Sargasso

MISSING IMAGE

Material Information

Title:
Sargasso
Uniform Title:
Sargasso (Río Piedras, San Juan, P.R.)
Added title page title:
Sargazo
Sargasse
Abbreviated Title:
Sargasso (Río Piedras San Juan P. R.)
Physical Description:
v. : ; 28 cm.
Language:
English
Creator:
University of Puerto Rico (Ri´o Piedras Campus) -- Dept. of English
University of Puerto Rico (Río Piedras Campus) -- Dept. of English
Publisher:
s.n.
Place of Publication:
Ri´o Piedras P.R
Río Piedras, P.R
Creation Date:
2010
Copyright Date:
1986
Frequency:
twice a year[2002-]
two no. a year[ former 1984]
irregular[ former <1987>-2001]

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Caribbean literature -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Caribbean literature -- History and criticism -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Puerto Rican literature -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Puerto Rican literature -- History and criticism -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Genre:
serial   ( sobekcm )
review   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage:
Puerto Rico

Notes

Additional Physical Form:
Also issued online.
Language:
Chiefly English, with some French and Spanish.
Dates or Sequential Designation:
Vol. 1, no. 1-no. 10 (2000) ; 2001-
Numbering Peculiarities:
Volume designation dropped with no. 3; issue for 2001 lacks numbering; issues for 2002- called 2002, 1-
Issuing Body:
Edited by the faculty and graduate students of the English Dept., University of Puerto Rico.
General Note:
Title from cover.
General Note:
Some issues have also distinctive titles.
General Note:
Latest issue consulted: 2004-05,2.
General Note:
Has occasional special issues.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Puerto Rico
Holding Location:
University of Puerto Rico
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
oclc - 12797847
lccn - 85643628
issn - 1060-5533
alephbibnum - 002422411
Classification:
System ID:
UF00096005:00037

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Half Title
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
    Table of Contents
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page viii
    Introduction
        Page ix
        Page x
        Page xi
        Page xii
        Page xiii
        Page xiv
    Poetic prelude
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
    Placing Caribbean spaces
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
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        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
    Poetic interlude
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
    Placing Caribbean subjectivities
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
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        Page 146
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        Page 150
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        Page 180
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        Page 182
        Page 183
        Page 184
        Page 185
        Page 186
        Page 187
        Page 188
        Page 189
        Page 190
        Page 191
        Page 192
        Page 193
        Page 194
        Page 195
        Page 196
        Page 197
        Page 198
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        Page 201
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        Page 206
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        Page 212
        Page 213
        Page 214
        Page 215
        Page 216
        Page 217
        Page 218
    Poetic postlude
        Page 219
        Page 220
        Page 221
        Page 222
        Page 223
        Page 224
    Reviews
        Page 225
        Page 226
        Page 227
        Page 228
        Page 229
        Page 230
        Page 231
        Page 232
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        Page 234
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        Page 240
        Page 241
        Page 242
        Page 243
        Page 244
        Page 245
        Page 246
    List of contributors
        Page 247
        Page 248
        Page 249
        Page 250
    Back Cover
        Back Cover 1
        Back Cover 2
Full Text







hA GAS1B

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SARGASSO
m 2010-11, I & II
















SARGASSO
m 2010-11, & II
PLACING THE ARCHIPELAGO:
INTERCONNECTIONS & EXTENSIONS










SARGASSO 2010-2011, 1 & II
Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions

Sargasso, a peer-reviewed journal of literature, language, and culture edited at the University of
Puerto Rio, publishes critical essays, interviews, book reviews, and some poems and short stories.
Sargasso particularly welcomes material written by/about the people of the Caribbean region and
its multiple diasporas. Unless otherwise specified, essays and critical studies should conform to
the style of the MLA Handbook. Short stories should be kept to no more than 2,500 words in
length, and poems should be kept to thirty lines. All postal mail should include a S.A.S.E. See
http://humanidades.uprrp.edu/ingles/pubs/sargasso.htm for more information. For inquiries or
electronic submission, write to: sargassojoumal@gmail.com.

Postal Address:

SARGASSO
P.O. Box 22831, JPR Station
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-2831
Katherine Miranda and Maria Cristina Rodriguez, Issue Editors
Don E. Walicek, Editor
Lowell Fiet, Founding Editor
Maria Cristina Rodriguez, Book Review Editor
Sally Everson, Contributing Editor
Katherine Miranda, Contributing Editor
Aileen Diaz, Administrative Assistant
Angel Rivera Sanchez, Editorial Assistant
Natalia VAzquez, Proofreading
Editorial Board
Jessica Adams, Independent Scholar
Mary Ann Gosser-Esquilin, Florida Atlantic University
Edgardo Prez Montijo, University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo
Peter Roberts, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill
Ivette Romero, Marist College
Felipe Smith, Tulane University

Miguel Mufioz, President of the University of Puerto Rico
Ana R. Guadeloupe Quiflones, Chancellor, Rio Piedras Campus
Luis A. Ortiz L6pez, Interim Dean of Humanities

Layout: Marcos Pastrana
Front and back images: Earl McKenzie

For journal information and subscription and purchase form visit:
http://humanidades.uprrp.edu/ingles/pubs/sargasso.htm


Opinions and views expressed in Sargasso are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily
shared by Sargasso's Editorial Board members. All rights return to authors. This journal is indexed by
HAPI, Latindex, MLA, and the Periodical Contents Index. Copies of Sargasso2010-11, I& Has well
as previous issues, are on deposit in the Library of Congress. Filed May 2012. ISSN 1060-5533.








Table of Contents




INTRODUCTION IX

POETIC PRELUDE
Gregory Gilbert Gumbs 3
"The Changing Boats in Gallisbay"
Jane Alberdeston Coralin 5
"Paradise and Quenepas"
Xavier ValcArcel 7
"Paroxismo azul; O la vertebra de nuestras mariposas"

PLACING CARIBBEAN SPACES
Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert 13
Saving Gros Islet: Vanishing Caribbean Spaces in Derek
Walcott's Poetry and Art
Ben Thomas Jefferson 29
"The New Plantations:" Derek Walcott's Caribbean Hotels
Rachel Ellis Neyra 45
The Orphic Condition ofJos6 Lezama Lima, Derek Walcott,
and New World Poetics
Jak Peake 69
Literary Routes into Sub-Urban Western Trinidad: Reading the
Port, City, and Country
Maria Cristina Fumagalli 89
Jean-Baptiste Picquenard and the Rebels, Maroons, Cannibals,
Pacotilleurs, and Debauches of Hispaniola's Borderland
Ian Bethell-Bennett 105
The Tragedy of Caribbean Space / Place


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






TABLE OF CONTENTS


POETIC INTERLUDE
Diego Romero Martinez 125
"Canibalismos de la imagen"
"Los mineros"

PLACING CARIBBEAN SUBJECTIVITIES
Jacqueline Couti 129
Sexual Edge in the Tropics: Colonization, Recolonization and
Rewriting the Black Female Body
Kathe Managan 147
Plyi an nou: Conceptualizing Language, Place, Race and
Identity in Guadeloupe
Stanley H. Griffin 163
"iBailamos!:" Re/Presenting an Other Antiguan Identity
Lidoly Chivez Guerra 173
Rodando entire islas: itinerarios caribefios en el cine
documental cubano
Raquel Puig Campos 189
"Is Like Even When We Acting We Ain't the Actor,"
Westerns, Badjohns and "Creole Acting:" Earl Lovelace's
Translation of Hollywood
Marika Preziuso 203
Negotiating Unity with Freedom: Julia Alvarez's
In the Time of the Butteflies

POETIC POSTLUDE
Sean Frederick Forbes 221
"Ritual"
Federico Lotario 222
"El bajel de los sargazos"
Gregory Gilbert Gumbs 223
"Sitting in the Yard"


SARGASSO 2010-2011, I & II






TABLE OF CONTENTS


REVIEWS
Ilsa L6pez-Vall6s 227
Painted Love: The Literature of nterracial Love and Sex edited
by David Dabydeen and Benjamin Zephaniah, et al.
Daniel Nevarez Araujo 231
Correr tras el viento by Elidio La Torre Lagares
Aida Vergne 235
Creoles in Education: An Appraisal of Current Programs and
Projects edited by Bettina Migge, Isabelle Lglise,
and Angela Bartens
Ada Haiman Arena 238
Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez
Carmen Milagros Torres 241
Approaching Sabbaths: Healing the Soul with Words
by Jennifer Rahim

LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS 247


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions












INTRODUCTION: PLACING THE ARCHIPELAGO







Main Entry: place
Pronunciation: \Iplas\
Function: noun
1 a: physical environment b : a way for admission or transit c : physical surroundings
2 a: an indefinite region or expanse
3 a: a particular region, center of population, or location b : a
building, part of a building, or area occupied as a home
5 : relative position in a scale or series: as a: position in a social scale their place> b : a step in a sequence
c : a position at the conclusion of a competition
6 a : a proper or designated niche or setting
b : an appropriate moment or point
c : a distinct condition, position, or state of mind a different place> 1





This double issue of Sargasso engages the Caribbean through two dynamic
concepts in interrelation: that of "place" as intuited by the definitions
above, and the ways it is deployed through intra- and extra-regional connections
of the geographically-bound archipelago. These overlapping concerns and
their potential for robust, extensive dialogue resulted in excitingly varied
responses to the call for papers that has led to this first double issue of the
journal. As the definitions above infer, the main conceptualizations of the term
paradoxically revolve around almost oppositional axes: physicality grounded in
measurable space, and invisibly constructed, malleable subjectivities. Reflected
in the volume's cover art by Earl McKenzie, any perspective on the Caribbean


1 "Place." Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary. Encyclopedia Britannica, Jan. 2012.
Web. 18 Jan. 2012.


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






INTRODUCTION


is always situated by its particular approach: through what window do we
gaze and onto whose reality? "Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections &
Extensions" tempers the risk of this potential insularity (particularly dangerous
in a region that still reels from the ideologies and material repercussions of
colonialism) through open embrace of widely differentiated readings of place.
Ignited by Peter Hulme's call to conceptualize an Extended Caribbean through
"a policy of imaginative mass trespass" (45),2 we thus delve into poetic, artistic,
and academic inquisition around these key framing concepts to explore, blur,
erase, and reconstruct established boundaries: literary, linguistic, geographic,
political, and disciplinary. Seeking mutually beneficial engagements of area
studies, interdisciplinary, and comparative perspectives, we enthusiastically
invite you to trespass with us.
This dynamic approach to the region offers a chorus of contemplations
that gives attention to both historic and contemporary structures -discursive,
physical, spiritual, imaginary- infrequently addressed together in a single
publication. Through a multi-optic panorama, these contributions both
trace similar trends across the region and distinguish developments unique
to specific Caribbean islands and societies. When read in composite relief,
this issue allows us to better understand the Caribbean as embedded within
itself and launched exponentially outward, criss-crossing in myriad ways
across and beyond a geographically delineated space, resonating with multiple
structural commonalities and the echoes of unique specificities. Guided by our
diverse contributions, this introduction thus hints at the volume's ambivalent
conclusions: that inclusive understandings of Caribbean places) are necessarily
informed through the variegated interconnections and extensions of Caribbean
culture, social experience, history, and linguistic exchange.
The scholarly and creative works in the pages that follow blur, erase,
complicate, and otherwise trespass on the borders of Caribbean subjectivities
and physicalities through myriad optics. Divided into two sections interspersed
with the poetry of both veteran and novice poets (three of whom -Xavier
ValcArcel, Diego Romero Martinez, and Federico Lotario- were featured at
Sargasso's twenty-fifth anniversary event in May 2011 at UPR-Rio Piedras),
the volume is arranged around two central understandings of place. In the
first section, "Placing Caribbean Spaces," literary interpretations of place

2 "Expanding the Caribbean." Perspectives on the "OtherAmerica:" Comparative Approaches
to Caribbean and Latin American Culture. Eds. Michael Niblett and Kerstin Oloff. Am-
sterdam and New York Rodopi, 2009. 29-49. Print.


SARGASSO 2010-2011, I & II






INTRODUCTION


as physical space span several islands; three interrelated essays that engage
the work of Derek Walcott open the section. Reflecting on the potentially
devastating economic, environmental, cultural, and historic consequences of
tourist development, Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert frames questions central
to this volume -how are internal Caribbean dynamics and extra-regional
connections intertwined and what are their effects on culture and identity?-
through both the physical and literary construction of Gros Islet, the St.
Lucian village featured in Walcott's epic Omeros. Next, Ben Thomas Jefferson
maps a literary approach to Caribbean hotels across Walcott's oeuvre through
detailed examination of their physical and representative place as "zones of
exclusion and agents of Caribbean dispossession." The final essay on Walcott
opens to comparative perspective, as Rachel Ellis Neyra compares the poetic
projects ofWalcott and CubanJos6 Lezama Lima through relationship to their
home islands, proposing that the philosophical underpinnings of the Orpheus
myth -with its focus on regeneration and artistic continuity- is intricately
imbricated in both poets' New World poetics. In the following essay, Jake
Peake complicates readings of seemingly discrete urban and country life/
styles in Western Trinidad through a cartography of important mid-twentieth
century Trinidadian literary works that chart the ways understandings of
the port, city, and country are shaped in interrelation. Juxtaposed with this
blurring of borders, Maria Cristina Fumagalli highlights the contested role and
potential importance of Hispaniola's "border" in events surrounding Haitian
independence, exploring the depoliticized and criminalized representation
of the Haitian-Dominican borderland in the earliest fictional works on
the Haitian Revolution by Jean Picquenard. Finally, Ian Bethell-Bennett
comparatively addresses the complicity of neo-liberal ideology in literary,
political, and construction projects in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.
In the second section, "Placing Caribbean Subjectivities," contributors
delve into affirmations, contestations, and challenges to a wide range of subject
positions through literature, language, music, and film. Jacqueline Couti
juxtaposes racialized femininity in colonial and postcolonial texts (Reverend
Isaac Teale's "The Sable Venus: An Ode" and Raphael Confiant's Le Admiral
Negre) that similarly interpret masculine power through the black female
body to demonstrate the complicity of their male gaze across centuries. The
next essay by Kathe Managan exposes the inequalities of metropole-island
dynamics in Guadeloupe through the lyrics of a popular protest song from the
2009 general strike that point to the complex intersections of identity politics


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






INTRODUCTION


and place informed by an ambiguous political relationship with France, a set
of discourses linking citizenship with laborers' rights, and notions of home
embraced by a predominantly Afro-Caribbean population. Also focused on
music, Stanley H. Griffin's approach to inter-Caribbean return migration
from the Dominican Republic to Antigua departs from the calypso/merengue
song "Bailamos" to explore the embedded historic and cultural mixtures of
two places in one society. Similarly addressing migrations but through the
medium of film, Lidoly Chavez Guerra discusses Cuban documentaries
based on inter-Caribbean migrations to chart the Cuban Revolution's artistic
and ideological sponsorship of endeavors that strengthen understanding of
Caribbean interconnections and challenge traditional notions of"Cubanness."
Following in a discussion of film that extends to literature, Raquel Puig
Campos explores the interstices of literature, cinema, and subjectivity through
the cinematic representations of Trinidadian writer Earl Lovelace's fiction,
and interprets the author's project as a re-placing of Hollywood iconography
and autochthonous images. Finally, addressing the Dominican diaspora,
Marika Preziuso's closing essay examines the uses of national discourse in the
Dominican Republic and their intersections with personal experience through
Julia Alvarez's authorial role in her historically-based novel, In the Time of the
Butterflies.
Building on the journal's ongoing commitment to cross-regional, mul-
tilingual perspectives and scholarly camaraderie, care has been taken in this
double issue to address the Anglophone, Hispanophone, and Francophone
Caribbean, less-frequently studied islands such as Antigua and St. Lucia, and
Caribbean diasporas; to include pieces in English and Spanish; and to place
the work of junior and senior scholars side-by-side. It is our hope that the
efforts of this project inspire productive and constructive dialogue among col-
leagues, students, institutions, and circles of friends. Ultimately, the multiple
voices featured in "Placing the Archipelago" contribute to ongoing readings
of how the Caribbean continues to redefine itself across, through, and beyond
imposed boundaries, and serve as a tribute to its strength.
Sincere gratitude is due to all of our contributors and their continued
support and patience as this volume slowly came to fruition. The publication
of Sargasso depends on a dedicated group of UPR-based staff. For this volume,
Co-issue and Book Review Editor Maria Cristina Rodriguez is gratefully
acknowledged for her input and tireless efforts with the journal; much thanks
is owed to dedicated Editor Don Walicek, whose feedback and guidance have


SARGASSO 2010-2011, I & II






INTRODUCTION


been critical to this issue's production; the administrative support of Aileen
Diaz, Administrative Assistant, is thankfully appreciated; our intern Angel
Rivera Sdnchez deserves a round of applause for excellent copyediting and
proofreading; and the mentorship and continued support of Founding Editor
Lowell Fiet is always invaluable to Sargasso and the team.

i Viva la UPRI

Katherine Miranda
January 2012


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions













POETIC PRELUDE






PAROXISMO AZUL


tormentas y las revoluciones.
en la boca el tiempo se convierte en trifico, en process electr6nicos
en una corriente de petr6leo y radiaci6n, ante los ojos
en millones de autom6viles pasando
que tornan y retoman
formando y deformando en espiral una catistrofe.

estamos ante las circunstancias que nos dieron.

estamos ante las circunstancias que nos dimos:
silencio crudo, confusion de puertas
sujetos en lucha reclamando las cenizas de los suefios
suefios vistos desde la misma almohada
en la misma piedra.

confieso haber tenido telas en la triquea
nudos y Iloros contra la posibilidad acorde6nica del pecho
lalias y sflabas
secindole sudores a la voz bajo el marsol de este archipi6lago.
pero esta noche he conocido a una anciana
en un vaso de ron, dentro de un libro
que ha vivido ciento setenta y seis aiios rodeada de agua
que ain tiene las mismas ganas de beber
pese a tener la vida seca.

quikn puede no reir con una esponja entire los dedos?
(qui6n se tiene a si mismo en la mentira del reloj?
ella y yo hemos hablado del future refiri6ndonos a aquello
ella me ha llamado Pedro y s61o he dicho si
soy yo, tambien
escribi "Hay un pais en el mundo" en 1949
un poema gris en varias ocasiones.
luego me ha llamado Virgilio y he contestado si
tambien
soy yo
en 1942 escribi "La isla en peso".


SARGASSO 2010-2011, I & II






XAVIER VALCARCEL


su cara no me ha dicho nada y sin embargo ha dicho.
a veces soy demasiados nombres, hombres y mujeres a la vez
tambi6n una maldita trampa o un bonito desconcierto.

pero es asi.
en Las Antillas, nuestras hambres y los suefios
pueden reconocerse por los ritmos y los gestos.
ya basta de tanta estupidez,
debemos comprendernos con soltura.

s6lo eso. nada mis.

las mujeres y los hombres
todavia mueven fragments de sus islas

los meten en maletas, los embalsan.

aun conflagraciones, la piedra, la barbarie
hormigas y el colonialismo.

aun la piel aqui se extiende
como ese arrecife vivo
mordiendo su limitaci6n.

nada nuevo bajo el sol.

gente que muere a la deriva
velones de todos los colors
gente obstinada en el servicio del dolor.
la misma care, aquella lluvia, ofrendas al mar
pueblos debajo de sus bestias.
resaca perpetua, comparsas, azicar, miscaras, desfiles
la tierra produciendo igual por los siglos de los siglos
iras vegetables, huracanes
la ingravidez del amor y muchas playas.


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






PAROXISMO AZUL


esferas muchachos, lo mismo, nada mis;
palabras golpeando la pared de los suspiros
plomo florecido en todas parties,
agua con sal, harina con lanto y polvos perdidos del desierto
palmeras cogidas de la mano, metropolis
naciones subdesarrolladas a punto mis que nunca
de un temblor
zonas turisticas, versos, jugo de china, droga y la milicia.

viejos
muchos viejos a punto de morirse
agua, charcas yjuventud creida hablando del future.

todo un pueblo puede morir de luz como morir de peste
o de aire.
toda la juventud puede morir de inmadurez
como morir de un tiro, o de internet
y asi.

pero s61o un poco.

hay cosas azarosas que no mueren.

los pronombres, por ejemplo.

to.
yo.

6ste mar.

todos nosotros.

