VOL. 14. NOS. 1 & 2
5 EDITORIAL NOTES AND COMMENTS
7 WALCOTT AND THE AUDIENCE FOR POETRY Mervyn Morris
25 ANANSE Edward Brathwalte
27 DIALECT IN WEST INDIAN FICTION Kenneth Ramchand
13 THE UNRESOLVED CONSTITUTION Wilson Harris
18 UPRIGHT MAN John Figueroa
19 JAMAICAN FOLK MUSIC Olive Lewin
57 THE CARIBBEAN ARTISTS MOVEMENT Edward Brathwaite
0S THE PREDICAMENT OF THE ARTIST IN THE
CARIBBEAN Aubrey Williams
NOTES AND COMMENTARY:
1. The Fine Arts
ii. Walcott on Walcott
iii. The Jamaica School of Art and Crafts
Iv. 'Sparrow and The Language of the Calypso' -
v. Bennett on Bennett
FOLK THEMES IN WEST INDIAN DRAMA
THE DREAM ON MONKEY MOUNTAIN Dere
THE DANCE AS AN ART FORM Rex
THE LITTLE CARIB AND WEST INDIAN DANCE
140 TOWARDS A WEST INDIAN CRITICISM
145 Masks Edward Brathwaite
148 The Waiting Room Wilson Harris
Beryl Me Burnie
CONTROVERSY A Correspondence
SELECTED BOOK LIST
PUBLICATIONS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF
MARCH JUNE 1968
NOTE ON MANUSCRIPTS
MSS. and Communications should be addressed to the Editor Unsolicited MSS.
which are not accepted for publication will be returned if accompanied by a stamped
'Figures": (concrete) by Fitzroy Harrack, Grenadian student at
Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts. A former student on Extra-Mural
Art Courses under the directorship of Miss Margaret Blundell, Resident
Tutor in Grenada. Mr. Harrack was awarded a Certificate of Merit
for work shown in the Jamaica Festival Fine Art Exhibition, 1967.
Photo by Lee Maragh.
Copyright reserved, and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
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University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
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A SELECTION OF CONTENTS FROM PAST ISSUES
Vol. XII No. 4
Spanish-American Novel 1940-65
Spain & Dominica
Non-Standard English of Grenada
Linguistic Problems in British Honduras
Barbara Howes, "From the Green Antilles"
Walter Jekyll, "Jamaican Song and Story"
Vol. XIII No.
Roger Mais Design from a Legend
Commentary and Notes
Ambitions of Jamaican Adolescents and
The School System
Education and Training of Management in Jamaica
Edward Brathwaile, "Rights of Passage"
D. A. C. Waddell, "The West Indies and the Guyanas"
The Jews of Jamaica: A Historical View
Vol. XIII No. 2
The Influence cf the Irish in Montserrat
A Caribbean Plan for Primary Education
Patterns of Imagery in Two Novels of Curacao
West Indian Literature: Some Cheap Anthologies
Len Jacobs & Beth Jacobs, "The Family
and Family Planning in the W.I."
Harry Bernstein, "Venezuela & Colombia"
John Fagg, "Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic"
Vol. XIII No. 3
The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica: Part I
"New Viewpointsin Geography" A Teachers' Conference
Notes and Commentary:
Rudie, Oh Rudie! ..... .....
Notes of lere, The Ameriandian Name for Trinidad
Drugs from The West Indies
Errol John; Screenplays: Force Majeure,
The Dispossessed, Hasta Luego
Wilfred Cartey; West Indies, Islands in the Sun
Vol. XIII No. 4
The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica: Part II
The Institute of Education of the University of the
West Indies ...
Non-Member Participation in the South Pacific
Commission and the Caribbean Organisation
Notes and Commentary:
West Indian Family Organisation
"The Rastas Speak"
"A Poem by the Poet"
St. Lucia: "Sold for a Song"
Lindsay Barret; "Song for Mumu" ............
