VOL. 30 NO. 1
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
1 The Journey to the Light of Anthony McNeill's Credences at the Altar of Cloud
-3 Poetics of Self: Dennis Scott's Dangerous Style
33 Helen & the Tempest-Negre: Rene Depestre's A Rainbow for the Christian West
Edward Kamau Brathwaite
48 Interview: Dennis Scott Talking to Mervyn Morris
50 Anthony McNeill on Credences at the Altar of Cloud An Interview
60 Parable III
60 For the Great House at Agualta Vale
Notes on Contributors
Instructions to Authors
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Writing on poetry by Anthony McNeill, Fernanda Steele identifies as basic to Credences
at the Altar of Cloud "the belief that poetry is an all pervading sustaining force which
bears direct relation to human life". Whether the relation may properly be deemed
"direct" is a question implicit throughout this issue on Caribbean Poetry. What is unques-
tionable in Steele's opinion is that the poems do not elaborate or conceptualize on
abstract ideas (my emphasis). They, rather, present themselves with concrete images and
structures from which the reader can then abstract ideas and elaborate on them. Steele
very helpfully divides the poems into four sections: the first allows one to gain "a deep
insight into the meaning and function of poetry which the poems stress"; the second
"plunges into a world of nightmare, as the poems portray a gigantic struggle to transcend
the negative forces of man's daily living and to reach a vision of beauty"; in the third, "the
poems take a sudden turn into territory where the pain through which they had travelled
is either totally abandoned or distanced"; and the fourth "contains two letter-poems".
Caribbean Quarterly has not been quite as successful as it would wish in reproducing the
poems with the embroidered lines. The reader is referred to the original text for the sake
The importance of poetry as a sustaining force, especially that of language, per-
meates all the articles, since (as Ian Smith reminds us in The Poetics of Self: Dennis
Scott's Dangerous Style) "poetry is the ordering and shaping of experience through a lin-
guistic medium", demonstrating the "plurality of perspectives and a flexibility of style
that attempt to articulate the web of life . ." which for Scott, in these poems, are "the
creative imagination, the vicissitudes of love and socio-political concerns", all of which
are crafted with the creative tension of "inherited European/Western forms and purely
local indigenous ones, and the peculiar experience that is to be transmitted".
In Helen and the Tempest-Negre: Rene Depestre's a Rainbow for the Christian West,
in the words of Edward Kamau Brathwaite, "language as all (ex)-colonials know, is
Caliban's big problem/monster . The political or whatever other revolt has to buck up
sooner or later (and sooner better than letter) on the forts and greathouses of language."
Apart from dealing with the poetics/poetry of Depestre's work, Brathwaite enjoins his
reader "to confront and confess to frontally, . and go beyond [this] problem of
cultural rain-shadow, double consciousness, false value systems, spiritual dichotomy
mulatto complex ..."
In addition to the critical articles, the book reviews and the poems, we are pleased
also to publish interviews with two of the poets whose work is otherwise examined in this
issue. In spite of her warnings about the danger of overvaluing interviews, Fernanda Steele
elicits information from Anthony McNeill and Dennis Scott talks helpfully to Mervyn
THE JOURNEY TO THE LIGHT OF
ANTHONY McNEILL'S CREDENCES A T THE ALTAR OF CLOUD
This essay attempts to analyse the basic concept running throughout the book: the
belief that poetry is an all-pervading sustaining force which bears direct relation to
human life. The analysis is to a large extent devoted to the formal aspects of the poems,
as the forms which the book presents are its most striking features.
For the sake of clarity, it is proposed to draw some imaginary lines, in an attempt
to group the poems in sections which, to a larger or lesser degree, contain some shared
characteristics, both from the point of view of the poems' thematic content and from
that of their formal aspects.
Following Credences at The Altar of Cloud up to p 93, one is struck by a variety
of forms which comprise this first section. The major shared characteristic of these
poems is the language which shapes them.
Language is used with great economy and the poems rely heavily on its basic com-
ponents: nouns and verbs. Adjectives are few and used only to redefine a noun rather
than to complement it; conjunctions, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, etc are almost
totally absent, as are explicatory words. Another striking feature of the language of
Credences at The Altar of Cloud is the tendency towards concretization of the word.
For example, "song", "light", "music", "air" acquire the strength of concrete things, of
objects. To use only a few examples:
"Song" is objectified into "the song without hands" (p 11); it becomes an object that
can be warm, as in:
song injure no one
"Light" also becomes an object: "the light without hands" (p 42); it acquires a voice:
"the voices of light" (p 42), "the choir of light" (p 48): it acquires movement: "the
light bounces off the first faces" (p 50); it becomes mother "...the daughters of light
have given up on their radiant men..." (p 57): it has weight:
o what a word as turn
what weight on it
it is physical territory:
imagine a stair
up to the light
"Music" becomes as tangible as a "squid", a "fish":
music is free-
moving beneath us,
squid through the water
a fish of night
it becomes personified:
the line comes back from the halls
where music is hermit
where music sits childlike
like "light", it becomes an object that can be woven:
it is light and air
that weaves music
"Air" becomes as tangible as a "temple": "imagine the temple of air" (p 69); it is
personified: "...the air kissing my face..." (p 57), "the air is my wife" (p 90); it also
becomes physical territory: "the air is a mountain clear" (p 51); it acquires a voice:
the air without hands
has learned to speak
In this sense, even verbs are made into objects as in the following poem (p 18):
fell word of great beauty
I write you down
the lovers have kissed
you the high cliffs
hollow you back
with your feet dragging
and the soul is a lit
candle in space
In the first line, the space between "fell" and "word of great beauty" isolates "fell"
from the rest of the poem, thus making it the first focus of attention, as it stands alone to
be seen just as an object would. The comment that follows, "word of great beauty", adds
to the concreteness of "fell" by giving it a visual appearance; the second line, with the
implied choice of the poem "I write you down", further stresses the visual element of the
word: having seen it, the poem concretizes it by writing it. The third line which enters the
fourth, "the lovers have kissed/you...", continues the process of concretization of the
word itself, making it into an object that lovers can kiss; the rest of the fourth line and
the fifth bring back the essential quality of "fell" as word which "high cliffs" can
"hollow...back"; the sixth line ends the concretization of "fell" and of its elemental
meaning by visualizing it with "...feet dragging." The poem, which received its first
impetus from the word "fell", now stands apart as if in contemplation of the process
through which it created itself, and the last two lines end with its elation, also expressed
with a concrete image: "the soul is a lit/candle in space".
The imagery which emerges from this process of concretization of the word is of a
complex nature and represents yet another striking feature of Credences at The Altar of
Cloud, deserving much greater attention than the scope of this analysis permits. What
needs to be stressed here is that the poems do not elaborate or conceptualize on abstract
ideas. They, rather, present themselves with concrete images and structures from which
the reader can then abstract ideas and elaborate on them. They engage the reader,
therefore, in a particularly close relationship whereby any conceptualization is left to his
discovering of the inner psychic movement of each poem perceived through its formal
aspects. As illustration, reference is here made to the poem(s) on pp 26-27:
call back the girl with the rose in her hair from the closet
call back the fuck
on the white beach
with the pieces falling
call back the gunmen say to them brother my brother come to me come
say to them: we know the position is dread
ful say to them we know you are hungry
say to them we know dat the rite
time gone a long time
say to them we know you
killing a form of our wandering mourning, the high poet sang
the line comes back from the halls
where music is hermit
where music sits childlike
dread of the dark crossing the psyche
dread of the sun crossing the wind
the light flashing once three times in the head
the moth beating against me
the cockroach beating my skull
the ocean coming returning
the elephant dancing in space
the cosmonauts touching
like birds the blue distances
the water seeking its mirror
the mirror seeking
go back to the long line wheeling returning
imitate whitman imitate bohm
annoda great poet of de wide turn
who know him in Amherst
the town where
great poems are radiant flowers/out of the ground
unconscious de robot prowled de floor o de deeps
unconscious de robot missed his own
weddin de wrong turn
unconscious he married beauty de beast
unconscious he quarrelled and mashed up
his wife unconscious he did these things
These five poems are divided by "rules." They can be read each as an individual poem
and as sections of one single unit. It is in this latter form that they will be analyzed here.
The first poem opens with a dreamlike atmosphere and the image recalled of "the girl
with the rose in her hair from the closet" does not yet reveal the territory to which it
will lead; the second line, somewhat unexpectedly, leads into an absence of love and into
a glimpse of violence: "call back the fuck", whilst the third line, "on the white beach",
carries nostalgic echoes of the dream, to introduce soon an image of disintegration in the
fourth line, "the pieces falling The appearance of the "gunmen" in the fifth line empha-
sizes the first hint of violence perceived in the second line and reinforces the image of
disintegration offered by the fourth. The rest of the fifth line, unexpectedly, leads the
reader into a shared experience, as the poem addresses the gunman as "brother"; the next
four lines move within a territory of shared experience and understanding of one's
"brother:" The tenth line carries with it threatening echoes as the gunman/brother is
identified, "...we know you." The hanging silence of the tenth line resolves itself into a
vision of union as the gunman/brother is recognized, "in me."
The psychic inner movement of the first poem continues into the second: the violence
which began its journey from a dreamlike image, to become implied in the presence of
the "gunmen", becomes here a stated reality, "killing", stressed by the isolating space
between its presence on the page and the rest of the line, which leads to the contemplation
of the word "killing" as a "form of our wandering mourning." The second line presents
an image of closed space, the "halls", emphasized by the solitary quality of the music
as "hermit", and its innocent stillness, "...sits childlike." Lines five and six plunge into
nightmare, stressing the "dread" both of darkness and light. The nightmare, then,
becomes deeper as the territory of the poem becomes narrower, the "halls" now being
reduced to "the head", the "dread" becoming a concrete thing, "moth", "cockroach",
the head soon shrinking to "the skull." Then, with a sudden impulse, the poem opens up
to a larger vision and movement, "the ocean coming returning", leaps upward, weightless
into high spaces and into a note of music:
the elephant dancing in space
the cosmonauts touching
The 13th line pauses to contemplate, and its gaze from "the blue distances" is directed
both downward toward the "water seeking its mirror", and upward toward the "face"
which "the mirror seeking" long to reach.
The first line of the third poem, "go back to the long line wheeling returning", opens
with an undulating movement carried by "wheeling returning" which echoes the 10th line
of the second poem, "the ocean coming returning", and becomes associated with "the
line" of the same poem (second line). The next line introduces the names of two poets,
their presence stressing the identification of "the long line" with poetry. Finally, the
poem closes with the identification of the physical territory where yet another poet
(Emily Dickinson) "lived." The last line, "Emily lived", not only names another poet, but,
with its stress on the last word, "lived" provides the poem as a whole with a force in
opposition to that of death which had threatened it previously. The third poem, there-
fore, becomes central to the structure of the group as a whole and discloses the vision of
the new territory to which the poem was led and which it has now entered, where poetry
is a life-force.
The fourth poem consists of a one-line statement on poetry, while the fifth brings us
back to another form of violence, and at the same time comments on it, for, not only is
the "he" of the poem now dehumanized into a "robot", but into an "unconscious" one.
He is redeemed from his sins of violence only by his pleading for forgiveness.
Formally, the poems are characterized by an alternating slow and fast musical move-
ment of the lines, stressed by the fluidity of the images continuously transforming them-
selves and one another, and by the use of some creole forms of the language. The first
poem opens with four slow lines which gradually unfold the dream sequence. In the fifth
line it pauses twice: the first time, as if itself arrested by the image of violence which
makes itself visible, "the gunmen", and then, as if itself wondering what to say to "the
gunmen." It then gathers new impetus and it switches into a fast movement in its plead-
ing, to slow down again, and to gain impetus again, until, in the last two lines, it slows
finally down with two long pauses. Such pauses in the musical movement are represented
by the double space between words in the same line and by that between two lines.
The spaces perform also another function: by visually isolating the words from each
other, they cause such words to draw attention to themselves.
A similar use of the musical tempo is also noted in the rest of the poems, although
the movement of each differs from that of the others.
As for the use of creole forms in some of the poems, these too are an essential part of
their being. The second and fourth poems are mainly concerned with expressing the
vision which they have reached, and in these one notices the absence of creole forms.
The first, third, and fourth poems, on the other hand, are concerned with the urgency to
understand, transcend, and then forgive the violence which they have pu:ceived and.
exposed. This urgency takes the form of address to an entity outside the poems them-
selves, clearly indicated by the imperative forms of the verbs, such as "say to them",
"go back", "forgive them." The creole forms not only stress such an address, but, by
reflecting the more personal use of language, they involve the reader into a closer contact
with the poems, making, therefore, more urgent their pleading.
Seen in their entirety, the five poems reveal that all their elements merge in a complex
inner movement, itself enveloped by a basic circular conceptual structure from violence
to violence and that such structure has its centre in yet another conceptual element,
indicated by the central vision of the poems: that of poetry as life-force which distances,
transcends, and then modifies the violence. Whilst in the first poem and in part of the
second one, violence was seen in generalized terms, in the last poem it becomes
individualized and the poem is highly conscious of it as a personal sin. The central vision
has, in fact, affected the poem's consciousness in two ways: firstly, it has individualized
its perception of the violence, and, secondly, it has rejected it, as expressed by the poem's
open confession of it, and by its pleading for forgiveness.
Thematically, all the poems of this first section of Credences at The Altar of Clou.
form part of the same vision and represent a profound act of faith in poetry as the only
means whereby a leap is possible into a luminous reality where all that is created is
united. Each poem, however, focuses its attention on different aspects of poetry itself
and moves in its own territory, quite different from that of the other poems.
To be more specific, first of all one should note that Credences at The Altar of Cloud
offers many comments on poetry in general. A few examples will be used as illustrations:
i tell you all words are lovely
highest of them
forget to be clever
and write the wind
keep em short an clean
but leave something wrong
as Faulkner suggested
correction next time
poetry has nothing to do
with M.F.A. Workshops
the cool ones
everything you say is a poem
everything you write
everything you do
even deceit is lovely
because the tongue fell on the word
and it woke
the same energy makes one poem
use it wid love
They also provide comments on themselves:
I tell you the spaces between
the lit words are as lovely
long one come back up the dark roads
the symbols recur o.k. i am speaking
in abstract why not
Finally, they comment on poems by other poets, and often references are made to
Lawrence, Tennyson, Dennis Scott, Roethke, William Carlos Williams, W.S. Merwin,
Whitman among others:
flower me a light song
o david h. lawrence
great poem in prose
of the lights flashing
snow moon wind sea
roethke what magic
william carlos williams thank you
among many others
a lovely long line with a turn
Throughout this first section ol Credences at The Altar of Cloud one gains a deep
insight into the meaning and function of poetry which the poems stress. Poetry is seen as
coming from another world: "the song without hands come out of the tiers of the
planets" (p 11), It is a force outside the control of the poet himself: "dictate through
me" (p 29). It is also seen as self-creator: "every poem becomes the mother/that woke
it" (p 30). It is a source of ecstasy, as in the poem beginning "the sacred blue flower"
(p 75). and in the one beginning "fell word of great beauty" (p 18). The poems
urge belief in their own truth:
the light is
has said it
believin de poem
no 1/2 o
Finally, the poems of this first section witness the climax of the process of concretiza-
tion reflected in the language, as they attempt to substitute the concept of an invisible
God with that of a more concrete/visible deity, source of the beauty and the light which
the poems long for. The first poem to introduce the theme is that on p 13:
It is a prayer of thanks expressed in simple language, but its first line clearly reveals that
whatever entity the poem is addressing, such entity threatens the accepted idea of God:
The concept expressed by its first line is obvious: the use of "un" before "god" tells its
intention. However, the line is not a statement, and other subtle formal elements should
be noted. Firstly, the use of the exclamation mark performs various functions. From the
point of view of the poem's inner life, it suggests a pause stressed by the spaces which
precede and follow it as if the poem itself was arrested in surprise. Secondly, from the
point of view of the reader, it halts his attention focusing it in two directions: toward
that which has preceded it, "un", and that which follows it, "god." Finally, the use of
the small g for "god" also acts in two ways: from the point of view of the poem's
inner life it becomes the natural outcome of the process started by the "un", and from
th2 point of view of the reader, it focuses his attention on itself, making him more aware
of the concept expressed by the line as a whole. When considering the content of the
entire poem, it should also be noted that the introduction in the third stanza of the verb
"touch/d" gives the new entity a concrete form, as an entity capable of touching man.
The poem "Ungod even now" (p 28) strengthens the concept previously begun with
the fusion of the two words, "un" and "god" into one, "Ungod." Capitalization is here
important, as it indicates the beginning of the process of naming the new entity. Although
such entity does not clearly define itself, the poem on p 46 indicates the nature of the
god you have loved me all day
even my liquor-kissed mouth
was flower to you
you gave me a mother
so lovely you gave me
the rich earth
raised up my son
I felt the earth shake
as I saw him
I ask the bread guard him
I ask the leaf bless him
I ask the sea wash him
I ask the rain
make him fine
the tears move
I am sorry
the light from my lady
In its first six lines, the poem addresses itself to its decapitalized "god" in a prayer
of thanks. But, in the seventh line, a new image makes its sudden appearance, "the rich
earth", and in its pleading, the poem switches from its addressee, for it is no longer "god"
that it addresses, but earthly things "bread"; leaf "sea"; "rain" ending with an image
of light to which the poem has been led.
The long poem on p 62, on the other hand, presents a disturbing element in a process
which seemed at first to have taken its course with a continuous movement towards an
identification of its search:
un God on
the day of the egg
may you come
the light c homes on
the valley of cries
up from the sea
the egg rises
into the air
the piano note
crosses it quickly as
light the light spilling
downward all day
I have given you voice
said the egg I have given
you ash said the egg
I have given you music
the bell rang it out
the pebble slipped up
the nightingale sang it
the piano kissed darkly
I come on the face
in the last church
it is air air
swinging beside us
the music inside me
I had wanted poems like these
the valley recrossed me
I fell on my hands as
the cries rose
In the first line, "un God on", one notices the presence of the "un" and its separation
from the following word. At the same time, one also notices that the word "god" is here
now written with a capital "G." A doubt is, therefore, raised: is such a word representing
the final creation of a new entity which replaces the commonly held idea of the Christian
God, although sharing the same name, or is the poem itself doubting the process begun
in the previous poems? A close analysis of the poem reveals that the images presented all
tend to the same concretization which has been noted already, and that they draw their
being from an iconography of earthly things: "the day of the egg"; "the valley of cries";
"sea"; "air"; "light"; "bell": "pebble"; "nightingale." Such images are suggestive of the
relationship between themselves and the word "God" with which the poem begins, but
do not indicate a clear definition of the latter.