Xavier Valckrcel


SARGASSO 2010-2011, 1 & II










PLACING CARIBBEAN SPACES











Saving Gros Islet: Vanishing Caribbean Spaces in Derek

Walcott's Poetry and Art


Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert
Vassar College


he village of Gros Islet, on St. Lucia's northwestern coast, is the
principal setting for one of the most important works of twentieth
century Caribbean literature Derek Walcott's West Indian epic Omeros. The
village is a vibrant, thriving community with roots dating to the seventeenth
century whose principal historical significance derives from its connection to
a central moment in West Indian history, the Battle of the Saints of 9-12
April 1782. The village looks out onto the former British Naval fort at Pigeon
Island, the forty-acre islet from which Admiral George Rodney sailed forth
to confront and defeat the French fleet stationed in Martinique. This vital
connection continues to play a role in its population's awareness of their place
in Caribbean history and plays prominently in the plot of Omeros.
In the twenty-first century, however, Gros Islet finds itself at the very
center of the zone of most intense tourism development in St. Lucia. It sits
on a prime area of aggressive coastal build-up that is quickly transforming
the economy, environment, and culture of the north-west coast of the island.
It is, as a result, an endangered space, a potential vanishing site. Were it to
be displaced from the coast to the hills above town -like so many coastal
villages throughout the Caribbean have been displaced in the wake of resort
development- the loss could be measured as much through its disappearance
as a "place" and the displacement of its people as through the loss of a space
of cultural, historical, and literary continuity in St. Lucia. As a potential
vanishing site, the vulnerability of Gros Islet prompts questions about whether
it behooves Caribbean nations to work towards the conservation of spaces of


SI would like to thank Maria Cristina Fumagalli and Peter Hulme for the kind invitation
to the University of Essex that gave me the opportunity to explore the concerns behind
this paper.


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






LIZABETH PARAVISINI-GEBERT


historical and cultural significance such as Gros Islet or whether such spaces
are fated to give way to continued coastal tourism development, surviving only
through historical records and (as in the case of Gros Islet) literary legacies.


































on his home island. The village and its 2,300 inhabitants, as is evident from
north. The causeway boa o o ,








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between two highly developed areas and sitting on what has to be considered
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the surve map bv, r itrlysqezd ewenteturs omlxo
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norh.Th cuseaybost oe o S. uca' prmir uxryresrt, anal
Grndwihth ewrR~kesrs' Lninstois oth ontice
bewen wohghy evlpe aea adsitig nwht astob cnsdee


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SAVING GROS ISLET: VANISHING CARIBBEAN SPACES IN DEREK WALCOTT'S...

some of St. Lucia's most desirable beachfront real estate, its future seems
uncertain, the village's fragility poignant in the light of apparent region-wide
indifference to coastal village preservation.
Yet the loss or displacement of Gros Islet would mean the disappearance
of the village's historical and architectural legacy. As one of the earliest
settlements in St. Lucia, Gros Islet enjoyed a certain pre-eminence as a supply
depot to the British navy throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries. The fortifications built at Pigeon Island, and the importance of
Rodney Bay to the safety of the British Caribbean Navy, meant that the
settlement has been continuously inhabited and has enjoyed relative prosperity,
despite recorded difficulties with access to fresh water. In the early nineteenth
century, after the end of the British struggle against France for control of the
Caribbean territories, the settlement played an important role as a site for
the incorporation of the freed population in the economic life of the island,
particularly after Emancipation in 1836. Neglected by absentee landlords and
the colonial government, former slaves turned cane lands into fairly profitable
cattle production. Its population had been described in a late eighteenth
century report by John Rollo (1780) as living longer than the rest of the
population of St. Lucia and being less subject to disease: "On the extensive
plain to windward of this place very few diseases appear, and they are mostly
intermittent: the countenances here of the women, of the children, and even
of the men, have some degree of resemblance to those of the European, the
female has the red on her cheek, and the child has all the marks of health"
(Rollo 22). The 1897 Report of the West India Royal Commission recognized
the independence of the local population, where the peasantry owned "cane
lands that they turned into pasture for raising cattle" and were undeserving
of the neglect of which they had been the object by the Colonial Office. The
report, which recognized the Gros Islet peasants as "the descendants of the
slaves that were emancipated fifty years ago," and who were "entitled to just as
much consideration as their owners received fifty years ago..." counsels greater
attention from the colonial office: "Make your amends Britisher while your
chest is full to overflowing" (301).
The threat to Gros Islet is a relatively recent one, as the area only became
the focus of intense tourism expansion in the 1970s, when the development
of the Rodney Bay area was implemented by the Caribbean Development
Corporation. The earliest growth area was located in Rodney Bay, south of the
erstwhile fishing village. The Rodney Bay development includes a number of


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






LIZABETH PARAVISINI-GEBERT


large hotel resorts, a popular yacht harbor, rental and time-share apartments, a
wide variety of bars and restaurants, and other tourist facilities of the type that
Wolf-Dietrich Sahr, in his work on tourism development in St. Lucia, calls "a
new sort of resort tourism, a kind of international leisure village" created from
resort agglomeration (33). The availability of a broad variety of services -from
restaurants to art galleries- has attracted a significant influx of non-nationals
to the Rodney Bay area, who, as Sahr points out, have built a number of luxury
villas in the vicinity, residences out of the reach of all except for the most
successful local residents. The price of land in the coastal areas of the district,
as a result, has reached levels unattainable for locals, who have been displaced
into the interior.
In 1969, sand recovered from the dredging of the Rodney Bay harbor was
used to build the causeway that now connects Pigeon Island to the main island
of St. Lucia. The causeway turned Pigeon Island into a peninsula, providing
additional space for a second tourism development area to the north of Gros
Islet, which became the site of Sandal's Grande and the Landings. Life in
Gros Islet was most dramatically affected by the construction of the causeway,
which altered coastal water flows and processes so drastically that the near-
shore fishing industry in the town was virtually wiped out. The process was
aided bylhe destruction of wetland habitats to the south of the village. Known
to be the breeding grounds for sand flies, the wetlands were reclaimed to pro-
vide additional building sites and an artificial lagoon to expand the Rodney
Bay resort area. The results were environmentally catastrophic. As Garrett
Nagle has pointed out, "the ebb and flood tide patterns were modified, creat-
ing stronger currents, which increased erosion on nearby beaches. In addi-
tion, local fisheries declined as the offshore waters became murkier, and the
problem of the sand flies remained" (Nagle 33). As a result, the definition of
Gros Islet as a fishing village has become a nostalgic reminder of its vanished
economic past, and the village has turned to tourism as a new economic an-
chor. In an example of successful village-wide entrepreneurship, the Gros Islet
villagers countered foreign-controlled tourism development with the now fa-
mous Friday night jump-ups, a locally-known weekly street party that brings
together St. Lucians and tourists alike to share music, barbecues, and danc-
ing on the village streets. The fete, in addition to giving local residents some
limited access to tourism revenue, enables a large segment of both populations
to participate -albeit temporarily- in what Sahr calls the "life of a doubtful
touristic dream world" (73).


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SAVING GROS ISLET: VANISHING CARIBBEAN SPACES IN DEREK WALCOTT'S...

The fete is described critically by Walcott in Omeros in a passage in which
Achille watches Helen drift through the dancing crowd. The description
focuses on the burden the Friday night jump-up places on the town:

...he watched her high head moving through the tourists, through flying
stars from the coalpots, the painted mouth still eagerly parted. Murder
throbbed in his wrists to the loudspeakers' pelvic thud, her floating move,
she was selling herself like the island, without any pain, and the village
did not seem to care that it was dying in its change, the way it whores
away a simple life that would soon disappear while its children writhed
on the sidewalks to the sounds of the dj's fresh-water-Yankee-cool Creole.
(2.XXII.i)

The development of the Gros Islet district has brought intense change to
the entire northwest corridor connecting the resort area to Castries, the island's
capital. As a result of the tourist development and the relative prosperity that
access to tourist dollars has brought to Gros Islet (primarily through the
jump-up) and to tourism jobs in nearby Rodney Bay and Castries, there is
continuous movement of traffic between Castries and the village, which is
served by numerous public transportation vans. The constant stream of traffic,
Sahr argues, has turned the highway between Castries and Gros Islet into the
island's primary road, a coastal urban strip that "socially "integrates/segregates
the local labour force, foreign capital, infrastructural services and polycultural
influences in its own characteristic way" (74). The "asymmetric character"
of the highway development, as Sahr has noted, reproduces the character of
tourism regionalization: "It divides the back regions of the housing areas for
the local population from the leisure frontispiece of the seashore" (73), except
for the village of Gros Islet, sitting defiantly on its prime beach enclave as if
daring fate. But with the resort areas now literally flanking the village, allowing
for no greater locally-controlled growth, can the village safeguard its porous
borders from further encroachment?
My interest in the possibilities of survival for Gros Islet stems from an
assessment of its historical and architectural importance, which represents the
perhaps unremarkable yet cumulative presence oflocal village construction and
historical development in St. Lucia. These aspects have been vividly rendered
by Derek Walcott in his poetry -particularly in 1992's Omeros- and through
the village's ubiquitous presence in his watercolor paintings. My question is


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






LIZABETH PARAVISINI-GEBERT


whether these factors warrant an effort to protect spaces like Gros Islet from
the forces of coastal development in northwestern St. Lucia or, for that
matter, anywhere in the Caribbean. Unremarkable enough not to qualify for
UNESCO heritage status -the one path to preservation widely acknowledged
in the Caribbean region- what arguments can be put forth to support its
protection?
The kind of profound and often vertiginous changes in the environment
brought by tourism-related development on villages like Gros Islet, as so many
Caribbean writers have noted, are of the sort that have turned the geographies
of the Antilles into unrecognizable landscapes, creating voids where the
symbols of nationhood and important historical markers used to stand. In
her bitter 1988 essayA SmallPlace, Jamaica Kincaid bemoans how a "big new
hotel ... with its own port of entry" has been built on a bay from which the
local population is now barred (57). She feared then, and history has proven
her right, that "the best beaches in Antigua would be closed to Antiguans"
(58). Her concerns have been echoed repeatedly across the region by writers
such as Enrique Laguerre and Edgardo Rodriguez Julia. In Landscape and
Memory (a documentary film by Gosson and Faden), Patrick Chamoiseau,
Raphael Confiant, and Jean Bernab6 of the Cr6olit6 movement in Martinique
and Guadeloupe, deplore the "cementification" of their islands and the
disappearance ofwhat Chamoiseau has described as the Creole neighborhoods
that traditionally limited "the damage caused by sudden period of massive
urbanization" and tourism development and perpetuated "the environmentally
friendly cultural practices of the Caribbean's rural and coastal past" (Prieto
242). Their concerns speak directly to the consequences of the loss of spaces
like Gros Islet.
Gros Islet itself, if seen through a nostalgic, romantic prism, seems serenely
frozen in time -although here and there one notes the creeping"cementification"
as prosperity brings access to the means to replace traditional small wood
houses with cement dwellings. Tied to its small cementjetty are small, brightly-
colored fishing boats, although little or no commercial fishing is undertaken
now by village fishermen. Small wood houses, painted in vivid primary hues,
line its streets. Stray dogs chase chickens or bark noisily at anyone going by.
A small shack by the water run by very friendly Rastafarians makes delicious
patties filled with dal (lentils and potatoes in curry sauce), which you can eat
by the jetty enveloped in the deep effluvium of marijuana smoke drifting from
the shack. Children ride bicycles or play catch while adults sit at bars and


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SAVING GROS ISLET: VANISHING CARIBBEAN SPACES IN DEREK WALCOTT'S...

rum shops enjoying a Piton beer after work. Any of these bars could be Ma
Kilman's bar, as Christina Patterson has observed in a travel article for London's
Independent newspaper: "Down the road we find the rum shop that features
so heavily in [Omeros]. In real life, it's not Ma Kilman's but Scotty's Bar. We
recognize it from the description of its 'gingerbread balcony,' 'mustard gables'
and 'green trim around the eaves'" (Patterson 5). It is, as Walcott has written,
"a village of kneeling shacks, their fences / burdened with violet rosaries, their
hinges / rusted from sea-blast" (Another Life 204). It is easy, as Patterson does,
to people the village of Gros Islet with Walcott's colorful characters. Any of the
passenger vans bringing workers from their jobs in Castries could be Hector's.
Any of the young fishermen coming in the evening with his small catch
could be Achille. Any old fisherman playing dominoes could be Philotecte.
Anyone sauntering down Dauphin Street towards the water could be Seven
Seas. In Gros Islet you can savor the cacophonous rhythms of traditional St.
Lucian life: ska, reggae, mock-quarrels in rapid Creole, a local man who uses
a conch shell in lieu of a car horn.
The village, as we can glean from Walcott's writings, is a privileged place
in his own understanding of his role as a poet. For many years he has spent
as much time as he can at his house at Becune Point, a few minutes north
of the village. As Gros Islet's most famous resident, Walcott has become its
most eloquent and privileged spokesperson. Local political representatives
and elected officials lack the local or international resonance of his work and
are, comparatively speaking, less effective in voicing their concerns beyond
local outlets. There is, however, no indication that Walcott sees himself as a
spokesperson for the village. He has, in fact, always eschewed any effort to
be drawn into political debate.1 His "speaking for" Gros Islet stems instead

1 Walcott is judicious about joining in political debate in St. Lucia. Most famously, he
joined the losing battle against the Hilton chain when it was given permission by the
state to build the Hilton Jalousie Plantation Resort in the valley sloping down to the sea
between the Pitons, the two great volcanic cones on the west coast of St. Lucia "one
of the great landscapes of the Caribbean" and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site
(Patullo 1). Walcott joined in vocal opposition to the project on the grounds that The
Pitons was undeniably a natural space of great national significance where a hotel would
be "aesthetically like a wound" (Handley 129). In an interview with George B. Handle,
he explained his opposition to the Jalousie scheme as having derived from his perception
of the Pitons as a "sacred space," a "primal site" that emanates power and which, hav-
ing become the object of the people's devotion, should have remained inviolable (128).
The building of a resort in such a space was tantamount to "blasphemy." Writing in a


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






LIZABETH PARAVISINI-GEBERT


from his long-standing environmental concerns, which frame his critique
of the impact of tourism on the district and village of Gros Islet, and his
identification with the village as a place of particular significance to him
as an artist. "To be famous in London or, recently, even in Paris," he has
argued, is genuinely not important to me. I want to know if a guy on the
street in Gros Islet knows who I am in the best sense that what I'm trying
to do is write for him" (Castro 77). This acknowledgment that he writes
"for the guy on the street of Gros Islet" encapsulates an understanding of
village life as emblematic of St. Lucian culture that resonates throughout
his work. In Gros Islet he savors both the recognition among his friends
and neighbors who know of his work and stature, and the anonymity
that comes from a lack of understanding of what the artist's role is. In
an interview with the New Yorker, appropriately titled "The Islander,"
he recounts a self-deprecating anecdote that points to the freedom he
enjoys from obsequiousness and adulation in a place where not everyone
understands the nature and reality of art:

He relished living in a place that doesn't carry his books, a place where
successive generations may know who he is but not what he has done to
help the world see them. With obvious amusement, he told me about one
recent day when he was painting in Gros Islet .... "These boys came up to
me, asking questions," he said. "I ignored them. One boy wanted to touch
my paints. I told him to go away. They said that what I was painting didn't
look like the thing they saw. One boy came to me and said, 'You artist?'"
(Als 51)

In Omeros, however, Walcott, who has said that "he feels as close to the
fishing village of Gros Islet... as to anyplace on St. Lucia" (Lee 1), chronicles
the changes that threaten the seemingly unaltered village life, now "besieged"
by yachts, its "weathered gables" visible against the white cement constructions
of Rodney Bay:


local paper, Walcott argued that "to sell any part of the Pitons is to sell the whole idea
and body of the Pitons, to sell a metaphor, to make a fast buck off a shrine" (Pattullo 4).
He equated the economic arguments in favor of the resort -that it would provide extra
income and jobs- to proposing building "a casino in the Vatican" or a "take-away conces-
sion inside Stonehenge" (Pattullo 4). The loss of such a pristine space was the loss of a
place that could help people to regain a feeling of "a beginning, a restituting of Adamic
principles" (Handley 131). (For more see Paravisini 17).


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SAVING GROS ISLET: VANISHING CARIBBEAN SPACES IN DEREK WALCOTT'S...

The village was surrendering a life besieged
by the lances of yachts in the white marina,
where egrets had hidden in the feathering reeds

of the lagoon. It had become a souvenir
of itself, and from the restaurant tables
with settings white as the yachts you could look towards
the marina's channel to the old weathered gables
of upstairs houses over the fishermen's yards
with biscuit-tin palings and cracked asphalt street [Omeros 7. LXII.1]

Walcott's clear-sightedness about the vulnerability of the village (rendered
poignantly by the egrets who can no longer hide in the "feathering reeds of the
lagoon") does not preclude his falling under its spell, as he has done, referring
to the village as one of the two places where he feels he belongs (his other
"village" is New York City's Greenwich Village). "Something fascinates me
about the life of this simple fishing village," he told Gary Lee in a newspaper
interview. "You can say it's [ridiculous] or perhaps over-romanticizing, but
people who spend their days so close to the sea have a kind of richness in their
lives that others don't" (Lee 1). It is in the nature of this "kind of richness,"
I would argue, that we can begin to assess what is "lost" to the region when
villages like Gros Islet are displaced by tourism. Explaining what is lost through
coastal development when it leads to the displacement of coastal populations
is remarkably difficult when measured against the gains (sometimes limited
or questionable) in the jobs and tax revenues tourism brings. What Walcott
captures in his poems and paintings is precisely this immeasurable quality.
As Walcott's privileged St. Lucian's space, the village peoples his poems
and his watercolors. The son of a painter who has enjoyed a memorable
relationship with the islands best-known painter, Sir Dunstan St. Omer,
Walcott has sought to capture Gros Islet's mercurial essence in painting.
In his autobiographical poem Another Life (1973), he wrote about a pledge
between the two artists to "never leave the island / until we had put down,
in paint, in words, / as palmists learn the network of the hand, / all of its
sunken, leaf-choked ravines, / every neglected, self-pitying inlet / muttering
in brackish dialect" (Another Life 52). Walcott has made the village the subject
of many of his watercolors-some of them used to illustrate his meditation
on another Caribbean-born painter, Camille Pissarro, in Tiepolo' Hound.
The paintings capture the cultural richness of the village's everydayness, like


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






LIZABETH PARAVISINI-GEBERT


luminous snapshots of daily routines. Village life seems particularly suited to
the quickness of watercolor as a medium.
In his watercolors, such as "A Street in Gros Islet"2 or in his representation
of Gros Islet's Catholic Church, "a fat cream-coloured hunk of masonry [that]
bluntly concludes the main street," Walcott seems most interested in grasping
the quietly ordinary quality of village life, especially in the slowness of late
morning and early afternoons, before the village begins to bustle with those
returning from work in Castries or emerging from their shuttered houses to
enjoy a beer and local gossip. Speaking of photographs of the Caribbean, but
in an observation easily applicable to his own work as a watercolorist, Walcott
once commented that

every photograph you take in the Caribbean is beautiful, the light makes it
so you just gasp continuously. And what's beautiful often turns out to be
what's poor: the colours of galvanized shacks near the blue sea. But the'true
paradise' is more the spiritual beauty of the place: you have a sense of the
celestial in that light, a radiance without edges. (Jaggi 68)

Walcott's watercolors catch a seemingly static village tranquility that seems
always shattered by the intensity of the heated discussions in the local bars of
the threats facing it literally from every side. Listening to these discussions,
it is not difficult to sense that Gros Islet is seen by its inhabitants as intensely
vulnerable in its village tranquility. Sitting on a bench facing the sea while a re-
mix of Bob Marley songs comes out of the Seaview Bar, one wonders whether
the village can withstand the pressures (and money offers) of development for
long. How long, one wonders, before it is absorbed by Rodney Bay or razed
to build another resort? There used to be a mile of open beach between Gros
Islet and the Sandals Resort on the causeway leading to Pigeon Island. A re-
cently-completed resort, the Landings (a luxury marina resort which describes
itself as "the premier environment-friendly hotel in St. Lucia," primarily be-
cause it is "expertly designed around water") has reduced the buffer between
the village and the tourists to the north to about 200 yards of open beach.
The Landings' marina cuts through the beach between the village and Pigeon