H. Hoetink; The Two Variants in Caribbean Race Relations
G. R. Coulthard
Norman Ashcroft &
John C. Messinger
James A. Maraj
G. W. Roberts
Norman H. Davis
M. G. Smith, Roy
K. M. Laurence
M. G. Smith, Roy
R. N. Murray
Ras Dizzy I
Ras Dizzy I
Rev. C. Jesse
Editorial Notes and Comments
This special double issue of CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY is devoted
to a survey of the arts, and includes a variety of articles from practicing
artists who regard the West Indies as their home, whether they function
at the moment in the Islands or abroad "in exile."
We have attempted to present a panorama of ideas and achieve-
ments. Where details seem lacking or views appear to conflict, we
suggest that this is due to the diversity and complexity as well as the
vitality which characterises the development of the arts in these islands.
It is perhaps more than a coincidence that the appearance of this
Issue takes place in the inaugural year of the Creative Arts Centre now
functioning at the University of the West Indies.
Mr. Mervyn Morris, himself a poet and essayist, allows us here to
print his talk delivered at the Creative Arts Centre during the week
in which Mr. Walcott functioned on campus as poet in residence.
Edward Brathwaite the second book ("Masks") of whose trilogy
appeared a few months ago contributes an excerpt from the final and
forthcoming poem "Islands."
Dr. Kenneth Ramchand of the University of Kent has accomplished
a stimulating analysis of the use of dialect in West Indian fiction.
"The Unresolved Constitution" is a tightly argued description of a
problem basic to West Indian literature. The author is Wilson Harris,
the Guyanese novelist.
The poem "Upright Man" represents the creative work of Professor
John Figueroa of the Department of Education of the University of the
Interest in Folk Music in Jamaica began only recently to show
signs of providing a further stimulus to the cultural self-awareness of
the Caribbean peoples. Miss Olive Lewin of the Jamaica School of
Music offers a short essay on its development.
The Caribbean Artists Movement based in London has quickly
become one of the major forces in linking creative minds of this area
in a continuing dialogue of analysis and criticism. Edward Brathwaite
provides a short introduction to the work of the Group; and artist
Aubrey Williams (Guyana) has allowed us to reprint the manuscript
of a talk he gave to CAM.
In Notes and Commentary we have taken the opportunity to present
a series of dialogues in which writers and visual artists discuss in-
formally the state of the arts. Four of the interviews were recorded
in the Radio Education Unit of the University, and one in London.
They demonstrate pleasingly we think, the increasing depth of analysis
to which our artists have subjected their work. Dr. Cecil Gray of the
Department of Education, himself a graduate of this University and a
keen amateur actor provides a survey of folk themes in West Indian
We are pleased to present the opening scenes of Derek Walcott's
DREAM ON MONKEY MOUNTAIN which though already performed in
Trinidad, Guyana and Canada has not before appeared in print.
The dance as an art form is the subject of the two essays by West
Indians based, one in Jamaica, and one in Trinidad. Rex Nettleford
whose post as Director of the Trade Union Education Institute in no
way prevents his involvement and commitment to the development of
an important art form, observes closely the importance of the dance
to the community; and Miss Beryl McBurnie, pioneer in the dance
movement of the Southern and Eastern Caribbean permits us to reprint
her programme note written for the laying of the foundation stone of
the Little Carib's home in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
Dr. Edward Baugh of the Department of English combines with his
review of the "Islands in Between" (a recent and most important
collection of critical essays on West Indian literature) a few pungent
statements about the condition of criticism in the West Indies.
Two reviews follow: one by Miss Winnifred Risden of the Department
of English of Edward Brathwaite's "Masks" and the other an analysis
by Miss Joyce Sparer of the University of Guyana of Wilson Harris'
novel "The Waiting Room."
We complete the issue on a note of controversy. Dr. Gabriel
Coulthard replies to Mervyn Morris' review of "Some Cheap Anthologies"
which appeared in CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY Vol. 13 No. 4 and Mr.
Morris himself pursues the dialogue.
The Quarterly in addition publishes a few photographs of artistic
activity which we hope will prove of general interest.