The same ambiguity is present in the one-line poem on p 63:
the light around god is too dark
It is a short statement, but pregnant with implied meaning. Does the poem wish that
the light should not be "dark", or, by having decapitalized God does it imply that such
"god" should be replaced by another one around whom the light would not be "too
This ambiguity becomes the tension on which the next poem (p 64) rotates:
Ungod in the gray
city of iron
the choruses bless me
to the places of the voices
we know they are here
they speak to us clearly
ask them your name
the voices will tell you
the meaning of fire
the kiss of the one
of luminous beauty
the kiss of the hands
spinning the blue air
the light comes on
to the city of iron
the light couldn't save me
the bell rings
the bones of the children
the voices return it
I fall on my hands
I say to you no no
and when the night fell
it was true
First of all, one should note the alternating movement of dark and light. The poem
begins with an image of dark, centred around "Ungod"; it, then, turns to light with a
gradual movement, central to which is the expressed desire for light and union: it, finally,
returns to an image of dark. Having made a circular journey through dark, light, and dark
again, the poem ends with an unresolved conflict between the two forces, as it gathers its
final momentum into the last line, "it was true." This last line indicates the apex of the
tension expressed by the poem, as the "it" is of a very obscure nature, not being directly
or obviously related to any one specific element of the poem. The poem, therefore, leaves
one with the perception of a vision which could replace the "Ungod" of its conception,
but does not state its conclusion in any specific way.
The perception becomes reality in the following poem (p 73) which moves swiftly in a
territory of light, and which expresses the elation given by poetry. Such light and elation
overshadow the "Ungod" to which the poem is addressed and could provide a solution
from the tension established in the previous poem. However, this conflict does not seem
to be entirely solved, and the next two poems, "god" (p 78), and "god the" (p 79), in
fact, return to a "god" source of love and with whom union is possible. However, apart
from the decapitalization of the word God, nothing else in the poem indicates a distinc-
tion between the concepts of God as taught by the Christian faith, and of another entity
which would replace it. Such distinction is finally completely blurred in the last poem,
"god may i be good to my body" (p 81) in its prayer.
This analysis of the "Ungod" theme has been sketched in the full awareness that it
requires much greater attention than the scope of this analysis demands. It has already
appeared in McNeil's earlier volumes of poems, Hello Ungod and Reel from "The Life-
Movie" as well as in some poems published in the anthology The Caribbean Poem and
in various literary magazines. In Credences at The Altar of Cloud, it assumes larger
proportions by laying bare the process of rejection of the commonly accepted concept of
God, and by presenting the search of a substituting deity. However, the ambiguities noted
in some of the poems do not lead the reader to any definite conclusion about the nature
of the new deity. They, rather, leave him with one certainty that the search has not
come to its end.
The second section of Credences at The Altar of Cloud (pp 95-117) plunges into a
world of nightmare, as the poems portray a gigantic struggle to transcend the negative
forces of man's daily living and to reach a vision of beauty. Such struggle is first of all
evinced by their formal aspects.
The poems are chiefly characterized by a fast tempo around which converge all the
other elements. Pauses are almost totally eliminated; capital letters are used without
having been preceded by any punctuation mark, thus quickening the tempo of the lines;
lines often enter one another breaking at irregular intervals. Images, too, follow one
another in quick succession, at times seemingly unrelated to one another, only linked by
thin associative threads. In this sense, each poem presents itself in a continuous state of
flux, constantly renewing and creating itself. Even slips of the hand on the typewriter are
seen as part of the creative process of the poem, and they give birth to a new entity, the
"mutant" which performs a dual role: from the point of view of the reader, it makes him
aware of the lucidity of the poem, itself constantly aware of the turning and changes
which take place, whilst, from the point of view of the poem's inner being, the "mutant"
is accepted simply as another element which moves the poem and alters its course. In this
way, each poem becomes the tangible expression of the transformations undergone by
the various elements during the process of its own creation.
Thematically, the poems of this section are all united by a basic concept: the power of
poetry to transcend the negatives of daily living and of disclosing a territory of peace and
beauty. Although all the poems contain disturbing elements rising from doubt, poverty,
illness, etc, they are sustained by the same faith, and they all end with positive statements
evinced by their last lines, as the images presented by these lines disclose a territory of
serenity and beauty above that which the poems have followed from their conception, in
which colours and music are constant elements. Furthermore, these lines emphasize
themselves, as they are printed in boldfaced letters, made, therefore, different from the
rest of the poem also in visual terms. A few examples will suffice as illustrations:
Such was their beauty the couple stayed rose (p 96)
Under the hollow rose the gold sun (p 97)
The couple walked singing wide of the green (p 98)
Lady called Beauty in the red wheel (p 99)
His Beauty wildflower ineffably green (p 103)
The hands crossed singing left of the moon (p 108)
As a way of illustrating what has been said about the poems comprising this second
section of Credences at The Altar of Cloud, it is proposed here to analyse in greater
detail one of them (pp 109-110):
the fang comes back with every tooth gaping
sense ceases to matter only the lovely long
line fluid as summer frothy as cake with the
O everything falling the pieces breaking in-
side me the quest for the money ending as u-
sual with poetry-horses and absolute un-
success so let us go back to death and its no-
thing So let us go back to the flesh turned on
itself in the coffin the pig beating within it
I want to be Man and immortal implored the sad
poet hooked by the straight with its safety and
refuse to follow the stricken O refuse to foll-
ow the heads yawning as chambers a hollow of wind
and feculent echoes a canyon of track and retrack
an idiot compared to the marvellous system O body
of lights and the
So he saw that God was his own
O body I live in deceitful and fickle
O nostril I clean to no purpose
O ears I clear out only to hear
the thubder re-knocking as thunder swong
doubling mutants O tripling mutants
So his life remained blesses and falling
the mutant allowed in however the loss
the verb reversed into nomen the adjective
holy among the other perfections
the fairy-tale poet singing past poverty, lone-
liness grief the poet forgetting word out of the
mutant scared of revision
At the end of the fall flashed the bone
in time with the rhythm
So the hand went on through the sorrow-tree singing
The first line introduces a disturbing element revealed both by the nightmarish quality
of the image and by its ambiguity, as it does not interpret nor open itself, but simply is.
The second line, with its quality of statement, brings balance to the disturbance produced
by the first line, and proceeds to run into the third with a swift movement towards a sense
of serenity. However, the line interrupts itself and the poem takes a sudden plunge into
nightmare with an image of disintegration, "everything falling", "the pieces breaking",
and of the sorrows of everyday living, "the quest for the money" "absolute unsuccess",
which lead to despair and the contemplation of "death and its nothing"; this further
deepens with the juxtaposition of two opposite forces: death and the yearning for
immortality introduced by a sudden cry, "I want to be Man and immortal implored the
sad poet." Such cry is echoed again in the 15th and 16th lines, as "the marvellous
system" leads to "the body of lights." The following two lines echo the preceding two
and stress the dichotomy constant in the poem, concentrating it in the juxtaposition of
two extremes: the "body of lights" becoming now a possessed "God", and the inadequacy
of the physical body where "I live in deceitful and fickle." With the next two lines, the
poem stresses the inadequacy of the physical body, whilst the following two introduce
gradually another element of which the poem becomes aware: "doubling mutants",
"tripling mutants." The introduction of this element leads to a note of light, the
"blesses", which increases as the poem unfolds itself in a renewed self-awareness, focusing
on its own elements "mutants", "verb", "nomen", "adjective" and overcomes not
only the negative forces of everyday living "poverty", "loneliness", "grief" but even
those of death which is now rendered with an open image of light and unity: "At the
end of the fall flashed the bone/in time with the rhythm." Finally, in its last line, the
poem establishes itself as a power transcending and transmuting all negative forces," So
the hand went on through the sorrow-tree singing".
This analysis of the poem, carried out on its thematic content, reveals the essential
quality of poetry as a power which, although all including, leads into a territory where
the sorrows of life can be transcended. It also reveals a continuously held balance of
opposite forces finally overcome by the poem. These two elements are also seen in the
poem's structure which, in fact, reflects the thematic concept with perfect symmetry.
The first two stanzas introduce the two opposing forces of destruction and of poetry
as the transcendent power. The following five stanzas witness the gradual deepening of
the process of the destructive forces, and the poem reaches its climax at the centre,
focusing on man's inadequacy in relation to "the marvellous system"/"body of lights"/
"god". From its centre, the poem inverts its terms. The following five stanzas witness the
gradual weakening of the destructive forces, counterbalanced by the gradual strengthen-
ing of the regenerative forces of poetry, whilst the last two stanzas, although still
indicating some of the awesome quality of the destructive forces with which the poem
had begun, witness their redemption by poetry.
In the third section of Credences at The Altar of Cloud (pp 123-133), the poems take
a sudden turn into a territory where the pain through which they had travelled is either
totally abandoned or distanced. Formally, they are linked to the poems of the previous
section by their last lines: not only are the last lines stressed as are those of the
preceding poems, but they also move in a similar territory. But, while the poems of the
preceding section leapt into their last lines, abandoning abruptly the territory of pain in
which they had moved, these latter poems enter their last lines with a softer and more
The poems of this section can be further subdivided into two major blocks, the first
being characterized by a striking use of colons, each succeeding the other, at times form-
ing a line of the poem; spaces of varying sizes between words in a single line, and by a
constant sudden halt of the line. The poems may seem to make heavy demands on the
reader who might feel he is led to, and abandoned at, the edge of a territory he cannot
explore because, instead of words, he is faced with a silence. However, the technique is
not an artificial device, but an integral part of the poems' being, whose silences are as
important as the written word. The silences produced by the colons, the spaces and the
sudden halt of the line, all converge to give the poems their slow rhythm, itself indicative
of the contemplative nature of the poems. Spaces and colons, furthermore, are used in
various ways, and their full meaning is revealed by each poem. Their main function,
however, is that of isolating words from one another, lighting those that appear written
on the page, and at the same time drawing attention to themselves as part of the hidden
territory the poem has covered in its journey. The subtle differences of such silences as
expressed by the blank spaces and by the colons ought to be noted, the major characteris-
tic being that, whilst the spaces do not interfere with the fluidity of the poem, the visual
element added by the appearance of the colons stresses the poems' hidden vision.
From the point of view of their content, the poems witness their own efforts to
abandon pain and to reach a luminous territory. It is within this context that one can see
the importance of their formal aspects. The following poem (p 127) is used as illustration:
stations he made weaving his
stick without mercy; grating the line to the
::: :: shining
a plum blossom morning and
LNE TO THE THIN CHRYSEIS AND WAND
The first image opens the poem slowly stating its location, in an "island." A slight
disturbance is felt by the introduction of the word "wind" which by itself could lead into
several directions. However, after stating its location stressed by the appearance of a
semicolon the first image is then summarized in the next line in one word, "Hell",
which ends the first stanza. With the absence of punctuation between the first and the
second stanzas, the poem indicates a link between the two, yet, the space which separates
the two stanzas also serves as a distancing measure. Such a concept is also indicated by
the appearance of the capital H for "Hell" after a semicolon, and of the small w of
withoutf' in the second stanza, which link the two stanzas. After the first line of the
second stanza, not only does the poem arrest itself, but, by the introduction of the
colons which form the entire second line, also erases whatever image it might have seen,
whilst at the same time the colons focus one's attention on the hidden potentiality of the
erased image. The third line is focused on the continuation of the poem's inner journey
after having entered a territory which it does not want to disclose, and the poem, follow-
ing a similar movement in the next two lines, emerges in the third stanza with a disturbing
image, "stick without mercy", and with the contemplation of itself as gatingg the line
to the." The second line of this final stanza, beginning with seven colons, emphasizes the
existence of another hidden territory entered by the poem, which it now exits with a
vision of light, "shining", which, in turn, sheds itself on the elemental images of earthly
things "plum"; "blossom"; "morning" presented as single lit units by the spaces
separating them. Finally, after its journey, the poem comes to rest in the magic territory
evinced by its last line.
The second block of poems of this section shares some formal characteristics with the
first, namely the slow tempo and the stress on their last lines. However, the slow tempo is
no longer created by the blank spaces and the colons, but by orthodox punctuation,
although some variations are also included for example, the appearance of capital
letters after a comma or a semicolon these variations performing the function of further
slowing the tempo without arresting it. Furthermore, whilst the previous poems
contained a movement of fluidity, these latter ones have a static quality. These formal
differences reflect differences of content, as these poems do not portray their efforts, as
did the previous ones, to reach a new territory, but, rather, they are arrested in contempla-
tion of it, and even when a faint echo of pain is heard, such pain is not anything that the
poems undertake to overcome and transcend: it has already been distanced and trans-
muted into acceptance, and the poems merely take notice of its presence.
One of the striking features of these poems is their complete reliance on the image,
each poem presenting itself as a canvas on which images are drawn with great precision.
From this point of view, the poems simply portray in visual terms the new territory in
which they have come to rest, and of which each poem is a part. However, such images
can also be seen as symbols. As such they are irreducible, for the symbol itself, by its
very nature, cannot be reduced to anything else but itself. It does not have a correspon-
dence in any other area, it is itself part of that area out of which it has made itself visible.
If taken in isolation, therefore, the symbol remains a closed image, having its life only in
that particular form, but, if seen in relation to other symbols within the entirety of the
unit of which it is part (the poem), it then opens a view to the larger area of its being,
which, in turn, continually expands its limits.
The following poem (p 125) is an illustration of what has been said:
fronting the sea, The buoys
rocked in the breeze; a lone swimmer
crossed to the cay,
the water dark lilac;
she stood near the inlet,
through the fog;
A thrush cruised
over the clearing,
fluting red songs;
THE MOON RAINED SAFFRON SOUTH OF THE SPRING
If any image of the poem is taken in isolation from the rest, it tells us very little except
its own form as "mountain/fronting the sea", or "water dark lilac" etc, and the result
achieved by their agglutination is simply of a descriptive nature, rendered in visual terms.
However, when seen in relationship to each other, the images point to a larger area of
their being. The territory out of which they have come and which they represent is first of
all characterized by elemental earthly things: "mountain"; "sea"; "breeze"; "water";
"inlets"; "fog"; "thrush"; "moon"; "spring." These images also point to, and present, a
vision of serenity which the poem as a whole contemplates, a serenity which is further
stressed by the static quality of the poem. The last line, whose impact is made stronger
both by the pause (the semicolon) after which it comes, and by its visual aspect (the
double setting) further stresses the contemplative mood of the poem, concentrating itself
at the same time on the contemplation of earth's elements and on their serene quality.
Such are the major characteristics of all the poems of this section. The result
produced by their combined achievements is that of having reached and, therefore, of
describing the vision of a quasi-primordial world in which all the elements of the earth
are integrated and in harmony. However, when one focuses one's attention on the last
lines to which the poems converge, one becomes aware that such lines operate at a level
from which the territory they contemplate is somewhat distanced. A doubt is then raised
as to whether such poems have reached their goal and found a permanent ground on
which to rest or whether they are only pausing to continue their journey again.
The fourth section (pp 134-137) contains two letter-poems. Formally, they both
indicate their indebtedness to the poems which precede them, and foreshadow the form
of those which follow them in the next section. The first of the two poems (pp 134-136)
is reproduced here:
Strange my writing to you
Can I say a cliche
Never thought I would see the day when you would cut me glimpsed
you in should have said at should have said near a bank one day; smiled;
waved; and you cut me
Catherine name from the north
Well there's a mystery to women of frost the young men stride to the
woods and snip them dark lilacs a wren wheels in the distance the sun
shells east of the lake
Couples kiss in the field across the wild cherries
In the dream the woman is sitting under a cotton a man kneels on the
slope the pair meet in the mist, stuttering prayers
Have you seen lilies tilt in the wind
Do banks stretch shadows on people so that when they see the familiar
they turn away
Sometimes roses mistake violets for other flowers Do you think there
will ever be concert between men and women Catherine sad in
Some names sing in the air like lit swans
Catherine name like a fir
The leaves turn with a fine cadence. The dancers touch hands under
Critic one is this a letter or a poem
Critic two surrealist nonsense
Critic three language in dream sequence
I cry to the stones because I am lonely, the girl said to the dark
Perhaps if I look through this file I will find her charred letter
Catherine and Natalie, moving
The most beauteous virgin weeps in the rain
Catherine if I talked to a fern do you think it would
answer if I stopped at your window what
Hyacinths I dial a number soft click
A thrush glides in slow circles over the brook
Catherine stands by the fence, watching a leopard
I call you from fire in the white wheel
1 give you the valley
The main formal characteristics of this poem are its reliance on the images presented -
as has been the case with all the poems of Credences at The Altar of Cloud: the merging
of orthodox punctuation (namely semicolons and commas) with other pausal forms, such
in "glimpsed you in should have said at should have said near
a bank one day", although the presence of the "mutant" is not acknowledged by name;
long lines alternating with short ones isolation of words and images. If, on one hand,
these formal aspects link the poem to the preceding ones, on the other hand, a new
element is introduced here which demands attention: whilst most of the previous poems
did not disclose the human presence, this is now strongly felt and evidenced by the
writer's signature which forms the last line of the poem.
In its form as a letter, it is addressed to a person, namely a woman, and signed by its
writer. On the surface, it could be read as a love poem, but a closer insight into its
thematic content reveals deeper underlying currents which prevent it from being classified
as such. First of all, the relationship between the writer and his addressee is obviously one
of distance, and the fact that the writer signs the letter with his surname bears evidence to
his doubt as to whether his addressee would be sure of his identity, had he not done so.
The poem, furthermore, does not receive its first impetus from a feeling of love, but from
that of a threatened identity experienced by the writer on meeting the woman, as his
presence as a person who "smiled", "waved" has not been acknowledged. It is precisely
this identity which the writer is compelled to solidify by the letter itself and by giving
himself a name at the end of it. It is also out of this threatened identity that there
springs an acute consciousness of loneliness which is, in fact, the thematic content of the
poem and which finds expression in various ways. Firstly, it is evident in the writer's
consciousness, as reflected in such lines as:
Catherine if I talked to a fern do you think it would
answer if I stopped at your window what
Secondly, it finds its expression in a more detached way, as a question asked about
a general human condition, or a statement made by another individual, as in "...Do you
think there will ever be concert between men and women...", and in "I cry to the stones
because I am lonely the girl said to the dark." Finally, it is expressed by the poem's
detachment, as it presents images which both contain and transcend an individual loneli-
ness, as for example, in "...a wren wheels in the distance the sun shells east of the
lake", and in "In the dream the woman is sitting under a cotton a man kneels on the
slope the pair meet in the mist, stuttering prayers."
If one focuses one's attention on the images, one is struck by the affinities they share
with those of the previous section where the poems transcended the pain of human life
and rested in a contemplative mood. The same sense of contemplation is achieved in this
poem, where the pain arising from the consciousness of one's loneliness informs the poem,
but is at the same time distanced and transcended by the act of contemplation itself.
In this sense, the introduction of the human presence emphasizes that the journey
undertaken by Credences at The Altar of Cloud to overcome the negative aspects of
human life, bears direct relationship to an individual's predicament.
A similar conceptual framework is detected in the last section of the book (pp 138-
139). From the point of view of their content, these poems focus their attention on a
variety of aspects all connected with human life and activities. Formally, the poems are
concentrated into one line. Such form allows them to present their content with a great
degree of detachment. They do not elaborate on it, but act as if they have already
contemplated and explored the territory in which they have moved prior to their exist-
ence on the page, and, like flashes, they only present its essence, leaving it to the reader
to perform the reverse journey. From this point of view, these poems represent the
final step in the process of distancing oneself from the negative aspects of daily reality
through the profound faith in poetry as a power capable of performing such act.