2 American poet Paul Breslin has written a poem, "A Street in Gros Islet," after this
painting: "This voluble Caribbean village street / Is silent? What does he carry that
makes him strain / Away from it so it won't pull him down-- / Water? Live bait? Nails?
The island's history? / Will he set it down at the last house, or empty it / Into the sea,
that has so much already?" (334)


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Island, interrupting what used to be a continuous seashore walk between Gros
Islet and the Pigeon Island causeway. The hotel now keeps a boatman at the
spot to helpfully transfer walkers across the new canal in a new shiny boat. But
for how long? Walcott has addressed the exclusion of St. Lucians from their
own beaches as the result of a "whoring" approach to tourism development
that strips the local population of self-respect and dignity:

In the Caribbean context, that means not whoring out our beaches because
there's a dollar to be made; respecting the cost of integrity... when you
are dealing with a beautiful island with a very small beautiful space and a
very valuable, limited amount of real estate, it is clear what will happen a
succession of mini-Miamis all down the archipelago, devoted to exploiting
our resources... and there will be no beaches to swim on very soon... oh,
they can come, but there are beach guards and they won't feel welcome.
(Marr 2)

Adding to the pressures that the construction of the Landings represents is the
continued discussion of allowing casino development on the island, especially
at the Pigeon Island causeway, whose developers have led the push for casino
rights. Walcott's vocal opposition to the casino scheme matches that of the bar
habitues in Gros Islet. "If I can summon up all the forces I can," he has vowed,
"it'll be a real fight" (Jaggi 68). The sentiment is echoed throughout Gros
Islet, where both the St. Lucia Labour Party and the Catholic Church are
committed to the struggle against the casinos. The arguments in the streets of
Gros Islet ranged from fears that "those people are running drugs and doing
a whole lot of things we don't need here" to marked skepticism about the
prospect of casino jobs: "They let you think it will bring jobs, but then the
ones they hire will not be real local people" (French A4). The controversy over
casino rights gives us a glimpse into how Walcott's concerns echo those of the
villagers and how his voice can serve to bring attention to matters that usually
remain local. Walcott's involvement, in this case, brought a local matter that
has received scant attention in local and regional newspapers to the pages of
the New York Times, highlighting the importance of his voice as a privileged
one in determining the future of Gros Islet.
There is in Walcott's work -both in his poetry and his painting- a belief
in the resilience of the populations of Gros Islet and in nature's capacity to
obliterate "history" when it appears in the shape of buildings and monuments.
In his poems and essays, Walcott has often alluded to the Adamic idea, a


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






LIZABETH PARAVISINI-GEBERT


notion that leads him to see "the grass that emerges from the ruins" as "the
grass that says it's a beginning again" (Handley 133) an idea that allows him
to place the construction of hotels and resorts as one more event in a long
line of historical events that have left no "ruins and mementos" on Caribbean
landscapes. From this perspective, Walcott would trust that despite all the
frenzy of tourist-resort development, nature may still prevail if St. Lucians
succeed in taking control of their island's development before it moves from
environmental vulnerability to ecological crisis, before its carrying capacity is
breached and significant spaces cannot be restored. As Walcott writes in a
recent collection of poems, The Prodigal:

What if our history is so rapidly enclosed
in bush, devoured by green, that there are no signals
left, since smoke, the smoke of encampments
by brigand and the plumes from muskets
are transitory memorials and our forests shut
their mouths, sworn to ancestral silence. (99)

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Walcott spoke of the capacity of
Caribbean nature to turn everything in its path to bush if left to itself and
of the power of literature to confer significance on spaces, making of them
hallowed markers of nationhood which would behoove everyone to conserve.
Walcott's proposal speaks to the possibility of those places made significant by
our literature turning into the spaces of Caribbean nationhood and identity:

Our cities... dictate their own proportions, their own definitions in particular
places and in a prose equal to that of their detractors, so that now it is not just
St. James but the streets and yards that Naipaul commemorates, its lanes as
short and brilliant as his sentences; not just the noise and jostle ofTunapuna
but the origins of C.L.R James's Beyond the Boundary, not just Felicity Village
on the Caroni plain, but Selvon Country, and that it's the way it goes up the
islands now, the old Dominica ofJean Rhys still very much the way she wrote
of it; and the Martinique of early C6saire; Perse's Guadeloupe, even without
the pith helmets and the mules... This is not a belligerent boast but a simple
celebration of inevitability... ("The Antilles" 73)

Walcott's Adamic idea, his faith in nature's ability to renew itself, and his
belief in the sacredness bestowed on places either by their intrinsic power
or by the power vested upon them by being the settings of classic texts of
Caribbean literature are the foundations of an ecological stance rooted on


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SAVING GROS ISLET: VANISHING CARIBBEAN SPACES IN DEREK WALCOTT'S...

a moral relationship to the homeland. From this standpoint, he has argued
that ignoring the moral question of how we relate to place -of what we seek
to destroy or protect- can lead to incalculable damage. "So the person who is
protecting the sacred piece of earth," he concludes, "is doing more than the
person who thinks that right now concrete and steel are going to do more for
some other generation coming" (Handley 129). The moral question of the
preservation of the Caribbean's "sacred" spaces emerges with urgent poignancy
in Gros Islet, whose loss can lead to the erasure of locales hallowed by their
connection to history and literature.


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LIZABETH PARAVISINI-GEBERT


Works Cited

Als, Hilton. "The Islander." New Yorker. 9 February 2004:42-51. Print.
Breslin, Paul. "A Street in Gros Islet." Literary Imagination 11.3 (2009): 334.
Print.
Castro, Jan Garden. "Derek Walcott: An Interview." Black Renaissance/
Reinassance Noire 6:2 (Spring 2005): 76-77. Print.
French, Howard W. "The Chips Are Down: Will Island Get a Casino?" New
York Times, 14 November 1990, A4. Print.
Gosson, Ren6e, and Eric Faden, dir. Landscape andMemory: Martinican Land-
People-History [videocassette]. Third World Reel, 2003. Print.
Handley, George B. "The Argument of the Outboard Motor: An interview
with Derek Walcott." Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between
Nature and Culture. Eds. Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey, Ren6e K. Gosson,
and George B. Handley. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 2005.127-142.
Print.
Jaggi, Maya. "Paradise Fights Back." The Guardian (London), 13 December
1997, 68. Print.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A SmallPlace. New York: Farrar Straus, 1988. Print.
Lee, Gary. "Derek Walcott: A Poet's Ode to St. Lucia." The Washington Post,
19 October 2004, 1. Print.
Nagle, Garrett. Tourism, Leisure and Recreation. Gloucestershire, UK: Nelson
Thornes Ltd, 1999. Print.
Marr, Andrew. "Paying a High Prince for Paradise." The Observer (London),
28 February 1999,2. Print.
Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth. "Endangered Species: Ecology and the Discourse
of the Nation." Displacements and Transformations in Caribbean Literature
and Culture. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2008. 8-23. Print.
Patterson, Christina. "Inspiration Island." The Independent (London), 11
December 2004: 4-6. Print.
Pattullo, Polly: Last Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean. 2nd ed. New
York: Monthly Review P, 2004. Print.
Prieto, Eric. "The Uses of Landscape: Ecocriticism and Martinican Cultural
Theory." Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and
Culture. Eds. Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey, Ren6e K. Gosson, and George B.
Handle. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 2005.236-246. Print.
Norman, Sir Henry Wylie. Report of the West India Royal Commission (1897).
London: House of Commons, 1877-1897. Print.


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SAVING GROS ISLET: VANISHING CARIBBEAN SPACES IN DEREK WALCOTT'S...

Rollo, John. Observations on the Diseases Which Appeared in the Army on St.
Lucia, in December, 1778;January, February, March, April, and May, 1779.
Barbados: John Orderson & Company, 1780. Print.
Sahr, Wolf-Dietrich. "Micro-Metropolis in the Eastern Caribbean: The
Example of St. Lucia." Resource Sustainability and Caribbean Development.
Eds. Duncan E M. McGregor, David Barker, and Sally Lloyd-Evans.
Kingston, Jamaica: The Press of the University of the West Indies, 1998.
69-86. Print.
Walcott, Another Life. New York: Farrar Strauss, 1973. Print.
--. "The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory." In What the Twilight Says:
Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. 65-84. Print.


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"The New Plantations:"

Derek Walcott's Caribbean Hotels


Ben Thomas Jefferson
University of Essex



In 2008, during an interview for the BBC World Service (formerly
The Empire Service) Book Club in London, Derek Walcott received a
question concerning the notion of colonialism and dispossession. Vehemently
refuting the idea that Caribbean people are dispossessed, Walcott argued that
the beauty of the islands, their forests, beaches, and seascapes, is available to
anyone who lives in and loves them. However, when pressed on the issue,
he partially retracted this idea. To Walcott, the Caribbean's extensive hotel
"developments," especially the kind of resort-hotels that islands such as
Walcott's native Saint Lucia are famous for, have succeeded where centuries
of slavery and colonial rule failed: these hotels have robbed Caribbean people
of their land and agency. In this paper, I explore Walcott's literary response
to, and interrogation of, island hotels. I begin with analysis of a poem from
Walcott's most recent collection, White Egrets (2010), and then chart some
of his previous engagements with hotels. I examine the notion of hotels as
zones of exclusion and agents of Caribbean dispossession. Additionally, I
look at Walcott's attitudes towards the relationship between hotels and place
within the Caribbean; through my reading of his work, I test the notion of
hotels as "non-place" or performed place. I take my understanding of the
terms "space" and "place" from Agnew and Smith's American Space/American
Place: Geographies of the Contemporary United States, and Casey's "How To Get
From Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch of Time: Phenomenological
Prolegomena." Additionally, I have silently drawn inspiration from Lefebvre's
distinction between hegemonic knowledge of place, "savoir," and counter-
hegemonic knowledge, "connaissance."
In White Egrets, which has been described by reviewers as introspectiveve"
(Kirchwey) and "about letting things go [particularly] guilt, [and] grudges"
(Payne), Walcott's description of island hotels is anything but introspective or


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BEN THOMAS JEFFERSON


forgiving. In one of the most direct and ardent poems in the collection, "The
Acacia Trees," Walcott rallies against "luxury hotels." To Walcott, these hotels
are "new plantations" offering "a slavery without change" that subject islanders
to "new degradations." In the poem's opening lines, Walcott reflects on the
island of his youth. The poet describes Saint Lucian beaches and forest ground
as "doomed acres" where "ordinary people" will be "fenced out," and attacks
"the new makers/of our history" who "profit without guilt" and "will make the
island a mall." Tying the destruction of the island to a desire for profit, the
poet accuses politicians and the hotel industry of cheapening the landscape,
abandoning its people, and recreating the barbarous days of slavery.
Walcott's language has not always been so emotive. Surprisingly, in his
youth, the poet discusses slavery in much less cutting or bitter tones. In "As
John To Patmos," a poem originally published in Walcott's collection 25 Poems
(1948) when he was still a teenager, the poem asserts that his "island is heaven"
whose "beauty has surrounded/Its black children and freed them of homeless
ditties." The poet goes on to address a "slave, soldier, [and] worker" asleep
under "red trees," and promises to "praise" them "lovelong." Here, Walcott
denies the islanders' dispossession; even the "slave" finds peace in the liberating
beauty of Saint Lucia's landscape. For a piece apparently about "letting things
go," Walcott's language has shifted dramatically between 25 Poems and White
Egrets. The island beauty that once "freed" the "worker" is now the site of their
"degradation." The only difference the reader encounters, the only cause of
such a magnificent shift in tone and idea, is the presence of "luxury hotels"
amidst the once "heaven[ly]" island.

1.

Hotels, especially luxury hotels, have been an imposing and important feature
ofthe Caribbean since European expansion and settlement ofthe islands.Their
presence within Walcott's poetry is nothing new. However, in his early poetic
career, Walcott investigates hotels in a manner that is both reconciliatory and
open to dialogue. In Walcott's first major collection, In A Green Night (1962),
the poet places two poems about island hotels side by side. "Castiliane" and "A
Careful Passion" explore two very different types of island hotels; importantly,
in both poems, Walcott enters the hotel as a guest.
"Castiliane" begins in the language of a review:


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"THE NEW PLANTATIONS:" DEREK WALCOTT'S CARIBBEAN HOTELS


The GOLONDRINA is a sour hotel,
Redeemed, like Creole architecture,
By its ornate, wrought-iron balcony;
A floral asterisk to grace a lecture
On Spanish Art in The Last Century.

Walcott associates the hotel with its "Spanish" "Creole" "architecture." In other
words, its architectural style is associated with or originates from another place,
but is "born" within the colonies. Creole is a notoriously difficult word to define:
its meaning alters between different times and places. Walcott's insistence on
the hotel's Spanishness suggests a Spanish-language sense of Creole (criollo).
In the colonial sense of the word, it denotes a privileged position in society:
criollos held a position in Spanish colonial society inferior only to peninsulares.
The idea that the hotel is perfect for "a lecture on Spanish art," as opposed to
"Creole" art, problematises its relationship to place. Walcott uses this hotel to
address notions of colonial or peripheral mimicry.1 However, he also situates
the Golondrina in place: the hotel's "sour[ness]" arises from "the encroaching
odours of the port."
In Walcott's seminal essay, "What the Twilight Says," the poet explores
the relationship between Caribbean literature and European literature. To
simplify his argument, Walcott argues against a strategy of rebelling against
European languages and literatures. Instead, he sees the influence of European
masters as an "apprenticeship," which is completed when the Caribbean writer
begins to locate her or his work within the region:

That apprenticeship would mean nothing unless life were made so real
that it stank, so close that you could catch the changes of morning and
afternoon light on the rocks of the Three Sisters, pale brown rocks carious
in the gargle of sea, could catch the flash of a banana leaf in sunlight,
catch the smell of drizzled asphalt and the always surprisingly stale smell
of the sea [....] (Essays 14)

In "Castiliane," the hotel's Spanish "Creole" design does not make it "out
of place;" instead, it sits within the reach of the "stale smell of the [Caribbean]
sea," and is in fact "redeemed" by its beauty. Walcott imagines the Golondrina
as an organism imbibing aspects of its locale, as its "failing apertures inhale the

1 See Walcott's "The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry?" (1974), from Essays for an in-
depth discussion of these ideas.


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BEN THOMAS JEFFERSON


sea."The poem intentionally deconstructs its own notion that the Golondrina
is somehow a piece of Spain imagined onto Caribbean soil; the soil itself
becomes part of the Golondrina. The Golondrina extends beyond simple
"mimicry;" its relationship with the locale makes it part of a larger context.
As Walcott enters the hotel, he investigates it as a zone of exclusion
and contact. Within the hotel proper, Walcott begins to fantasise that the
Golondrina is haunteded" by a "wraith." The poet identifies this spirit as a
"Frail Donna of another century," and later names her Dofia Maria. Walcott
defines Dofia Maria by her "grace" and her title; she is not so much a Spanish
person who has travelled abroad, but an ideal of Spanishness that has been
transported abroad. As an ideal, the Dofia is frail, and seemingly constantly
endangered: the ghost of Dofia Maria is "guarded by black duennas." The
"Spanish" hotel on Caribbean soil suggests a European concern with rebuilding,
or recreating the culture of the metropolis within a colony. The need to guard
the "frail" Dofia Maria indicates the fragility of such constructions. Walcott
thus suggests that the hotel's architecture reveals its creators' anxieties. Whilst
a hotel is supposed to be a place for travellers to stay whilst on foreign soil, it
is also a place that attempts to exclude, control, or even market the foreignness
of the land. In this respect, the hotel becomes a safe space within a potentially
unsafe area.
In "A Careful Passion," Walcott examines another type of Caribbean
hotel. As in "Castiliane," he adopts the role of guest, and begins the poem by
affecting the language of a guidebook review:

The Cruise Inn, at the city's edge,
Extends a breezy prospect to the sea
From tables fixed like islands near a hedge
Of foam-white flowers, and to deaden thought,
Marimba medleys from a local band [...]

Here, the Cruise Inn is typical of many hotels and resorts within the Caribbean.
The Cruise Inn has been constructed in order to perform a "safe" version
of tropicality: one does not need to enter the bush in order to see tropical
flowers, they have been arranged within the hotel grounds; one does not need
to enter the streets in order to hear local musicians, they have been brought
to the hotel. The description of the flowers as "foam-white" (my emphasis)
suggests insubstantiality. Likewise, whilst the presence of local music should
enable travellers to engage with a foreign culture, Walcott explicitly states


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"THE NEW PLANTATIONS:" DEREK WALCOTT'S CARIBBEAN HOTELS


that the gentle marimba music's purpose is "to deaden thought." Here the
hotel is designed to disengage its occupant with the reality of a place, whilst
it simultaneously constructs an idealised version of the place. The Cruise
Inn seems less like a Caribbean place and more like its simulacrum: it is the
Caribbean as a fantasy imagined by, and constructed for, people from other
parts of the world. In this respect, it suggests a certain type of place, explained
here by Simon Coleman and Mike Crang:

Places have to market their specificity. Destination regions do not simply
exist nor naturally happen, and one can chart the creation of regions as
linked and themed areas, excluding some places and highlighting others.
[...] What results is not globalisation so much as glocalisation, where the
local has to be recovered, packaged and sold. (4)

For Coleman and Crang, these "glocalised" localities complicate conceived
notions of place. In their words, glocalised localities are created by "the logic
of the theme park," and stand somewhere "between place and performance."
The Cruise Inn glocalises an imagined version of the West Indies; in order to
do so, it must first negate the importance of locality. One of its strategies for
this is to homogenise the entire region.
By adopting the role of hotel guest, Walcott complicates the notion of the
Cruise Inn as inauthentic. The poem's speaker situates himself and a "lover"
within the grounds of the Cruise Inn. As they listen to the marimba music, the
speaker muses that: "You hardly smell the salt breeze in this country/Except
when you come down to the harbour's edge," and contrasts this to "the smaller
islands to the south." Here, Walcott, from one of these "smaller" southernrn"
islands, establishes himself as a visitor within the country. The English name
of the hotel, combined with the fact that the island is part of the Greater
Antilles, and the poem's epigraph, mean that the informed reader can situate
the Cruise Inn somewhere in Jamaica. Walcott never definitively positions the
hotel, meaning that one must have some knowledge of Caribbean geography
and cultures in order to fully understand the poem. Walcott distinguishes
between the experiences of people on the different islands in the Caribbean: as
someone from a smaller island, he is able to read the landscape and experience
the hotel in a different way than an uniformed North Atlantic visitor. In other
words, Walcott's experience as a Saint Lucian means that he can situate Cruise
Inn within place, and can experience it on a level other than that of performed
or generic tropicality.


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BEN THOMAS JEFFERSON


In Another Life (1973), Walcott starts to rethink this position, and by 1981,
in The Fortunate Traveller, the poet begins to use the language of pestilence
to describe hotels in the Caribbean. Walcott's changing position reflects more
than a revised perspective: during this period tourism in the Caribbean altered
dramatically and Walcott's shifting perspective reveals a shifting situation.
Post World War II, tourism became increasingly available to people from
North Atlantic countries. Many Caribbean countries responded to this, with
governments or administrations setting up national or colonial tourist boards.
By the 1970s, tourism became a staple of many Caribbean islands' economies:
the drive to profit from North Atlantic desire to experience a tropical getaway
meant that the tourist industry geared itself "from class to mass tourism"
(Dodman 155). The rise of tourism of course demanded a growth of new
hotels. Walcott's post 1970s works reflect a landscape and economy that are not
the same as his childhood landscapes: enormous, gated, all-inclusive structures
rapidly eclipsed the ornate architecture of hotels like the Golondrina.
AnotherLife is a long autobiographical work in which Walcott immortalises
the Saint Lucian landscapes and people of his youth. Walcott divides the final
chapter into four sections: the second section, which I reproduce here in full,
discusses the importance of hotels in the island:

They [the Saint Lucians of Walcott's youth] had not changed,
they knew only
the autumnal hint of hotel rooms,
the sea's engine of air-conditioners,
and the waitress in national costume
and the horsemen galloping past the single wave
across the line of Martinique, the horse or la mer
out of Gauguin by the Tourist Board.
Hotel, hotel, hotel, hotel, hotel and a club: The Bitter End.
This is not bitter, it is harder
to be a prodigal than a stranger.