Walcott And The Audience
POETRY is only one of the possible beneficiaries of this Centre,
and being a poet is by no means Walcott's only qualification to be a
featured guest this week. He has painted. He has been a lucid critical
writer on many arts, accused of maintaining standards that were too
high. He is a playwright; and at the Basement Theatre in Port-of-Spain
he has developed a disciplined drama group of considerable achieve-
The burden of immediate communication lies heavier on the man
of the theatre than on the poet, but if he submits his work for pub-
lication, the poet too even when he is at base the lonely artist
grappling with private experience manifests a desire to communicate.
This evening we consider both the poet and his possible audience. First,
we consider why in the West Indies an audience for serious contem-
porary poetry scarcely exists, and some practical suggestions are offered
of ways in which the situation could be improved. Then we introduce
and discuss some of Derek Walcott's work, particularly as it relates to
a putative West Indian audience.
"If," writes George Lamming in The Pleasures of Exile, "we accept that
the act of writing a book is linked with an expectation, however modest,
of having it read; then the situation of a West Indian writer, living
and working in his own community, assumes intolerable difficulties.
The West Indian of average opportunity and intelligence has not yet
been converted to reading as a civilized activity, an activity which justi-
fies itself in the exercise of his mind. Reading seriously, at any age,
is still largely associated with reading for examinations."2 My own ex-
perience on this campus frequently supports Lamming's assertion. Time
after time students who complain that they do not get enough West
Indian literature on their English course turn out to have read prac-
tically none of the West Indian writing not actually pr-scribed. Walcott
was not always prescribed; but he is now. Not only on University courses,
but in at least one Jamaican teacher-training college; and shrewd
secondary school teachers can persuade Sixth Formers that it is
actually useful to have read some Walcott if they are facing University
Scholarship examinations. I daresay Walcott knows this is a mixed bless-
ing, being prescribed for examinations. The poet's work receives, in some
instances, attention which is, from the poet's point of view, far worse
than no attention at all, his work seen as necessary academic in-
formation not as shared experience. (Question: What main literary
influences in Walcott can you detect in In a Green Night, and how suc-
cessfully have they been assimilated?) The readers the poet no doubt
craves are people who will take up-maybe even buy-his book, be-
cause they enjoy reading poetry and are interested in his. Not only
in the West Indies is the audience for poetry small in comparison to
the audience for prose fiction, but here we have, it seems to me, an
educational problem more acute than in many other countries. Many
West Indian persons who profess an interest in poetry cannot actually
read it; not, that is, unless it is in imitation of the English Romantics:
Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley or their Victorian successors. School after
school in Jamaica selects the Romantics for the special paper in "A"
level English, rejecting (no doubt for sound practical reasons of ex-
amination convenience) the twentieth century paper available and
the paper 1550-1660 which relates fairly intimately to much contem-
porary verse. The Great Romantics are, of course, worthy of study, but
the observable effect on some pupils has been the hardening of the
Idea that poetry is "beautiful", "sublime" thoughts and images drawn
from nature, and the undervaluing of the intellectual tightness, the
unillusloned verbal intelligence, of so much contemporary verse. The
great emphasis on the Romantics may also, because the poetry is so
often involved with the seasons of a temperate climate, help to
foster the Idea that poetry does not much relate to the life of Its
readers. Let me not seem to say that we need a diet of the obviously
local. The suggestion rather is, that in some schools the diet might
be better balanced poems from various periods of literature, poems
from various countries including the West Indies. Anthologies of West
Indian poetry are beginning to appear.
Yet nervously, tentatively one fears that the trouble is not
so much the concentration on the Romantics as the lifeless way in
which they have so often been taught; poetry as information, not
poetry as experience.
Teachers who believe in literature as experience are likely
to believe in having children write poems or imaginative prose
of their own. Intensive writing, such as recommended by
Margaret Landon in Let the Children Write 3 is not only invaluable In
developing writing skills, it fosters an interest in the creative Imagina-
tion, which should produce more receptive readers of poetry. And class
discussion of good work can be the beginning of training in how to
articulate an aesthetic or moral response.
Higher in our schools, careful training in Practical Criticism would
be a major contribution to the development of a discriminating West
Indian public. By "training in Practical Criticism" I mean: guided
practice in looking closely at words on the page, and in relating the
particular area of scrutiny to some larger aesthetic and moral response.