Throughout this essay attention has been focused on the formal characteristics of
Credences at The Altar of Cloud in an attempt to understand the theme which gives
the book its unity of vision. Some of these formal characteristics are constant throughout
the book; such are the tendency towards concretization of the word, the fusion of
elements to create a new entity, and the final leap of a poem into a territory totally
different from the one in which it has previously moved. Having said that these character-
istics are constant, one feels compelled to clarify that by no means do the poems repeat
themselves. In fact, they never copy from each other and one of the major features of
Credences at The Altar of Cloud is its vitality in presenting every poem as a new
experience. Even such constant emotive states as tension and anxiety continually
change at times within a single poem deepening to become nightmare, or giving way
to a feeling of serenity which, in its turn, at times becomes elation and at times acquires
the feeling of profound contemplation. Furthermore, the fusion of different elements
which compose a poem at times ends the poem on a note different from that on which it
began, while in other cases, it gives birth to still other elements in a constant process of
self-creation. As a result, the book gains a complex dynamic force which produces in the
reader an acute awareness of the unity of the poems' vision, as, throughout their
individual journeys, and in relation with one another, they portray a reality common to
all of them, of which they are both creatures and creators, some only pointing to this
vision, others completely penetrating it.
That such vision is expressed through the belief in poetry as a force capable of trans-
forming and transcending the negative aspects of human life need not be stressed here.
What needs to be noted is that the poems of Credences at The Altar of Cloud do not
move in a territory of conceptualized abstractions removed from the reality of everyday
living: sex, violence, poverty, marital quarrels, festivals, illness, personal relationships,
racial divisions, drunkeness, the need to make money, anything, in fact, which makes up
our daily life, are constant in the poems as points of departure to be transcended by
1. McNeill, Anthony, Hello Ungod, Peaceweed Press, Baltimore, 1971.
2. McNeill, Anthony, Reel from "The Life-Movie", Savacou Publications Ltd., Kingston, 1975.
3. Dawes, Neville and McNeill, Anthony, eds., The Caribbean Poem, Carifesta, 1976. All the quota-
tions in the essay are from: McNeill, Anthony, Credences at The Altar of Cloud, A Hummingbird
Publication, Institute of Jamaica, 1979.
THE POETICS OF SELF:
DENNIS SCOTT'S DANGEROUS STYLE
Reading the poetry of Dennis Scott impresses one with the unmistakable fact that we
have come in contact with a poet for whom the technical skill and care that go into the
writing of a poem are paramount. If we accept that poetry is the ordering and shaping of
experience through a linguistic medium, then Scott's concern is that the medium be
effective and efficient, one that aims at optimum communication. The result is that the
poems for the most part may be instructively compared with a diamond: intricately cut
and shaped with a high surface polish:
shaped, is liquid, is
yet at the same time having a many-faceted form. The latter demonstrates the recognition
by Scott that experience, however, cannot be regimented mechanically, and the sense of a
plurality of perspectives and a flexibility of style that attempt to articulate the web of life
emerge. Here, we touch upon that creative tension which exists when one embarks upon
the process of formalising experience.
In this process of formalising experience, there is always, for any artist, the paradoxi-
cal challenge which involves being shaped by various literary traditions and yet at the
same time helping to shape and re-shape them. For the Jamaican artist, and indeed for
the West Indian one, a further instance of creative tension is noted, that which involves
the almost dialectical relationship between the mixture of inherited European/Western
forms and purely local indigenous ones, and the peculiar experience that is to be trans-
mitted. The attitude of the poet to this tension varies, and it is the individual response
of a given poet that will determine the form and style of his work in a general sense. As
we shall see, this whole area lies at the heart of Scott's poetic, and we already make pro-
gress when we realize that the finished poem is not only the result of this tension between
available forms and experiential content, but virtually becomes a symbol of that artistic
With regard to the experiential content, there is the purely personal fund from which
the poet draws, as well as that social and national one that has its roots in the historical
event of colonisation. To a large extent, the concern of our literature has been with social
realism in an effort to come to terms with the historical fact and its legacy. However, an
insidious aspect of the affair is the prescriptive attitude of the public and some fellow
artists that poetry, and for that matter all art, should be relevant. A contributing factor
is the desire for public acceptability and the will to be meaningful on the part of the
artist, yearnings that are immediately evident in young ones especially. The latest pub-
lished work of ScottI raises this question of the place and degree of social realism in
poetry. As we examine a few of these poems we will continually return to the three
elements noted so far: the process of formalising experience, the choice of poetic forms
and the place of purely social concerns.
For analytical purposes, it may be said that Scott's poetic oeuvre treats three broad
themes: the creative imagination, the vicissitudes of love, and socio-political concerns.
His most recent work lays emphasis on the last of these, and it is for this reason that
those poems treating social and political issues will be given some prominence here.
In "A country Theseus" Scott uses the Theseus and Ariadne story from classical
mythology to examine the various responses of a couple as one the man decides to
leave for the city, which becomes for him the symbol of his aspirations "the quiet fields.
The cows of his sleep." In addition to knowing the story of Theseus' descent into the
labyrinth to slay the minotaur, and of his successful return, thanks to the thread given
him by Ariadne, one must be aware of the shifts in perspective in the poem to fully grasp
its meaning and impact.
The persona recounts the story in the third person where our country Ariadne
through the threaded station, holding in her eye
that train, and his travel bag.
The "threaded station" evokes the fragility of this building and its rather tenuous
existence, as well as the sense of poverty, especially as "threaded" recalls threadbare. The
place is only an extension of her personal poverty, because her skirt is "washed", an
image which is three-fold: it speaks of one aspect of her daily domestic chores, the
inability to buy new clothes to replace the washed-out skirt, and finally the incomplete-
ness of her mental and emotional state already implied in "wanders."
The narrative voice addresses her directly
Wave to him quick, one hand. Before away from
that clew of sunlight caught at the golden fruit
he turns his clear face to the city.
establishing a change in the perspective and a sense of shared opinion and sympathy, and
at the same time excluding the man who is never taken into confidence. Of him we read
His eye narrows around the station now
the way back wound in
to the bull's tight wheel. He smiles
Up to this point in the poem we have the main elements of the myth. The thread, so
integral to the original plot, recurs in "the threaded station", "the way back wound",
"eye narrows around the station" and "that clew of sunlight", this last being an excellent
image as we remember that a "clew" is a ball of thread, as well as something that is used
to guide through a maze of difficulties the labyrinth. Then, there is Theseus and the
"bull's tight wheel", a reference to the minotaur. However, it is the closing couplet which
contains yet another shift in perspective which contrasts the narrator's opinion with
that of the country Theseus. It is Theseus who declares, "the old poets were liars",
and the narrator who comments, "It is the labyrinth that he desires."
There is a great deal of irony here as it is to the destructive and dangerous minotaur -
the city that Theseus is fleeing while smilingly rejecting the thread of Ariadne. The
illusion of the city as the place of realized dreams is exploded, and at the same time Scott
is reaffirming the insight and truth to be found in "the old poets", and their continuing
usefulness. In this poem, then, there is the fusing of classical myth and local experience
resulting in a telescoping of time which affirms the continuities between inherited
literary traditions and social actualities.
Whereas the city is still mistakenly conceived in pastoral terms by the country
Theseus, Scott offers us a most striking portrait of it which dispels every vestige of
bucolic bliss in "Apocalypse dub". The very title, announces the formal method. 'Dub'
refers to a peculiar Jamaican musical form closely linked with reggae and its attendant
themes of social distress and poverty. Because music or song has long been a literary
synonym for the poem, 'dub' speaks of a singular Jamaican poetic experience.
'Apocalypse' introduces the Biblical myth of the four horsemen of the apocalypse who
bring famine, war and death, and it is this myth that provides the structural framework of
the poem and becomes fused with the 'dub' with all its implications. The result is a
deeply disturbing picture which partly gains its power from the synthesis of myth and
imagery realized in a surrealist mode.
The second rides slowly, is visiting, watch him he smiles
Hils exhaust sprays pus on the sheets,
he touches the women and teaches them
fever, he puts eggs under the skin -
in the hot days insects will hatch and hide
in the old men's mouths,
in the bones of the children
The second rider symbolizes disease and sickness which declare war on the society
depicted. Here Scott has given a specific interpretation to the notion of the horsemen
of war. Yet there are further implications. The old men, symbols of wisdom and the
social psychic wholeness, are threatened, as well as the youth symbols of hope and
social aspiration who will be denied the wisdom needed for social and political progress.
However, the overall effect of the poem is achieved through the use of irony ranging
from cool understatement,
At first, there's a thin, bright Rider -
he doesn't stop at the supermarket, the cool
red meats are not to his taste
which is another way of commenting on the want of money to buy food, to the more
scathing irony of
And always, behind them, the iceman, quick.
with his shades, the calm oil of his eyes -
you said. Then you closed the window
and turned up the radio, the DJ said greetings
to all you lovely people.
Here the more fortunate in the society are depicted as turning a deaf ear to the condition
of the poor, and taking refuge in the unreal world of the DJ whose recognizably copied
American idiom and speech rhythms betray only too easily the 'unloveliness'of the
In "Birdwalk" we have another glimpse of life in the city, this time of that truly
dialectical relationship between the Maid and Master and Missis. The closing stanza
recounts this uneasy alliance which bears a striking resemblance to the social and
economic structure of the slave plantation.
Mister in de counting house
counting up de money
Missis in de dinin room
eating off the honey.
Gatta in de gyaden
prayin nat to dead,
waiting fe de blackbird
walking through she head...
The poem achieves its force once again from the structural referent. It borrows the
traditional nursery rhyme, "Sing a song of sixpence", maintains the basic rhythms, trans-
forms the linguistic structures to creole ones, and makes one vital change in the plot. This
concerns the blackbirds. Here, it is the maid, Gatta, who becomes lhe blackbird. Ior
Scott, the bird represents freedom of all kinds, similar to Blake's
Ilow do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way.
Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses
and black has its obvious reference to Gatta being a Black woman. She is therefore seen
as confined and restrained. That is why she sings
"Now de day is ova..."
trying nat to cry-
a negro spiritual of some kind to soothe her soul. Yet Gat ta has dreams concerning herself
and her freedom, and so the poem ends on that revolutionary and hopeful note, waitingn
fe de blackbird/walkin through she head" -a Blakean innocence.
This reshaping of a traditional form forces us to readjust our usual way of thinking
about this rhyme, or to move us from a point of indifference to a crucial awareness of
its implicit attitudes. Because the traditional rhyme is constantly implied indeed with-
out it the dimension of "Birdwalk" is reduced this mutual formal dependence seems
to comment on the co-existence of the different cultures in question and the ironic ten-
sion in which they are held. One might say that the poem dramatizes in its formal
elements the coming into being of a certain poetic voice: strong, perceptive, ironic,
The revolutionary theme is nicely developed in the surrealistically conceived poem
"Mouth". One is invited to look at a literal painting in a museum "a painting of the poor"
where a woman is cooking. 'She's boiling", we read, with the pun suggesting her anger.
Like Gatta she desires to be free from the social constraint of poverty, but is more poised
on the verge of a revolutionary act, for in the pot, there is instead of the customary meal,
the sacrificial one, the "fat suburban pooler" who
treads water, gracefully, afloat
at the edge, where it's cooler.
He doesn't know
The spoon will soon come down.
The colloquial phrase, "what's cooking" is invested with new and dangerous significance,
and the supreme irony created underscores the yet invisible threat that awaits the social
oppressors whoever they might be.
Self in the Social Context
The poems discussed so far all treat in various ways the importance of an awareness
of one's social reality which is another way of saying that the poems are concerned with
the definition of Self in the social context. We must now examine "Dreadwalk". the
title poem of Scott's new collection, with respect to this theme.
"Dreadwalk" is an encounter poem which records the meeting between "blackman"
who comes singing a dread and the persona who asks him to "sing for me dreamer."
The dread replies, "I cannot", and Scott brings out with subtle force the meaning of the
poem each man has to sing for himself, each man has to come to a personal and unique
understanding. A similar view is expressed in "Lemonsong".
I would try to tell you that
there are birds at Moncada.
but the cool earth stops my mouth. You must make them
yourself, you must want them.
The dread's voice "was like sand/when the wind dries it": his teeth were "like stone/
where the pick cuts it": his voice was like wind/when the sea makes it salt". The nature
of the imagery is significant. The salt wind 'cuts' through things; picks are used for cutting
stones which are hard and become sharp. Here the images speak of going beyond surface
realities. The cutting images are reinforced as positive when one realises the traditionally
positive value of the symbols: salt is associated with healing and preservation, wind is an
established symbol of inspiration, wholeness and fullness: stones stand for durability and
stability. Cutting, then, though painful is necessary to arrive at this wholeness. This
profound 'truth', that becomes associated with the dread, the poem seems to be saying,
heals and preserves, renders us whole in attitude and spirit, and is durable and gives us
stability. It is this coming to truth that the poem advocates and that the persona learns.
The dread decides to tell the persona, however, about the children who "are gone/like
sand from the quarry". The implied passive construction in this phrase suggests that there
was an active agent who removed them. The children have been reduced from whole
stones symbols of the Self, as the Jungian school of thought reminds us and
pulverized by that now tyrannic, though unnamed, ominous force to sand. That is why,
"my mouth full of stones", the dread says, the stones which remain as a durable memorial
to the Self of the children who are gone. This account of the fate of the children who
"would not step aside" has an effect on both people, and one draws a knife. The stunning
formal achievement in this poem is that each of the characters could exchange roles and
speeches at various points and the poem would still make sense. Thus the incident with
the knife is rendered
but you holding it wrong I
said love the fist opened
the knife fell away from
the raw hand middle
If we follow the pattern where all lines beginning "said" without any further designation
such as "said blackmain" are spoken by the persona. then the incident goes as follows: the
angry persona pulls a knife after hearing of the destruction of the "children". but in his
blind anger he only inflicts pain and suffering on himself. this the dread points out, and
the persona replies, "love" indicating the genesis of his learning process to sing for him-
then he held me into
his patience locked
By the end of the poem the persona has learned that intellectual as well as emotional
control are necessary in the engagement in the social cause. As the dread came walking
at the beginning of the poem, so too the sense of completeness of the learning process
is evoked in the circularity of the form.
now I sing for the children
like wind in the quarry
hear me now
by the wide torn places
1 am walking
On the formal level of the poem this identification with the dread and his level of social
awareness is translated through the play on "I". "I" can be that noun form which a
dread uses to identify himself and the sense of Self that is central to that identity. "I" can
also simply be the first person subject pronoun. Because of the lack of punctuation, and
the further ambiguities created by the lineation, at first there seems to be confusion in
the surface structure. However, as we understand the principle at work, one might even
say that initial syntactic confusion becomes semantic fusion.
The closing words are telling. On the level of the action, the persona follows in the
metaphoric footsteps of the dread. On the linguistic level, the words "I am walking"
could be seen as a standard English rendition of"l man a step" a now formalized version
of 'goodbye', suggesting the mutual agreement and harmony that exists between the
parties upon parting. On the symbolic level, "1" becomes the archetypal figure for the
consciousness of self, awareness of the harsh social realities, and the revolutionary temper
that is abroad. As the linguist Emile Beneveniste2 points out, language exists in such a
form that any person who chooses to designate himself "I" can appropriate to himself all
the resources of the language. This notion is also suggested in the poem by its deliberate
play on "I" as archetypal figure and all it represents.
Written in free verse with only the rhythms and the spaces between words and phrases
to determine the punctuation, sense and meaning, the poem is formally modern. At the
same time, one recognizes in the dread the familiar literary figure of the Poet as musician,
like the Piper in Blake's Songs of Innocence ("Introduction") who sings to and for the
symbolic 'children.' This synthesis of heterogeneous forms further elaborates Scott's
discours on the formalising process and the choice of forms by the artist, and at the same
time indicates a breadth of vision. Eclecticism, the aesthetic principle at work, creates a
new and dynamic synthesis.
We have sufficiently emphasized the socio-political content of Scott's latest work, and
Scott himself, making the comparison with Uncle Time comments on Dreadwalk:
It is far more political...and simultaneously far more personal...which I think an
interesting constant paradox.3
What Scott means is that the degree of his personal engagement in social issues has
become greater, hence the paradox. Ilowever, as one examines the more obviously
personal poems, those dealing with the creative act and the love poems, certain themes
and attitudes common to the whole range of his poetry emerge which we shall briefly
"Chillsong" uses the bird as a symbol of poetic inspiration thie liberating factor
which assaults the poel causing pain, like a bird that sei/es a grasshopper:
When the beak snaps that grasshopper,
crunches his back like a bone-edged wind,
what is the kind of his pain?
We recognize the images from "Dreadwalk" associated with the pain of searching beyond
surface realities to find truth. The bird
may lock down with steel mouth
into the cold
as a poem cuts us off from ordinariness
with its iced mouth, truth.
"Homesong" treats the case of inspiration that will not come, "That old bird will
make no more journeys." The persona can only hope that it will one day return with its
paradoxical painful truth.
I am patient
sometime the door will remember
the shape of your hand and open
without surprise, the weight of the claws
will barely matter, nor the salt wind
rustling through the room.
"Poem", too, further develops this theme of the pain that accompanies awareness/truth:
A poem has to sing
sometimes so high glass breaks
and the animal in your eye runs
for cover, so much pain.
That one cannot avoid facing up to these moments or stages in one's experience is sugges-
ted by the deterministic, "A poem has to sing", and this also recalls the equally certain
"When the beak snaps" of "Chillsong". There is a clear parallel here with, first, the pain
of discovering the social truth and one's place in its complex configurations, and, second,
the certainty of a social revolution.
"Moonfish" is a highly lyrical piece that deals with the desire for completeness in a
relationship, instead of surface emotions and mere physical enjoyments.
We touch. Civilities. We say goodbye.
The mocking, evanescent moon burns high.
The heroic couplet not only aptly translates the coolness of the relationship as captured in
the cool even rhythms and tone, but it also communicates efficiently the hauteur of
the mocking moon. That there is something missing in the relationship is evident and the
persona feels betrayed by the moon goddess.
So if you ask the reason for my sigh:
I lack the sea of you.
The moon burns dry.
The sentence, "I lack the sea of you" is not only memorable as a telling example of
linguistic deviation, but achieves its power through the use of the archetypal sea
-symbolism with its connotations of the origin of Self and the wholeness of Self which
are sought after. This human need to identify and understand that Self which Jung refers
to as the inner nucleus of the psyche, emerges as another of those thematic common
principles in the canon.
This is given further emphasis in "Dreamcut" where the head image that recurs
becomes a symbol of the Jungian collective unconscious. The poet declares that he will
make poems like people with these images of our deep residual psychic past
because that is how we come bright
to each other, shaking
the wet from us like fishernets.
The theme of Self, the psychic nucleus, and the sea symbolism return in a more obviously
We have seen that in all three areas, the creative act, love and social engagement, the
dynamic principle of creation/liberation operates. In addition, there is always the need
to find 'truth' beyond the mere illusory surface realities, a quest that is always demanding
and fraught with pain. One perceives a view of life that rejects static and surface truths,
and sees experience as a dynamic process. In all of this, the ultimate principle is the search
I am crying under the lemon trees at Moncada
because of death and the hardness of such.
