through fiction that is going to be read here and everywhere,
whereas if I wrote a play it would be performed here only, and that would
not please me.
FB You feel quite strongly that your best audience is a Guyancse one?
RH Yes. Not that I am particularly encouraged by Guyanese audiences.
Nor is there a mass of Guyanese asking to write for them. It is simply that
through birth, I am attached by the umbilical cord to Guyana. I appreciated
receiving the Guyana Literature prize.
FB Yet the prize is not a necessary sign of Guyanese reading your
KYK # 43
RH 1 agree. But the day after I was awarded the prize, I was recognized
in the street in Georgetown. Here, one is a cypher. English people are
cyphers here. This is a society of alienation. Very often you don't even know
your neighbours. I come from a different society. The fact that a Guyanese
could hail me and say Ihave seen yourpicture in thepaper. Congrats!, pleases
me no end. Even if an Englishman were to do that -and I am recognized
here occasionally it wouldn't please me the same as someone walking
down High Street in Georgetown. That was thrilling. One belongs to one's
people. People like V S Naipaul deny it. Yet the very violence of his denial
is an indication that he belongs.
FB Dcrck Walcott writes plays, very successfully, and he does it from a
RH Yes, but he had long experience of the theatre in Trinidad. Perhaps
if I had written plays in Guyana, I might have continued to write them here.
I know that if I went back to Guyana I would start writing plays at once. I
wouldn't write novels. I might write short stories.
FB As you know, Caryl Phillips grew up in England, hut he has built a
house in St Kitts, his birthplace, and spends a few months there each year.
Have you any plans to go back to Guyana? Do you have relatives there?
RH Yes, I have a lot of relations, nieces, nephews and so on. I go back
every two years. It is not simply to see the development of the country and
observe changes such as concrete built houses etc. I could go back and live
there tomorrow if I didn't have a family here.
FB People have said that your early books about yard society are very
realistic. I think these books could be usefully compared with the writing
of Roger Mais, especially his first three novels which are about the slums
of Jamaica, giving a powerful depiction of the raw conditions in which the
poorest Jamaicans live. I think Mais had a strong Christian conscience. He
was also politically active, and was a member of Norman Manley's People!"
In A Man Come Home (1974) Bird has a mysterious connection with
fairnmaids. At least that is the story we are told. Now "fairmaids" are
creatures of folklore, legend, or superstition, but you blend their activities
with the raw, concrete actuality ofa writer like Mais. Doesn't folklore or
legend detract from the reality?
KYK # 43
RH 1 think it is for the reader to judge. He is the critic. It is not for me
FB But you do have this interest in folklore?
RH Yes, folklore isa partof life. It is only in industrial societies that that
part of life is negated. I come from a society where, when people disappear,
it is believed that they will come back, after they have spent some time
under theater, with the water people. I cannot see anything contradictory
or puzzling there. In A Man Come Home, by the way, I didn't say that Bird
was connected with fairmaids. That was his explanation. I see that as
something very enriching. But I refuse to judge my own books. I will not
defend them either. I will defend what I have said in polemical writing, not
FB Surely this is playing with words. As a creative writer, whether you
do it consciously or sub-consciously, there must be a selective process im-
pelling you to express your thoughts in one way rather than another?
RH The process is one thing; the work is another. Fiction is art and can
only be judged through an emotional reaction to it. Take someone like
Dostoevsky: he detested Jews, and shared in the general Russian hatred of
them. That's something to be deplored. If I were asked to write a critique
of Dostoevsky's work, I would deplore the fact that he hated Jews. I would
also say that he is the greatest European novelist, in my opinion. Look at
the contributions made to criticism in Europe since the 16th century.
Sigmund Freud made contributions; there has also been socialist realism,
Marxism and so on. Look what Freud says about why Hamlet didn't want
to kill his father. I don't believe that at all.
But some of the psychological criticism Freud makes is illuminat-
ing. You can see that criticism changes or develops. But the basic way of
judging art never does. That is because there is only one way to judge art -
through one's emotional reaction. A critical faculty may he employed in
creating a work of art but you have to arrive at the right blend for it to be
justifiably regarded as a work of art.
FB Of course, you have written many such works. You have been
praised among other things, for the fact that your language expresses
character exactly. Those of us who know the West Indies are able to
recognize familiar landscapes, speech patterns, psychological postures and
social situations in your books. Iwonderif there is a sourccof philosophical
KYK # 43
influence of these aspects of your work. Mittelholzer, for example, had
strong views about politics, psychology, philosophy, religion, sex and other
matters which derived from his reading and early domestic influence. Do
you see yourself as continuing in Mittelholzer's tradition? What is your
relationship to Mittelholzer?