Not the dreary business of pedestrian technical comment divorced from
values, meaning or arguable intention. There are a number of school
texts, among them James Reeves' The Critical Sense4 which I like
because it makes Practical Criticism seem not a police inspection, but
something more like a natural outgrowth of reading; a flexible,
courteous, essentially humble, talking about a response.
The inadequacy of the absence of Practical Criticism in West
Indian schools is part of the reason why few West Indians read con-
temporary poetry; they have not learnt to give it the concentrated
attention it sometimes demands. W I. Carr (who has left us for
Guyana) and J. E. Ingledew (a member of our English Department
still) published in Caribbean Quarterly Volume 8 No. 4, an analysis
of English Literature scholarship examination papers of February 1962.
Of 134 candidates, 98 failed to reach the pass mark of 34 out of 100.
There were, the authors point out, "errors suggesting a total incapacity
to see what words can do and to use words in the making of elementary
points." Answers on the poem for comment included: "irrelevant moral-
ising at the expense of the poet, counting of feet and purely metrical
analysis, attempts to explain the poem in terms of something read
elsewhere, and false notions of the poetic From the numerous
examples quoted from scripts, here are a very few. (There are) "no
devices such as onomatopoeia or alliteration to suffuse the atmosphere
of the poem with the sounds and pleasures of life." Similarly, answer-
ing the question, "How would you define a major poet?", this "We
should see whether he ends his poem with rhyming couplets. If he
uses verse, we must see whether he uses the decasyllabic or octosyl-
labic verse or whether he uses four line verses of abab, aabb, or abbba."
(And the candidate actually counted the last one wrong.) "If his
diction and metre is such that it does not present any difficulty to the
reader then he can be defined as a major poet." From another candi-
date, the dangerous view, so popular with students In the Social
Sciences: "An artist who appeals to a limited circle Is not an artist
of real value." My own personal contact with the 1966 final examina-
tion training college scripts in English Literature confirms the Im-
pressions drawn in Carr's and Ingledew's article. My experience was
perhaps even more frightening: the scholarship candidates did, after
all, hope to study at the university, where no doubt they would improve;
the training college graduates were shortly to go out into our schools:
as teachers trained! -hundreds of persons who simply cannot
read with close attention.
Among the reasons why we do not have much of a West Indian
audience for poetry such as Walcott's, the teaching in our schools
must rank quite high. But, of course, formal education is only one of
the educative agents in any society. Some of our book reviewing, for
example, tends to reflect and reinforce the unfortunate training in
many schools. When In a Green Night5 was reviewed in The Sunday
Gleaner, we were offered two-thirds background information, a small
amount of general description, and then: "On many occasions in this
collection Walcott will impress the reader with delightful lines"-
whereupon, without further comment (then or later), the delightful lines
follow, and the review, winningly entitled "The Magic of Words", con-
cludes: "This is highly recommended for layman and scholar alike."6
Usually, the more detailed reviews which focus on texts or make the
kind of evaluative-descriptive comment that can only be earned from
grappling with the text appear in the small-circulation journals, such
as Bim, Caribbean Quarterly, New World; though in Trinidad, In a
Green Night was carefully reviewed in The Trinidad Guardian, by
C. L. R. James.
More careful formal education and more helpful newspaper review-
ing may tend to develop and train an audience. But they may not, of
course, get very far very quickly: the nature and values of the society
are the major controlling factors. A grossly materialistic society will
not read serious poetry unless it is prescribed for examinations. You
may remember that, addressing the graduates in the 1963 graduation
ceremony, Dr. Eric Williams actually found it worth his while to
recommend that they read!