Is this what we must pay
to be complete, my son?
Indeed it is a challenge for all to arrive at this point of completeness in all areas, but as
indicated there is the pain, and also the danger. "Stepping on the cracks" raises the
challenge. Most avoid the cracks, which become a symbol for dangerous terrain of all
kinds discussed so far, because "that is death./Everyone knows that."
But there are one or two
sometimes come by
ordinary as funerals, playing,
covering the spaces
with their feet.
To return to Blake's rhetorical question concerning the bird of complete desire, there is
always the danger of passing from the known and ordinary the senses five to that
challenging realm of Truth.
Finally, we return to the question of form and the experiential content of the
Jamaican/West Indian poet. "More poem" in the form of a dialogue/debate, provides
Scott's perspective on the matter. The dread, in the poem, accuses the poet of writing on
purely personal themes, and there is the implication that the commitment to a group
activity is the best way: "A solitary voice is wrong". Secondly, there are suggestions that
only the use of Jamaican Creole is the legitimate voice of the people. Finally, there is the
prescription that the artist should be concerned with social realism.
The rebuttal makes it clear that social issues in the narrow sense do not have a mono-
poly on art, and that the "sense of dread" whatever its manifestations social, personal,
psychic, metaphysical all have equal claims on art. This wider perspective is captured
in the lines with their Platonic resonances:
See the flesh? It is cave, it is
stone. Seals every I away from light.
Alone. Man must chant as Man can
The formal coup is that this poem which argues against that prescriptive and narrow
view of the function of art, outlined by the dread, itself utilizes the creole and Rasta
structures to make its point. Not only is the range of themes related to the human condi-
tion permissible, but all forms are valid for its expression. Here again, in his very concep-
tion of art, we meet the symbolic bird of freedom. It reinforces the willingness on the part
of the poet to employ all traditions and forms in the service of art, and that all forms of
communication have their legitimate place. The overall effect is that Scott's poetry in its
attempt to always step on the cracks, that dangerous terrain called truth, creates an
oeuvre that transcends local limitations and addresses itself to a wider humanity.
1. These include: (a) Dreadwalk, London, New Beacon Books, 1982
(b) "New Poems" in Jamaica Journal, Vol. 16 No. 1, Feb., 1983.
2. Emile Benevenistc, Problemes de linguistique generate, I, France, Gallimard, 1966.
3. Dennis Scott, interviewed by 1. Smith (unpublished; Kingston, 25 April 1983).
HELEN & THE TEMPEST-NEGRE:
RENE DEPESTRE'S A RAINBOW FOR THE CHRISTIAN WEST
EDWARD KAMAU BRATHWAITE
The 'classical' negritude of Aime Cesaire and Leopold Senghor, evolving out of the
black colonial response to the Prospero of Euro-America of the 1920s and 1930s, has
been quietly consolidated into the creole and native negritude of the 1960s and 1970s
(George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile (1960), J.P. Clark America, their America
(1964), Okot p'Bitek Song for Lawino (1966), Esteban Montejo Autobiography of a
runaway slave (1966, trans 1968), Ayi Kwei Armah The beautiful ones are not yet born
(1968), LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) Black Magic poetry (1969), Derek Walcott, Dream
on Monkey Mountain (1970), Alex Haley Roots (1976), Ivan Van Sertima They came
before Columbus (1976), Toni Morrison Song of Solomon (1977), Earl Lovelace, The
dragon can't dance (1979); and in the 1980s, Wole Soyinka. Ake (1981), Erna Brodber
Jane & Louisa will soon come home (1980) and Paule Marshall Praisesong for the widow
(1983) and Lorna Goodison's poem for Winnie Mandela.
These random examples (not to mention the song and sound poets: Sparrow, Stalin,
Sistren, Tosh, Marley, Muta & Oku) would disclose that negritude, despite its critics and
scholars, is not dead/ cannot be: since the conditions of and for the oppression of black
people still very very very much exist: 0 Sharpeville 0 Soweto 0 L'Ouverture's boat-
people setting out to bone and belcher; but that in what is called 'the wider world out
there', these utterly expressions are treated like field hollers (praise the Lord!): voices
caught & culled by connoisseurs & publishers: exotique flowers in a grass menagerie
okay? No root, no common flourish, no really live among us (except the lists I/you
create) no really place within the 'World Tradition': except as something else, as supermix,
as compromise, as Prize. And yet the line is there: from Grandy Nanny and the Children
of Chus through Makandal and locomotive Shango to Haiti and Harlem and Haiti again;
from Francis Williams to Eric Williams; from J J Thomas to J J Johnson; through Blyden
to Maran and Marcus Garvey, Fanon and Malcolm X: from rasta reggae jazz-shout Baptist
sermon (bawl wind, cry the beloved ghettoes).
A work which wells centrally from this tradition, is Rene Despestre's Un arc-en-ciel
pour I'occident chretien (Paris 1967), available in English translation by Joan Dayan
(facing the French original) as A rainbow for the Christian West (University of Massachu-
setts Press, Amherst 1977): a 'poeme-mystere voudou' of some 2,275 lines. The work has
been clearly influenced by Cesaire, Caribbean master of negritude. There is the same
pervasive sense of almost sacretodal blackness and of protest; a similar surrealism and the
mixture of verse and prose that is found in the Cahier. But whereas Cesaire's metaphorical
life defends itself from French modernism and the author's own extraordinary sensibility,
Depestre, a Haitian (he is also an exile which has significant affects) has been able to call
upon the native symbolism of vodoun to provide the ikons out of which his poems speak.
It is a unique work, even for Depestre. And in terms of dialectic, the Carribbean/New
World structure of forces, first given name and movement by the man called Shakespeare,
is used. Caliban the poet, conjuring up the loas of his patrimony, attempts to confront
the forces of Prospero, guised as an Alabama judge, and his daughter, Miranda, who, in a
counter-conjunction as Notre-Dame des Cendres (Our Lady of Ashes) eventually (and as
usual) defeats the tempest-negre.'
This review(er) is interested in the delineation of this 'defeat' and its resulting compro-
mise, in terms of the history of black struggle; and why this should be called (and com-
mended by its translator and commentator) compassion, even though Depestre himself
provides a more ambiguous testimony of words.
A rainbow for the Christian West, translation with an Introduction by Joan Dayan2,
is 256 pages long, just over half of which is the poem itself, with French text facing the
translation. Before that there is a Preface (pp. vii-xi) and an excellent Introduction
(pp. 3 41), which places poet and poem in context.
The poem itself, divided into seven parts, begins, after the Prelude, with its conjuration
of the vodoun gods, beginning, correctly, with Atibon-Legba, crippled god of the cross-
roads and messenger of the loa.
I am Alegba-Papa
The god of your doors
Tonight I am
The master of your small paths
And the plants of your house
I am the chief of the gates ...
Ogou-Ferraille, Damballah-Wedo, Agoue-Taroyo, Guede-Nibo, Azaka-Mede, Agassou,
Samedi, Chango, Ti-Jean Sandor and Loko one after one make their appearance and
speak as the poem widens towards its vision of Alabama/Johannesburg:
One day in Johannesburg judges threw my bear crowned with thorns into prison.
I wandered alone in the city without a drop of water for my black-fish thirst. At
every door a glass of gall or a harpoon waited for me. (p. 135)
by the time the dread Cap'tain Zombi arrives the poem is in full furor, employing all its
I am Cap'tain Zombi
I drink through my ears
I listen with ten fingers
I have a tongue that sees all
A radar-smell that picks up
The waves of the human heart
And a touch that sees smells
From a distance . (p. 147)
but the most impressive and moving sequence is when the women arrive: the female loa:
Ayizan, Aida Wedo, Erzili, Guede Mazaka L'Orage, the Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre,
Grande Brigitte and Simbi: in the 'Cantata for Seven Voices'. Here Depestre, using a
prose/poem form, provides an almost magical conversation about femaleness and gentle-
ness and the opposites that are forced upon and out of them.
Where have our male loas gone tonight?
The very same question is sparked in me!
I do not see man-life to water tonight
My woman-banana tree and my woman-corn
I do not see a single two-footed goat-kid!
Not one manly arm around here on my lands! (p. 169)3
Grande Brigitte then interrupts this sex talk ('Go easy, girls, the sharks are listening!' [my
trans]) to let Simbi get a word in:
Could I be the only one to know
In whose head the throng of our gods
Has gone to dance? (Dayan p. 169)
or, even better, from Hirschman (1972), p. 36
Am I the only one who knows
what head the cong-
gregation of our gods will dance in?
but her powers, her right of singular disclosure, are challenged by Aida Wedo, princess of
the rainbow,over the question of water-power: an important consideration for women and
goddesses who have and who have had to negotiate the mysteries of the Middle Passage:
Could I be the only one to know
That our loas walk tonight
In the blood of a poet?
The blood of a poet for a horse?
The blood of a poet for a rainbow!
No rainbow can be born
Without the seal of Aida Wedo!
What if it is an undersea rainbow
If it is a heartbow of the sea?
Still I would have seen his star
In the bottom of my Igovi] ?
You forget Aida that you reign
Over fresh water only ...
S.. And your power stops
At the window of salt water!
S.. And your bow does not control
The mysteries of sea-water! (p. 171)
Every rainbow is marked by my beauty!
Aida, Simbi's tongue
Knows better than yours
What happens at the bottom of the sea .. (p. 173)
And so it is Simbi, rainwater voice of the female rainbow, who takes the poem into its
journey of confrontation: the male loas crossing the water not to Africa, as Erzili instinc-
tively assumes. 'But it's another/That saw their sails arrive', which links the poem to the
negritude of Lamming's Natives of my person (1972), if not with the concerns of his
Another wounded land?
A land opened up
In the South of Human suffering!
In the South of the black race?
In the South of all races!
a very nice touch. But
Where then, Simbi, is
This bitter South spread out ...
One hundred and twenty miles from here
Past Cuba and its pearls
The smell of a burning race
Suddenly seizes you
You move on through smoke
Thicker and whiter
Than a hairless pig!
the Hairless Pigs (Cochons sans poils), the owls. crocodiles, pythons and werewolves of
the Petro rites, indicate the Other, the Evil, the sick, the diseased, the contaminated, the
dirty, the old woman carrying stench in her handbag. As Caridad says (p. 175) 'It's a
south-wanga!': the opposite of Brodber's kumbla. The beginning of Unprospero ...
His head is crowned
With lighted tapers!
And his heart?
Crowned with iron horns
And his hand?
His hand holds a whip
That can change
Into giant or dwarf
Into he-goat or cross
Into cock or dog
Or into a hornless kid
When he hears music
When he whips up the blood
Of his female in heat!
And what does his name mean?
His name is hooded
By a Ku Klux Klan!
That's not a proper Christian name!
Nor the name of drinking water!
Nor the name of a fruit tree!
It's the signature
Of a bloodless beast!
It's a vlanbindingue-name! (pp. 175-179)
this evil blindness is of course the Alabama Judge. the destiny of the poem. and all he
represents. But at the very moment of encounter, the poem's flaw appears: within the
very weak and sweetness of its flow. And it is this: the women, goddesses and powers
that they be: reveal themselves as stereotypes of women: vain,jealous, curious, vindictive
and domestic. Aida Wedo will 'strangle his seasons'; Erzili will 'wash his white face/
With seven kinds of pepper'; Guede Mazaka says that if one night she finds his baka-
skin, she'll give him a brine bath with Mardi Gras ash (Brigitte), with cannon-powder
(Ayizan), with cayman sperm (Erzili) and virgin-mouse blood (Mazaka again). But they,
and the poet, are not walking in witches not loas, possessed by what they wish to dis-
possess. So that at this crucial first encounter, the poetry becomes not bomb or battle
epic, but vlanbindingue: baldminded poetry, callingnamecurse poetry ('It's a chamelcon-
zebop!/A tonton-macoute!') 'He alone has devoured/More innocent Blacks/Than all the
cyclones/That have blown over Haiti!' (p. 181)
but the women can't do nothen bout it. Daughters of words only, they feel they need
their males to help them unconjure the foreign wizard that might now injure them
Women to kill him
More is needed than woman-cries
That's why our male-gods
Are not with us tonight!
Far away they are fighting for us! (p. 185)
it is really a poor slow after all the brave talk; after the example, say, of the Greek
goddesses. But is the flaw in the women or (if we can separate them meaningfully) in the
poet's perception of his poem? in Depestre's instinctive (?) expectation of his (black)
women? And i say (black) because we shall eventually see what happens when at last
Helen appears . But in the meantime, we sail towards our next surprise within the
poem: the appearance of what I can only call lyrical compromise. opening out towards
the universal rose
It's a race in bloom!
And its sap rises endlessly,
To everyman's heaven!
It's sap announces
That one day
It will be beautiful on earth!
An living for everyone
Will walk straight
Towards the light!
Towards all that shines!
Towards all that is gentleness!
Towards all that is love!
And sun in the hearts of men!
And innocence in their eyes!
And brotherhood in their gestures!
And caresses for the day
With their tender hands!
(Lyrical) compromise because the poet and his poem have not anywhere yet reached
reconciliation, not even understanding between the two ?opposing forces. The blacks -
yes dream of brotherhood: but the Klan and Alabama Judge remain deaf and arrogant;
stiff in the Mandingo sense of immoral; and aloof. Leaving us to approach the central
experience or rather headwaters of the poem slavery with (?only) the brilliant
witty negatives of irony
The Black Slave Trade did not take place. It is the invention of a mad
historian. There is no small beach in Africa named Ouidah where car-
gos of black cattle set out towards America. There was never a large
scale commercial effort to reify them, to change them into ebony-
wood, into black ore, to open flourishing markets with them in thous-
ands of ports. Their race was not consecrated to the miseries of wood,
rock, and metal!
Their desolation did not cross the sea with feet in chains and screams in
its immense black eyes. In Haiti, their revolt was not sawed off between
two planks. Cannon-powder and crushed peppers were not poured over
their open wounds. They were not branded with a red-hot iron. No one
ever counted their teeth or felt their testicles. They were never probed,
weighed, and hefted! (p. 211)
The white colonists of the Antilles made their domestic slaves sleep
right in their room, not far from their money, not far from the beauty
of their wives and daughters. Then how did one assume that the slave
had a heart foaming with hatred and vengeance against his master?
Everything stayed open. Open hearts, open plantations, open doors
and windows, open young wives and luminous young girls, while slaves
and masters slept quietly!
Oh loving nights of the new world!
Elegant young girls sold a Black to buy a bracelet, a necklace, or a white fiance.
A bag of coal for a bag of flour ...
Pink mouths babbled over the purchase-price or about the slave-sale or still
again over the number of lashings to give him. Beautiful creole hands, wonder-
ful hands, felt his testicles. (p. 217)
Blacks and Whites abhorred fornicating together. Then one day a big immaculate
cloud witnessed these scenes of horror. To revive its sensitive heart it guzzled
black coffee. When it burst it rained mulattoes upon the earth ...
Black women bore no malice towards the white masters who fucked them. As
for God, he found these clandestine nuptials charming. (p. 219)
these 'Aphorisms & Parables of the New World' culminate in the 'beautiful'
Once the dance had ended
And the good tom-tom returned to its sea-sleep
Once the sun-space of copulation was stilled
Then I looked at my naked body
And I said: (p. 221)
what 'I said': atumpani of negative negritude: for twenty-one magnificent lines the poetry
of the negative yes: is what happens to Black Orpheus looking, like Narcissus, at his own
face and power and glory in the pool
And I said: this marvel is not mine
Not mine, this magus-king-skin
This rebellious phallus this tamer of rivers
This ocean-navigator is not mine
Not mine, this luminous sperm
Nor the little black angel it raises in your belly
Not ours, the rocket of orgasm in our veins
Nor the strength and joy in receiving you
Nor the notes of nightingale-pleasure in me
Not mine, the golden belt of black sand
That my sex opens in the center of your life
So that the sea may utter there its song of innocence
Not mine, all this great treasure of loving fire
My heart beating in you to youi quick
My heart rolling its heatwave in you
Its plough-glory and its earth full of happiness
Not mine, my infinite grief when it rains
Nor my joy when it's your flesh the rain-creator
Not mine, this blazing-me, this embers-me
This star-me this diamond-me this man-me
This woman-me this sun-me is not mine! (p. 221)
and the poem ends
Dear darkness of freedom, open your tender arms to me. Wait for me at
all the world's fountains! Give me a blackness still more vast than that
of the morning sea. Oh darkness purify me! Soothe my life! Illuminate
me, darkness, me and the world where I live! (p. 223)
but cultural revolutions (making way for more or other paradigms; accepting other or
additional paradigms) have to be fought with (expressed through) elements of culture,
not with culture-words, reverb/eration ikons only. And herein perhaps lies one of the
criticisms of classical negritude. But Depestre's poem, up to now at least, has, despite the
lyric compromise, despite the weakened goddesses, does (did) conjure his native vodoun
symbols up against Unprospero. And after that, there's still Toussaint and Makandal and
Dessalines and Charlemagne Peralte and Malcolm X .. .4
and yet that lyric compromise begins to take its toll: those self-regarding nominations.
Now, after the epiphanies, cantatas (those Euro-music signals should have warned us);
after the odes & aphorisms; when we at last reach Propsero's heartland (led by those
brave male loas), we find ourselves so unprepared for what lies shining there and
worse we start (MIRANDA CALIBAN) to fall in love with it, as against the 'innocent
green gods' of Haiti, we find that Prospero has prepared THE ATOMIC GODS OF
OMAHA . 'The great gods of the nuclear age/The creators of homicidal suns/ . Murd-
erers of . . space and time . .' (p. 225). And Depestre, as in some hushed procession-
My gods and I are now in Omaha
Our lives are suddenly so heavy to bear
That our legs hardly go forward. Here
Man passionately prepares the end of man
Here is the eraser that can rub out life
Nothing matters here: neither hope nor dreams
Man has given up his place to a people of monsters
They are there before our eyes the fantastic robots
They are ready. They have a good memory. They know
Where they must strike. They are geographers
Of genius; on their maps they have set off
The points of the earth where wind, love, tears
Sweat and rain promise to man's days
eyes and treasures to repeople the world
With kisses, fruits, nests, and miracles! (p. 225)
but where now is the fight, the countervail, the promise of alternative? 'My green gods
recoil in terror/Before . ./The great gods of the nuclear age' (p. 222). Confronted with
Atlas, Titan, Polaris, MX, Nike-Zeus, the gods of our village recoil like children; they
curl up against me
They see the revolution of ashes coming
The earth disrobed by H Bombs
and find themselves, without any apparent show of bravado or resistance, reduced to
shadows, 'robbed of power,/Disarmed and conquered by these. . gods . .' (p. 229)
Now entrance at last Miranda/Helen/Mary. Our Lady of the Ashes. And you know the
rest. That two plus two makes five/that the forest meows/that the tree gets the chest-
nuts out of the fire/that the sky strokes its beard/et cetera et cetera . That Caliban,
enslaved by Prospero, is nine months enseasoned: taught language and obedience and no
doubt 'literature' by Prospero's young virgin daughter and of course he falls for her (no
sign of reciprocity) and in frustration of rebellion says he wish he'd raped the virgin and
people'd all the isle with cannibals. And it is as aspect of the dialectics of control within
the theme of race, that Caliban should love or hate the teacher; that Prospero, in order to
ensure against such violation, should castrate. See Fanon, Cleaver, Hernton; see Shakes-
peare on Othello, see Styron on Nat Turner. See Patterson & Conrad's Scottsboro boy.