RH None. Whatever relationship there is, stems from the fact that we
have the same roots. I first read a book of Mittelholzer's only about four
years ago. For that matter, I have never read a book of Naipaul's either. I
am doing my best to get hold of Mittelholzer's The Life and Death ofSylvia.
FB Your Genetha is similar to Mittelholzer's Sylvia.
RH I once went into a bookshop and took up a book of Naipaul's. I
looked at the first few lines which read Ihave a Portuguese aunt, an Indian
aunt, a Negro aunt or something like that. When I came home I had to take
out the same sentence, practically word for word, from the book I was
writing at the time.
FB Was it a conscious decision not to read Naipaul or Mittelholzer?
RH No. I am not a reader. The first time I did any reading, apart from
school texts, was shortly before I left Guyana, when Martin Carter and I
became interested in Marxism and got hold of a book called A Treasury of
Russian Literature. What it had to do with Marxism I don't know, but it had
some beautiful things including three short stories by Tolstoy. I was also
impressed by selections from Dostoevsky. So when I came to write I knew
very little about literature. After I published my first book, I was so thrilled
by the experience of publication that I decided to read, and I read Dos-
toevsky in particular The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment.
The important thing was that I was writing about a very small environment
in the Caribbean. I wanted to read Caribbean Literature, but I thought -
and the experience I had with the Naipaul sentence confirmed this -
Trinidad had an Indian population and a black population; I was writing
about the environment; I didn't want to be influenced in any way. It was a
part of the whole experience of not being a reader. To this day I am not a
FB But you read French authors for your degree.
RH Yes, I have comprehensiveview of French literature which doesn't
KYK # 43
seem to have had any great influence on me.
FB I would wish to question that. What about the realism of Balzac, or
the psychology of Stendhal?
RH Everything I read must have contributed I suppose; this is true. But
therearecertain very primitive things in theorganization of mywork. Look
at the trilogy. If I had to re-write it, the structure would be better, I think.
Look atA Man Come Home; it has a chaotic structure. Yes I've read French
novelists whose structure was equally bad, and the French produced some
of the best shaped novels. So there may have been some influence from the
But in considering influences, I immediately think of a man who
wrote for The Daily Argosy in Guyana. His pen name was Uncle Stapie, and
he wrote comic pieces. He would say, for instance, I am not talking about a
gentleman who lives in a house in Charlotte Street. or I am not saying it is
between Regent Street and Church Street. I was very young, but I found those
pieces very amusing and imitated them in school. I also think of the local
barber shop, where I heard many stories and anecdotes. I do not think that
the novel is a suitable art form for Guyana. The novel emerged in Europe
in the 17th century and belongs to a commercial society. I may be wrong,
but I feel that drama and theshort story are more suitable for us. So thevery
fact that I am writing in a highly sophisticated form must mean that I got
something from the books I had read in my studies. I remember something
called Le Roman de Renard which was an excellent contribution to trickster
literature. I was very impressed by it. I suppose when I disclaimed literary
influences, I meant that Iwas not influenced by books that I read of my own
FB Doris Lessing has said that the great nineteenth century Russian
novels reminded her of the African societies she was writing about in her
RH That is absolutely true. When I read a description by Dostoevsky of
what we would call a rum shop, it could be in Georgetown, Guyana. In one
page Dostoevsky would evoke St Petersburg in such a powerful manner
thatyou feel you are there. Lessing is right about Russianwriters generally.
Take Leskov's Lady MacBeth ofMiensk. Iwish a Guyanese had written that.
I am not saying it is Guyanese literature, but it is the Guyanese experience
- the old man married to a young woman, the young woman having a lover,
the unreal side of the cap that looks like a person.
KYK # 43
Another thing is that Guyanese who write tend to be sophisticated,
and that often leaves gaps in the experiences that they report. You must go
to the countryside where people put aromaticvinegarover the door to keep
old higue away. That is everyday life in Guyana. Writers from Georgetown
don't know that.
FB Is Guyanese urban experience therefore less authentic?
RH No, it is authentic because it is the urban experience. But it leaves
out a large area of Guyanese life. It is in the urban parts of a country that
culture dies. The countryside is the guardian of culture. You only have to
look at pictures of cities all over the world and see how similar they are.
FB What has nineteenth century Russia got in common with Third
World societies in Africa and the Caribbean? Is it mainly the feudalistic
woes of hierarchy and colonialism?
RH It is not simply hierarchy. The experience is connived at by every-
body in Guyana, including servants who come to visit you and go through
the back door.