"The second obligation," he said, "is your duty to read, to
cultivate the habit of reading. I have here tonight one of the most
damning indictments of West Indian society ever written. It was
written by one of the most distinguished abolitionists as far back
as 1831. This is what he said of the West Indies and West Indian people:
'Their lives are passed in a contracted circle amidst petty feuds and
pecuniary embarrassments. There is no civilized society on earth so
entirely destitute of learned leisure, of literary and scientific intercourse
and even of liberal recreations.' One hundred and thirty years ago,"
said Dr. Williams, "but perhaps some of it still applies to the West
Indies today." 7
In "Castiliane", Walcott makes a similar point, with bitter irony:
A merchant claims the daughter,
A man who hawks and profits in this heat,
Jeering at poets with a goldtoothed curse.
Girl, you were wise, whoever lived by verse?
The future is in cheap enamel wares.
And so we turn to Walcott more specifically.
Given the kind of society we have described, the kind of con-
ditions which have produced and been the product of this particular
society, for whom then do our poets write? The poet may well be a
man speaking to men, but which men?
In a seminar here on campus in 1965, someone wondered whether our
West Indian poets might not aim at reaching a wider audience. This
provoked from Walcott a merry passage in which he pictured the
earnest bard, his newest poem completed, rushing up to the hills and
saying to a labourer: "Have you heard this one?" Poetry, Walcott at
that time argued, is high art which the ordinary man will not under-
stand. In his book on obscurity in poetry, 8 the English poet-critic, John
Press, fully represents what was the Walcott position then. "Although,"
wrote Press, "few people have the audacity to blame mathematicians
or physicists for being difficult to understand, there is a general belief
that poetry should be immediately comprehensible even to the meanest
intelligence. The truth is that much poetry of the highest
quality demands of its readers a degree of mental alertness
and of general culture which most people do not possess." Asked at
that seminar to read one of his poems, Walcott chose "Origins", which
he introduced as "reminiscent or deliberately modelled on C6saire and
Perse. But what I was trying to do in this poem was to try to get
the same quality that exists in French West Indian Poetry in English."
That difficult poem "Origins", appeared in the American Selected
Poems'9 but was dropped before The Castaway. 1o. Walcott was taken
to task by Edward Brathwalte: "It is very difficult," said Brathwaite,
'for these poems to immediately communicate to society in general."
Brathwalte suggested that there were three main approaches to West
Indian writing: What he called the humanist approach, the personal
approach and the folk approach. The distinctions do not seem to me
very helpful, especially as there are very few instances indeed in which
a poet can be found attempting only one of these approaches at a time.
But Brathwaite's most important point is really about Walcott. "The
humanist poet," said Brathwaite, "naturally takes his inspiration from
his society, and his voice is often speaking away from that society
rather than speaking in towards it. I think this is one reason why
many people claim that poetry is irrelevant. It does not mean anything
to them, simply because it is not speaking directly to them on a matter
of great concern."11 Now, speaking directly to them or communicating
directly to society in general would be self-denying ordinances indeed,
for a poet of any subtlety. Brathwaite's suggestion that Walcott speaks
away from the society relates in fact, not to the direction of Walcott's
address, but to level and mode of communication. In this specific in-
stance of "Origins" the point would partly be: that near as we are to
the French West Indies, Walcott is more likely to find in some foreign
metropolis a reader who can understand his attempt to do as C3saire
and Perse had done. I believe that is true. I do not, myself, havel the
necessary experience of C6saire and Perse. But if we restrict our poets
to speaking directly to this society in general, we will never get any
deeper than Louise Bennett or The Mighty Sparrow, both superb per-
formers and sharp-eyed, ironic critics but both, by the immediate
clarity to which they are committed, limited to external satiric com-
ment. Miss Lou and Sparrow speak to the society in general all right,
but the modes in which they work preclude any deeply personal human
Walcott, some say, is not West Indian enough. He is too much
concerned with world literature and international sophistication. Of
course, the fact that Walcott has actually chosen to live in the West
Indies is given little weight by West Indian pundits who assert their
commitment from some address in London. The central content of
Walcott's verse is not much examined. The accusers get stuck with
allusions to world literature or with stylistic influences. Poems which
happen to be about death, love, evil, art, the loss of faith, are not
relevant enough for those who find compassion or complex ambiguity
decadent luxuries in our emerging society, and call instead for poems
which speak stridently of politics, class and race. Poems are fine if
they are black enough. In actual fact Walcott has written many poems
about race, but usually they are exploratory enough to displease the
propagandists. The propagandists want, they prefer, McKay: When a
nigger is lynched:
Little lads, lynchers that were to be,
Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee. 12
Or they want stirring cries to racial battle, arising out of the ex-
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot. 13
Confronted in America with extreme racial conflict, Walcott still
chooses not to abandon his discriminating sense of the individual
more snow had fallen. My heart charred.