See Walcott's 'Goats and Monkeys'. So that with Aida and Erzilli gone, forgotten, broken,
?ex-Caliban Depestre submits his version of the Marlowe song, 'Sweet Helen, make me
immortal with a kiss'
Jadis tu m'as donne un baiser immortal
Sans me voler mon ame et ma force humaine
[Once] you gave me an immortal kiss
Without stealing my soul and my humanity [away]
O sweet Helene de la connaissance
What sadness to see you now
With all these barbaric gods squandering [at]
Your mouth, your breasts . ., your . sex (p. 231)
the 'barbaric gods' here are the 'loas' of the Materialist West: 'Christ and the Ku Klux
Klan/The H Bomb and the Electric Chair/And the Statue of Liberty5, Helen, the Ideal
Goddess, has been possessed by them
This tick-tock of the H Bomb
Is it the beating of your heart?
Is it truly you who breathes
With these monstrous lungs?
Is it in your belly
That all the Mephistos of the [atomic storm are] born? p. 231
and in anguish he cries out to her: What the hell are you doing in Omaha! (actually
'Que fais-tu a Omaha?' /What are you doing in Omaha?' pp. 230/231). Not recognizing,
it seems to me, that this is like asking Miranda, what are you doing in your father's cell!
Unless, of course, I've got Helen wrong. And Depestre wrong. Unless, that is, Depestre
wants her to be (to mean) something other: different from what we've always culturally
known her to be, to represent. Helen in 'our' world, has always been the Beauty Queen,
the Coca Cola Girl, Venus de Milo, the Virgin, Our Lady, exotic Queen and Whore
('Putain et reine a la fois') (p. 232). Identified with Greece, the Christian/Catholic West
and Western Babylon. Depestre addresses her as 'Sweet Helen of the green world', 'Gentle
star [of] Venus of our pains', 'princess at the edge of the sea' (p. 231); like Dante's,
like Eliot's Figlia del tuo figlio/Queen of Heaven. Which, quite honestly, though, is weird
coming from a poet who began his poem so firmly rooted in vodoun,with his wild boast-
ful virile damballas bashing up the daughters of the Alabama judge
I spray your sallow faces
I spray your pale hysterias
I water the terror coiling up in your eyes
I change the eldest of your daughters into a rainbow!
Damballa, snake/healer, can do this; he has the power of the rainbow. But rainbow here
doesn't mean reconciliation ...
Now she slithers with my seven snakes
Now she undulates in the sun of my vigour
Now she makes the rounds of my sweet waters
Now she kisses three times my Damballah
And my Wedo my wilibo my Willimin
... the eldest daughter of an Alabama Judge
Is going to lose her white bonnet on my shores! (p. 131)
one can't help feeling that Helen appears here as a kind of retribution for all this; that
she's a kind of Mrs Thatcher rebuking blacks for all that sexual male chauvinist racism.
These calling-a-spade-a-spade spades certainly don't make it round the last bend of the
poem. It is Helen who glitters. And it isn't that she now appears as a faro, as a Central
Ideal only. She replaces and displaces the blaggards both male and female! of the
O Our Lady of Ashes
Both whore and queen. O loved one
Here we are ready to forget
Your long years of orgies
In the atomic brothel of Omaha
O sweet fairy of the [douleurs of the world]
By the tears of the earth
Our black gods are related to you
Yield to you their place [alongside] man
To reign on our most familiar beacons
p. 233, my emphasis
in the Introduction to this edition of Arc-en-ciel, Joan Dayan tries to explain. She con-
firms that we are dealing with 'Helen of Troy, Venus, or an erotic Virgin Mary' (p. 98),
though I don't see this last in the text. But at least we know where we are in the Standard
Symbol of Helen. But, continues Dayan, this Helen 'undergoes subtle metamorphoses in
the poet's memory and consciousness' (p. 98). But soon we run into trouble. On the one
hand, Dayan continues, 'Inaccessible to final identification, she operates beyond culture,
beyond race, and comes into being in the universal'. (p. 98, my emphases) On the other
hand, by p. 100, we are asked to believe that 'Classical' Helen has become (or really is)
'African Dahomean Helen, Erzulie Freda, transformed into 'Omaha Helen, Erzulie-Ge
Rouge' of the Petro 'cult'. Which again me never ketch in text. And she concludes: 'The
demonic quest for power has completely destroyed the essence of the African Helen ...
and has created the Omaha Helen, Erzulie-Ge Rouge' (p. 100)
What has really happened in this poem, it seems to me, is what Fanon spent a lot of
time writing about especially in Black skin, white masks. And it is something we will have
to confront and confess to frontally, if we are to come to understand and hopefully go
beyond, this problem'of cultural rainshadow, double consciousness, false value systems,
spiritual dichotomy, mulatto complex etc., etc. And it seems even more acute with
francophone 'colony' writers than with the anglophones not that we don't have our o
too acute problems too because of the pressure, presence and reality/effects of the
French metropolitan policy of physical/cultural assimilation. I mean the French will
correct any assumption/statement that Point-a-Pitre is the capital of Guadeloupe with
no-no no-no-no-no-no-no. The capital of Guadeloupe is Paris. And they are not joking or
being ironic or anything like that.
But Haiti, is different. Haiti is an independent nation since 1804; an independence due
largely to the victory of its folk culture. Yet Michael Dash6 points out that it was not
until 1955 that we find Depestre (born Jacmel 1926 and age 8 when the US occupation
of his country (1915-1934) came to an end) 'tentatively indicating that an important
process of creolisation had taken place in Haiti'. Which is about the same time that his
counterparts in the anglophone Caribbean islands were perhaps not so tentatively assert-
ing the same thing. The point is, that Depestre, despite Dessalines, despite Price-Mars
despite perhaps too Jacques Roumain, and the so-called revolution of 1946, was still,
(if Dash is right) having to set out tentatively on his own to discover himself and his cul-
ture . (see also us in the anglophone Caribbean . .) a journey which culminated in
But Depestre was also, or had been until his ?break with Cesaire in his Introduction
to the Idea of a Haitian aesthetic (Introduction a un art poetique haitien) (1955), a
'classical' surrealist/negritudist. And a Marxist (he still is); though like many marxist-
surrealist-negritudists, there has been a problem of centre, style and final allegiance. See
Aime Cesaire's Letter to Maurice Thorez (1956). In terms of Depestre's sensibility, this
means that the creole nationalism of vodoun sets up a dissonance and/or counterpoint
with Marxist materialism; that universalist negritude sets up conflict with specific Haitian-
ism (though this, it seems to me, need not be a major problem).
Ideological and international Marxism, on the other hand, has (have) developed strong
dis-sympathies to Haitian politics and even to a cultural interpretation of the success of
the Haitian Revolution and therefore to the enracinement represented by vodoun. While
Depestre, international & ideological Marxist and an exile from Haiti since 1946 (age
20), had, at least by 1959/60, (age 33) and partly, at least, as a result of a brief harassed
return to the homeland, come, while living next door in Cuba, to the realization that he
needed to attempt/celebrate enracinement: but in an environment that would hardly have
been unequivocally supportive of this enterprise.
so the at least possibility of ambiguity (choice of Helens) if not doubt, was already
embedded in the origins. Add to which the problem of near permanent exile for the
poet: for the person: who wishes to use native material. I have already looked at certain
aspects of this in 'Roots' (1963) and 'The African presence in Caribbean literature'
(1974) and Kenneth Ramchand (1970) has argued how Claude McKay transcended this
problem in Banana Bottom. In the same critical mid-1950s period, Cesaire, in a poem to
or rather at, Depestre ('Fous-t-en Depestre, Fous-t-en . .') asked
... Can it be
that the rains of exile
have made the skin of the drum of your voice flaccid
(Dash, op. cit., p. 175)
while Depestre himself was admitting, naturally, that his 'separation from Haiti, from the
popular culture of my homeland, is a serious limitation on the possibilities open to me'
(again Dash). But he never (has not yet) despite the generosities of at least the first 3/4
of Arc, been able to come to grips with all that creole (nation) involves: above all with
the question of language.
Now language, as all (ex)-colonials know, is Caliban's big problem/monster. How to get
around what Prospero-Miranda taught. How to rename. And rename with organic and
symbolic resonance. The political or whatever other revolt has to buck up sooner or later
(and sooner better than letter) on the forts and greathouses of language. To change your
language you must change your life. And vice versa. For the francophone rebels, however,
there were (are) two tunnels of procedure. One through the tonnelle (nation language);
the other through surrealism. Both cultural guerrillas gorillas. Both subverts of Super-
Nation. For most francophone colonials, surrealism has so far been the more accept-
able/successful mode because it preserves the alliance with Miranda. The Great Tradi-
tion. Universal etc., etc. See Breton. See Selden Rodman's Tongues of fallen angels.
Check Cesaire. Check Glissant. Check Senghor's francophonie. Despite those drums &
chants & masks: 'nous ne voulons renier de notre histoire, fut-elle coloniall' qui est
devenu un element de notre personality national' (Quebec/Paris 1977). Check Depestre's
ikons when the atomic clicks are down
fine. no quarrel there, but where is
and where is
since it was in Cuba (second/third base of Caribbean (cultural) sovereignty) that the Arc
was lit, why not & where is
1. Depestre's reference to Shakespeare's play is obvious. The expression occurs at the very outset
of the Arc: line 1 of the Prelude.
2. A few years after completing the first full draft of this review, I came across an earlier (English
only) version of Arc, trans. Jack Hirschman, The Red Hill Press (Fairfax, California) 1972. 1
have referred to this translation from time to time during my present version, though Dayan's
remains my text.
3. What Dayan loses here, sticking politely too far to the Irench original, is the musky roots
quality of these women's words. I mean, what Erzili, loa of love, is saying here is that 'I can't
see a single mahnn around here this evening who could freak me out and sex up me cornmeal'.
The image she uses is banana ('Je ne vois pas de vie d'homme pour arroser/Ce soir mon bananier
et mon mais de femme'). But I must confess that I myself am making Depestre's language far
more nation than it is. I mean, instead of mahn, Depestre does make his ladies say something
like I do not see a single two-footed goat-kid! ('Je ne vois pas un seul cabri a deux pieds!')
which Hirschman (p. 36) puts more life in with Not a two-legged buck in sight! (The way
Depestre will make his women speak may well, in the end, dictate the way he makes them
spark.) The banana, well used in Haiti as in Uganda, is not only eaten fruit, but eaten food or
used in/with food, both domestic and ritual. It is even used as the cloth or canvas on which
pictures are painted. In vodoun, it is the Tree of Knowledge; Adam, the first houngar.'s tree &
symbol: penis, progenitor, source of life (sun), source of wealth/strength (gold); its symbol/
colour, above the vodoun altars, refers to Ile Ife (Afrique Guinin), the navel of the world, the
garden of origin. Erzili (Erzulie) is the mambo, Eve. (For more on this, see Milo Rigaud, Secrets
of Voodoo (NY 1969).
4. These appear in the 'The Seven Pillars of Innocence', Dayan pp. 192-209; Hirschman pp.
5. See "Comrade Eros", Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4, (1981) p. 21 and also Dayan (ed.) p.
6. See Literature and Ideology in Haiti 1915-1961 by Michael Dash, London 1981, p. 176.
INTERVIEW: DENNIS SCOTT TALKING TO MERVYN MORRIS
MM: I notice that in a recent conference paper Ian Smith quotes you as saying that your
poetry "is far more political [now] ... and simultaneously far more personal".
What are we to make of that? You called it a paradox.
DS: Perhaps it's not a paradox at all. I think at one and the same time my own sense of
self and my sense of where that self is located in terms of the society have been
intensifying, getting clearer; to me, at any rate. And therefore I feel much more
comfortable making statements about myself in the society, and therefore political
statements, than before when I was less concerned with, less aware of, the relation-
ship between self and society.
MM: Isn't there a sense in which one of the things you're doing is creating several dif-
ferent selves through different personae? Or is there a consistent position which
you think you are adopting, politically, throughout the poetry?
DS: No, I think that's absolutely accurate. The psycho-analytic cliche that one in fact
is several that there are several parts to one's self and that the healthy self is an
integrated collection of those various personae is absolutely right; and I find it
useful as a way of viewing people and behaviours. So that really each poem is an
attempt to come to terms with, to distinguish, define, and locate a self in relation-
ship to all the other selves and to the context of each of the selves. One agglome-
rates, accumulates, statements about the world. Hopefully, as each statement ties
on to the next few you develop a clearer sense, a clearer set of statements, about
the whole situation.
MM: ,You've called your latest collection Dreadwalk, and the title poem actually deals
with an encounter between a Rastafarian and a non-Rastafarian a non-Rastafarian
creator, perhaps poet. To what extent do you find you are specially interested in
Rastafarians and for what purpose, really, in your work?
DS: I'm interested in them because they seem to me one of the healthiest phenomena
that the New World has thrown up: healthy in the sense of choosing a life-enhanc
ing value system which refuses to tolerate the destructiveness of most of the West-
ern civilization's beliefs and practices; healthy also, in a sense, because they are,
so interestingly for me, a creole development a group, people, who can trace
most of their roots to another continent, to other continents; have had to come to
terms with an environment which is essentially strange to them that is, we're not
indigenous here and to forge some kind of world-view. It seems to me (and to
others, who are more qualified to talk about these things) that every time a New
World man has chosen to swallow the value systems, the culture, wholesale of the
Old World or in the Caribbean to take on the culture of the metropolitan areas
of the New World we've gone awry, we've gone amiss. The Rastas seem to me to
have opted for good and bad reasons for (logically, and irrationally, and
a-rationally a mixture of these things), for seeing themselves and seeing the world
in a certain way which at least says we have to deal with ourselves, there's a possi-
bility, a hope, of saving ourselves, no matter what. And this, I think, is a very
important thing to have happened. In so doing they have manipulated, changed,
influenced the culture around them to an amazing extent particularly, of course,
in language; which is what interests us. more, perhaps. And I'm intrigued, fascinated
and excited by the kind of strategies linguistic strategies that they have used to
redefine themselves in the world. So that they're one way of attempting to specify
self. And since I regard art as a process of attempting to define, to specify, oneself
in relationship to the world, then this strategy is particularly interesting to me and
useful for my own work sometimes.
MM: Could we extend a little bit that last remark? You "regard art as . ." What do you
see as the function of the Jamaican or Caribbean poet?
DS: The function for him (or her) self is to find out as much as he can about him (or
her) self as possible and to record it. for his own her own self and for the enter-
tainment and assistance of others. The function for the society is to provide infor-
mation about the possibilities of being a human being in the society that other
people may find interesting and/or useful.
MM: In your first volume, Uncle Time, there seemed to many readers to be a predomi-
nant influence of theatre; a sense of a persona that had a theatrical element in the
way in which he presented himself. It seems to me that in Dreadwalk that element
of theatricality has been somewhat diminished, and that one of the things very
noticeable here though there were bits of it in Uncle Time is a greater interest
in relating to the visual arts. Is there a development of that kind between these two
DS: For one thing: during the period in which the poems of Uncle Time was being
written I was far more than I have been since then a performer, literally on
stage: a little bit as an actor, and certainly as a dancer; and I'm sure that this in-
fluenced the way in which I tended to express and. perhaps, see the world. Since
then I've been more a director and a playwright, so there is less a sense of feeling
and being on stage in the work. For another: during that period in which Uncle
Time poems were written I was doing a lot of reviewing of the arts. 1 think that the
pay-off to some of that reviewing happens in Dreadwalk poems, in that there is
more a sense of the observer and less of the performer observing himself. Also I
think as my sense of where I am in the society and where I choose to be in the
society got stronger there was less felt need to write about observing myself: I am
much more comfortable now simply existing there and observing the society itself.
Also, of course, the craft, I think, has been growing: I've been experimenting a lot
with ways of drying out the lushness of some of the earlier work, and I'm getting a
crisp, cool, conversational style in which images are shocking but you don't quite
realize how shocking they are until you think about the actual picture that the
words are making a second time. "Apocalypse Dub", for instance. Images of
wounding, of body hurt, are being very much underplayed now in the poems -
increasingly so; even more so in the new collection that's coming together.
MM: You talked just now about shocking images and so on. Many of these images seem,
to some of us, surreal. Have you been influenced by Surrealism?
DS: One of the strong influences, I know, is science fiction, science fantasy, the whole
genre of literary fantasy which I've always enjoyed, purely as entertainment, and
which I've learnt a lot from, I think; which attracts me as a mode of describing
reality. The disjunction between practice and precept in the world as I am growing
older also, I think, jolts me into a sense of the strangeness of people's behaviours;
and this maybe is a step-off point towards creating stories pictures and stories -
in the work which are very odd, which are (for want of a better term) surreal. I also
am very interested in the way in which stories can be told economically not by
representationally chronicling the world but by metaphors that function interest-
ingly because of their strangeness but also satisfyingly because of the way they echo
and distort reality. I'm not sure if that's not a circular definition, but never mind.
MM: One of the recurring metaphors in your work is bird. Would you say something
about why the metaphor of bird recurs so often in your work, and something about
the multiple significance that you are, at the moment, aware of?
DS: I don't know where that image started. It may have to do with my sense of space.
There definitely is a connection with theatre, and probably also with dance, both of
which (as far as I'm concerned) are intimately concerned with telling stories that
happen in space and time. And there's a way in which, for me, a bird movement
of birds itself provides examples of a body existing in space and time interest-
ingly. It defies gravity, falls at will. It refuses to fall. There's a sense of lightness
combined with mass, a sense of vulnerability combined with the possibility of the
kind of strength you get in birds of prey. They are very attractive to me, in the
same way as bodies moving in space are attractive, because they are interesting to
look at, and they tell stories, whether they want to or not.
ANTHONY McNEILL ON "CREDENCES AT THE ALTAR OF CLOUD" -
Although it may seem paradoxical. I should like to preface the following interview with
Anthony McNeill with a note of caution on the interview, in general, which has crept into
modern literary criticism as a widely spread form. Having stated my initial position, I
hasten to clarify that by no means do I intend to underestimate the validity, and, indeed,
the value, of what authors say outside their literary works, of their interpretations of
their own works, or of their comments on the circumstances which have contributed to
their creation. My caution of the interview basically stems from the awareness that
inherent in it are some dangers which are difficult for the critic to avoid, as it carries
within itself an authority more powerful than that of any other information gathered out-
side the text.
It can certainly be argued that the more one knows about the elements which, directly
or indirectly, have affected the creation of the artifact be it the poem, the novel, the
play the better one understands the artifact itself. That this is so is undeniable, and,
indeed, the gathering of such data is often the most laborious task of scholarship. It can
also be a very valuable labour. But one always has to remember that what gives this labour
its raison d'etre is the artifact. Only then can the labour itself be justified and its full
value appreciated. There could be no archaeology without, first of all, the total study, the
deep understanding of the artifact. And the same is valid for any other discipline. But one
has also to be aware of the misleading consequences of the collection of data, for the
accumulated knowledge acquired from sources outside the text itself might and, in
fact, often does impair the critic's judgement of the text, by focusing his attention on
those elements which are tangential, yes, but only so, to the text under study. The result
of this is often a discussion whose terms of references are no longer the text, but circum-
stances outside its immediate boundaries. The consequences are serious, for they lead us
away from the immediate reality into frozen images of what has already occurred, been
interpreted, misinterpreted, commented on, etc., always in a past, which, no matter how
near, is always the past.