FB We agree about our Caribbean background of repression, force,
cunning, and an environment that has evolved out ofslavery, indentureand
their legacy of fragmentation. Which literary form do you think is best able
to capture and reproduce this whole experience? You mention drama as
your preferred form and you mention the suitabilityof the short story. You
also regard the structure of A Man Come Home as chaotic. If I may say so,
I find much of your fiction not chaotic, but loosely structured open ended.
Lamming acknowledges the influence of an oral tradition in his own work.
His great novel In the Castle of my Skin is very loose- jointed in structure.
RH 1 am going to read In the Castle of my Skin I have only recently
retired, and I have the time. Not only that, but now that I have a large body
of fiction behind me, I can afford to say that I am not going to be influenced
by what I read. Before there was a danger of being swamped.
FB But what about the form and the shortness of the form? The oral
tradition consists of folk tales, sententious sayings, anecdotes and remarks
and comments, all incorporated in rather a loose, episodic form. You've
already mentioned the Uncle Stapie pieces in The Daily Argosy, and the
barber shop anecdotes. Did you pick up any material like that?
KYK # 43
RH I went to work in Pouderoyen first, in the countryside, over the
Demerara river from Georgetown, and Iworked there for two very produc-
tive years in the sense of what it taught me. I came into contact with the
Indian community and the Crosbie courts where I probably got most of my
material about Indian Life. The courts were conducted by Mr Omar to
whom I dedicated one of my books. There was comedy and tragedy. There
were people whose dowry hadn't been paid, and others who came to
complain that someone's goat had butted down their fence.
FB Lamming writes almost entirely of Afro-Caribbean experience
which is his own, and Naipaul of Indo- Caribbean subject. By and large this
pattern holds true for most West Indian novelists. Mittelholzer who comes
from your own background, which is coloured, urban and middleclass,
deals mainly with people from that group except in Corentyne Thunder
which deals with Indian peasants on a sugar plantation. I was amazed in
The Shadow Bride, by the genuine insider's knowledge of ordinary details
of Indian life in Guyana. I come from that life and can vouch for the
accuracy of those details.
RH That thrills me. That is not cerebral. That can only come from
someone who has this experience from the inside first. My best friend was
an East Indian, George Narayan, whose mother had a cookshop in Lom-
bard Street, in Georgetown. To get into it you had to go through a long
corridor. Nobody knew the cook shop existed except the beggars who ate
there. The food was dirt cheap. George's great-grandfather was always
there, like a fixture, or pillar in the middle of the cookshop where the
beggars had their benches. He sat there with his hookah and sanskrit texts.
That was all that man ever did. So I saw three generations of George's
family, as I grew up with him, and this was another powerful experience of
the Indian community. Perhaps it was enough to write six novels. But I
never embark on a project until I am fairly well prepared.
FB There is much detailed description or commentary in The Shadow
Bride of Indian philosophy, theology, music, food, clothes and everything
else. Such detail can only come from preparation. It is the result of study,
reflection and assimilation over a period of time.
RH But if you study and reflect on what you do not have, it will not work.
You must have that nucleus of real, lived experience, and it must have
occurred at a vital time in your life. For me at least. When people talk of
my authenticity, it is largely because I refuse to do something on material
KYK # 43
with which I am not thoroughly familiar. I don't mean familiar in just
knowing about it. I mean familiar in another way. For instance, I am
thoroughly familiar with Engish society in oneway, but I am not thoroughly
familiar in another way. That is why I won't write fiction about it.
FB Again, the contrast is between a purely cerebral approach, and one
that incorporates both cerebral and emotional elements. Taking into
account our history of fragmentation and separation, of white slave mas-
ters and black salves, of racial persecution, oppression, resistance and all
that, how were you able to reach a broad Guyanese point of view by
embracing aspects of social experience generally regarded as alien or
hostile to your own?
RH I think it comes largely from the fact of my friendship with George
Narayan. Although I shouldn't say so, I despise creole middle-class expe-
rience, which is so negative that it is almost unbelievable. I have a feeling
that there was a reaction in the sense that I could welcome the experience
with George more readily. This is also related to the fact that my father was
dead. If my father had been alive, coming from the section of Guyanese
society that I did, I might not have been as free to move about. Certainly,
I would not have been able to go home to our servants. I would have been
taught more easily a class prejudice which would have thwarted what you
might call a natural desire to mix. My mother really could not control it.
The remarks she madewere typical of people from her group. But she loved
George; he had the run of our house.