I longed for darkness, evil that was warm.
Walking I'd stop and turn. What had I heard,
Wheezing behind my heel with whitening breath?
Nothing. Sixth Avenue yawned wet and wide.
The night was white. There was nowhere to hide.
Artists are always having to contend with people who want not art
as understanding or recreated experience, but art as a spur to action.
They even find persons who tell them whom to address. The analytical,
compassionate James Baldwin, for example, has been attacked for a
preoccupation with white liberal conscience.
Walcott has been attacked by New World for what it calls pre-occu-
pation with being published abroad. 14 This seems to me unusually
unfair. Walcott first published in the West Indies at his own expense.
He writes, in The London Magazine: "I had sat on the landing of
the stairs, and asked my mother, who was sewing at the window, for
two hundred dollars to put out a booklet of poems. She did not have
that kind of money, and the fact made her weep, but she found it,
the book was printed, and I had hawked it myself on street corners, a
dollar a copy, and made the money back." s1 City Printery did a book
for him before Jonathan Cape. Further, not only is publication in
reputable foreign magazines such as The London Magazine or
Encounter some encouraging indication that a certain level of achieve-
ment has been reached, it is also a virtual guarantee of readers who
may understand a serious poet's art. Also, it is a melancholy fact
(examined in Lamming's The Pleasures of Exile) that our society
is still timid to acknowledge excellence before It has had the stamp
of foreign approbation. It still too often has to be by success abroad
that one establishes one's right to this society's serious attention.
Like any worthwhile poet, Walcott speaks to people anywhere, but
very often his primary significance is for his own West Indian people
or for Negroes.
"Ruins of a Great House" has been much explicated. But you will
forgive me if I use it here again. It is an excellent example of a
poem which in range of reference may seem to "speak away from
the society" but which is saying something important not just to
any people, but to West Indian people in particular. The poem de-
pends on a passage from a meditation by Donne a passage which
includes the very famous, "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls
for thee." But Walcott alludes to parts of that passage which are less
well-known. The poem, you will remember, ends:
All in compassion ends
so differently from what the heart arranged:
as well as if a manor of thy friend's
which is an unfinished quotation from Donne.
The Donne passage runs:
No man is an land, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece
of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod be washed
away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a promon-
torie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am in-
volved in Mankinde. And therefore never send to know for
whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.16
Now, in the poem the allusions are an integral part of the experi-
ence explored, not just a means of conducting the enquiry. Donne's
"peece of the Continent, part of the maine" has been appropriately
introduced earlier, and the reference to a Manor nicely relates to the
poem's starting point "Ruins of a Great House' or manor. The
"friends" of the last line is superbly ambivalent. Is it ironic? And if
so, how far? Some of the colonialists mentioned earlier, where the
West Indian was angry, were
Men like Hawkins, Walter Raleigh, Drake
Ancestral murderers and poets
but the "and poets" has meant a kinship between the "I" of this poem
and some of the colonialists he seems to wish to abhor. Now, bearing
all this in mind, listen again to the last lines:
Ablaze with rage, I thought,
Some slave is rotting in this manorial lake,
But still the coal of my compassion fought
That Albion too was once
A colony like ours, 'part of the continent, piece of the main'
Nook-shotten, rook o'er blown, deranged
By foaming channels and the vain expense
Of bitter faction.
All in compassion ends
So differently from what the heart arranged:
as well as if a manor of thy friend's
Are they friends or are they not? It is a question important in the
West Indies at this time. That it is unanswered is the meaningful
subtlety of exploratory poetry.
While we are on this poem, let us look at something else. In In a
Green Night, the text runs:
Ablaze with rage, I thought
Some slave is rotting in this manorial lake.