Here, Walcott contrasts his position as a "prodigal" to that of a "stranger,"
and to that of someone who has never left. For Walcott, the hardestst"
position is his own: he stands as someone who knows the island, but his travels
mean that he sees it differently than the people who live there. Here, Walcott
demands a question: if the local people who had not left the island "knew...


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"THE NEW PLANTATIONS:"DEREK WALCOTT'S CARIBBEAN HOTELS


the autumnal hint of hotel rooms," in what capacity did they know them? The
word "autumnal" is itself problematic in a tropical setting: he subtly associates
the hotels with North Atlantic aesthetics and seasons. Here, Walcott counters
the political discourse of hotels as progressive. The hotels display North
Atlantic cultural dominance and, for the Saint Lucian people who work in
them as servants, they do not offer "change."
The five-time-repeated word "hotel" has a multiple impact. Placed towards
Another Life's close, it shows that the tourist industry is rapidly altering Saint
Lucia's landscape. Walcott suggests that everywhere he turns he sees another
hotel: instead of being part of a place, they dominate it. This domination
signifies "The Bitter End" of Saint Lucia as he knows it. By repeating the
word, Walcott defamiliarises it. Seemingly, the hotel as a much repeated
island site has also lost its meaning as a contact zone. In this sense, the hotel
becomes part of a set of sites that Marc Aug6 influentially has categorised as
"non-places." Aug6's non-places are sites such as airports, fast-food chains,
supermarkets, and multinational hotel franchises. For Aug6, they have no
bearing to the place that surrounds them: they are sites repeated across the
globe that offer a stranger an instant sense of familiarity. There are of course
problems with this notion of non-place. Auge himself accepts that place can
never be fully submerged (Non-Places 79). In Another Life, Walcott seems to be
on the verge of defining the new spate of hotels in Saint Lucia as non-places,
ante litteram. However just three years later, in "Party Night at the Hilton"
from Sea Grapes (1976), Walcott enters one such hotel with the idea of place
strongly in mind.
"Party Night at the Hilton" describes a political shindig in a West Indian
branch of the Hilton hotel empire. In the poem, Walcott charges the politicians
with failing their people. The poem's tone is aggressive and immediate; the
language is derogatory and combative. The poem's first lines situate the action
within the hotel: "In our upside-down hotel, in that air-conditioned/roomful
of venal, vengeful party hacks." Here, the use of the possessive pronoun "our"
suggests that the hotel somehow belongs to the local people. In the poem's title,
Walcott identifies the hotel as a Hilton; therefore, the islanders do not possess
the hotel on financial terms. Walcott's claim to the hotel as "our[s]" means that
he is dealing with a different definition of proprietorship. The Hilton is not
merely a privately owned building that has been constructed within free space:
its situation also plays a role in defining who can lay claim to it. The idea that
the hotel is somehow "upside-down" is baffling to a reader unfamiliar with


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






BEN THOMAS JEFFERSON


the specific Hilton discussed within the poem. Importantly, although Walcott
does not specify where this Hilton is, its "upside-down" structure indicates
that it is the Port of Spain Hilton Hotel. Because the Port of Spain Hilton is
situated on a hillside, the main lobby is at the top of the building.
As the poem continues, Walcott condemns the politicians as "pimps,"
"glut[tons]," and describes them as corpulent beings full of "hot air." Walcott's
charge of gluttony against the politicians is more than a set of ad hominem
attacks. On one level, their fatness represents their easy access to food and
drink; on another level, their gluttonous appetites depict them as consumers
of their own nation. This, combined with Walcott's observation that the
room is air-conditioned, reinforces the connotations of luxury and exclusivity
that high-end hotels like the Hilton foster. Importantly, Walcott describes
the politicians as "ex-slaves." The politicians' blackness reveals the end of the
racial segregation suggested in "Castiliane." The hotel still represents a zone
of exclusion; however, the dichotomy is based on monetary power structures.
Walcott refers to the hotel as a "rock of power." Within any society, places of
power are deemed important sites. Government buildings such as the White
House or the UK Houses of Parliament are world famous; similarly, historical
places of power such as castles also enjoy a level of privilege not afforded to
other buildings (Harley 282).
This hotel is not only a place of privilege: on the island, it is a privileged
place. In "The Chelsea" also from Sea Grapes, Walcott describes a stay at the
world-famous Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. His decision to depict a hotel
that is known worldwide as a one-of-a-kind site sheds light upon the poet's
depiction of the West Indian Hilton. Whilst one can stay at a Hilton, one
cannot stay at a Chelsea. The Chelsea Hotel enjoys the privilege of place
because of its location in a centre of power, and because of the numerous
famous people who have stayed in its rooms. Importantly, Walcott uses the
definitive article when he refers to "the Hilton." Here, it stands somewhere
between place and space: this particular Hilton is a synecdoche for all insulated,
luxurious places of power. However, it is also a specific venue for a specific
event. Although the Hilton represents a zone of exclusion, and figures as a
void between the politicians and the place they serve, Walcott argues that
it cannot fully insulate itself: "outside, a black wind, / circles the room with
jasmine, like a whore's / perfume."Walcott associates the wind with the island's
prostitutes as if the denigrated service workers are knocking on the hotel door.
Additionally, having portrayed the politicians as riddled with vice, the wind


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"THE NEW PLANTATIONS:" DEREK WALCOTT'S CARIBBEAN HOTELS


seems to be an almost supernatural retributive force. The wind represents the
exterior world holding the Hilton under siege, and reminds the reader of the
hidden or unadvertised aspects of hotel life.
In the poem "A Sea Change" from The Fortunate Traveller (1981), Walcott
re-explores the interrelations between Caribbean hotels, politics, and place. At
the beginning of the poem, the poet contrasts the reality of tropical life with
an imagined tropical climate:

Islands hissing in rain,
light rain and governments falling.

Can this be the right place?
These islands of the blest,
cheap package tours replaced
by politics, rain, unrest?

As the poem continues, Walcott likens the tropical storms to:

the dark-gathering rage
of a bruised electorate
tired of its billboard image

on the hotel-crusted reef
from Pigeon Point to Nassau,
the sand's white, gritted teeth,
its "yes, sir," and "no, sir"

Walcott contrasts an idealised, packaged[d" Caribbean to the actual-
ity of tropical rain. The poet links the "hotel-crusted reef" to the "billboard
imagess" of the Caribbean. Here, hotels are emblems of an imagined Carib-
bean playground. The billboards represent an idealised image of the Carib-
bean: a trouble-free, paradisiacal playground. This idyllic, imagined place is
constructed and commodified. The hotels form an aspect of the "blest, / cheap
package tours" and "billboard image." If the tourist industry sells the Carib-
bean as a fantasy, in order to fulfil the transaction they must attempt to supply
the fantasy. Pigeon Point may refer to a small island connected to Saint Lucia
by road. However, a more famous Pigeon Point is a beach in Tobago. Nassau is
the capital city of the Bahamas. Here, Walcott locates a "crust" or, to borrow a
term from his Nobel lecture, a "blight" of hotels stretching from the Northern


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






BEN THOMAS JEFFERSON


to the Southern Caribbean islands. These hotels offer tourists beautiful views
of the tropical land and seascapes. However, these hotels become a part of the
local people's landscape: whilst the vistas from the hotel may be beautiful and
saleable, the views of the hotels from the outside are often not. The imagined
fantasy spaces of tourism have the power to wreck the reality of Caribbean
place as experienced by Caribbean people.
Hotels, as part of a service industry, are intrinsically hierarchic. The grand-
er the hotel, the more rigid these hierarchies become (Saunders 103-122).
Walcott shows that the interior, luxurious world of the hotel actually perme-
ates the exterior: the notion that the sand itself has become a servant speaking
through "gritted teeth" suggests that the tourist industry subjugates the entire
region. Taking a view of the Caribbean from Nassau to Pigeon Point implies
a cartographical perspective. The description of the entire Caribbean as "a
hotel-crusted reef' (my emphases) diminishes the region. The notion of a crust
indicates a disease or infection visible at a superficial level. Reading these ideas
together, we see a flattened, diminished, and diseased Caribbean; however,
to see the region in this way relies on a perspective that Walcott refuses else-
where. His career has consisted of celebrating and expanding the Caribbean:
the language used here is either reported sarcastically or deeply bitter. In "A
Sea Change," hotels are endlessly repeating structures on endlessly repeating
islands. Whilst Walcott deals with individual hotels as places, or as located
within place, he must adopt spatial images in order to deal with them collec-
tively: the industries and infrastructures that support the endless construction
of Caribbean hotels view the islands as available spatial bodies. In these terms
of space and subjugation, contemporary Caribbean hotels seemingly fulfil a
similar role to grand colonial houses. The reference to The Tempest in the title
suggests that a new, transformative colonial project is underway. The hotel
industry as a whole, and the complicit Caribbean governments, adopt a view
of the islands' landscapes as available, consumable spaces.

3.

In Omeros (1990), Walcott eulogises the Saint Lucian landscape and its
people. In the long poem, Walcott valorises fishermen, waitresses, taxi drivers,
an Obeah woman, and other "marginal" figures. Although Omeros contains
an attack against the island hotels, Walcott uses one of the poem's minor
characters to voice it. Statics, a fisherman turned politician, condemns the
hotels whilst out canvassing:


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This island ofSt. Lucia, quittez moin dire z'autres!
let me tell you is headingfor unqualified
disaster, ces mamailles-la, pas blague, lam not

joking. Every vote is your ticket, your free ride
on the Titanic: a cruise back to slavery
in liners like hotels you cannot sit inside

except as waiters, maids.
(italics in the original)

Here, although Statics's focus is Saint Lucia, with the words "quittez
moin dire z'autres" ("not to speak of the others") he acknowledges that the
tourist industry is a region-wide problem. The same "hotels you cannot sit
inside" repeat themselves across the archipelago. Here, Walcott acknowledges
a popular dissatisfaction with the tourist industry on the island, and across the
entire region. However, he does not voice this complaint. This approach to
hotels within the poem is somewhat more ambiguous. Later, within the poem,
the poet laments a Saint Lucian past "paralyzed in a postcard," and warns of
"a concrete/future ahead of it all, in the cinder-blocks/ of hotel development."
Walcott has joked that his poetic oeuvre can be summarised by the phrase
"wish you were here" (Walcott 2009); in this sense, the poet tries to preserve
a "postcard" image of the island. Here, Walcott acknowledges a problem with
this particular view: his own desire to stop changes to the landscape could
seem complicit with a "paralyz[ing]" North Atlantic tourist gaze. On the other
hand, the notion of "progress" suggested by the idea of "hotel development"
offers an equally stagnant "concrete future." The postcard image of the
Caribbean is necessary for marketing the region to tourists; ironically, each
hotel development devalues the postcard landscape.
Returning to White Egrets "The Acacia Trees," Walcott gives the final
word on Caribbean hotels to one of his "fenced out" people. In the poem's
second section, the narrative switches from Walcott's own voice to that of the
individual poor islander who makes his trade selling conch-shells and trinkets
to tourists. The section begins as the islander addresses a tourist as "Bossman;"
towards the end of the section, the islander again addresses the visitor as
"Boss." Although Walcott's tourists do not figure as "the makers [...] of profit"
within the Caribbean's "new plantations," here, a local islander addresses one


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BEN THOMAS JEFFERSON


using the term for an overseer. In this sense, although the tourists are not
"colonisers" or exploiters of the islands, they are complicit with the islands'
new "degradations."
Walcott's islander warns the Bossman about leaving their belongings on
the beach whilst they swim in the sea. He directs the tourist's attention to a
discarded "passport, wallet, ID, [and] credit card" left in the bushes. These
things, apparently, are "no use" to the island thieves, who have only "money
on their mind." Here, Walcott addresses and unpacks two twin discourses
on island tourism. The resort-staying tourists are not fully segregated from
"undesirable" aspects of the island. However much the tourist industry in
the Caribbean markets itself on the indulgence, convenience, and implicit
safety of exclusion (Figueroa), the tourist is subject to hidden and unwanted
moments of contact with the world beyond the hotel confines. In this sense,
the hotel is not a secure, paradisiacal place; no matter how much the resort-
hotel attempts to create a safe space, the island reality can still enter. Ironically,
the tourist industry is to blame for a dramatic increase in petty crime in Saint
Lucia (Fumagalli 2010). Resort hotels situated themselves in close proximity
to picturesque but poor fishing villages, forcing villagers to live side-by-side
ostentatious wealth and luxury. In this respect, resort hotels both show many
Saint Lucians that they are poor and unwittingly provide them with the
opportunity to gain quick money illegally.
In addition to unmaking the notion of the hotel as a safe-haven for tourists,
Walcott also addresses another important discourse of the tourist industry.
Tourism and hotels are touted as an economic virtue for the islanders. Hotels
are major employers within Saint Lucia, and the government supports and
promotes the tourism industry as a benevolent force upon the whole island.
Here, Walcott suggests that whilst there is money to be gained from tourists,
the most effective way for a poor-islander is through illicit means. The poem's
speaker complains to his "Bossman" that there "Is too much tourist and too
lickle employment," which Walcott rhymes with a plaintive, and ironic, request
not to "let what I say spoil your enjoyment." Through the islander and the
"Bossman," Walcott enacts a conversation between the island and his reader.
To the Caribbean reader, he warns of the folly of depending upon the tourist
industry for economic advancement and stability. The poet also demands that
his overseas reader checks their privileges and complicity with the Caribbean's
"new degradations."


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"THE NEw PLANTATIONS:" DEREK WALCOTT'S CARIBBEAN HOTELS


To conclude, Walcott's writing shows a marked shift in concern. His earlier
works explore hotels as contact zones between different cultures and traditions.
He goes on to explore the relationship between hotels and place, and the
performance of place. Initially, Walcott entertains, but does not commit to the
notion of hotels as non-place. However, as he responds to a rapidly changing
landscape, and an increase in place-less discourses on the Caribbean, Walcott
ensures that his hotels are situated within their locale. On top of this, the poet
subjects these resort and high-end hotels to the anger and resentments of local
people. Throughout his career, Walcott has been unwilling to dwell upon the
history of slavery in the Caribbean; when he does so, it is in order to move
beyond or rethink "the stale rhetoric of revenge" (Fumagalli 2008). Although
at the age of eighty, Walcott is still unwilling to deal in "stale rhetoric," he
does rally against "new degradations." For Walcott, hotel developments are
not placeless or "non-place;" they are, however, destroyers of place that offer a
false promise of progress. Although Walcott does not suggest alternative ways
of travelling, he does warn his reader of their complicity in the Caribbean's
exploitation; complicity that, as far as he can see, only serves the purpose of
the tourists' "enjoyment."


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BEN THOMAS JEFFERSON


Works Cited

Agnew, John A., and Smith, Jonathan M. American Space/American Place:
Geographies ofthe Contemporary United States. London: Routledge, 2002.
Print.
Aug6, Marc, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity
[1992]. Trans. John Howe. London: Verso, 1995. Print.
Casey, Edward, "How to Get From Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch
of Time: Phenomenological Prolegomena." Senses of Place. Eds. Steven
Feld and Keith H. Basso. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press,
1996. Print.
Coleman, Simon and Crang, Mike, eds. Tourism:Between Place andPerformance.
New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2002. Print.
Dodman, David R., "Postmodernity or Profitability? Changing Modes of
Tourism in Jamaica." Beyond the Blood the Beach and the Bananas: New
Perspectives in Caribbean Studies. Ed. Sandra Courtman. Kingston and
Miami: Ian Randle, 2004. Print.
Figueroa, Esther, dir. Jamaica for Sale. Vagabond Media and Jamaica
Environment Trust, 2008. Film.
Fumagalli, Maria Cristina, Orationfor Derek Walcott. U of Essex, 2008. Print.
---. Personal Communication. U of Essex, 2010.
Harley, J.B., "Deconstructing the Map." The Spaces ofPostmodernity: Reading
in Human Geography. Eds. Michael J. Dear and Steven Flusty. Oxford
and Maiden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2002. Print.
Kirchwey, Karl, "Derek Walcott: Man of Many Voices." New York Times. 22
April 2010. Print.
Lefebvre, Henri, The Production of Space [1974]. Trans. D. Nicholson-Smith.
Oxford: Blackwell, 1991. Print.
Payne, Tom, "White Egrets by Derek Walcott: Review." The Telegraph. 13
April 2010. Print.
Saunders, Conrad, Social Stigma of Occupations: The Lower Grade Worker in
Service Organisations. Farnborough: Gower, 1981. Print.
Walcott, Derek. Collected Poems: 1948-1984. London: Faber & Faber, 1992.
Print.
--. The Fortunate Traveller. London: Faber & Faber, 1982. Print.


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"THE NEW PLANTATIONS": DEREK WALCOTT'S CARIBBEAN HOTELS


--. In A Green Night: Poems 1948-1960. London: Jonathan Cape, 1962.
Print.
--. Omeros. London: Faber & Faber, 1990. Print.
--. Sea Grapes. London: Jonathan Cape, 1976. Print.
--. What The Twilight Says: Essays. London: Faber & Faber, 1998. Print.
--. White Egrets. London: Faber & Faber, 2010. Print.
--. Personal communication. Summer 2009.


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The Orphic Condition of Jos6 Lezama Lima, Derek

Walcott, and New World Poetics


Rachel Ellis Neyra
University of Pennsylvania


... the gently bulging/whites of her eyes, the carved ebony mouth, /the
heft of the torso solid, and a woman's, / but gradually even that was
going in the dusk, /except the line ofher profile, and the highlit cheek, /
and I thought, 0 Beauty, you are the light of the world!
Derek Walcott
Yo creo que la maravilla delpoema es que llega a crear un cuerpo, una
sustancia resistente... [I believe that the marvel of a poem is that it
comes to create a body, a resistant substance...]

Jose Lezama Lima*



n the photograph, dressed in a black suit, atjust twenty-five years of age-two
years after the Revolucidn del30 and two years before he would publish his
first poem "Muerte de Narciso" ["Death of Narcissus"] (1937)- Jos6 Lezama
Lima stands with folded hands and leans his right shoulder against the opened
left thigh of a white statue of Apollo.1 The image is a motif: sculptor of words
leans into sculpted matter; poet stands at the feet of a god. But the image
is also a little absurd. Not for the presence of the figure that invokes Greek
myth (how many Apollos and Diogeneses are born in the Caribbean, the new


* I quote verses 14-19 of Walcott's "The Light of the World" from The Arkansas Testa-
ment (1987) and Lezama's 1964 interview with Armando Alvarez Bravo.
1 Cuba's Revoluci6n del 30 began as a workers' rebellion against President Gerardo
Machado in 1925 and came to include a students' and intellectuals' movement, which
ended in 1933. Lezama, a student at the University of Havana, supported the movement.
"Muerte de Narciso" was published in 1937. I read a photograph in the introduction of
Ernesto-Livon Grosman's collection of Lezama's poetry and prose, Selections, xxix.