FB At the beginning of their careers Lamming, Naipaul, Mittelholzer
and Selvon wrote for a foreign audience, and had to explain local West
Indian terms or anglicize them. There was a perceptible gap between their
subject and their audience. But you use terms like cocobeh, jamoon, senna,
sensehfowl, guinea hen, camoodie etc. naturally. There is not the same gap
between the experience you are relating and the audience you are relating
it to. You do not have to translate.
RH I am not writing for an English audience. That is why I find it so
simple to do. My bread comes from the English audience, but I am not
writing for them. I am writing for a Guyanese or Caribbean audience.
FB Could you tell me the sequence of events after Longmans published
your first novel,A Man Come Home, in 1974? What exactly happened when
the Armstrong trilogy was not accepted as one book'?
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RH A review came out in The Times calling A Man Come Home a
masterpiece. At the same time Longmans to whom I had submitted The
Murderer sent me a telegram saying, Wonderful review. We will publish The
Murderer. It was a bad period in publishing however: Penguin was sacking
people, and Longmans then withdrew The Murderer, offering me compen-
sation. Following that, I hawked The Murderer around for over two years.
Ther man at Longmans had wanted to publish, and to strengthen his case,
had sent the manuscript to outside readers who wrote extraordinary things
about the book. Armed with those two readers' reports Iwent to Alison and
Busby who published straight away. And when The Murderer won the
Guardian fiction prize I became a publishable novelist because publishers
knew they could sell my work.
FB But you were still not accepted by a mainstream British publisher.
RH That's right. The Longmans book was a one-off thing.
FB You had to rely on a radical publisher connected with feminist or
black resistance and the political left.
RH Yes. I didn't want to leave Alison and Busby. I saw myself probably
falling into a situation like T S Eliot who made Faber. Alison and Busby
valued my work and since they were a small publishing house, I got to know
them well. But by then Collins had been publishing my books in paperback
under their imprint Flamingo, which they described as their flagship
imprint. So that when I submitted new work theywere willing to publish in
FB I believe that Selvon and Mittelholzer and the earlier writers
wanted very much to write the kind of books you are writing, mentioning
camoodie and cocobeh naturally, without explanation, but history was
against them. The time was not ripe for that type of writing. At the same
time, perhaps you could not write as you are doing now, if they had not
written as they did, before you.
RH You are quite right. In fact, isn't that why Naipaul said that he began
to write about his experiences in England?
FB Naipaul is a special case. He has become embittered by his West
Indian experience, but is an unmistakable product of it. However, I think
you described A Man Come Home as an anthem for the living and the dead.
KYK # 43
Why an anthem? Who are the living and the dead?
RH I never explain my fiction. You must forgive me. If you were asking
me about my lectures or essays, I would discuss them, but when it comes to
explaining my fiction, it must either stand or fall. You may criticise it as
much as you like, but don't ask me to say anything about it.
FB You evidently like the word Guyana, and although you try to link it
with the larger Caribbean, it seems to me that you are solidly Guyanese.
RH I am intensely Guyanese. But we belong both to a local and a wider
culture. An Englishman comes from England and a wider European
culture. A Frenchman is first French, but also European. I am Guyanese
and I write for Guyanese. But if anyone suggests that I am writing for them,
I don't mind. If I look at a photograph of somewhere in St Kitts, it does
something for me. If I look at a place in Central America or Brazil, it also
does something or me. In the United States of America it does not. There
is a continental connection with the Caribbean and Latin America.
FB Is the connection wholly geographical, or partly cultural and his-
RH There is a mysterious connection with geography, and part of it is
FB You mentioned a Marxist interest earlier. A lot of people, especially
artists from the Third World, former colonies, have strong political convic-
tions which are expressed in theirwritings. I mentioned Mais, but there are
other West Indians who wrote about the poor living conditions of our
people with a political motive, that is to say, to show the wicked effects of
oppression with a view to remedying them. Marxism was felt to be a great
antidote to poverty in the anti-colonial struggle during the middle decades
of this century. What happened to the Marxist interest that you and Martin
RH You see it in The Shadow Bride. One of the main points about the
book is that however much he tried, or however big the hospital he set up
from his own funds, Dr Singh would have done very little, because the
problem is a political one.
FB In that case, what do you think about the recent history of events in
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Guyana with the effective emasculation, for over twenty-five years, of
Cheddi Jagan, our most widely known Marxist politician? How did the
present situation of chaos, hardship and impoverishment come about in
RH There are two things to be said. One is that it is part of the whole
Third World experience. Then it is a question of borrowing a lot of money
when it was cheap. You can't pay it back because you either did not have
the expertise or you were riddled with corruption. The money was frittered
away, and there is not much for it. Actually there is a great deal to show in
Guyana in some ways: roads and a bridge across the Demerara which we
had been trying to build for donkey's years. There are nurseries, at least in
Georgetown, which are far more impressive than nurseries here. Women,
if you notice, were the last people to abandon Burnham because, in many
ways, there were things done for them. Having said that, we suffer from the
Third World sickness of imperial domination. You cannot have a one-
party system without massive corruption, because party members have
special privileges. The one-party system leads not only to corruption, but
to inefficiency. In the short term, the one-party system may be capable of
doing things that others cannot do, but as a permanent arrangement over
about ten years or more it is disastrous.