The interview as a form of criticism adds yet another dimension to the problem, as it
is not merely another form whereby the reader's imagination is, so to speak, frozen by
what has already been said by others, but a much more powerful one Because of the
authorial authority with which it is invested, the interview works in a more subtle way
and carries, therefore, even greater risks. The relationship between text and its author's
comment has been the focus of attention of many critics and authors alike. It is not the
purpose of this brief essay to pursue the argument. What is intended here is to stress the
peculiarly risky nature of the interview as a form of criticism.
Because of the mentioned authorial authority, the critic may rely too heavily on the
author's interpretation rather than working deeper at his own. And this not so much out
of a kind of laziness on his part, but simply because the authorial authority of the inter-
view presses heavily on the critic, be it at a conscious or subconscious level, making it
difficult, or even impossible, for him to shed its impact. The critic, therefore, knowingly
or unknowingly,may end by accommodating his own interpretation to that of the author,
and/or being, in a fashion, swallowed not so much by the text itself which should be the
one and only centre of attention, but by the statements made outside of it. Furthermore,
what the author says about his intention in writing whatever he has written may become
somewhat confused with what has actually been written, and an appraisal then takes
place on the intention rather than on the end product of such intention.
It is my personal belief that no other artistic form has suffered from the approach out-
lined above more than poetry, to which too often the reader comes, not giving himself
totally up to it, but with preconceived ideas, thoughts, emotions, frozen by the whole
apparatus of an education which has locked him inside its many labels, which has
"taught" him, deliberately or inadvertently, the abstractions of so many "isms" distilled
from such a variety of works to make the abstractions themselves, at times, absurd, and
which has stanched his imagination by the conceptualization of material outside the
immediate reality of his study. To disentangle oneself from this type of critical super-
structure seems to become more and more something akin to a herculean task.
The major reason for poetry to be, perhaps, the most adversely affected artistic form is
the language with which it speaks. The language of rationalism, appropriate as it may be
to other disciplines, including literary criticism, and which is now imposing its heavy
presence on every reader, is not the primal language of poetry. Poetry does not discuss,
does not rationalize. It makes us see/hear with all our senses, including that of the
intellect, it leads us to discussion and rationalization through this seeing/hearing. But, in
order to see/hear what poetry tells us, we have to come to it cleansed of the expected,
open to the new language which is the habitat of the poem. We cannot do this, unless we
abandon, at least momentarily, the language of rationalism. And the language of criticism,
of which the interview is but one form, is primarily the language of rationalism, of expli-
cation, of discussion. If a poem could only be understood in the terms set by this
language, be it used by an alien critic or by its own author, it would not have been
written in the way it has.
It is after considering the question in some depth and weighing the risks, that I decided
to interview Anthony McNeill and to publish his words on Credences at the Altar of
The interview was taped on 8th September, 1979, after the essay "The Journey to the
Light of Anthony McNeill's Credences at The Altar of Cloud" was completed ready, in
fact, to be submitted for publication. It was then transcribed, edited, and submitted to
the author for his approval. It was designed originally as complementing the essay, in the
sense of going somewhat under the text, into that vast area which lies at its origin, and
which the critic is only given to perceive, but not fully explore, as it always is the private
world of the poem. The study of Credences at The Altar of Cloud raised questions about
such an area; the text itself was obviously pointing to it, but did not provide answers
sufficiently evident to make valid a discussion about it. As a critic, I felt it to be both my
duty to adhere strictly only to what the text itself told me, and also my responsibility to
other students of Anthony McNeill's work to reveal information which would be useful
to a better understanding of his work, and, more particularly, of those psychic impulses
which are at the root of his art. Consequently, I saw no other alternative in dealing with
such questions, but to ask the poet to speak with his own voice
The first question relates to the great variety of poetical forms displayed by Credences
at The Altar of Cloud and to the time in which they came into being. Its purpose was that
of establishing and appreciating fully the extent of the poetical genius revealed by the
text through its poetical forms. The answer of McNeill goes further than that. It is an
invaluable document of the tremendous work which lies at the roots of Credences at The
Altar of Cloud, providing now a historical base for the criticism which will follow.
The second question was intended to focus its attention on the selection of the poems
included in Credences at The Altar of Cloud. In answering. McNeill reveals other informa-
tion related to the history of the text itself, and gives an insight into the other manu-
scripts of which the poems published in Credences at The Altar of Cloud are part.
The third question, concerning what is called, in the poems themselves, "the mutant",
is one which was intended to bring to light those poetical forces which gave birth to a
particular poetical form which has run through a great number of McNeill's works, but
whose psychic process the critic could not analyse, but record and comment on only in
relation to its function in the poems. McNeill's answer takes the student deep into the
poet's poetical make-up, revealing the importance of the "mutant" not only in terms of
its function within the confines of the few poems selected for Credences at The Altar of
Cloud, but within the larger work of which it has been a major force. For future students
this answer will provide also a historical development of such a force.
Similarly, the fourth question was intended to provide a vision of the "embroidered
line" poems which go beyond the mere functionality of the superimposed last line of
some poems. McNeill's answer clearly reveals that the choice of this particular visual form
was not a mere fancy, nor was such a "device" to be understood only in terms of its
function. It arose out of the necessity of giving form to a larger vision which was at the
core of these poems, the private property of the author alone.
The same can be said for the fifth and sixth questions. From the page, the critic could
only offer an interpretation of the function of the idiosyncratic use of punctuation and
of its absence. The poet's words take the reader to the core of a poetical universe of
which these elements, in the same way as "the mutant", are symbols.
The last question was intended to go deeper into the area of possible influences in
McNeill's work. And a word of caution here is necessary on that often misused term
"influences". It is not intended here to signify the conscious or unconscious use of poet-
ical forms previously used by other poets, but, rather, that deeply seated process whereby
words/sounds/images reach the other's psyche, becoming one with it. McNeill's answer
sheds light on precisely such a process.
In their entirety, the answers provided give the reader a deep insight into the making
of this poet's work at its very roots. Only through the generosity of McNeill's answers is
the reader able to take part in a journey of creation, and to have a glimpse of the larger
poetical vision out of which the poems selected for Credences at The Altar of Cloud have
FS: Your latest book, Credences at The Altar of Cloud, displays a great variety of poet-
ical forms. Were the poems written over a long period of time?
AM: The earliest poem in Credences was written on 9 June 1976, and the latest in
September 1978. The poems are drawn from 18 manuscripts written during this
period. There are basic chronological divisions in the book. Of the poems between
pp. 1-93 and, then, between pp. 118-122, about 30 per cent are part, I think of
about 50 pages written in a night of intensive effort in Christiana between 9-10
June, 1976. In fact, I shouldn't say it was an effort, because, really the poems
wrote themselves through me at high speed. I should also mention at this point that
what, I think, triggered this avalanche of poetry was a poem called Choric Ungod,
which I wrote between 5 and 7 June 1976, which is not included in this book.
Then, within the same group, there are some poems, about 4 per cent which were
written either in Christiana or in Linstead later on in the same week, or early the
following week. About 30 per cent were written in Linstead at this time, and the
rest of them nearly always in Linstead later in the year. The poems between pp.
94-117 come from later manuscripts, also written in 1976, but later in the year,
and are drawn from three different manuscripts. These poems except for the
first, on p. 94 are from a set I call the "intermediate" poems, and come from The
Air-Wife Sings on Chalk Mountain, and from The Holiday Flower out of the Wake,
and the first one of this group, the one that begins "haustorium" is from a manu-
script called Altitudes from The City of Summer, which was written after the two
just mentioned. Then, there is a group of poems which ends with a last line
achieved by superimposition and which I call "The Embroidered Line" poems.
The earliest of these poems in the book was probably written in the latter part of
'76. It is difficult to categorize these poems in this way, but the ones divided by
semicolons come from a manuscript called COLOURISTS FROM THE ISLAND OF
SHELL, written between 16 May and 27 July 1978, and the ones that appear with
square brackets are from a manuscript called CARNIVAL AT THE VILLAGE OF
BELL, written in July 1978. And then, after "The Embroidered Line" poems, there
are two "Letter" poems from a manuscript called The Tess Mandeville-Letter,
written between Friday, 18 August and, I think, some time in September. Then, the
last set of poems comes from a manuscript called ARROWS & ORCHIDS,and the
first entry of this manuscript is 4 February, 1978 the last page of entries is dated
23 July 1978. Although I have not typed out any more pages, I have continued to
write these poems, or prose poems, since that time. So, that rounds them up, I
FS: Did you follow any specific criterion in your selection of the poems to be included
AM: It is difficult to remember, because the manuscript went through two major
changes. For one thing, it was much shorter in the first instance, and there were all
kinds of strange directives. For example, you would have a page 57 coming after
page 53, and the reader was advised on what to do in terms of that numerical
oddity. And there were lots of other directives, and little things, like a section
called The Yellow Page. The title was Good News, and it was meant basically as a
religious book when I first put it together. That was what struck me about the
poems that started in June. Now, all I can remember at this time, which is long
after the first draft of what was then known as Good Newswas put together, is that
I looked for poems that use dialect, because I figured this was a Jamaican book. I
really meant it as a gift. I also looked for "folk" Poetry. I am not sure I use the
term properly, but I see a poem like "I will tell you a tale" as a "folk" poem. In the
case of the poems from Wake and Mountain included in this book, they were
chosen because they were minimally "mutated". I think that by that time I was
beginning to distrust the figure of the "mutant". I am not sure. But, I think, I
might have looked for the cleaner poems from Wake and Mountain. As for the ones
from "The Embroidered Line" manuscripts, those from The Tess Mandeville-Letter
and from ARROWS & ORCHIDS, the main criterion for their being selected was
their excellence. I mean, I chose what I thought were the best ones. Maybe with
ARROWS & ORCHIDS,I skirted some of the more "risque" systems in the book,
though I did put in a few. I also mentioned that the title of the book was changed
from Good News to Credences at The Altar of Cloud. There is a rationale behind it.
In the beginning, I visualized the book as a kind of new Bible, and Good News, of
course, is a rip-off of the title of the religious book I am talking about orthodox
religion. But, as I continued to write, I suppose by the time of the "intermediate"
poems, the deities were changing and when I got to ARROWS & ORCHIDS, The
Tess Mandeville-Letter, and the later "Embroidered Lines", the deity had swung to
Earth. Earth became the deity at which I knelt, so that in the second of the two
"-Letter" poems, "Earth's poem" is seen as "fairer".
FS: This brings me to a question concerning the appearance of a new element in your
work, the "mutant". Could you explain what the "mutant" is and how it arose in
AM: Well, this would seem a strange way to put it to somebody who might answer and
say, "why didn't you just revise the poems?" But, because of the way I felt when I
was writing those poems, in the thrall of poetry, when mutations began appearing
in the otherwise well-shaped poems of the Christiana night, I allowed them to
remain, as I felt that the poems had dictated themselves through me. There is a
poem in the book that goes "dictate through me". And it is literal. It simply means
that whatever came, I accepted it. It took me a long time to go back to revision. I
did not start to revise seriously again until I began writing ARROWS & ORCHIDS,
although Choric Ungod itself was revised extensively, and some of "The Old
Embroidered Line" poems minimally. In fact, one of the last mutations occurs in
the first poem of Altitudes from The City of Summer, which appears on p. 94 of
Credences. I should point out at this stage that Altitudes was written after the
poems between pp. 95 and 122 of Credences. So, mutations began appearing irr the
Christiana poems and then by the time I reached The Air-Wife Sings on Chalk
Mountain, they had become woven into the texture. In fact, mutations were ack-
nowledged, I think, as early as a manuscript called Choruses in The Summer of
Clear, to be published shortly, which came before these two I have mentioned, and
the "mutant" became an important element in the poem, because it was often com-
mented on, usually in a kind of protesting way. I am certain that there was a time
when I thought that there was no such a thing as accident and I know that this is
something that also Freud and D. H. Lawrence, in their different cosmoses, thought.
So, I allowed it to remain. But, at some point, it became distasteful, and I dropped
it, and I would go over the poem. One of the significance the "mutant" has for me
now is the fact that he is usually ugly: mutant words, I think, are ugly things, the
ones in the book, anyhow. But I also believe that the systems, or people it could
be anything -that are less favoured, develop a fierce energy. It's like the wheel that
is spinning and there is one element that is not doing the dance; that, after a while,
affects the whole grouping. I think that a part has an incalculable influence on the
whole. So, the "mutant", by being different, by being ugly, gives a kind of fierce
energy to the poem. Also, since I don't believe in accidents, I believe that what is
called an accident is a visionary communication, and I think that the "mutant" is
capable of this. This "mutant" has undergone three phases in my work. The first
phase is when he appears unacknowledged or unmentioned in any way. The second
phase is when he appears and is acknowledged in the sense that something like
"meant to say" etc. is put in, or there is the feeling that something is wrong, and
that is said. At this point, however, the "mutant" is not really acknowledged in the
sense that he is given a status in the poem, given a name. I would say that the
second phase of the "mutant" is one in which his presence is acknowledged by
some form of communication to the reader, but full acknowledgement has not
come yet, and does not come, chronologically, until later. The third phase is when
the "mutant" is fully acknowledged, in the sense that he is referred to by name,
"mutant", in the poems.
FS: The last lines,of the poems you called "The Embroidered Line" poems appear in
double setting, whilst those of other poems, those that you call "intermediate"
poems, are in boldface. Could you explain the significance of such devices and how
they arose in your work?
AM: It is difficult, now, to remember exactly how these things came into being, but
when the mutations were running rampant and I am thinking particularly of
manuscripts such as The Air-Wife Sings on Chalk Mountain and The Holiday Flower
out of the Wake I noticed that I would type the last lines twice, that there were
never "mutants" in them, and they always seemed to take to a different country.
As for "The Embroidered Line", that occurred first in the second poem of Alti-
tudes from The City of Summer. .1 don't know exactly how it happened, I just
know that at some point I began typing "Embroidered Line" poems, and have con-
tinued to do so until fairly recently. On looking back, now, I can see where the
boldfaced line presaged the world of "The Embroidered Line". They are an inter-
mediate stop, and, in fact, I called these manuscripts the "intermediate" manu-
scripts. They may have highlighted themselves in that way to reinforce the fact that
they were not mutated; in fact, they move in a kind of country that the "mutant"
could not enter, because no mutations, for some strange reason, were allowed into
these lines. As for "The Embroidered Lines", it is easier to talk about their signi-
ficance than it is to talk about the significance of the "intermediate" ones. But,
everything is strange. And yet, I am the author of these poems. I should put that
in quotes, because, as I have already said, they authored themselves. That period
was marked by a struggle with what I call "the shadow". I believed, and please note
that I said believed, that there was a knot, a system of words that developed from
the negatives which would constantly pour on to people and those became a kind
of hard fist in the psyche and killed everybody who ever lived on the face of Earth.
So that the warfare became a direct one with the shadow, to the point when he
became a shadow-line in the whole system of the "Embroidered Line" poems. He
was a shadowy thing that is seen in the book, in the typed version. In the printed
version that shadow presence is not anywhere nearly as well presented as it is on the
typewriter. But that was a method of attacking the shadow, whom I thought I was
exorcising from my system. I want to make it clear that it was not a question that I
said to myself "I have this war with the shadow, therefore I am going to write "The
Embroidered Lines". It is the case of "The Embroidered Line" writing itself
through me in a very mysterious way which I cannot fully recall, and, afterwards,
of my realizing that it was, in fact, a weapon against the shadow. Because of its
content and its connotative stretch, I consider "The Embroidered Line" as a kind
of resounding "yes" at the end of each poem. In fact, I have an "ORCHID" which
goes "My poems say yes in the end". And this applies even more to the late
"Embroidered Line" poems, which use recurring figures consistently through the
various manuscripts, or sections, as I now call them. What I am trying to say is that,
no matter what happens in the top of the poems, in the material which precedes
"The Embroidered Line" itself, no matter if there are wraiths, or shadows and all
kinds of existential quarrels, the last line keeps saying the world goes on, the moon
keeps shining, the stars continue to glitter, etc. So that something is right in the
cosmos, after all. I also consider "The Embroidered Line" poems little earths,
because, within each system is presented, I think, a facet of Earth. There is much
stress on the visual, natural world. They may even be nature poems, for all I know.
FS: Except for a few isolated instances, and for the last poems in which commas,
semicolons and colons appear, formal punctuation is almost totally eliminated in
Credences. Could you explain the importance this elimination has for you?
AM: Choric Ungod, as I may have implied, is the matrix of my new work, since, I think,
nearly all the forms that I have arrived at since the time of its composition are con-
tained in this one poem. Apart from the spaces, by which I mean anything over one
horizontal space, and which I consider as a form of punctuation by now, because
many poets have used them, the only mark of punctuation in the poem is an excla-
mation mark, and that for me at some point began to signify a candle. So, as Choric
Ungod was the matrix and did not use regular punctuation except for that one
exclamation mark, the other poems fell into step. But later, as in The Tess Mande-
ville-Letter, and in "The Embroidered Line" poems, punctuation, at least colons
and semicolons, was in use again. I think there are even commas somewhere in one
of the "-Letter" poems. There is a strong visual aspect to punctuation, and, there-
fore, its lack: and even now, somehow, I cannot really imagine writing at any time a
poem ending in a full stop. For me poetry is oceanic, and one does not want to be
pulled up short. One wants to continue, hopefully eternally, in the flux, in the
world of the poem. I also often see poems in terms of canvases, especially "The
Embroidered Line" poems. Punctuation, at some point, became something that I
used a lot less, and I was comfortable, visually; I was happy with the thing.
FS: Could you explain the appearance, on the other hand, of so many colons forming,
in some poems, a line of the poem?
AM: It all has to do with the stop in music. The "massed colons", as I call them, are
functioning in collaboration with the spaces, or as substitutes for the spaces, be-
cause each of the spaces has a specific pause. There came a point when the tradi-
tional symbols did not give me the exact pause that I wanted, so that I came to
rely on "massed colons" and/or spaces. I should like to emphasize that, in a sense, I
was forced into these, because, really, I believe in stretching traditional language, its
usage, to its limits, and I try not to use poetic licence unless I have to. It just turns
out in this book that, because of the nature of the poems, I had to. but I always try
and stick within the limits as far as I can. It is more of a challenge that way. But,
maybe, nobody will ever see my work as it really is, because somehow the mathe-
matics one gets on the typewriter is not transferable to a typesetting machine, so
that I end up with a kind of visual correspondence, not the exact mathematical
unit that I want. This mathematical correspondence between the poem in the
manuscript and in the book form is usually quite accurate when it comes to close
spaces, like two or three, but when you get up to, say, twenty-one spaces, and in
fact, a lot less, the mathematics goes haywire. This impossibility of getting the
printed work to correspond mathematically in terms of these spaces with the manu-
scripts will also affect any publication of mine that has poems dating from June '76.