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RACHEL ELLIS NEYRA


Mediterranean, every day?), but for the black three-piece suit, black shoes, and
black socks that at first make me think: sweat. Black attire is not ideal in the
tropics. And yet, the black suit's muted shine inadvertently reminds the eye
of colonialism, and of the blackness of the Antilles, of the New World. While
the photo of Lezama fades, what is persistently more visible with time is the
commitment of the Cuban poet to the darker and more fragmentary elements
of his art, to standing on the other side of, even if still brushing against, the
Apollonian. That is to say, Lezama, the Cuban poet who situates references
to Ernst Curtius beside those to the Popol Vub, who experienced internal exile
as he aged in Cuba but believed in and wrote to the future poets who would
resurrect his corpus, was not a poet primarily concerned with cleanly measured
pleasure, a traditional poetics (the Apollonian), but with images rubbing
against one another in moments of copulative frenzy that stimulate and nearly
exceed the poet's power to name, to make verse (the Dionysian).
Seeing the scratchy sway of cabbage palm fronds in Felicity, Trinidad,
Walcott writes that he hears the recitation of Saint-John Perse's poems.
Nature stands, blows, and offers lines committed to its memory. Walcott states
that this layered contradiction, the way he hears the lines of this particular
poet -privileged child of the white planter who came to deny his "origins"
in Guadeloupe- in the visible movements of Caribbean nature's miming of
language, is evidence of the "ironic republic that is poetry" (Antilles 78). As
I stare at the photograph of the young Lezama's darkly clad contrast to the
Apollonian statue, Walcott's redefinition of the black writer -one dubbed
black for composing "a malevolence towards the historical system," and yet
also composing "with an optimistic or visionary force"- summons a figure
through which these two New World poets can be read together: the Orphic
(Muse 61).
These two pieces of a quotation offer an initial entry into what this essay
will call the Orphic poetic condition. To initiate definition of this term, within
"a malevolence towards the historical system," as Walcott calls it, one hears
the defiance of the law that is crucial to Orpheus' myth. Orpheus rejects the
insistent ordering of bodies (by the law, time, or distance) by transforming the
seemingly lost Eurydice through poetry's capacity to create another time, and,
therefore, another experience of space in which to touch, desire, and name.
And in the second and crucial aspect ofWalcott's notion of"writ[ing] blackly,"
that it happens "with an optimism or visionary force," there is an invocation of
Orpheus' pursuit as one that lasted over time. Slowly, repeatedly he drew the


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THE ORPHIC CONDITION OF JOSE LEZAMA LIMA, DEREK WALCOTT...


elusive but beloved body, Eurydice, if in parts, in verses, into a new, animate,
and enduring form: poetic form.
We will play through the nuances of this arrangement throughout this
piece, but first, what do I mean by the blackness of the Antilles, of the
New World, as noted in the first paragraph? And why emphasize Walcott's
redefinition of black writing in relation to Lezama, and what I call the Orphic
condition? I write neither of the Antilles as an a priori place of blackness,
nor of an exclusively phenotypic definition of blackness, though the latter is
also crucial to the imaginary of the Caribbean as a chain of islands shaped
by slavery. I speak of blackness here in Walcott's sense of the term in the
essay "The Muse of History" (1974), when discussing Ted Hughes, Samuel
Beckett, and Denis Williams in the same breath, after a discussion of New
World poetics that moved from Whitman and Neruda to C6saire and Perse:
a "luminous blackness" that moves to rename what history calls defunct, that
exposes "logos as excrement" and the "historical system" of the Old World as
wrecked (61). But with wreckage there is flotsam. And for the New World
imagination that writes[] blackly," that writes within the "shared contagion
of madness" exfoliated by the twentieth century (61), there is as emphatically
an "awe of the numinous, this elemental privilege of naming the New
World which annihilates history in our great poets, an elation common to
all of them, whether they are aligned by heritage to Crusoe and Prospero or
to Friday and Caliban" (40). That is, where the memory of the darkness of
colonialism, slavery, repeated uprisings, and the intense, lived awareness of
ongoing economic exploitation adhere to phenomena, to the order of streets
and materials of houses, there is a necessarily elated mode of naming called
for by this landscape.
As Walcott suggests, the figures of Friday, Caliban, as well as Ulysses have
been prolific in twentieth century Caribbean literary tropology and sociology.
In these three, we encounter the tensions of exile, resistance, mimicry, and
agency, signifiers essential to descriptions of Caribbean subjectivity. But the
Caribbean poet composes a notion of the subject in relation to a multilingual,
changing, and verdant, not hoary, landscape, and in a form that demands not
only allegorical readings. Given the ongoing need to situate the Antilles in space
and time (for it is otherwise imagined perpetually in the sun, so, like Eurydice
in her perpetual darkness, outside of time), critics have shown how Caribbean
poets write in an Adamic mode, composing by a slow yet exuberant naming,
and in a neo-baroque mode, by mixing and recycling myths, metaphors, and


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






RACHEL ELLIS NEYRA


numerous linguistic registers.2 I suggest we look at how these two modes,
the Adamic and neo-baroque, overlap in the poetics of Walcott and Lezama,
which brings us to discussion of the Orphic condition.
What Walcott, the Adamic poet, calls "the awe of the numinous," the
vivid encounter with darkness, with phenomena bursting but also waiting
to be named and re-formed (think, for example, of C6saire's Notebook, the
frenzy of nominalizations) comes into compelling alignment with Lezama's
distinction about his poetic system, which has been called neo-baroque.
Quoting the English-Celtic Hughes, the Irish-Celtic Beckett, and the
Guyanese Williams, Walcott writes that, "What is shared is more than the
language; it is the drilling, mining, molelike or mole-cricketlike burrowing
into the origins of life or into its detritus" that brings the three together (Muse
61). It is in the burrowing that becomes a new way of naming, an engagement
of space not as inanimate but live, with whatever shadows hanging around, as
already stated, that they "write blackly." If Walcott and Lezama do not share
a language, they do share the engagement of their respective places as part of
a zone, a chain, a hemisphere that offers "a new nothing," as Walcott terms it,
a compelling darkness that moves the poet to name, play with obscurity, and
form something sustaining from those dark traces stretching through memory
and into writing.
Responding to the claim that he is an enigmatic poet, Lezama instructs
that there was a time when even minstrel poetry (supposedly inherently
simple) was obscure, and that what is obscure is not necessarily baroque. He
tells Armando Alvarez Bravo in an interview in 1964:

En cierta ocasi6n, me decian que G6ngora era un poeta que tornaba oscuras
las cosas claras y que yo, por el contrario, era un poeta que tornaba las cosas
oscuras claras, evidentes, cenitales... Hay la poesia oscura y la poesia clara.
Este es un hecho que tenemos que aceptar con sencillez, como aceptamos
la existencia del dia y de la noche; de las cosas que se hacen por el dia y las
cosas que se hacen por la noche... Lo que cuenta es lo que Pascal llam6 los
pensde d'arriere. Es decir, el etemo reverse enigmitico, tanto de lo oscuro o
lejano como de lo clar o cercano. La tendencia a la oscuridad, a resolver
enigmas, a cumplimentar juegos entrecruzados es tan propia del g6nero
human como la imagen reflejada en la clara lImina marina, que puede
conducirnos con egoista voluptuosidad a un golpe final, a la muerte. No hay
que buscar oscuridades donde no existen. (Orbita 30, 31)

2 See J. Michael Dash on the conjunction of Caribbean and New World studies, and on
the Adamic and neo-baroque modes of New World writing.


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THE ORPHIC CONDITION OF JosE LEZAMA LIMA, DEREK WALCOTT...


Once I was told that G6ngora was a poet who made clear things obscure
and that I, on the contrary, was a poet who made obscure things clear,
obvious, radiant... There is obscure poetry and there is clear poetry. This
is a fact that we have to accept simply, just as we accept the existence of
the day and of the night, of the things that are done by day and the things
that are done by night... What matters is what Pascal called pens6es de
derriere. That is, the eternally enigmatic other side of things, both of the
obscure or distant and of the clear and immediate. The tendency toward
obscurity, toward resolving enigmas, toward playing games within games,
is as common to humankind as is our image reflected in the clear surface of
water, which can lead us with egotistical voluptuousness to the final blow,
to our death. There is no need to seek obscurities where they do not exist.
(Interview 123, 124)3

But where there are obscurities to be found, Lezama is drawn to the matter,
and works an image into form, sets it within a new time. Lezama offers playful
resistance to the appellation of his poetics as necessarily obscure because neo-
baroque, or, for that matter, necessarily neo-baroque when it molds an obscurity
into a more legible shape. Notably, he turns to the darkness and to the contrast
of day and night to provide a metaphorical anchor for his interlocutor about
how to describe the poetic act. His language recalls that of Walcott above.
The metaphors are not the same as Walcott's, who uses burrowing for poetic
action, the tension of detritus and the numinous as the dark space encountered
by the poetic action, and the eventual work of the poem as a slow naming
that is inspired by how the reconfiguration of blackness in the New World
is not morbid, but vivid. Lezama's night, obscurity, pens6es de derriere, compel
language's becoming form; his poetics grasps at "the eternally enigmatic other
side of things" to render an image. There is a desire in the language of both
poets not for a simple notion of bringing dark things into the light, but to
change the experience of light by naming dark images in elated terms that
nevertheless do not forget the darkness that inspired the poetic act.
The Orphic condition entwined into the verses and sentences of these
poets reveals them to be in love and at imaginative odds with how to design a
notion of subjectivity through their conflicted island-histories. 4 This tension,

3 I cite James Irby's translation in Selections.
4 Rei Terada's Epilogue to Derek Walcott's Poetry: American Mimicry raises the figure of
Orpheus in a close reading of the poem "The Light of the World" from The Arkansas
Testament (1987). The poem presents the poet in love with his "home" and vexed by the
feeling, once there, of being an outsider. "The Light of the World" remixes the trope of


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






RACHEL ELLIS NEYRA


of love and imaginative odds, or malevolence towards history that gives over
to wonderment, is crucial to what I am calling the Orphic condition of New
World poets. And there's nothing wrong with the tension; on the contrary,
it becomes writing radically committed to place, because of a poetic faith in
the capacity of images to endure through time. To clarify early on, by using
the term condition, I am neither repeating the colonially inherited diagnosis
of Caribbean writers as sick, nor the castigation of the topoi (in the Greek
sense meaning place, which informs the classical rhetorical sense of the term,
the places, sites from which one draws an argument) about which they write
and in which they live as analogously ill. I mean to evoke a strand of terms
including geographical position, global-economic situation, orientation
towards time and phenomena, and relation to a community and the world
through historied linguistic variations. There are bindings and blessings that
adhere to each topos in this chain. With the term place, I mean to emphasize
Lezama's and Walcott's Caribbean islands, Cuba and St. Lucia, and how they
are animated, take on another life in their respective poetics.
Exalting its contradictions and polyglossia against the uniform historical
grammars of imperial tongues, and the dominant threat today of US Standard
English, Caribbean poetry renders meanings specific to a beloved site that is
comprised of fragments, of islands that reiterate from one to another their
complex relation to the world's repetitively exclusive ring of nations. This
essay will show these Caribbean poets' relation to time, the image, and place
as expressive of an Orphic desire: to draw the beloved site or body into poetic
form while defraying the metaphysical insistence on "wholeness." Lezama
and Walcott distinctly celebrate the New World's fragments and compose
defiant re-articulations of place that emphasize the aporias and bounty, the
simultaneity of danger and regeneration in their islands.

Orphic Defiance and Desire

Before seeing how Lezama and Walcott re-compose the figure of Orpheus, we
will pause and rehearse, if succinctly, the details of Orpheus' myth, as derived
in part from Ovid and Virgil. Although Orpheus and Eurydice's figures appear

Orpheus through its presentations of a dark relation to the beloved site of both "Beauty"
and "nothing" (American Mimicry 224-226). I do not perform a strictly gendered
and allegorical reading of the myth, as will be evident in my discussion of the trope's
mutability.


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THE ORPHIC CONDITION OF JOSE LEZAMA LIMA, DEREK WALCOTT...


repeatedly over time (in poetry -Rilke, H.D., Rich- and in cinema -Marcel
Camus, Cocteau), this myth contains as many clear passages as veiled ones.
Orpheus is the son of Calliope, matriarch among the Nine Muses, and
perhaps Apollo, god of Light and Song, though his paternal genealogy
is sketchy. He is trained by Apollo to play the lyre, to recite poetry, to sing
beautifully, although it is Dionysus, instead, who he would worship for much
of his life. Orpheus marries Eurydice. One day as Eurydice strolls through the
high grassy fields of Thrace she is pursued by a lusty satyr, a goat-man, and
as she flees, a poisonous snake fatally bites her ankle. At word of her death,
Orpheus loses his mind but does so lyrically, and all of nature cries with his
mournful songs.
Eventually, he pursues her into the underworld, lullabying the guardian
mastiff-monster, Cerberus, to sleep, and brokering a harried deal with Hades,
and his captive goddess, Persephone, who are momentarily seduced by
Orpheus' songs. Eurydice can leave the Hadean realm and return to live with
Orpheus if he is able to exit its caverns without turning to look back at her
face. For what the French philosopher Maurice Blanchot calls a combination
of impatience and desire, Orpheus betrays what he's lost and turns too soon.
Eurydice fades back a second time among the shades. Orpheus roams the
earth, of which, in a sense, Eurydice's body is now a part, making music and
poetry, and all creatures of the earth respond to him and his song.
Until one dawn, alone, perhaps he reaches up to praise the sun god, Apollo,
but on Dionysus' ground, and the offense is too great for the on-looking
Thracian Maenads, a devout female cult of Dionysus. Orpheus is killed by
dismemberment at their hands. Killed for visibly turning from his former
worship of Dionysus, or perhaps for his wandering "sodomy" after the loss of
his wife. Although the latter may be a retrospective Christian imposition on
the myth -that he would deserve punishment for intimacy and sex with men
and animal creatures. The why is not altogether clear; though the how, his
being torn limb from limb, in this situation may also have something to do
with history's reason being overshadowed, given that whatever the provocation
to violence, being ripped apart outstrips reason. Thrown into the river Hebrus,
his body parts do not sink, but float. His head goes on singing. (His death is a
lesson in synecdoche.) Cults will form in Orpheus' name.
One solid version of Orpheus' story does not, and cannot, exist. Indeed, I
emphasize this and pause to rehearse the myth so that the figure is not read as
simply symbolic of the Caribbean poet, as an absolute one-to-one (Orpheus:


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RACHEL ELLIS NEYRA


Caribbean poet, and so, Eurydice: Island-place-home of the poet's song), but
as a malleable figure through which the intensity of the poetic task in the
Caribbean can be re-imagined.
In the essay "The Gaze of Orpheus," Blanchot writes of three crucial
elements to this myth: Orpheus' defiance of the law (of time, art, and spatial
boundaries), his necessary betrayal of both Eurydice herself and her self as
a sign of his song or art, and third, his also necessary impatience with time.
I would add that Orpheus does not just want to "conceal" the face-to-face
encounter with intensity in the work of art, but to have again, with flesh, this
figure that represents intensity (Eurydice after she dwelled in the underworld)
perpetually with him. Not out of a desire to return to "origins," imagining
that the origin of his song, as Blanchot writes elsewhere in the essay, is exactly
Eurydice, but to be that good of a poet that his usage of language would fulfill
his search for endless song and also for the flesh of that song. For this myth is
not about grace or heroism, but poetic will.
How so? Orpheus' song of desire is a song of impatience, an evasion of
time's disappearance, within patience, endlessly attempting to make another
measure of time (Gaze 178-179). It is precisely poetic in this tension. A lyric
poem is a rendering of not only imagined or lived experience, but also of the
crisis with time within that experience that compelled the poet to condense
it into an image. And after the crisis, there is also the rupture between that
moment of desiring to compose and that of actually making the poem. Any
lyric poem, then, contains a song of impatience within its form that offers
another experience of time, another measure of the impatience within patience.
And this brings us to the balance of defiance and desire that turns within the
Orphic condition. The Orphically-minded poet wants two endings within the
space of one: the desired body reimagined by the poem (eros) and the body of
the poem itself that is wrought from the crisis of desire (poiesis).
In thinking of Caribbean island-colonies, -departments, and -nations
alongside this myth about nothingness and will, just as we may ask, At what
point can an image no longer be re-formed, and denied the possibility of
endurance?, we must grasp that poetic language and defiant language both
attempt to fill the darkness of loss with an image. In the poetic confrontation
with the powerful insistence to forget, to become indifferent, to live in bad
faith in relation to a place and a community, Lezama and Walcott compose
images that stimulate memory and thereby make another measure of when
a form is lost, or is not. The language here is not abstract; it is of particular


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THE ORPHIC CONDITION OF JOSE LEZAMA LIMA, DEREK WALCOTT...

concern to poets writing with complex colonial histories and contemporary
touristic and industrial exploitation. It is of particular concern to poets writing
from "illegitimate," "failed," or diasporic national "projects" to engage the issue
of endurance through time. The poetic drives the dangerous desire for the
materiality of language that may become a form of political endurance.

Poetic Time as Reassembly and Resurrection of Images

Returning to the photograph of Lezama, leaning like a pinned but crooked tie
against the statue of the god whose lusty pursuit of Daphne ended not only
in the making of the lyre, but also in her "escape," that is, her transformation
into a tree, I recall lines from Walcott's essay, "The Antilles: Fragments of Epic
Memory" (1992). One poet evokes the other; pulled through one linguistic
tradition into another, and through time, not because of an exact similitude,
but in how each envisions the making of poetry as the making of a sculpture,
and how the metaphors they use to advance this idea ofpoiesis speak of the
Orphic condition. We read from the concentratedly descriptive hand of the
poet who is also a painter: "Poetry, which is perfection's sweat but which must
seem as fresh as the raindrops on a statue's brow, combines the natural and the
marmoreal" (Antilles 69). For Walcott, poetry is the making of a structure that
takes and endures in time, and yet must read as refreshing as the daily rains
of tropical afternoons. In the first two lines of the second stanza of "Muerte
de Narciso" ["Death of Narcissus"], Lezama combines imagery of the natural
with the marmoreal: "Vertical desde el mirmol no miraba / la frente que se
abria en loto hiimedo." ["Vertical from the marble, unseen was the forehead
that opened into a humid lotus"] (9-10).5 Not an entire body of anything, but
fragments of various bodies touch and transform in Lezama's copulating verse.
Its parceling and splicing of elements (marble, then part of a human face)
extend into a moist flower. It is the timing written into the poetic act by both
bards -the perpetual yet vulnerable streaked by the freshness of an instant- I
wish to press presently.
The combination of the natural with the marmoreal is a way of describing
the flexible endurance created by poetry. Poetry as an image of "perfection's
sweat" but "fresh as the raindrops on a statue's brow [...] conjugates both
tenses simultaneously: the past and the present, if the past is the sculpture and

5 In Poesia, 75. My translation.


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the present the beads of dew or rain on the forehead of the past" (Antilles 69,
70). Despite the threats of impermanence, it is within the Orphic condition
of the poet to touch into the space of nothingness between memory and form
with the desire to make an image. Not to carry light into darkness, to use the
Christian and colonial phrasing, but to draw something dark into the light so
as to change the perception of the light. To change the perception of who is in
apriori and who stays out dejure.
Observing the festivities in Felicity, Trinidad and the preparations
for a performance of Ramleela, "the epic dramatization of the Hindu epic
Ramayana," after he has presented an image of the low mountainous landscape
surrounding the town, Walcott stops in the second paragraph of the essay
"The Antilles" on the image of the making of "two huge armatures of bamboo
that looked like immense cages" (65).

They were parts of the body of a god, his calves or thighs, which, fitted
and reared, would make a gigantic effigy. This effigy would be burnt as a
conclusion to the epic's staging. The cane structures flashed a predictable
parallel: Shelly's sonnet on the fallen statue of Ozymandias and his empire,
that 'colossal wreck' in its empty desert. (65-66)

Walcott opens "The Antilles" with an image of a conclusion. Shortly after
giving the reader's eye enduring fields of sugar cane, "low blue mountains" and
"bright grass," the poet moves to the faces of Felicity's population, descendants
of transplanted indentured servants from India, and then, after these few but
full lines, the eye arrives at "something like" a statue. But this figure is only
presented in parts ("calves or thighs"), is moveable in its dismemberment, and
awaits consumption in celebration by fire.
Looking out on the archipelago's pieces -whether seen like those of
Orpheus' dismembered body (scattered, but still singing) or like Eurydice's
(constantly on the verge oflanguage)- one conclusion that must be faced is that
the relentless task of Caribbean poets is to write the desire not for coherence,
which is a trap, but for conjunction that celebrates fragments. To write against
poverty, against global amnesia of the effects of centuries of racial slavery and
colonialism, and into the economic future of the islands that portends further
incommensurability in that the zone's primary export -the image of itself-
does not generate ample returns, is to gather fragments of life, which can
come together something like a rainbow, something like the word in French,
Walcott shows us: arcs-en-ciel. The gathering of light through breaks in the


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fog, through "the effort of memory" is the task of the "Antillean imagination"
(Antilles 82). Not to create a whole image, but an image precisely composed of
fragments that remain fragments. For Walcott, facing this conclusion creates
a new measure of time and opens into the wonder of experience despite the
best colonial efforts at spoiling a creative relation to place, despite the best
efforts by globalization at gutting the landscape except where it can be tamed
as a resort. Animating the land surrounding the bamboo god of Felicity, what
is emphasized is that the thing itself is made, unlike a statue of stone, of a live
and limber frame, a tree well conditioned to endure the weights and fits of
nature, and to return less obtrusively from whence it came. Instead of being
a remnant, the bamboo god, like a poem, is co-existent with the Trinidadian
people, and is a performance of communal endurance over time.
Poetry does not offer a completed object that refers back to the false,
and prolifically destructive, European-Cartesian notion of wholeness
for Lezama, but a set of fragments that can be continuously re-shaped.6
Analogously, the Caribbean's "fragments" and "pieces" assemble figuratively
to show scars, but again, not a whole object in Walcott's prose. He writes:
"Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than
that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole. The glue
that fits the pieces is the sealing of its original shape." Walcott continues:
"It is such a love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments, the
cracked heirlooms whose restoration shows its white scars. The gathering
of broken pieces is the care and pain of the Antilles" (Antilles 69). Unlike
a vase, the Caribbean's "cracked heirlooms" cannot achieve a completeness
that was never there to begin with (it was never anywhere to begin with,
really, even the Garden of Eden contained the tree that was its aporia); it
is rather the act itself of gathering the names of the fragments that is done
out of love. Poetry grants elation with the pain of language on the verge of
images that sustain the importance of fragments.
As Walcott's poetics reassembles fragments of memory and language
with the intensity, desire, and defiance of Orpheus' repeated songs that show
how Eurydice constantly verges on words, Lezama's poetics "resurrects" a
body. He invokes the religious concept of the word, particularly the Pauline


6 Brett Levinson elaborates this point of Lezama's distance from Descartes and Hu-
manism in the chapter "Humanism, New Criticism, Metaphorical Subject" of Secondary
Moderns (103, 111, 115).