FB What do you see for the future of Guyana?
RH There is a great danger that a number of the so- called Third World
Countries I don't like the term will become colonies again. Some of them
are already becoming or asking to become colonies.
FB Who will be the new imperial masters?
RH The people with the money. Europe and the USA have the money.
The irony will be that Europe and America will actually be called in to solve
the problems in these countries when the problems have arisen, in the first
place, because of the actions of Europe and America.
FB What implications will this have for race relations in the world? In
the old nineteenth century world of Empire, whites governed blacks. The
blacks rejected racial discrimination and colonial oppression and over-
threw white rule. Are blacks really likely to ask to be ruled again by the
KYK # 43
RH That is the double irony of the situation. Having left us with an
administration that was geared to their own imperial interests, and having
left us without substantial industries, Europe and America then lent us
money so that we now find ourselves permanently in debt to them. The only
way out of it is for us all to get together en masse and refuse to play ball.
FB You have the example of China which has carried on independently
of the great imperial powers.
RH China is different. It has more than one billion people. China cannot
be beaten in war because of the logistics of attacking her. If you notice, the
countries that have successfully become communist have had large popu-
lations and all the resources. The other countries which became commu-
nist were protected by these countries. In other words, if you don't have
massive resources, the imperial powers are going to throttle you. They
attacked Russia physically and tried to strangle it economically, but Russia
had all the possible resources and a very big population.
FB For all that, there are some good signs in the world today, signs of
change in South Africa, for instance.
RH That is the tail end of colonial domination. It is a good sign to that
extent. In any case, one should not be too sanguine about South Africa.
FB Your view of the world is a bleak one: that the old imperialistic
structure of domination still persists, although nowadays in the form of
multinational corporations rather than imperial governments. In other
words, the basic structure of oppression remains the same.
RH It is not bleak; it is a realistic view. You must always have hope
because it is essential to keep you afloat; but you have to be realistic. If you
are either optimistic or pessimistic you are going to make mistakes. You
want a cool had to stand back and see what is going on.
FB Is that what you do in your writing?
RH It is realism in a different sense. In fiction you are not solving
problems: you are giving a view of theworld as people see it. In otherwords,
you act as a mediator, by saying this is the world in which we live. As a
polemicist I can suggest solutions to actual problems. I love that. I think
some of my best writing has been a work of that kind, for example, the
KYK # 43
Miltelholzer Lectures, that I gave in Guyana.
FB In art, however, you are rendering experience as objectively as you
RH If a dictator brings tragedy and starvation to his people, and a
democracy does exactly the same, the experience is the same for the people
who suffer. Politics is part of human experience. A fiction writer should
bring in everything. In The Shadow Bride I made it perfectly plain that one
might admire Dr Singh; but there is another statement about him being
admired because he does nothing: he changes nothing. Mother Theresa
got a Nobel prize for doing great work among poor people in India. There
is a lady called Sister Michelle, a Philippino who does exactly that. She
believes so much in the eradication of poverty, that she gave her enormous
estate to the poor and helped them to run it. Yet we don't hear about her.
We hear about Mother Theresa who is obviously a very fine person; but her
action changes absolutely nothing. The onlywaywe can change things is by
political action. Sister Michelle gave her property to the poor and tried to
impart the education and expertise to enable them to run the estate.
FB But isn't Sister Michelle's action just as pointless in as much as itwill
bring satisfaction to only a few people? Mother Theresa also brought
satisfaction to some poor people in the streets of Calcutta.
RH The difference between Mother Theresa and Sister Michelle is that
Sister Michelle created an economic organisation, admittedly on a scale
that only an individual can achieve. People like Dr Singh may have brought
limited happiness to a few people. The thing is not merely to bring benefit
to people, but to create a system where their children and children's
children will continue to benefit. You need a model for everybody to see.
This is, qualitatively, a different achievement from Mother Theresa or Dr
Singh's. Mother Theresa is being kind; but she doesn't change the situ-
ation. What Sister Michelle has done is to offer a model for changing the
FB What we need are a lot of Sister Michelles in the world today.
RH Of course, that is not possible.
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