FS: In some poems there are mentioned the names of other poets, such as W. S. Merwin,
Whitman, Roethke, etc. In other poems there are mentioned the names of musi-
cians, particularly those of McCoy Tyner and Coltrane. Is there any way in which
you think that the works of these poets and musicians have affected your writing?
AM: Very definitely. Hello Ungod and Reel from "The Life-Movie" were very much in
my voice, that I developed after years of writing. But the poems of 'Credences are
not so much concerned with having a distinctive voice, as with allowing each poem
the province of its tonalities, of its music, of its sculpture, and one could go on,
because poetry, really, is a composite of these forms. I guess the most important
gift that I got was from W. S. Merwin. I am talking about those series of poems
divided by lines. It's not an exact rip-off of Merwin, because Merwin uses the form
somewhat differently, in the sense that he titles his poems, and, it would seem,
considers the whole thing as a poem, even though its music, and, sometimes, even
the world the tinier world, as against the wide world of Merwin of each poem
might differ. But that is something I got from him, although, as I said, I don't con-
sider the ones in a series as forming a single poem. I consider each of them as single
poems, but they make a kind of thematic statement, and, sometimes, as I said in an
introductory note, they are formally held together as well. I suppose that other
poets gave me other gifts, too, but Merwin is the poet, or, rather one of the few
poets I read in, say, 1975&76 and his book, The Carrier of Ladders, which I think is
a very great book of poetry, had a terrific effect on me. But the man who really
triggered me on Choric Ungod,, which, as I have already mentioned, in its turn
triggered the flood of poems was Emerson, something from an essay. So, the othei
poets are mentioned as an act of homage, and also for any influence that may have
filtered into this book. There may not be many, there may be less than I fear,
because even when I use something from Whitman, as in that poem "turn I am
dizzy/ the world turns/ out of the cradle/ endlessly rocking" etc., where the second
stanza is directly from Whitman, the whole architecture of my poem is very dif-
ferent, and I am not too concerned about the rip-off. In fact, I pay homage else-
where, so that nobody can say I am plagiarizing him, without at least saying
"Thank you, Walt". I must also mention that the first time I encountered the
"massed colons" was in a poem by Brian Meeks, whom I must thank for that. Then,
there are poems in the book which spread across the page, which have a lot of
spaces in them, and which move at high speed. I shall give you the title the com-
promise which appears in the Contents pages: the poems in Credences are untitled
- of one of them, so that you know what sort of poem I am talking about. It is,
"howlin de local", which appears on p. 80. As far as this poem is concerned, there
is an obvious debt to Allen Ginsberg, who has a very famous poem called Howl,
which I may not have read, at least, in its entirety. As for the other poems in this
form, I owe an obligation to the Afro-American poets of the sixties for this sort of
form, although at the time when I was writing them, the more direct influence was
music. It's a strange thing. I don't think these poems were influenced so much by
the poets as by the musicians. I listened to McCoy Tyner and tried, not to match
my music to his, but to saturate myself with him. That is where I see my line as
hinging on his music. Another powerful influence, naturally, was John Coltrane.
Really he led me on a very complex guided tour of the Afro-American musical
genius. A lot of what Trane did with his music has become now common-place, but
he had a way of breaking up the music, exploding it, fragmenting it, and, then, all
of a sudden, he would come back with high lyricism. You get passages of other-
worldly beauty coming after this fragmentation, and I think there is a debt there,
when one considers the "intermediate" poems, because they fragment language at
some stage, they become mutated, they become altered to a more gruesome the
conventional view would be form. But, somehow, I felt that in order to arrive at
a line like "Over the moon the other star-flower", I had to go through this route,
which included mutations, in the same was as Coltrane did.
FS: Thank you, Mr. McNeill.
You know that I can't swim. Not a stroke to save my life. But I love the water; like to
feel it pressing on my skin: like to pretend a going to push off forward and feel all my
skin pressing against it.
Well this night I was pressing my body against this cool cool water. But it wasn't clear
blue sea water; It was kinda blackish; like the water you get in the creeks in Guyana. And
I was minding my business and thinking about God and about life how it great sometimes,
when out of the corner of my eye I glimpse a hand stretching right up out of the water. I
feel my heart stop. It wasn't any ordinary hand you know. It was a big big hand every
finger almost the size of me. And the skin wasn't smooth. The hand make out of frog skin
and it just stretching up there out of the water.
A trying to decide what to do and quickly start thinking about how to run. But my
whole body was shivering and a suddenly realize that the water heavy. You ever try to
run in the sea? Same time is as if a great mind read my thoughts and full up my head with
the truth: the hand big, one finger as big as me; I can't swim; the water heavy and it wide.
And the voice just speak inside me and say "You too fool fool; go on and press you body
againstt the water and enjoy yourself. For if the hand come, it gwine catch you no matter
what you do. And if it don't decide to come then you don't have no worries."
I look over the other side where a big white rock come up out of the water and a see a
girl sitting on the rock holding a child on her knee. I don't know how a didn't notice her
before; unless she wasn't there before. But a watch her and look at the baby and a notice
even from that distance how the child favour my husband. I just look away; and before a
really think anything a find myself looking at the hand, the big frog skin hand; and a feel
a know something a didn't know before.
FOR THE GREAT HOUSE AT AGUALTA VALE
Busha house light up bright tonight
till it mek the hill-top
look like heaven.
Busha backra missis
come today from
Hear say she is movie-star
and love nuff bright light.
But though the great house
shining bright tonight
dem lights not enough
for the valley still
The madam going back
In the parish of my birth
is the valley of my death.
The great storms have
passed me over,
the fires have left me unscorched
to slowly choke out my death
in dusty rotting days
like an old foul-smelling woman
Crouching by the corner
of some stagnant gutter
Sing your songs to the virgin lady
if hymns can remake you
and rebuild your powdery columns
but before the crumbling is complete
I will dance a new dance
across your dusty floorboards
like the mouse who knows
that the cat's been had.
Down the hillside
cane still burning
in dem old canefields
and young cane still
sprouting in that green valley.
Island in the Sun Side Two by Kendel Hippolyte, Iouanaloa Series no. 4, Department
of Extra-Mural Studies, University of the West Indies, St Lucia.
Kendel Hippolyte, a St Lucian poet whose work has appeared from time to time in this
journal, presents here a collection of poems of both private and public inspiration. The
choice of title suggests that the poet intends the emphasis to be on the latter.
The cover design shows two triangles on one base. One triangle is black except for a
square of white at the apex, in which the title Island in the Sun Side Two . appears,
and an edge of white where the base line cuts into a sun, black beyond that line. The
other triangle is white. Sketched in, in black, are the sun, the reflection of the Pitons in
the sea, and palm trees. The focus is on the black side whose reality contrasts with the
idyllic island picture on the white side. Harry Belafonte's lines, made famous in the
fifties, is the point of departure.
The title poem takes off in hardly surpressed anger from Belafonte's "Island in the
Sun" underlining the feeling of dispossession and of hopelessness possible to island people
who live rather than sing about the condition of island man/woman:
island in the sun
my father's land
stained with your soil
has never owned you ...
S.. island in the sun
'discovered' by Columbus
devoured by the British
'recovered' by the French ...
(I see women on bended knee
Cutting cane for their family
I see men .. .)
living and dying ...
(Island in the Sun Side Two p. 10)
Cane provides a metaphor of suffering throughout parts 1 and II of this poem. Cane is
bitter in a way that "only we could know". The successive crops are of children and the
ratoons become "dried old women". A chronicle of people at different levels of depravity
ends in the dried out by-product of cane "bagasse" (see p. I1)
The third movement changes the image from cane to stone and stone becomes a
symbol of hope. It is a "headstone" from which flowers will grow. It is a camouflage for
a shape the world has yet to see. It is in fact the shape of the man the island awaits:
we will soon break the stone
we will soon reveal him (p. 12)
A composite of this tomorrow man is easily made from bits and pieces of other "pub-
lic" poems. This man is a seething Volcano waiting to erupt. He is anything but accepting
... a dangerous unregarded energy blazes
wine into bloodshed as
old wine-skins burst;
("Transitions" p. 6)
S.. tell dem
that my nerves
stretched bursting tight
on dem electric poles
soon break, soon
catch-a fire! ("Worker Chant" p. 7)
His stance is threatening to the class that has traditionally possessed. He offers the pro-
perty owner space for which he asks neither profit nor rent:
i give you
by three feet
by six feet ...
.. it does not leak
no rats, no roaches
the worms ("property" p. 9)
And it seems that every thinking man is a prospective revolutionary:
Suppose you found a man
a little from now,
inside your head
behind your closed eyelids
crouching below your tongue
and he said
to let him out
or he would rot inside you
("Choice of corpses" p. 13)
Hippolyte's dissatisfaction does not end with the social and economic status quo. His
struggle for independence extends to a need for a poetic idiom that is less derived from
Euro-sources than he perceives his present voice to be. Note however that he works as
easily within the traditional verse forms as he does with rhythms echoing modern Carib-
bean poetry. Compare for example the threat in "Worker Chant" quoted earlier (echoing
not necessarily consciously, Brathwaite's "Wings of a Dove") with "Monday" which
This morning, owned by no one
wind rocked the wading cattle
stirring a surf of egrets
then rippled to an altered calm ...
and ends with a terrifying gentleness ...
waiting at the terminus
hired hands of the clock reach out
to strangle me for profit
In either voice the bitterness is equally maintained. The struggle to find the voice the poet
considers authentic is dramatically represented in two poems. In one, a Reggae muse,
in the other, a calypso muse helps in his struggle.
"Last waltz" begins with a long question:
waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
square dancing, measure 3/ prancing
and may God save the Queen
can the new rhythm ever
break out of these bars?
When the rhythm does break out, the poem comments
... is one good t'ing
'bout dis ya music:
walls come tumbling down
you rockin out de message of you body ...
The echo behind the line "dis ya music" is "dis ya music/reggae music" from Peter
Tosh's "Buckingham Palace" in which Tosh makes a political statement by suggesting
that he will "smoke" in Buckingham Palace. The relationship at the level of meaning is
With regard to form, the suggestion is that it is in Reggae rather than in waltz that the
poet can truly express his reality.
In the "Muse's complaint" a Calypso voice suggests itself:
Albertina, Albertina say:
I want some other rhythm
because dis one too light
dem make it too tight
it noh free
it too slow
it cyah show
all the things that I be ...
Two decades earlier,Brathwaite identified for his use, rhythms "torn and new". Hippolyte
given the same problem looks overtly to local dance music.
The private poems are love poems marked by the unashamed and open admission of
affection found all too rarely in the work of Caribbean poets of the last generation.
"Yemanja (for Amorelle)" appreciates the woman whose love saved a man in the last
of the three descents that are said to characterize drowning:
going down, among them all
the third time
i found you ...
rescuer from deep-sea thought
fathoms of unsounded fear
under the grey surface of bland waste
through nights shadowed with thought of wreck
"ban mouin la min-ou, ban mouin la min-ou". *
clasped in your song
breaking the cold surface
*(Give me your hand. Give me your hand)
In "Villages" the poet-lover is philosophic seeking a love that would:
like village corners, contain and meld
our separates, yet
not fuse them
Love like the "reconciling curve
of morning village paths
meeting . ." is contrasted with the
less happy possibility:
. the harsh intersections
and naked angular conflicts
of tactical city streets .. ."
The idea of love that melds is a particularly happy blend of "melt" and "mend". (The
idea though certainly not the expression might owe something to Khalil Gibran) "Old
year's night", "Moral", "Good morning, there are no objects" all describe the reactions
of a lonely young and lusty man to the physical absence of a beloved. The last of these
is particularly sensuous:
has left the whole house dipped in milk
I feel the nipple of each object ...
and everything is rounded
i find their centres without thinking ..."
Breasts in this poem are grapes but they are as well tropical fruit
.. the memory of your breast like
sapodilla in my teeth ...
Sometimes however, the love passion overcomes the poet and the verse becomes banal as
. all I want, all
all i really want
is flesh and blood, the other half of God
Woman ... (p. 34). Old Year's Night)
O love, the left of it, the achieving
the hungering after you-not here of it .. ."
(Moral p. 35)
But this does not often happen. More frequently the emotion is distilled as are the final
lines of the last of the poems of love and absence:
i watch, unhomed
my strangering self drift off
. high . out
where the world was
orbiting the cracked skull
frightened, far from you, i journey
the spaces of love's absence
(The Spaces of Love's absence p. 43)
The intention in this review is less to appreciate each poem in the collection than to
alert the prospective reader to the variety of theme and of treatment in evidence. Mervyn
Morris, in the Foreword to the collection says of Hippolyte:
"I believe Kendel is already one of the most attractive and accomplished of Caribbean
writers in English". I hope that everything I have said endorses this sentiment.
TIM TIM TALES
CHILDREN'S STORIES FROM GRENADA, WEST INDIES
General Editors: BEVERLEY A STEELE Resident Tutor
BRUCE ST. JOHN U.W.I., Cave Hill
Assisted by: Elaine Fido, Michael Gilkes, Phyllis Osbourne
Rosemary Reeves, Willie Redhead, Joan Price
Published by: THE U.W.I. EXTRA MURAL DEPARTMENT
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Available from Caribbean Quarterly at US$6.00 per copy
Postage and Package included
Non-Vicious Circle: Twenty poems of Aime Cesaire, translated with introduction and
commentary by Gregson Davis, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1984, 152 pages.
Finally American publishers have begun to render unto C6saire the recognition that
is Cesaire's. Gregson Davis' scrupulous translation of a selection of Cesaire's poems is the
third major book to appear in English on Cesaire in the last few years. They have all been
lavish productions from American University Presses with illustrations by Wifredo Lam
and Pablo Picasso. They are, in chronological order, James Arnold's Modernism and
Negritude (Howard University Press, 1981), Aime Cesaire, The Collected Poetry (Calif-
ornia University Press, 1983) and the present collection of twenty poems from Stanford
It is not that Davis has now made these poems available to the anglophone reader.
They have already appeared in English. Those taken from Cadastre can be found in Emile
Snyder's bilingual edition of that collection, published by the Third Press in 1973. Also
the recent bilingual edition of the collected poetry (California, 1983) contains all these
poems. The Davis book is evidence of an intense effort at exegesis that is now apparent.
The introduction and commentaries on these quite difficult poems reveal careful research
and a determination to elucidate Cesaire's sometimes opaque poetic idiom. Davis is always
aware of the problems posed by translating poetry and Cesaire's poetry in particular. His
solution is to offer not only an English version but the original as well as detailed notes
and commentary on each poem.
The poems have been chosen from Cesaire's later work. In this mature period in the
late Fifties, he turned away from the effusions of his early work and evolved a dense,
elliptical style which might be seen as a fiercely edited form of automatic writing. These
poems from Ferrements (1960) and Cadastre (1961) draw on images and techniques of
composition found in earlier verse but without the flourish which can sometimes, as Davis
notes, "threaten to overwhelm his argument". The early verbal luxuriance and spontane-
ity also correspond to a period of optimism in Cesaire's poetic career, dominated by
images of the poet as precocious 'enfant terrible' confident of his ability to change the
world. The stylistic terseness evident in these poems reflects an introspective and even
bitter mood. The apathy of Martinique, the failure of Departmentalisation and his resig-
nation from the Communist Party contribute to feelings of disillusion and a loss of faith
in his poetic powers. There is no better illustration of this gloom than the poem Seisme
Shall I try words? Rubbing them to conjure up the formless
like night insects their deluded elytra?
snared snared snared really and truly snared ...
We must also remember that after these poems Cesaire stopped writing verse and turned
to the theatre in an effort to solve a literary as well as a political dilemma to create
a new voice and a new political alertness in his public.
The difficulty of Cesaire's poetry stems from his rejection of linear rhetoric and
narrative devices in composition. The force of his poetry depends on the suggestive power
of the image. Words are radically juxtaposed and unnecessary links omitted. Poetry offers
a new way of understanding, new gateways of perception and this is possible not through
rational exposition but "because the dialectic of the image transcends opposites . goes
beyond the visible" (Poesie et Connaissance, 1944). In the Caribbean context, this
becomes a way of transcending the official history of fragmentation and plurality and
offers insights into possibilities of growth and synthesis. As the poem Spirales explicitly
demonstrates the normally opposed categories of ascent and descent, heaven and hell are
reconciled in Ce'saire's vision.
In tackling these poems and the tactical as well as conceptual difficulties they raise,
Davis has set himself an awesome task. He has managed, however, to convey the power of
Cesaire's poetic imagination and clarify the sometimes obscure erudition of Cesaire's
references. Cesaire's at times opaque poetic code that ranges from Christian symbolism
to Egyptian deities, from Medieval sources to Dante's Inferno is courageously deciphered
by Davis. His training in philology and Classics are of great help in this enterprise. The
process of elucidation does not stop here but Davis' research does represent a major
In his introduction as well as in his comments, Davis not only tackles the semantic
difficulties of these poems but aesthetic ones as well. In this regard Cesaire's debt to Mod-
ernist poetics has already been discussed by Arnold in Modernism and Negritude. Davis
takes up this issue again in discussing the poet's affinity with the 19th century French
Symbolist St6phane Mallarme. Like Mallarme, C6saire is impatient with the confining ban-
alities of "the language of the tribe". In attempting to forge a new language, to create a
new expressiveness he is certainly continuing Mallarme's project of purification. Perhaps
the exclusive emphasis is excessive since Ce'saire's debt to Arthur Rimbaud is arguably
greater. Does Ce'saire not describe Mallarme in 1944 as a "calculateur froid"? His close-
ness to the poet of 'Le bateau ivre' and Saison en Enfer is beyond dispute. In his effort to
goad new energies from the poetic image it is the influence of Rimbaud's poetic experi-
ments that is apparent. The improverishment of syntax, the overnourished poetic word
and the imaginative breadth in Cesaire all recall Rimbaud. Mallarme, the calculating tacti-
cian, the master of verbal games, fighting a desperate rearguard action against the incur-
sions of free verse seems less closely related to Cesaire's poetic temperament.
Davis quotes Cesaire's statement "I have always written one and the same poem".
His poetry is always engaged in meeting the challenge of revitalising the poetic word and
consequently the Caribbean world. The title poem of this collection refers to this very
ambition to close the distance between word and world. As Cesaire predicts "Nature is
not complicated ... No circle is vicious". In this hope for a restoration of the primeval,
healing unity between man and nature, Cesaire is restating the value of the poetic vision.
It is at the very core of Cesaire's poetic theory and practice and Davis has accurately put
his finger on it. It must mean that Cesaire has definitively been removed from the ghetto
of black studies to take his rightful place as a major poetic voice in this century.
J. MICHAEL DASH
Near Mourning Ground by Victor D. Questel, The New Voices, Trinidad and Tobago,
1979, 79 pp.