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emphasis on the idea of the human as a creature suited to transformations
and resurrections, though for Lezama these metamorphoses can occur within
one's lifetime. This notion, of poetry as resurrection, should also be read
within Lezama's experience living in a postcolonial and revolutionary national
context in Cuba, and while remembering that he is a poet driven by human
persistence as a poetic matter. This is why, for him, metaphor is essential,
always involves translation, and is in no way limited to a mimetic view of the
world and words.
In the aforementioned interview with Alvarez Bravo, Lezama elaborates
on his usage of the term potens, the "si es possible" ["if possible"], or "la
posibilidad infinite" ["the infinite possibility"], of ongoing copulation between
images. For Lezama, nothing is lost. He places poetry in an almost one-to-one
relation with the image, except that the poem also creates a body, and each
individual poetic body within the broader system of bodies resurrects figures
that seem lost to the past or to obscurity. "Y como la mayor posibilidad infinita
es la resurrecci6n, la poesia, la imagen, tenia que expresar su mayor abertura
de compis, que es la resurrecci6n" (Orbita 35). ["And since the greatest of
infinite possibilities is resurrection, poetry -the image- had to express its most
encompassing dimension, which is resurrection"] (Interview 128). A place can
offer the possibility of metamorphoses; the poem offers resurrection on the
other side of each death, each historical effort at covering and burying between
metamorphoses, and not only for the individual, but also for a community,
since poetry is the concentration of the senses into signs, into images which
are shared and given meaning by a people. Lezama continues:

Fue entonces que adquiri el punto de vista que enfrento a la teoria
heideggeriana del hombre para la muerte, levantando el concept de la poesia
que viene a establecer la causalidad prodigiosa del ser para la resurrecci6n, el
ser que vence a la muerte y a lo saturnino... Es decir, el hombre, el pueblo,
distintas situaciones que logran agrupamientos, alcanzan una plenitud
po6tica. (Orbita 35, 36)

It was then that I gained the perspective that set against the Heideggerian
theory of man-for-death, proposing a concept of poetry that establishes
the prodigious causality of being-for-resurrection, of being that triumphs
over death and over the Saturnian realm... In other words, man, a nation,
different situations that form certain groupings may arise to a poetic
plenitude. (Interview 128, 129)


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That being triumphs over death as poetic plenitude is the Orphic thesis. (Even
when dismembered, he continued to sing.) The figure of Eurydice in the
Lezamian scheme is not an entirely lost figure, but one on the verge of another life,
of resurrection through poetic translation. "Poetic plenitude" exists in numerous
formations because they all rely on the regenerative capacity of the image. Walcott's
archaeological metaphor of excavation that considers language as something like
the reassembly of a broken vase meets with Lezama's notion that poetry resurrects
the most earth-bound of things: images. The realization that the present bursts
with visions, stories, images that seem lost to the past but, instead, are vaguely part
of a place's present, deepens the stake on how the poet sees, names, and brings
such figures into form.

"The Wrong Light" and the Tensions of Place

A century looked at a landscape furious with vegetation and with the
wrong eye. [T]he Caribbean is looked at with elegiac pathos, a prolonged
sadness to which L6vi-Strauss has supplied an epigraph: Tristes Tropiques.
Their tristesse derives from an attitude to the Caribbean dusk, to rain, to
uncontrollable vegetation, to the provincial ambition of Caribbean cities
where brutal replicas of modern architecture dwarf the small houses
and streets. The mood is understandable...but there is something alien
and ultimately wrong in the way such a sadness, even a morbidity, is
described by English, French, or some of our exiled writers. It relates to
a misunderstanding of the light and the people on whom the light falls.
(Antilles 75)

To extend the timing of Walcott's quote above, the Caribbean is still today
often conflated with the image of light; there is eternal sunshine on its beaches,
there is nothing obscure in the lives and minds of its inhabitants. What
Walcott calls "the Tourist Board" and "History" in Omeros (1990) and what
Lezama more generally calls "they" and "suitors" to refer to imperialist sites
-the US in particular in his poem "Pensamientos en la habana" ["Thoughts in
Havana"] (1949)- construct the Caribbean as shoddy and flippant as a flip-
flop. In such representations, the underdeveloped region exists geographically
for the first-world tourist's pleasures that cannot be consummated at home,
and economically for the work of the back-broken and underpaid, literally
the out sourced. Many Caribbean writers re-shape this narrative, Jamaica
Kincaid's A Small Island (1988) and ]douard Glissant's Caribbean Discourse
(1989) being but two examples.


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RACHEL ELLIS NEYRA


The engagement of the darkness of the colonial past and how to write the
Caribbean's "light and the people on whom the light falls" becomes a challenge
of dexterity for poets caught between a sense of exile and constriction in
relation to a place. The images of exile -flight from the home site that calls
for representation- as well as constriction -the inter-woven sense of the poet's
desires with those of this site- reappear throughout the poetics of Walcott
and Lezama. The tension of exilic and constricted imagery thrusts the poet's
imagination outward to be able, then, to look back at the beloved site and
poeticize it, so that language sinks deeper into the image of the place. But
the language of these poets does so knowing, as did Orpheus', that there is a
potential betrayal contained in this kind of posterior poeticization. There is
an estrangement enveloped in this trope of linguistic intimacy. This is a long-
standing Walcottian theme, and characterizes the different yet related lives of
both Walcott and Lezama -poet-exile abroad and poet-exile at home.
As an example of this tension of exile and constriction in relation to place,
we may contrast two quotes from Walcott's essay "What the Twilight Says"
(1970). The first passage presents an emphasis on the poet's exilic and the second
an emphasis on his constricted pain in relation to his people, his island country.
But neither quotation is so easily divided, as both bear the marks not of a choice
between one or the other -going or staying- but of the tension of feeling the
pressures of both one and the other simultaneously in the making of art.

There was a value in the darkness, in the cultivation of obscurity... All
[Caribbean artists' and actors'] betrayals are quarrels with the self, their
pardonable desertions the inevitable problem of all island artists: the choice
of home or exile, self-realization or spiritual betrayal of one's country.
Travelling widens this breach. Choice grows more melodramatic with every
twilight. (34, 35)

To create your reality, you must become part of them, spit, applaud, touch,
eat with and sing with them, but what really sings in the dark hole of
the heart is hollowness, what screams is something lost, something so
embarrassed, like an animal that abandons its dying image in its cub, and
moves deeper into bush. (27)

In the making or forming of a self, the tension that emerges in Walcott's
language, like that of Orpheus, is the inevitable betrayal of a beloved body,
just as the turn towards it is made. With existential terms that become
metaphoric, the second quotation engages the significant and basic ritual acts
that demonstrate being a part of a place. But initiation, entry, becomes the


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ritual exit of departure, distancing, and in this inevitably ill-timed form of
relation, the self is made just as something dark shows itself, and something is
felt as lost. The condition creates two stitched sides. Or, as with Orpheus, the
space of one ending being pressed upon by the desire for two: "There was a
value in the darkness, in the cultivation of obscurity" (35) is set with intensity,
in the same body, beside "but what really sings in the dark hole of the heart
is hollowness, what screams is something lost" (27). The titles of Walcott's
works only emphasize this braid of exile and constriction in his relation to
St. Lucia, as well as to language "itself": Another Life (1973), The Fortunate
Traveler (1981), The Prodigal (2004).
But the poet's outstretched hand groping at obscurity in language does not
equate to sadness; Walcott notes obscurity's value. Thought looking to draw
the right image from the experience of darkness is inspired. And yet because
this gesture is made with a human hand, something can always slip, has always
slipped, through its fingers. And the heart, unlike the opened hand, cups the
loss, internalizes the pound of the hand making mea culpa. In the passage
above, darkness marks a mood of indecision about departure and conveys
the desire for an axis that holds together the linguistic, imaginative, and
experiential complexity of desiring and belonging to a specific place. Walcott's
"darkness" and "obscurity" are analogous to Glissant's notion of opacity, which
is an intensification of the notion of difference, a density held within the other
that only extends the physical and psychic difference between individuals. In a
place that conceives itself and its history out of those philosophies which value
the right light and whiteness, darkness holds layers of value.
For Lezama and his expressions of distance as well as constriction, a
betrayal of place does not happen by becoming a departed Cuban exile -an
exile in a more legally fatal sense than in Walcott's usage of the term. That
is, unlike Walcott's exile that has granted him a passport to wander and
return, Lezama's entry into exile would have been a betrayal, at the time, from
which there was no coming back. The nature of Lezama's commitment to the
Cuban Revolution is a polemical historical matter taken up by various critics.
Knowing what happens to the one who stares into the eyes of Medusa, I will
intentionally curtail this part of the biography to move towards the literature,
and because I contend in general that a nation is a place for the poet to love,
but never quite fit into. How many more examples need this world produce?
It is notable that Lezama was forced into a type of lettered banishment when
the novel Paradiso was published in 1966; for its homosexual characters and


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RACHEL ELLIS NEYRA


content, it is said. Thereafter, his work was shunned in Cuba for a period,
which intensified with the notorious "Padilla Affair,"7 but notably just as his
work was being translated into French, Italian, and English. One wonders,
though, was he torn apart or made to fade?
Shortly after the Padilla Affair, in a letter to his sister Elofsa written in
December of 1971, we read not only the tension of exile and constriction in
the context of Lezama's life, but also the tension's weight in relation to the
bodies made by his poetry and his conception of his charge as Cuban poet: "Yo
soy el que ha sufrido las consecuencias terrible de la dispersi6n de la familiar"
(Cartas 237). ["I am the one who has suffered the terrible consequences of the
dispersion of the family."], he writes to his sister in Miami. "Alguien tenia que
guarder las b6vedas del cementerio, donde estin nuestros padres y nuestros
abuelos, guardar de cerca los recuerdos, las ropas, los cofres y todos los lugares
en donde nuestra sangre dej6 una sombra. Yo fui el guardian de la sustancia
para la resurrecci6n y tengo que sufrir las consecuencias y desgarrarme como el
pelicano por el peso de la maldici6n" (237). ["Someone had to guard the vaults
of the cemetery, where our parents and grandparents are, guard from nearby
the memories, the clothes, the coffers and all of the places where our blood
left a shadow. I was the guardian of the substance for resurrection and I have
to suffer the consequences and rip myself like a pelican from the weight of the
curse"].8 Here is an exact mixture of the darkness, amorousness, and defiance
of time's limits on the body within the Orphic experience of language. But
what a strange metaphor for himself, after that of the guardian: a sea bird, one
that has evolved a large pouch to carry needed and hunted sustenance, one
whose wingspan casts a prehistoric shadow, one that is ripped by the weight
of what must be carried in flight. The self-appellation as vigilant guardian
and bard of the potential reanimation of the entombed is that of an exile at


7 The "Padilla Affair" took place in April 1971 and involves a scandal around Herberto
Padilla's book of poems Fuera deljuego, considered counterrevolutionary. After a month
of incarceration, Padilla appeared on Cuban television and apologized for his crimes
against the Revolution, meanwhile accusing Lezama, Virgilio Pifiera, and others of being
homosexuals and of writing works that were not in line with the Revolution. The early
70s are considered by many as gray years of militancy when dogmatic factions intensi-
fied within cultural institutions. These are the years of the work camps for dissidents
and queers, as discussed in the work of Reinaldo Arenas, and in the documentary film,
Conducta impropia (1984). See Enrico Mario Santi's "La invenci6n de Lezama Lima."
Vuelta 102 (1985).
8 My translation.


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home, one who nevertheless lovingly abides his constriction, his desires as
intertwined with those of his place.
But this other metaphor of the pelican complicates things. Is Lezama
strictly the Orphic or possibly also the Eurydicean figure? At a recent
gathering of young poets from all over the island just outside of Havana,
in Alamar, I heard no name repeated as often and as tenderly influential as
Lezama's. But with the pushes that forced Lezama out of cultural institutions
and national publication, one could argue that his beloved place betrayed him,
along with other queer and otherwise revolutionarily ambiguous artists. It is
as though between the aforementioned photograph's capture of the young
Lezama against Apollo, the subsequent heyday of his work on several journals
(and in particular the influential Origenes), and his later years, that as Lezama
continued to write, he was not only summoning figures from obscurity, but
also committing himself to darkness, committing his poetics to the potential of
being lost because of his intense belief in the capacity of language to obliterate
and resurrect. That is to say, he was devoted to and therefore sent himself into
the destruction that he theorized the act of writing itself to be.9
Let's move from the epistolary to the poetic. For Lezama, the New World
poetic experience covers the grounds of nature, myth, as well as everyday
experience, and he reads continuity between them. "La imagen es la realidad del
mundo invisible. Asi los griegos colocaban las imagenes como pobladores del
mundo de los muertos. Yo creo que la maravilla del poema es que Ilega a crear
un cuerpo, una sustancia resistente enclavada entire una metifora, que avanza
creando infinitas conexiones, y una imagen final que asegura la pervivencia
de esa sustancia, de esa poiesis... como la misma naturaleza escondi6ndose y
regalindose al tacto" (Orbita 31, 32). ["The image is the reality of the invisible
world. Thus the Greeks placed images as the populators of the world of the

9 Revisiting an interview of Lezama, Levinson notes his response to the interviewer's
concern with his life post-Padilla Affair: "But you, my friend, an impassioned reader of
Darrida [sic], does it surprise you that a man is annihilated when confronted with his
own discourse?" Levinson rephrases Lezama's take on this Derridean signature: "dis-
course turns its creator to dust" (SM117). I note this language for how it reveals the ten-
sion of the Orphic and Eurydicean figures in Lezama's poetics. A longer quotation from
Levinson's book extends the figures' shadows: "Lezama loses things -including himself-
so as to save them from death: as long as they are conceived as misplaced they cannot
be extinct...Unique to the poem, therefore, is not actually the poet's own death, but the
individual manner in which the poet appropriates and responds to history...which itself
relies upon the future generations which will resurrect and transmute, destroy and rebuild
it" (SM 153, 154).


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RACHEL ELLIS NEYRA


dead. I believe that the marvel of a poem is that it manages to create a body, a
resistant substance set between a metaphor that advances by creating infinite
connections and a final image that assures the survival of that substance, that
poiesis...like nature itself eluding and yielding to our touch"] (Interview 124).
Poetry creates[] a body" that can endure and transform through time, and at
this defiance of the laws that limit time, space, and bodies, the poet marvels[s]"
We will say, then, that Lezama is both Orphic and Eurydicean: summoner
and summoned; singer of the shades, one who knew he too would fade among
them, and shade who knew that he too would be re-called, "resurrected,"
pulled through time, past the risk of being forgotten by other poets (this is
not as simple as literary influence or literary history, but closer to what Ralph
Ellison described as the writer's power to select his ancestors, regardless of
who his literary relatives may be).
This notion of the poem as a creator of a body appears in the opening of
the essay "Confluencias" ["Confluences"] (1968), in which Lezama lays out
his poetics and its relation to darkness, which is to say, the night, but also a
metaphor for the experience of the New World poet, as in Walcott's usage of
the term.10 "Yo veia a la noche como si algo se hubiera caido sobre la tierra, un
descendimiento... Una marea sobre otra marea, y asi incesantemente, hasta
ponerse al alcance de mis pies (Confluencias 355). ["I used to see the night as
if something had fallen upon the earth, a descent... A tide upon another tide
and so on, ceaselessly, until it came within reach of my feet"] (Confluences 99).
There is a slow transformation described here, an expansion of the experience
of the night as it becomes an extension of the sea. Then there is a constriction
of the experience, and an emphasis on vulnerability as the night becomes a
second skin for the speaker, another layer through which to feel: "La noche
me regalaba una piel, debia ser la piel de la noche" (Confluencias 355). ["The
night gave me the gift of another skin; it must have been the night's own
skin"] (Confluences 99). But the night was also the experience of "innegable
terror" (355), ["undeniable terror"] (100). The terror incited by the night is the
"horror vacui," the denial not just of images but of the ability to make images.
The experience of night continues to transform. "La noche se ha reducido
a un punto, que va creciendo de nuevo hasta volver a ser la noche. La reducci6n
-que compruebo- es una mano. La situaci6n de la mano dentro de la noche,
me da un tiempo. El tiempo donde eso puede ocurrir" (356). ["The night has

10 I cite James Irby's translation of"Confluences" in Selections.


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become reduced to a single point, which then grows until it becomes night
again. This reduction -which I evidence- is a hand. The placement of the hand
in the night gives me a sequence of time. A time in which this can happen"]
(100). The reduction of the experience of night into the image of another hand
awaiting touch cajoles the terror of the night as either a space of excessive
images or a space of no images at all. But the metaphor offers more. "Vacilante
por el temor, pues con una decision inexplicable, iba lentamente adelantando
mi mano...hasta encontrarme la otra mano, lo otro... El convencimiento de
que estaba alli, hacia decrecer mi angustia, hasta que mi mano volvia otra vez
a su soledad" (356). ["Hesitant in my fear, and then inexplicably certain, I
would slowly start putting out my hand...until I found the other hand, that
otherness... The conviction that it was there lessened my anguish, until my
hand went back once more to being alone"] (100-101). The reduction of the
night grants a limit or temporality of terror, the experience of being touched,
and the knowledge that as the touching began it will also end with "once more
being...alone" (101). Touch is an interval of time, the potential of intimacy, as
well as the reminder of one's own corpus. Again we read the nearness ofpoiesis
and eros. Reaching for and being reached at: this is a compressed retelling of
Orpheus' grasp through the dark and of Eurydice's. Which is more daring
or timid? The figure that compels grasp or that which grasps? The language
above is also a retelling of a common saying: to keep covered while sleeping
(even on the hottest night) lest the hands of the dead take one by the feet.
Lezama draws a dangerous flirtation with darkness, for it yields the
possibility of narration that can be shared on the other side.

Despu6s supe que en los Cuadernos de Rilke estaba tambi6n la mano, y
despues supe que estaba en casi todos los nifios... Ahi estaba ya el devenir y
el arquetipo, la vida yla literatura... Retirar la mano? iDisminuir mi terrible
experiencia porque ya otro la habia sufrido?... El tiempo transcurrido me
daba una solemne lecci6n: el convencimiento de que lo que nos sucede, le
sucede a todos... No solamente esperaba la otra mano, sino tambi6n la otra
palabra, que esti formando en nosotros un continue hecho y deshecho por
instantes. Una flor que forma otra flor cuando se posa en ella el caballito
del diablo. Saber que por instantes algo viene para completarlos, y que
ampliando la respiraci6n se encuentra un ritmo universal. (356-357)

Later, I learned that hand is also found in Rilke's Notebooks, and later
still I learned it is found in almost all children... So there already was the
becoming and the archetype, life and literature... Take my hand away?