In Selected Poems, the American book, the first section of which
selects from In a Green Night, these lines run:
Ablaze with rage I thought,
Some slave is rotting in this manorial lake.
Now looking closely at Walcott emendations, one is not always sure
the punctuation is his. In places it is very likely to be a printer's error,
a publishers convention, or an omission. But here, one can discern
intention. Grammatically the poet wishes to introduce the thought
so he requires a pause; but also, by omitting the comma after "rage",
he has introduced a nice syntactical ambiguity. The line means:
Ablaze with rage, I thought (so and so),
as in the first version. But it now also means: "I thought I was ablaze
with rage, but perhaps I wasn't really, perhaps I had already begun to
recognize my kinship to all men (especially poets ancestral
murderers and poets remember?) so that I was probably just
faking anger in an automatic and unexamined anti-colonial gesture."
So much a comma can do. This, I believe, is part of what poetry is
about: controlling, refining language so intricately that it traps for the
poet much more meaning than its ordinary day-to-day usage.
"Ruins of a Great House" may have seemed difficult, but insofar
as it was, it did advertise much of its difficulty. But there are many
other lines, many other poems, that are no more likely to be widely
understood, in spite of their apparent simplicity. Here, for example, are
the opening lines from "A Village Life", which is from The Castaway.
Through the wide, grey loft window,
I watched that winter morning, my first snow
crusting the sill, puzzle the black,
nuzzling tom. Behind my back
a rime of crud glazed my cracked coffee cup,
a snowfall of torn poems piling up
heaped by a rhyming spade.
Starved, on the prowl,
I was a frightened cat in that grey city.
The difficulty (and the excellence) here resides in the poet's verbal
concentration. Introduced by "black" that "tom" should recall to us
"Uncle Tom", the poems torn up are snow inside like the snow out-
side, the rime (that is, hoar frost) of crud in the coffee cup
is again suggesting snow inside like snow outside. And "rime"
shades into "rhyming" "Spade" means not just the literal
spade shovelling snow, but "spade" as English slang for a black
man. "I was a frightened cat" is a precise use of American slang (like
cool cat, man) But the cat is also om-cat, the Uncle Tom, the fright-
ened black man. Here is the passage again:
Through the wide, grey loft window;
I watched that winter morning, my first snow
crusting the sill, puzzle the black,
nuzzling tom. Behind my back
a rime of crud glazed by cracked coffee-cup,
a snowfall of torn poems piling up
heaped by a rhyming spade,
starved, on the prowl,
I was a frightened cat in that grey city.
- which for its subject matter, vaguely brings to mind Edward Brath-
waite's Rights of Passage, a poem worth reading but one which lacks,
I think, that verbal concentration which we find so often in Walcott.
Walcott's care for precision, his patient craft, are easily demon-
strated. He is, and has been, a very keen reviser. Poems which appear
in Bim or Caribbean Quarterly in one form appear in one of the books
in a different form and in a later book in yet another form. Almost
always the emendation is towards a greater particularity (a "this" for
a "the" would be a typical change), or the changes are for tighter
packing of significance or a tighter rhythm. No doubt, however Walcott
may shudder, some future scholar will one day publish parallel ver-
sions line by line. One of the most notable for examination is "The
Wedding of an Actress" which jumps from Bim 37 to a version in the
American Selected Poems and another version in Castaway which
brings back several of the readings in Bim. More obvious (and there-
fore better suited to a lecture which you must hear, but cannot see) is
"Margaret Verlieu Dies" a poem in Poems (a book published by City
Printery) The poem "Margaret Verlieu Dies" becomes "A Country
Club Romance" in In a Green Night. Some of the more pathetic bits
are now; for example, the stanzas:
She took an occasional whisky,
Mr. Harris could not understand.
He said, "Since you so damn frisky,
Answer this backhand!"
Next she took pills for sleeping,
and murmured lost names in the night;
She could not hear him weeping:
"Be Jeez, it serve us right."