The anglo-phone Caribbean has preachers aplenty and poets too, but not all of them
have had a transcendent and transforming vision like Uncle Shepherd of Near Mourning
Ground, a fitting title poem for Questel's new volume. "Mourning Ground" is rooted
in revivalist ritual but for the poet and true prophet (both are functionally con-fused in
post-colonial Caribbean), it is not a shadowy experience; for Shepherd who significantly
"is like any writer here" including the poet himself, presumably, has confronted the
Jordon of common human experiences. His vision is "grounded" to encompass the poor
man's kerosene lamp, oyster vendors, coconut buyers, men "trapped" in the "base
tenor" (a typical Questelian verbal artifice) of their lives, the Bermuda Triangle, the
day's task on the wharf and the social aftermath of the sojourn of the Yankee soldier.
And uncle preaching since the time the Yankees leave the base with its calypso echo
of: "Yankees gone, Sparrow take over now."
The thinning of partitions between the poet and the prophet recurs in the thirty-one-
piece volume and so too does religion as a focal point in Trinidad life. The Shepherd and
"Mourning Ground" reappear in Shaka Cycle; and in Lament, a repatriated scholar from
Greys Inn reads the Times, but cannot discern the signs of Caribbean times, because
among other things, he is oblivious of the Baptist meeting at the street corner. In his
incoherence, and staccato thinking, the epileptic of The Epileptic Boy of February
becomes a Krisna-Christ, and the naming of child in Dawn is the acting out of a religious
ceremony even if Questel's penchant for punning lures him into an effective fusion of
sexual and religious imagery:
and feel the old Adam in me
and experience which attains consummation,
your child eases herself
and Ash Wednesday carries sacrificial imageries and religious symbolism without abandon-
ing the bass-string of common experience like a band's "collapsed canopy", for instance.
Questel treats Caribbean religiosity with large-hearted sensitivity. In The Meeting
Point, he faithfully captures the flavour of revivalist meetings, the songs, the wailings, the
rhythm and syncopated preachments. But he does this without caricaturing the brethren
after an intellectual fashion. He and they, one feels, stand on common ground near
mourning ground. However, like a true poet and prophet, he can be denunciatory of
hypocrisy and some of the 'pappyshow' in religion if he encounters someone who is a
moderass chamar playing Brahmin
playing de ass now like God;
though the last quotation has an abrasive ambiguity for the sensitive and the finely
attuned religious mind.
Questel strikes the reader as being a serious artist in search of a valid poetic vision and
the act of writing is itself a part of that excursion into self-clarification and self-
definition. Lines dedicated to Robert Lee, a fellow poet hailing from St Lucia is about
writing, more precisely, about the pathfinder poet;
knowing that drawing the map is more important
than simply journeying.
To do this, the poet, like the Moko Jumbie of folk pageantry must rise above 'this dim
spot which men call earth' without his work becoming stilted. (The characteristic pun
is present, as a Moko Jumbie dances on stilts). The reference is to Man Dead where
images of height, cloud and vision abound to underpin the soaring imagination which is
the artist's crave as a guarantee against "stilted attitudes." In Scarecrow, language becomes
somewhat of a gift,
an act of trust was
rewarded with violence
The work of art comes not however easily, in polished gems, the poet must first confront
the "crossroads" of human misery before he speaks.
In their attempt to be faithful to Caribbean life in all its raw richness, many poets
employ 'four-letter words.' Questel's favourite is "arse." It gives local flavour, tint and
tone and is occasionally apt as when
rain blows in Ma's arse,
but it seldom attains the functionality and powerful suggestiveness of Edward Brathwaite's
I am a fuck-
in my head
which is really a comment on the stereotype perceptions the white man has of the black
man, or even of Robert Lee's
How many fucking jobs to blow
before, pawn broker, you release
the weary souls of the sold ...
which is making a serious social comment, but Questel's ever-present prowess at punning
and his delightful yoking of seemingly disparate ideas save him from plain inelegance and
indelicacy, as in:
Swaying down the kiss meh
to a rhythm rehearsed in bed.
The volume contains dominant images. The Spider, for instance, reminiscent of the
Anansi trickster of Caribbean folklore appears in several poems as a symbol of evil and
entrapment, militating against freedom to live and to write. In Pan Drama, the pan man in
his playing is trying to break out of his spider web, a strange imaging of the criss-crossing
indentations marking out the notes on a steel pan; steel bands and carnival have their
sinister sides. The spider is in The Weather Eye, a poem about art, and in Wreck, the
spider's seamy web is associated with silence, pain and the feeling of being hemmed in.
In Man Dead, the spider is finally killed, on a note of triumph.
Questel satirizes the life he writes about. He may be harsh but never cold and detached
since he is a "committed" participant of the life to whose blemishes he draws attention.
The language of tourism may romanticize Trinidad carnival as 'the greatest spectacle on
earth' which gives the people a fleeting chance to make real their creed of equality, but in
Pan Drama, the poet observes with polished but sickening irony, the "blurred bourgeois
smiles" of elite revellers. Clash portrays the organized chaos of carnival and its under-
current of violence,
In Wreck it is the politics of hate and fear against which the poet fulminates; and in
Victim it is legitimized violence that he bitingly delineates and the hawkishness and
sensationalism of the news media in a land where
the garden slugs strangled by
do not make The Bomb.
Questel does not employ traditional prosody in the volume, but most of his'poems are
artistically disciplined by rhythmiand metrical beats corresponding to the life of which
he wrote the cadence of the preacher and street vendor, the calypso beat and the
speaking tone of Trinidad patois. His free verse becomes a fit vehicle for the tumultuous
life, gay, seamy pathetic, but abundant nevertheless. There are calypso lines with inbuilt
music, folklorish sweep of sentences and the ringing rhythms of religion reminiscent of
Southern black United States.
Children of Zion
don't be squatters
in the valley of disbelief.
Even so, Questel has subtle rhymes sufficiently recognizable to be teasingly pleasant:
he drunk bad
give Mammy the drum
for Ma has gone
mad into the forest.
In any case, Questel's obsession with punning and other devices, helps to save him, from
artlessness. It gives his verse an energy and tough ratiocination somewhat akin to the
writings of the English metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century. The punning can
be subtle, even devious and can help to give form to his verse as in this quotation from
The Epileptic Boy of February.
a black Billy
(Ham being the supposed biblical father of the black man) or it can be somewhat forced
you children of Ham
you lost high-strung
A further strength lies in the poet's powers at extending images organically throughout
a poem. In Fire and Ash, he begins with "black cane trash" in stanza 1, proceeds to
"windmills", in stanza 2, and ends the poem on the note of "grinding" having said so
much about human exploitation and plight of the weak which are the papable effects of
plantation society symbolised in the cane.
This volume is an outstanding artistic achievement and should serve to bring the author
nearer to the centre of the Caribbean poetic circle. In a poem like Pan Drama, one senses
the influence of Brathwaite, but Questel's voice and poetic vision are his own. Some of
the poems should find their way into the English syllabus of Caribbean secondary schools.
Some are outstanding for theme, style and disciplined free verse and the integration of
thought and rhythm. Sea Blast, Pan Drama, Near Mourning Ground, Lament, Fire and
Trash and The Epileptic Boy of February are among those that seem suitable for school
syllabi. Some are written in a folk and choral vein and can be performed to delight and
Behind all the punning and verbal play, Questel is a serious poet speaking to his time -
a poet to whom the miseries of the Caribbean are misery and will not let him rest.3 While
being an entertainer of the spirit, Questel is an educator of the consciousness. These
poems should have a wide appeal. The volume would seem to be another effort which
validates the place of the poet alongside the politician in Caribbean man's attempt to
fashion a new republic and mould a new persona
1. From Rights of Passage, Edward Brathwaite, London, O.U.P., 1967, p 29.
2. From Vocation, Robert Lee, St Lucia, U.W.I. Extra-Mural Department, 1975 p 22.
3. Sentiment, adapted from "The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream" in John Keats: The Complete Poems,
John Barnard (ed) Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1977, p 439.
HOWARD A. FERGUS
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Jamaica (World Bibliography Series, Vol. 45) by K. E. Ingram, Clio Press, Oxford 1984.
xxiv. 369 pages map.
The World Bibliography series consists of useful and practical reference works aiming
at providing literature guides to various countries of the world. Publishers intend to
cover every country in the world, and 49 countries have been identified for such guides
so far, many of which, like the one for Jamaica (and two others for neighboring Carib-
bean countries no. 21, Belize and no. 39, Haiti -) are already available. These volumes,
it is announced,seek 'to achieve, by use of careful selectivity and critical assessment of the
literature, an expression of the country and an appreciation of its nature and national
aspirations', and 'to guide the reader towards an understanding of its importance'. This is
the kind of ready reference tool of which every serious student of the country and its
affairs would like to possess a personal copy, but in keeping with the cost of books of
these times its price is over 40.00 placing this valuable volume with all the care, scholar-
ship and love that has gone into its production beyond the purchasing power of many of
us who could really make use of it. It would be a most valuable service to the academic
community especially in developing countries if the publishers were to bring out paper-
back editions of the volumes in this series at more manageable prices.
In compiling a guide of this type within a framework specified for the series "to
provide, in a uniform format, an interpretation of" the country "that will express its cul-
ture, its place in the world, and the qualities and background that make it unique", the
bibliographer sets himself with three difficult tasks. First, those writings that are most
appropriate for the guide have to be selected from the available literature. In the case of
Jamaica there is indeed a very large volume of literature to select from, especially when
the bibliographer, as we find in this case, chooses to select from the widest possible
variety of types of material, books, pamphlets,journal articles (since they are more easily
obtainable, and, more appropriate for the reader who prefers a short and summary treat-
ment of the subject), theses (only those available in published form), government pub-
lications and technical literature.
Although selecting from such a wide range of material makes the task harder for the
compiler, it also makes the result richer for the user. This volume on Jamaica with its
1182 numbered (and many more unnumbered) citations is among the few titles in the
series with a selection of over 1000 entries, 801 items per volume being the average
number of entries found in 25 volumes in the series examined by this reviewer. In addi-
tion to the numbered entries there are many more uncounted identifiable citations rich
in information packed into the annotations. To give two examples: item 527 listing the
government publication 'Consumer price indices, percentage movements, January 1970 -
December 1980 (1981) with its simple annotation consisting of a quote from the book's
preface and a sentence indicating the fact that the Department of Statistics issues an
annual Consumer Price Index is a useful guide to the reader who will now have an author-
itative source not only for information on the specific decade, but also for more current
data: the annotation to item 894 ('A discourse of the state of health in the island of Jam-
aica (1679), by Thomas Trapham) cites the article by Ashcroft in the West Indian Medi-
cal Journal (1979) containing "an account of this book, and of other important histori-
cal writings on medicine in Jamaica" providing the reader with an easily available source
for information on 300 years of writings on medicine in Jamaica.
Once the selection is made, the second task is to organize the selected material in a
way that would allow the user to get the best out of the selection with the least obstruc-
tion. Here, assisted by the framework already patterned for the series, this compiler adds
new section and other headings (for example 'Slavery and Maroons' under 'History and
Collective Biography', and 'Marcus Garvey and Garveysm' under 'Society and Social Con-
ditions') and uses many cross references in the sections to refer to items cited elsewhere.
The presentation is clear and uncomplicated, and a good index facilitates approaches not
covered in the sectional divisions.
The third task that awaits the compiler is that of interpreting the material so select-
ed and organized. This in fact, is the unique creative element added by the compiler of a
bibliography to the results of his more technical and mechanical tasks of selection and
organization. Through his brief Introduction (pp. xvii xxii), and, mainly through the
many, carefully written annotations, the compiler of this volume accomplishes the task of
interpretation very well. Through the annotations information is provided on the subject,
on the authors of the works cited, historical factors, and on further reading, thus providing
an interpretation that is full, rich and extremely useful to the reader. The provision of a
proper annotation was so important to the compiler that, as he indicated in the 'Preface'
several works were not included in the bibliography "for the reason that it has not been
possible to examine a copy personally for annotations". The annotations stand out as the
work of a scholar who has lived and worked with books, and through his own personal
experience could give his readers a running commentary on what to read on any subject
on Jamaica and for what reasons.
In addition to the annotations a bibliographer can also use the index to reveal
hidden aspects of the subjects covered in his selection of citations, and to interpret the
cited material further to the user. The index provided for this volume is extensive. It
numbers over 3,700 main entry terms, and together with sub-headings runs to a total of
about 5,500 index entries providing so many points of access to the material selected.
The index, however, reveals several instances as shown below where further care would
have been useful.
In the introduction (p. xix), mention is made of the Jamaica Banana Producers'
Association and the Jamaica Agricultural Society. The index has an entry for the latter,
but not for the former. There is however an index term "Banana Producer's Association'
.leading to entry No. 545 citing an article from the Fruit Trades Journal (1974) with the
name 'Jamaica Banana Producer's Group' as part of its title. Do all three names refer to
the same entity? The index (or the annotation) could have been used to clarify for the
reader the confusion caused by the three names.
Item 444 which cites the article by Van Horne (1981) entitled 'Jamaica: why
Manley lost' in the October 1980 elections, is one that should have been accessible
through the index from the entries for both political parties that fought the election.
However we do not find an entry for the party that won (Jamaica Labour Party) although
the losing party (People's National Party) is found in the index with a reference to item
444. Examining the index further we come across the entry 'Labour Party', and although
item 444 is not indexed under this term, we are led to four other entries from this term.
Of the four entries, three, namely item 398, 403, 428, name the Jamaican Labour Party
by this name, and it is puzzling why the full name as quoted in the text was not used in
the index. Similarly the term 'Workers' Party of Jamaica' is not found in the index, but
there is ap entry against the 'Worker's Party' with one reference -item 425 -- which
seems to be the name selected to represent the WPJ. This single citation does not provide
adequate coverage to this party as an existing political entity.
Several references included in the section 'Science. Technology and Medicine' would
have been useful to the reader seeking information on the University of the West Indies in
the sub-section on Higher Education in the section on Education. For this reason cross
references should have been provided under 'Higher Education' to items 858 (article
'Marine Lab at Port Royal' which was 'completed in 1960 as a research adjunct to the
Department Zoology. University of the West Indies). 859 (article on 'The work of the
University's Marine Laboratories'). 889 ('The Medical Faculty, UWI a brief review of
twenty-five years of activity, 1949 1974) and others. In the index too there seems to
be some confusion in the order in which the entries under the University of the West
Indies are given and this difficulty is caused by a failure to use uniform index headings to
describe units of the University listed.
Balancing these weaknesses of the bibliography with what has been achieved in it
the latter far outweigh the former and this work is undoubtedly the most valuable
single contribution made to general documentation of Jamaican studies that has appeared
in recent years. Regardless of the cost, it is a must for purchase for any good Library with
an interest in contemporary Jamaica.
Revista Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales
Puerto Rico -
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Puerto Rico: $15.00 Estados Unidos, Caribe y Centro America: $22.00
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Envie su cheque a: Directora Revista Homines. Depto. de Ciencias Sociales
Universidad Interamericana, Apaitado 1293. Halo Rey. Puerto Rico 00919
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
Edward Kamau Brathwaite
Samuel S. Bandara
J. Michael Dash
wrote her doctorate on Juan Carlos Onetti. She has written
and published several papers on Caribbean Literature in
Spanish and English, and Translated the novel "Pisar los
dedos de Dios" by Dominican Republic Writer, Andres
L. Mateo. She is at present free lance interpreter and trans-
lator in Spanish and Italian.
was lecturer at the Department of English, U.W.I. He is
writing his doctorate at Columbia University New York.
well-known poet. historian, educator, publisher and editor.
is Professor of Social and Cultural History in the Depart-
ment of History. University of the West Indies, Mona.
poet and writer himself, is senior lecturer in the Depart-
ment of English, University of the West Indies, Mona.
is lecturer at the Department of Educational Studies of the
Faculty of Education, University of the West Indies, Mona.
She is poet and anthologist of several publications.
is a graduate of the University of the West Indies and
currently working in St Lucia.
Resident tutor in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies,
Montserrat, and also author, historian and educator, and a
poet in his own right.
is a charge of the Aquisitions Department of the Library of
the University of the West Indies. He has published widely
concerning the status of publications, anthologies and bibli-
ographies in the West Indies.
is Head of the Department of French and German at the
University of the West Indies, Mona.
(Reviews of these books are invited. Interested persons should write the Editors quoting
the titles of the books) concerned, prior to reviewing them.)
Cubans in the United States: A Bibliography for research in the Social and Behavioral
Sciences, 1960-1983, by Lyn Maccorkle, published by Greenwood Press, 88 Post Road
West, Box 5007. Westport, Conn. 06881, U.S.A. August 1984. pp. 227. Price: USS35.00.
Shelley, by Katherine Orr, published by Macmillan Caribbean, Houndmills. Basingstoke,
Hampshire RG 21 2XS, England, December 1984. pp. 48. Price: UK4.50.
The Little Island, by Frane Lcssac, published by Macmillan Caribbean, Houndmills,
Basingstoke, Hampshire RG 21 2XS, England, November 1984. pp. 48. Price UK4.50.
Latin America 1979-1983: A Social Science Bibliography, by Dr. Robert C. Delorme.
published by Clio Distribution Services. A division of Clio Press Ltd.. 55 St. Thomas
Street, Oxford OX1 1JG, England, 1984, pp. 225. Price: Casebound UK35.00.
The English-Speaking Caribbean: A Bibliography of Bibliographies, by Alma Jordon &
Barbara Comissiong. published by G. K. Hall & Company, 70 Lincoln Street. Boston,
Mass.. 021 11- 2685. U.S.A.. December 1984. pp. 411. Price: USS55.00.
Essays on Haitian Literature, by Leon Francois Hoffman, published by Three Continents
Press, 1346 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 224, Washington, D.C. 20036, U.S.A., Oct-
ober 1984, pp. 184, Price: USS17.00 (HB), USS8.00 (PB).
Jamaica, (World Bibliographical Series, Volume 45) by K. E. Ingrain, published by Clio
Distribution Services, A Division of Clio Press Ltd., 55 St. Thomas Street, Oxford OX1
1JG, England. 1984, pp. 369. Price: UK43.75 (PB).
Monthly Bibliography Part I, Books, Official Documents, Serials, Nos. 7/8, 1984, pub-
lished by United Nations, Library, Geneva, 1984. pp. 720. No Price.
Rikka: Summer 1984, Volume IX #2, published by Rikka, R.R. 1 Little Current, Onta-
rio, Pop. IKO, Canada, 1984, pp. 36. Price: USS2.25.
Nuevo Hamanismo, No. 3, published by Revista Del Centro De Estudios generals, Uni--
bersidad Nacional, Apartado 86. Heredia. Costa Rica. 1983. pp. 137. No Price.
Paradise Island Story, by E. Paul Albury, published by Macmillan Caribbean, Houndmills,
Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 2XS, England, 1984. pp. 121. Price: UK3.50.
Social Scientists in Agricultural Research (Lessons from the Mantaro Valley Project,
Peru), by Douglas E. Horton, published by International Development Research Centre,
P.O. Box 8500, Ottawa, Canada KIG 3H9, 1984. pp. 67. No Price.
INFORMATION FOR CONTRIBUTORS
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tories, particularly those in the Caribbean.
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The Sociology of Language Learning and
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Spanish? What Spanish?
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North, Central and South America, where it is related to the Caribbean.
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paper. Authors should send with each article a brief abstract (not more
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