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RACHEL ELLIS NEYRA


Belittle my terrible experience because someone else had already suffered
it too?... The time that went by taught me a solemn lesson: the conviction
that what happens to us, happens to everyone... I waited not only for the
other hand but also for the word, the word that is always forming in us a
continuum that for a few moments is created and then destroyed. A flower
that forms another flower when a dragonfly rests on it. To know that for a
few moments something comes to complete us, and that by breathing more
deeply we find a universal rhythm. (101-102)

What is crucial to read here is the attempt by the poet to draw his
experience of the senses from the dark towards an image, into literary and
communal form. In this passage, Lezama presents a critique of mimicry as
pejorative. The poet dismisses the idea that repetition, especially that which
calls attention to its being a repetition of a form, reveals inferiority. The poet
does not withdraw the suggestiveness of experience because it is shared, but
places it into a form precisely because it is. In speaking of a "universal" rhythm
as breathing (and in this case from the throat of one accustomed to breathing,
inspiraci6n itself as a baroque activity, asthmatic and cluttered), and that
"what happens to us, happens to everyone," Lezama does not write a negative
homogeneity regarding human or sensual experience. The example of a flower
being momentarily "completed" by what appears like another flower but is a
dragonfly-a different order ofbeing that will take flight elsewhere, and destroy
the desire for completion- presents the idea of multiple and different things,
and their movements, being in relation to one another within a historical and
copulative continuum of forms. For Lezama, the body, human and poetic,
confronts the idea of a world without images (Berenger 42). Which would be
no world, as it would be a world without poetry.
Lezama and Walcott write through the tensions of exile and constriction,
of darkness and "the wrong [historical] light" because this is the regenerative
friction offered by their beloved islands to the one who draws images in a state
of wonder and defiance.

A Conclusion: OfEurydice

There on the beach, in the desert, lies the dark well
where the rose of my life was lowered, near the shaken plants,
near a pool of fresh tears, tolled by the golden bell


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THE ORPHIC CONDITION OF JOSE LEZAMA LIMA, DEREK WALCOTT...

of allamanda, thorns of the bougainvillea, and that is
their bounty! They shine with defiance from weed and flower,
even those that flourish elsewhere, vetch, ivy, clematis,

on whom the sun now rises with all its power,
not for the Tourist Board or for Dante Alighieri,
but because there is no other path for its wheel to take

except to make the ruts of the beach road an allegory
of this poem's career, of yours, that she died for the sake
of a crowning wreath of false laurel; so, John Clare, forgive me

for this morning's sake, forgive me, coffee, and pardon me,
milk with two packets of artificial sugar,
as I watch these lines grow and the art of poetry harden me

into sorrow as measured as this, to draw the veiled figure
of Mamma entering the standard elegiac.
No, there is grief, there will always be, but it must not madden... (34-51)

Walcott's elated elegy The Bounty (1997) presents the Orphic condition
anew. This is not an instance, as in the poem "The Light of the World" (1987),
suspended as an epigraph, in which the speaker constructs an Orphic relation
to his island by first presenting a gaze of desire at a woman, even if that female
form transforms into "Beauty" itself. Here the relation is wrought through the
image of the poet looking at his island that has just buried his mother, Alix
Walcott. As we've seen, the Orphic condition is partly elegiac, but it is also an
extended praise of the language of living with darkness that inspires song.
The lines above that open section ii show nature mourning only to
burst forth with more of itself around the burial site, not with a message
of transcendence from the earth, but immanence through its cycles. As the
fourth section opens, the poet asks, "But can she or can she not read this? Can
you read this, / Mamma, or hear it" (95-96)? Although the poet has simulated
the movement of his mother being laid into the earth he most loves by laying
her down again in the lines of this elegy, he does so not only to lay her to rest,
but also to re-animate her ("rose of my life") amidst the bounty that blooms
("vetch, ivy, clematis") out of both of these island grounds, St. Lucia's and the
poem's. He draws her voice into the poem's body, and she answers. Naming
the titles of gospel hymns that she loved and taught, Alix Walcott's voice


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






RACHEL ELLIS NEYRA


enters and sings: '"There Is a Green Hill Far Away,' / 'Jerusalem the Golden'"
(125-126).
In the fifth section we come upon an arresting aside palmed between
parentheses: "(and I hope this settles the matter / of presences" (133-134). If
in Walcott's poetry the figure of Eurydice is legible as the island of St. Lucia,
but in certain places the figure also becomes a woman desired, here the figure
of Eurydice takes on yet another life as his mother but as her body comes to
coincide with that of his island and its natural yields. Yet another "presence" is
composed that does not "settle"but complicates "the matter of/ presences" Yet
another presence is drawn from the figure of Eurydice, one not merely lost to
perpetual darkness, or framed simply as the site of origin. Eurydice, as a figure
of metamorphosis, as human or island body, as imagined and poetic body, is
the most dexterous figure after all, as important to the Orphic condition as
the desire to sing. And the poem works to share in this figure's transforming
plenitude. For what the elegy announces is the sustenance that its very form
provides.
The analogy between mother(is)land, mother tongue, and body of origin
is legible in Lezama's poetics, also. We read in the poem, "Mi Hermana Eloisa"
["My Sister Eloisa"], written well after his mother's death and his family's
dispersal into exile: "Comienzo porque s6 que alguien me oye / la que oy6
mi nacimiento / Mi madre, estoy muy ahogado..." ["I begin because I know
someone hears me / she who heard my birth / My mother, I am drowned..."
(18-20). But with the way line twenty ends, "I am drowned," we again read a
complication in Lezama's invocation of the Orphic figure. Lezama draws his
poetic experience of place as Orpheus' singing but dismembered body and as
Eurydice's, twice sent among the shades. That is to say, his commitment to
poetics as resurrection and to Cuban poetics as the site he wrote (like Orpheus'
song of Eurydice) and which would also resurrect him, guard his body from
being lost to time (like Eurydice in Orpheus' song) are entirely entwined. We
see again that in Lezama's poetics, the figures are not neatly gendered. And it
only makes sense, as the poetic body itself becomes a site that exists in relation
to the beloved place, and becomes another island in a poetic chain.
As I conclude, I emphasize that I write of Eurydice's figure as one that
becomes, transforms into other images that signify persistence and regeneration
despite loss. I would fail in discussing the myth in relation to Caribbean and
New World poetics were I not to reconfigure the form of Eurydice, or, rather,
to acknowledge hers -like the Americas- as a plural form that vivifies the


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THE ORPHIC CONDITION OF JosA LEZAMA LIMA, DEREK WALCOTT...


importance of reconfiguration. The poet's unending engagement of darkness
is the unending "hunt for language" that creates a community and memory of
place that will not be effaced through time (End 125). (Isn't this one goal of
a revolution?) The reach is made because of the dexterity and potential of the
beloved place, because the poet must compose the cultural body as a legitimate
body.
A poetics of place must form images against the persistent possibility
of loss. Lezama's grasp through the darkness resurrects: "Soy yo el espiritu
atolondrado por esos aparentemente confundidos enmigrantes, el que escucha,
persigue y suma de nuevo..." (Confluencias 366). ["I am the spirit befuddled
by those apparently confused emigrants, I am the one who listens, seeks, and
brings together again"] (Confluences 119). The one who does not forget, makes
a new measure of time, love, and language with a place "because it sings,"
writes the Orphic condition (Bounty 16).


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






RACHEL ELLIS NEYRA


Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics. Trans. Daniel
Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999. Print.
Alvarez Bravo, Armando. Orbita de Lezama Lima. Havana: Ediciones Union,
1966. Print.
Berenger Hrnandez, Carmen and Victor Fowler Calzada.JosdLezama Lima:
Diccionario de citas. Havana: Casa Editorial Abril, 2000. Print.
Blanchot, Maurice. The Sirens' Song: Selected Essays by Maurice Blanchot. Trans.
Sacha Rabinovitch. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982. Print.
Dash, J. Michael. The Other America: Caribbean Literature in a New World
Context. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1998. Print.
Levinson, Brett. Secondary Moderns: Mimesis, History, andRevolution in Lezama
Lima's "4merican Expression." Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1996. Print.
Lezama Lima, Jose. "Muerte de Narciso" and "Mi Hermana Eloisa." Poesia.
Madrid: Editorial Citedra, 1992. Print.
--. Cartas (1939-1976). Ed. Eloisa Lezama Lima. Madrid: Editorial Origenes,
1979. Print.
---."Confluencias." Elreino de la imagen. Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1981.
Print.
---."Thoughts in Havana"; "InterviewwithJos6 Lezama Lima"; "Confluences"
in Selections. Ed. Ernesto Livon-Grosman. Berkley: U of California P,
2005. Print.
Santi, Enrico Mario. "La invenci6n de Lezama Lima." Vuelta 102 (1985).
Print.
Terada, Rei. Derek Walcott's Poetry: American Mimicry. Boston: Northeastern
UP, 1992. Print.
Walcott, Derek. What the Twilight Says. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
1998. Print.
--. "The Light of the World." Selected Poems. New York: Farrar Straus and
Giroux, 2007. Print.
--. The Bounty. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1997. Print


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Literary Routes into Sub-Urban Western Trinidad

Reading the Port, City, and Country


Jak Peake
University of Essex



I willgo to the city where there are streetlights, andI will ride
in the tramcars. I will buy manyfine things in the shops, and
when I come back to Kumaca, you will not recognize me.
Earl Lovelace, The Schoolmaster

The contrasting rhetorical dichotomy of the corrupt city versus the idyllic
countryside remains a powerful literary metaphor. In The Country and
the City, Raymond Williams's central thesis is that the country and city are
not so much discrete locales, but are rather imbricated and interconnected.
As Williams stressed, it must be borne in mind that agricultural trade, for the
most part, was responsible for the creation of the city. This resonates with the
etymology of the words "urban" and "urbane" which derive from the Latin
urbs, denoting the curve of a ploughshare.1 The city appropriately takes
its roots and routes from man's relationship with the soil. Furthermore,
had it not been for access to water, the merchant town or "portus" -from
which the word "port" is derived- of the ninth and tenth century might
not have come into being. With attention to the specific and local, this
paper presents a literary geography of the city and country in western
Trinidad. Particular emphasis is given to Port of Spain, San Fernando, and
the semi-urban belt extending east from Port of Spain along the Eastern
Main Road (EMR) known as East-West Corridor, while the chronological
thrust centers on Trinidad in the 1940s-50s.





1 See Thomas and Garnham (159).


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JAK PEAKE


West coast ofTrinidad from Waterloo Temple, courtesy ofJak Peake


The Port

Port of Spain and San Fernando, Trinidad's capital city and its second largest
city respectively, were firmly established as the island's most prominent urban
centres by the twentieth century. The calm sea of the Gulf of Paria provided
excellent spots for harbouring ships. As a result, the cabildo under the direction
of the Spanish governor Don Jos6 Maria Chac6n relocated the capital from
the inland St. Joseph to Port of Spain in 1784.2 That same year, San Fernando
(originally San Fernando de Naparima), as with Port of Spain yet some thirty
miles south, was founded around a port.3
In Samuel Selvon's and V.S. Naipaul's writing, Port of Spain's port operates
as a romantic site of fleeting encounters. Their narratives offer glimpses of the
port as a place of tourism, travel, escape, danger, brisk meetings, movement,
crowds, voyeurism, flJneurie, arrivals, and departures. For the eponymous
protagonist of A House for Mr Biswas, his first sighting of the capital's port
is one of "deep romance" (312). The port's connection to global tourism and
travel, as "ocean liners" (312) drop anchor from a plethora of destinations, is
deeply entwined in Biswas's romance.

2 Brereton discusses the relocation of the capital and furthermore displays a "Chronology
of Major Events" which helpfully pinpoints the date (19, 250).
3 See Ottley (26).


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LITERARY ROUTES INTO SUB-URBAN WESTERN TRINIDAD READING THE PORT...

Port of Spain's harbour is perhaps most significant in pre-independence
writing on Trinidad as a site of US military activity during the Second World
War. With the "docksite" facilities around Port of Spain's Wrightson Road
wharf area, the US military claimed much of the capital's port for shipping
purposes. In Miguel Street, Edward and the unnamed narrator catch a glimpse
of "the huge screen of an open-air cinema" of the US docksite through
a barbed-wire fence (150). Selvon and Naipaul both illustrate the sense of
separation between local residents, employees, and US personnel inaugurated
by the docksite installation. Nevertheless, both demonstrate the porous yet
uneven relations between Trinidadians and US personnel.
In Miguel Street Edward opens "Until the Soldiers Came" as a figure
star-struck by the US. Aping everything from US idioms, customs and dress
to Hollywood actors' mannerisms, Edward becomes scornful of all things
Trinidadian. At the denouement of this chapter, Edward's love affair with
the US sours as his wife, presumed barren, leaves him for a US soldier with
whom it is rumoured she has become pregnant. Alongside the US serviceman's
interest in Edward's wife, Edward's boast that the soldiers "at the base" are
"begging" him to sing is indicative of US consumption of Trinidadian calypso.
With the opening of the United Service Organization (USO) at the docksite
facilities on Wrightson Road in 1942 and the US army radio station in St.
Clair, these US institutions made Trinidadian calypso official entertainment.
As a US militarised zone, the capital's port became a source of US-tropical
American cultural exchange, as workers from Trinidad and immigrants from
across the wider Caribbean flocked to work at the US facilities.

City Slicking: Saga Boys and Steelpan

In many respects, Edward's initial love affair with the US is illustrative of a wider
impact of the northern giant's cultural influence on the island and, in particular,
the rise of the "saga boy."The dandyesque saga boy, zoot-suited and inclined to the
latest US fashions, was a definitive product ofUS-Trinidadian interaction in the
1940s.4 On visiting Trinidad, Patrick Leigh Fermor found saga Weltanschauung
as "authentic [as the] dandyism of Baudelaire and Constantin Guys" (175-6).


4 In 1945, correspondents for the Trinidad Guardian fiercely disputed the origins of the
word "saga" as a derivative of either US nicknames for the unemployed ("sag" or "sagger")
or a creole pun on the word "swagger." See Neptune (120).


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






JAK PEAKE


Nevertheless, Fermor could not dismiss its "low life" association, picking up on
the ambivalence of the saga boy's reputation (175).
As a rhetorical figure, the saga boyis both connected to the style and sophistication of
the cityand to its appaentdegradation and corption. In Ian McDonalds TheHumming-
bind 7T, it is generally used pejoraively by villagers. Scomful of the Ramlal's nephew and
his threats to slash Kaiser with a broken botte, Jaillin presages that "All he ever grow up
be is a Port o' Spain saga boy" (27). For Kaiser the appearance of a passing saga boy who
occasionally drinks i Ramlals shop is particularly evocative of his ambivalent impulses of
attraction ("real flashy' and repulsion ("chupid flashy) for saga life (74). While Kaiser ap-
pears to partially accept his grandfather's scorn for a saga boy who occasionally drinks in
Ramlal's shop, he finds the saga boy's rhetoric persuasive: "he speak some good sense,
eh." While the villagers scorn the saga boy, he in turn snubs labouring in the cane
fields, equating it with a "gutter" existence with little reward. Yet it is proffered by 1'
Boss that "he love... [the] village so dam' much" (74). From both perspectives, the
agricultural and the urban, antagonism between these two groups is less static than
it first appears and admiration is mutual The saga boy who clearly despises rural toil
nevertheless enjoys spending his leisure time in the country;, vice versa Kaiser admires city
talk and ambition, even as he is depreciative ofthe saga boy's attire.
An unforeseen and coincidental upshot of US-Trinidadian base relations
during the Second World War saw the galvanisation of an emergent musical
and cultural form: pan (or steelpan). Evolving from the Trinidadian tamboo
bamboo bands, which in turned derived from the African-influenced kalinda
drumming bands, steelband emerged in the 1940s as a new carnival phenom-
enon.5 Formed initially from any metal debris, the early pans quickly evolved
as locals incorporated the oil drums which were left discarded by factories and
the US bases (Stuempfle 36).
Before its role in the projected nationalism of Trinidad and Tobago's
political cadre in the 1950s and 1960s, steelband music emerged during the
1940s as a lower-class and scandalous pastime. As a carnival component,
the steelband, beginning life in Port of Spain, was closely associated with
the saga boy and the calypsonian. It soon developed a reputation for fierce
local competitiveness, danger, criminality and machismo. Opening the final
chapter of A Brighter Sun, Selvon provides a potted history of the steelband
via reportage:

5 The first newspaper reference to a steelband was made in 1940 with regard to Alexan-
der's Ragtime Band, which took to the streets of Port of Spain, borrowing the name from
a Hollywood movie. See Stuempfle (35-36).


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LITERARY ROUTES INTO SUB-URBAN WESTERN TRINIDAD READING THE PORT...

[S]teel bands, growing in the war years, took to the streets for the first time, and
pandemonium reigned asTrinidadians were allowed to indulge in two days of
Carnival... There were fights between civilians and service personnel, and
steel bands clashed, pelting bottles and stones and wielding sticks. (210)

In Edgar Mittelholzer's A Morning at the Office, the social stigma of association
with steelbands is epitomised by Horace's contempt towards Mary's son,
Richard. Arrested for his role in a violent clash with another steelband,
Richard, in Horace's eyes, is tainted by his contact with steelbands. Mary,
feeling helpless to stop her son, nevertheless agrees with Horace's assessment.
This top-down transmission of prejudice from Horace, the office junior, to
Mary, the cleaner, is demonstrative of the hierarchical social relations and
strictures of the urban, clerical class.6

Myths of City and Country

While it is tempting to read the capital's port in Trinidad's post-WWII
literature as a noxious influence upon the rest of the city and island, urban-
rural exchanges remain far more complex.7 Furthermore, the interaction














Overlooking Port of Spain from Lady Young Road, courtesy ofJak
Peake

6 In Trinidad substantive, prohibitive laws enacted against "African worship," stick-fight-
ing Canboulay bands, and the Shouter Baptists between 1868 and 1917 demonstrated
the degree of anxiety over Africanised,jamette (lower class) or diamdtre (underworld type
literally "the other half") praxis among the governing cadre in the colony. See Brereton
(134); Simpson (339); Fraginals (106).
7 As Williams once wrote, the "simple contrast between wicked town and innocent coun-
try" (53) is a fallacy.


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






JAK PEAKE


between the rural folk and the city indicates that the city operates as a site
of hedonistic or sexual abandon for village folk. Tiger visits Port of Spain
for this very reason in the latter stages of A Brighter Sun. In Selvon's I Hear
Thunder, carnival is represented as a huge draw for rural folk as "people from
the country districts" descend on Port of Spain in the thousands (181). This
centripetal influx into the city suggests no simple moral disintegration in the
city, but rather a deliberate unshackling of moral ties by residents and non-
residents alike within the urban purlieu.
In Ismith Khan's Obeah Man, Zampi, the novel's eponymous mystic is
disturbed by the cruelty of carnival-goers in Port of Spain. It leads him to
ponder "if this ugliness was not buried in them all along" only to surface during
carnival (2). He struggles to reconcile the current version of the city with its
earlier manifestation four years previous, when he had left Port of Spain to live
in a rural hut in the hills of Diego Martin, just north of the capital. Williams
contended that the image of the tranquil rural retreat owes to "a suburban or
dormitory dream" (47). Zampi's aversion to the city suggests something close
to this, as it is his prior urban life which contributes to his disaffected vision
of Port of Spain.8 Having previously lived in La Basse, an area beside the
city dump, Zampi finds solace in his rural retreat in the Blue Basin hills. His
connection to nature and land is comparable to Romantic aestheticism, yet is
rooted, as the evocation of the Saman tree suggests, to Asian diasporic ties as
well as the Trinidadian landscape: "There were times when he felt that he was
part of the great Saman trees, part of the fragile magic that made the flower
of the Poui" (20). Yet even this inner harmony is not without its problems.
Tormented by a "jealousy of all the world's beauty... he would become filled
with a strange rage" (20). As is disclosed in the final chapter, Zampi's "love"
for Zolda is his "only reason" for returning to the city (143). The complexity
of Zampi's motive -to find love in the city- further complicates the polarised
rhetoric of hellish city and wholesome country.





8 It recalls Bachelard's discourse on the "hut dream," where there is "hope to live else-
where, far from the over-crowded house, far from city cares." Yet, for Bachelard, who
spent much of his life in Paris, the return to the hut is only metaphoric and illusory (31).
Alternatively, for Zampi, dwelling on an island where huts were not uncommon, the hut
embodies a tangible reality as well as metaphorical escape.


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LITERARY ROUTES INTO SUB-URBAN WESTERN TRINIDAD READING THE PORT...


A devil in Trinidad Carnival, Port of Spain, courtesy of Lewis
Peake


A Brighter Sun illustrates the suburban growth along the East-West
Corridor, as the novel opens with Tiger's swift marriage to Urmilla and
subsequent move north from Chaguanas to Barataria. Situated four miles east
of Port of Spain and just south of the EMR, Barataria, though described as
a "village," soon begins to resemble a suburban or semi-urbanised extension
of the capital.9 Selvon's opening chapter charts Barataria's rapid industrial
expansion: "bungalows were going up... Roads were laid out... The railroad
connecting other districts to the capital ran parallel to the main road... Some
of the roads crossed the railway lines" (8). On account of its proximity and
good access to the capital, Barataria becomes a commuter zone for many
of its Afro-Trinidadian residents. Selvon delineates the migration of people
from the capital: "[T]he people poured from the overfilled city, and... others
followed them filling up the area" (10).
This migration remoulds Barataria into a "cosmopolitan" area (18). Joe
Martin and Rita, who move in as Tiger and Urmilla's next-door neighbours,
are part of the wave of city 6migr6s who relocate to Barataria. For both cou-
ples, Barataria occupies an intermediary position between city and country.


9 F. Gordon Rohlehr discusses "the rapid semi-urbanisation of the village of Barataria"
(34-35) with reference to an article by Brathwaite in which he refers to Selvon's use of
"the urban village." See also Edward Brathwaite ("Sir Galahad and the Islands" 11). In
many respects, Barataria is redolent of Doon Town in Shiva Naipaul's Fireflies, a residen-
tial area which is "neither town nor village. ... [and] sufficiently close to Port-of-Spain
to make its status ambiguous" (8).


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






JAK PEAKE


For Tiger and Urmilla, it is a stepping-stone to the capital that neither has
previously visited; for Joe it is a step closer to the "bush," for Rita a move
towards respectability (18). Abandoning "his sweetman life in town," Joe
deems their move to Barataria as signifying a loss of freedom and mascu-
linity. In Rita's eyes, however, the suburb offers an improved quality of life
over the capital's "barrack-yard" accommodation (18). Yet again, the view
of the more wholesome country life is predicated on comparisons with the
urban.
Reconciled to an agrarian life in Barataria, Tiger vacillates between his
attraction to both city and country. Finding "satisfaction" in growing plants
and his wider connection to the natural world, he is equally attracted by the
possibilities of Port of Spain. Pondering how and where his future life will "fit
in," he muses: "Perhaps, if he liked the city, he could get a job there, and give
up the garden" (81). Tiger's equivocation seems symptomatic of his ambivalent
attraction to the urban and rural, a condition indubitably exacerbated by his
intermediate dwelling along the suburban East-West Corridor. Attracted by
the modernity of the city the country pales by comparison; yet the country
offers the opportunity for "gardening" and crop growing, a pastime very much
attenuated in the city.
Tiger is an ambivalent farmer, continually dreaming of escape to Port
of Spain. He also perceives himself as more creolised than his parents, who
shun social relations with non-Indo-Trinidadians. Tiger's self-perception
as a "creole" and "Trinidadian," as opposed to an Indian, throws open the
possibility of following in the footsteps of Joe or Boysie, a fellow creolised
Indo-Trinidadian, to the city. Moving between the capital and Barataria
fluidly, Boysie is an ex-urbanite turned farmer who rejects the strictures of the
elder Indo-Trinidadian community. Having stolen from a grocery in town, he
is unable to find work in the capital, though his "mind" is defined as "always
in the city" (78). On this score, Boysie's and Tiger's aspirations and attraction
to the city, wider island, and current events draw them into a complex set of
relations which cannot be simply labelled peasant.
E Gordon Rohlehr has hypothesised that there may be "a difference in
outlook between the town people and the rural dwellers" (30). While this
may well be true in many instances, the distinction between city and rural
dwellers is not entirely marked in the case of Barataria's inhabitants. Joe lives
in the Barataria suburbs, but works in the capital; similarly, Boysie lives and
works in Barataria, but is socially and psychologically tied to the city. Both are


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LITERARY ROUTES INTO SUB-URBAN WESTERN TRINIDAD READING THE PORT...

urbanites by association and experience, while their current dwellings remain
in the suburban village.10
Challenging binary approaches to culture, James Clifford states: "Once
travelling is foregrounded as a cultural practice then dwelling, too, needs to
be reconceived." His point is taken up by James Proctor: "To travel... is also
to dwell, to be grounded in a particular landscape... Equally, dwelling is not
necessarily to arrive or 'settle': dwelling is a spatial and temporalprocess, rather
than a signifier of closure or resolution" (15). Following these epistemological
threads, it is evident that residential status alone does not account for a
fuller ontological picture of travelling-in-dwelling or dwelling-in-travel."
Commuting and sojourning -indeed all forms of travelling to and from the
city, not to mention psycho-geographical attachment to the urban- arguably
affects the cultural signification and self-identification of those who sleep and
wake in the country. Their habitus, "an embodied, as well as cognitive, sense
of place," must accommodate both places and as well as the intermediary
sites along the route (Hillier and Rooksby 21). Whether visited for pleasure
or work, those who dwell in the rural may dwell temporarily in movement,
travel and interactions with the city. Considered in this vein, the ostensible
distinction and discrepancy between city and rural inhabitants becomes far
less commensurate in suburban, commuter areas like Barataria.
An Island Is a World posits a link between Port of Spain and a widening
global nexus of cities and urban centres. Rena, Rufus, and Foster are drawn
from the island capital to the cosmopolitan and metropolitan cities of South
America, Philadelphia and London respectively. Life in Port of Spain is rep-
resented as part of a transnational-colonial network which connects cosmo-
politan areas and metropolises to one another through nexuses of travel and
capital.12 As such, its globalised, urban and increasingly industrialized identity
adds to a tangible and perceived gulf between city and country inhabitants, be-
haviour and cultural exchange. If modernity can be loosely termed as a move-


10 Though Rohlehr's specific town and rural distinction may not be applicable to Bara-
taria, his wider call for a "more pliable theory... which can accommodate the interplay
between country, town and big city, between peasant, artisan and city slicker or factory
worker" (31) moves somewhat closer to the articulation of a more analytical and nuanced
view ofTrinidad's geography.
111 borrow from Clifford's terminology (108).
121 see Port of Spain as almost slotting into Fredric Jameson's definition of the multina-
tional network, synonymous in his discussion with "late capitalism" (350), but required
distinct terminology to describe circumstances in colonial Trinidad.


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






JAK PEAKE


ment towards or negotiation of differentiation, capitalism and globalisation
then a further corollary of this process saw the expansion of towns and cities.13
The city, modernisation, and modernity are three overlapping yet not entirely
unrelated entities.14 Baudelaire's original coining of the term modernity in
1863 was closely bound up with "un movement rapide" (a rapidity of move-
ment) alongside "le transitoire, le fugitif, le contingent" (the transitory, the
fleeting, the contingent; Baudelaire Oeuvres Complates 56, 69).15 Accordingly,
the constituent mobile factors that relate city, modernisation, and modernity
have often been fetishised as synonymous with progress.16 This spurious con-
flation of ideas lies at the root of the popular ideology of the advanced city.17
For Tiger, Port of Spain represents, not unlike Christminster to the epon-
ymous protagonist ofJude the Obscure, an idealised seat of learning. Just as Jude
Fawley dreams of becoming a scholar and entering the halloed sanctum of
Christminster University, so Tiger dreams of entering the capital literate and
rising to a position of prestige:

When I learn to read, you think is only Guardian I going to read? I going to
read plenty books, about America and England, and all them places. Man,
I will go and live in Port of Spain; this village too small, you can't learn
anything except how to plant crop. (82)

Not unlike Jude who never matriculates from Christminster University, Tiger
fails in his ambition to become a Port of Spain resident. Once literate, Tiger


13 In line with Maria Cristina Fumagalli's articulation of modernity, I have chosen the
term "negotiation" (3). Dean MacCannell argues modernization and differentiation are
roughly synonymous (11).
14 Both Michel-Rolph Trouillot (221) and Fumagalli (19) discuss the distinction be-
tween modernity and modernization.
15 See also Baudelaire ("The Painter of Modern Life" 4, 12) and Hulme and Youngs
(7).
16 Whilst it is worth noting that a degree of industrialisation is indicative of the city, mo-
dernity and modernisation, the argument here does not seek to privilege technological
advance as the primary means by which modernity (or the city) can be interpreted. Of
the three terms, modernisation is perhaps most analogously related to notions of tech-
nological innovation. Trouillot also defines one element of modernity as socio-cultural
difference (232).
17 The notion is not a particularly modern one, being subscribed to by the ancients,
along with Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe, before being disseminated to the
Americas. Vestiges of this mythic narrative can be traced in a whole series ofTrinidadian
characters from Selvon's Joe, Rena, Rufus, and Tiger to V.S. Naipaul's Mr. Biswas.


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LITERARY ROUTES INTO SUB-URBAN WESTERN TRINIDAD READING THE PORT...

ponders whether he should become a politician to help fight for national inde-
pendence. Yet by the end of the sequel Turn Again Tiger, Tiger is in fact further
from his goal geographically and psychologically. Having moved north from
Chaguanas to Barataria in A Brighter Sun, Turn Again Tiger sees his relocation
further east along the EMR to Five Rivers.18 Tiger's further displacement
from the capital also corresponds to the growing personal crisis awakened by
his first sighting of Doreen. His move deeper into the country leads to a dis-
missal of the lofty ambitions of life in the city and is marred by the scars of a
collective, traumatic colonialism. As the descendent of indentured labourers,
Tiger appears resentful of a return to a state of analogous indentureship to
sugar interests (Gonzalez 45).
Brought face to face with his colonial heritage and the reified hierarchical
relations extant between the white estate manager Mr. Robinson and the brown
workforce, Tiger embarks on an embittered path, well-observed by Fanon:
"the quest for white flesh" (81). With a "tang of proud revenge," Tiger asserts
his manhood in a one-off sexual encounter with Doreen to gain psychological
mastery over the past, white society, and his ostensible lowly position. Though
he later views his brief sexual encounter with Doreen as a personal failing,
Tiger appears to have laid the demons of his past to rest. Planning his return
to Barataria, he is nominated by his ex-neighbours to act as spokesman for the
village in the local council. A further education, and a return to Tiger's political
ideals, is hinted at in this prospective, extradiegetic return to Barataria.
In A House for Mr Biswas, Port of Spain acts as a healing environment for
the novel's eponymous protagonist in the wake of his nervous breakdown in
the rural sugar belt of Green Vale (a fictionalised Verdant Vale).19 Precipitated
by his growing isolation as a sub-overseer in the cane fields, Biswas's nervous
breakdown could be deemed symptomatic of his unsuitability to his agrarian
position. Ignorant of "estate work" as he confesses to Seth, Biswas experiences
an extreme sense of the unbeimlich (203). Increasingly agoraphobic, Biswas
remains housebound to evade the psychic terror of the cane fields.
It is only after Biswas's brother-in-law Ramchand, suggests he leave
Arwacas (a fictionalised Chaguanas), that Biswas considers a northwards
venture into Port of Spain. His first trip outside of Hanuman House (based

18 The move north then eastwards is roughly demonstrative of much of the populace of
Trinidad which became more concentrated around the East-West Corridor.
19 For more on the actual places on which the areas in A House for Mr Biswas are based,
see White (92).


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JAK PEAKE


on Lion House, Naipaul's maternal family home) leads to a day of exultation
in the city:

[W]hen he got down into the yard next to the railway station his uncertainty
at once fell away, and he felt free and excited.... He comprehended the city
whole... he saw only the activity, felt the call to the senses, and knew that
below it all there was an excitement, which was hidden, but waiting to be
grasped. (309)

Biswas's first touchdown on Port of Spain's terra firma is transformative.
As he alights from the bus, making contact with the ground, the nervous
anxiety induced by his breakdown dissipates. The city's regenerative powers
are further emphasised by Biswas's acquirement of a city career: as a journalist
for The Sentinel and a Community Welfare Officer in the civil service. Biswas's
centripetal move from the country to the capital, as both inhabitant and
employee, mirrors the demographic transition of many peasant-descended
Indo-Trinidadians who gravitated towards the more urbanised centres of Port
of Spain and San Fernando in the twentieth century. As with Tiger's trajectory
of domiciles, Biswas's abodes, though to some degree rooted, appear more
often as motifs along various routes of habitation.
Biswas's routing and uprooting, redolent of Glissant's notions of retour
("reversion") and detour ("diversion"), speak to a wider notion of habitus.20
Throughout his peripatetic life in various dwellings -fifteen in total- based
in Parrot trace, Pagotes (a fictionalised Tunapuna), Arwacas, Green Vale,
Shorthills and Port of Spain, Biswas perpetually judges his residence in
particular houses as "temporary" (8). Biswas's sense of temporariness draws
attention to the chronotope of dwelling; his continual relocation, or location
and dislocation, is demonstrative of the interconnected relationship between
dwelling and travel.21
Biswas's experience of home is generally unheimlich. Weekends at his
uncle-in-law Ajodha's house in Pagotes offer respite, just as The Sentinel office
becomes "the haven to which he escaped every morning" (381, 437-8). Yet
these two properties, Adjodha's house in Pagotes and The Sentinel office in


20 See Glissant (14,26). See also Clifford (104).
21 Biswas perceives the temporariness of his residence in The Chase and the Tulsi prop-
erty in Shorthills particularly, the latter seeming to him "an adventure, an interlude"
(402).


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Port of Spain, might not ordinarily be included in a conservative list of Biswas's
dwelling places, as he is technically a guest or non-resident in either place. The
holiday house in Balandra in which Biswas sojourns on vacations with his
family or the streets on which he ventures on long walks might well be added
to the list; yet again, guest, tourist, orfldneur status might preclude these loci
from a conservative list of his dwellings, if by this, residency is taken as the
sole parameter for qualification. Yet if one considers the wider implications
of Clifford's thesis, the temporariness of dwelling in many places -the road,
the street caf6, the theatre, the school, the lookout point, the harbour, and so
on- might all be added. Considered from this epistemological stance, Biswas's
unsettled status and roaming habits make more complex the distinctions
between a variety of apparently distinct and contrasting dwelling or inhabited
sites. Various places are connected through interrelated networks of dwelling,
labour, travel, education, and mobility; on a wider yet parallel theme, so
the rural, suburban and urban are interlinked through similar nexuses and
routes.22


Port of Spain at night, courtesy of Christopher Johnson


22 I take my cue here from J.E. Malpas, who writes, "a characteristic feature of any
'place'... [is that] it is also dependent on its interconnection with other places" (39).


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






JAK PEAKE


As a linker of places and networks of transport and mobility, the road is
of seminal significance. In A Brighter Sun, the construction of the Churchill-
Roosevelt Highway becomes central to the novel's plot. Its construction takes
on wider symbolic resonance as Indo-Trinidadian residents are employed to
help the US military build the highway which is to run through many Barataria
residents' gardens. A symbolic transition appears to be taking place, as one way
of life -an apparently traditional, agrarian form- gives way to another more
industrialized one. Tiger's resolve is emblematic of this transition: "He wanted
to go... If even the road was going to be built away from his garden, he had no
intention of continuing to farm the land; he was going to give it up and work
with the Americans" (118-19).
While critic Royden Salick envisages the "road" in A Brighter Sun as "the
serpent that seduces man away from the land" (23), it cannot be argued that the
seduction is monolithic. Sookdeo, Tiger's informal tutor in English, is trou-
bled by the move. Having never lived anywhere other than Barataria, Sookdeo
is metaphorically annihilated by the destruction of his garden. Weeping as if it
is "his own funeral," he presages his quick demise: "Time for Sookdeo to dead"
(151). Sookdeo's timely death is yet another symbol of a death of an older gen-
eration's way of life. Whether, therefore, the road represents a 'serpent' seduc-
ing mankind away from an agrarian lifestyle or simply heralds a transition into
a more industrialized existence, the highway nonetheless stands at the brink of
a new era of speedier access and mobility between places.
Constructed as an alternative route to the heavily congested EMR
between 1941 and 1942 and named in honour of the signatories of the 1940
Destroyers-for-Bases pact, the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway was initially
intended for US military use only; however, after the war it was officially
handed over to the government of Trinidad and Tobago in 1949 (Anthony
129-30). As a new conduit into the capital running just south of and almost
parallel to the EMR, the highway became a seminal alternative route for
commuters along Trinidad's most densely residential areas. In A Brighter Sun,
the highway's speed is both its attraction and danger, as it becomes "almost
impossible" for drivers "to resist acceleration" (198). Those slowest and least
industrialized modes of transport are at prey to faster prototypes. In a crash
between a donkey cart and oncoming car, a donkey is killed. The link to
Sookdeo is pertinent: the ostensibly traditional way of life, too rural, slow,
and vulnerable, cannot compete with the pace and force of an increasingly
industrialized modernity.


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As a connector or path through diverse and differentiated terrain, the
highway, road, and street serve another function, of making open space
and sights available en route to the traveller. The street, highway, or city-
country roads open up vistas into previously unseen territory. Once-private
dwellings adjacent to the road are made visible to the road-user. Cycling along
the County Road and EMR, Biswas observes the "ambitious, incomplete,
unpainted, often skeletal" houses, glimpsing private lives and interiors of
deprivation made visible by "unfinished partitions, patched with box-boards,
tin and canvas" (92). At the other end of the scale, the Tulsi Store conforms to
the kind of architectural harmony perceptible in the historical aestheticism of
the street.23 The store possesses a facade, a street face with a double function.
As an exterior, it presents an impenetrable, gaudy public frontage; yet, its
hermetic seal, neatly separating outside and inside, conceals a private interior.
The likelihood of the facade tending towards staging and trompe l'cil cannot
be underestimated. Biswas feels let down by the Tulsi Store facade precisely
because of its apparently deceptive masking of the interior. Promising "an
amplitude of space" (82) with its stone effigies of the monkey-god Hanuman,
the front conceals a tapering, shallow trapezoidal interior. The clandestine
element of the Tulsi property proves even more extensive as Biswas discovers
the properties that lie behind the store's interior: the wooden house where all
the husbands-in-law are housed, the clay-brick building in which Mrs Tulsi,
Seth, and "the Gods" Shekhar and Owad live and the courtyard with the
wooden bridge. The street and neighbourhood, therefore, provide cover for
the interiors of private domains, offering subtle subterfuges to housed families
- a luxury not generally afforded, nor affordable, to the more destitute hut-
dwellers.

Conclusion

In the wider regional analysis of tropical America, the discourse or distinction
between "downtown" as in the city centre and the country has been considerably
marked. Defining the suburbs or something like suburbia, particularly in
Caribbean islands like Trinidad, often proves difficult precisely because such
terms occupy an intermediate position and are rarely applied in common
parlance. As such what would ordinarily be defined in North Atlantic terms as


23 See Jackson (65).


Placing the Archipelago: Interconnections & Extensions






JAK PEAKE


"the suburbs" enters into the Trinidadian lexicon as the "semi-urban" or "semi-
urbanised" village.24 The disruption of the partially urbanised village between
the polarised positions of the country and city is therefore double, being both
linguistic and ideological as the "semi-urban village" appends an adjectival
urbanity and to a rural noun.
As a symbol of literary geography, the street, road, or highway might
be deemed the close relative of the suburban locale. As an arterial vein, it
connects places, stitching together different strata of peoples, habituses, and
environments. While the aim of the article has not been to suggest different
sites of habitation, dwelling, or labour are all roughly analogous -and therefore
universal- at local, regional, or global levels, the focus has been rather framed
upon contiguous or touching sites. Dependence and interconnection are the
key topoi with which gulfs, incongruities, and differences are related. Travel
and mobility define places as well as connecting them to other places. As a
symbol of modernity and manifestation of modernisation, the highway serves
as an appropriate chronological marker for post-war Trinidad a bridge from
the fading sugar and cocoa revenues of the old estates to the increasingly
industrialized era of twentieth-century Trinidad. As the Churchill-Roosevelt
Highway opened new funnels of traffic along the East-West Corridor, so the
population from Port of Spain spread to the neighboring suburban belt. In
this respect, the expansion of the sub-urban village/town in the 1940s and
1950s, aided by the industrial development within and around the capital, was
a marker, however graduated, of a new way of living in Trinidad.














24 Despite the rare usage of the noun "the suburbs" in Trinidad, I tentatively propose
the epithet "suburban" as useful and overlapping with Rohlehr's terminology vis-a-vis
"semi-urbanisation."


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