The language and rhythm of the poem are tightened even while extra
beats are added. Let us look at the punctuation again. The early version
Love has its little revenges
Love whom man has devised;
They wed and lay down like Slazengers
Together and were ostracized.
The poem is, as you know, about the tragic marriage of a black Bajan
to a white socialite.
"Love has its revenges"
becomes less tripping in the new version, became slower in move
ment and therefore more ominous. Instead of "Love has its little
O love has its revenges,
Love whom man has devised;
They married and lay down like Slazengers
where "married" replaces "wed" But instead of "and were ostracized",
we get a full-stop after "together". Instead of "they were" we get "she
was" As the main focus of the poem is on the white social group, to
involve black Mr. Harris in problems from his own group would blur
the point, so:
O love has Its revenges,
Love whom man has devised;
They married and lay down like Slazengers
Together. She was ostracized.
Two of the emendations in "Crusoe's Island" may be noted. In stanza
three "the simple plaid" of Scarborough (Tobago's capital) becomes
"the picnic plaid", relating more deeply to the "hedonist philosophy"
the poet talks about. Thus:
Below, the picnic plaid
Of Scarborough is spread
To a blue, perfect sky,
Dome of our hedonist philosophy.
And the 'transfixing" chapel bell of the last stanza becomes the
"transfiguring" bell, suggesting the re-enactment of a religious opera-
tion rather than a startling memory of belief.
In "The Swamp" we have some very interesting alterations. The
American book has the first two stanzas running:
Gnawing the highway's edges, a black mouth
Cries quietly: 'Home, come home
Below its viscous breath, the very word 'growth'
Grows fungi, rot;
White speckling its root.
Revising for The Castaway, the poet evidently wishes to intensify the
brooding menace of "The Swamp" so he darkens some of his lighter
vowels. He replaces "cries" with "hums":
a black mouth
hums quietly: 'Home, come home
where that "hums" is also picking up the later 'Home, come
home It is a tight unit of sound. And he substitutes "mottling"
White mottling its root.
As a gloss to "Tales of the Islands" that is, to the version which
appeared in Bim 26 Walcott wrote: "What I have been trying to do
with them over the last five years is to get a certain factual, biographi-
cal plainness about them. I suppose the idea is to do away with the
prerogative of modern prose in narration. Also to dislocate the tradi-
tional idea of the sonnet as a fourteen-line piece of music. The idea is
the same as in prose; dispassionate observation. Say nothing, but cut
the bronze medallion and present it to the normal poetry reader say-
ing. Here you are; verse was here first, and it's time we got back what
they took from it. As a result the pieces may read flat. But as much
selection goes into making them work as into the traditional lyric
Now, five years' work on them was evidently not enough for
Walcott. Between their Bim appearance in 1958 and In a Green Night
in 1962, the poems are largely rewritten. They are certainly no longer
flat. In some instances they have been made more surely conversational.
Sometimes the ironies have been sharpened. In Chapter III, for ex-
ample, Miss Rossignol in the later version who "flew like bats to vespers
every twilight"; Chapter III repays close examination. The rhythms
are tightened, the images altered so they inter-relate more closely.
Chapter V is that one about the anthropologist. In it the emphatic
"it was most ironic" becomes the throw away "it was quite ironic".
That delicate ironic line "Dancing with absolutely natural grace" was
once rather regular, "And dancing with that customary grace." "The
whole thing was just like a bloody picnic" becomes more casually con-
versational and more West Indian: "The whole thing was more like
a bloody picnic" The earlier, rather workaday: "They tie the sheep
and then cut off its head" becomes the sharply, unassertively but so
exactly, West Indian cadence:
They tie the lamb up, then chop off the head.
The standard English "took" becomes the West Indian conversational
"take" (in the past tense)
And ritualists take turns drinking the blood.
The final line is made more ironic: "Great stuff all right", becoming,
"Great stuff, old boy;" and the pause after it is strengthened by a
semi-colon instead of a comma. This is the final version:
The fete took place one morning in the heights
For the approval of some anthropologist.
The priests objected to such savage rites
In a Catholic country; but there was a twist
As one of the fathers was himself a student
Of black customs; it was quite ironic.
They lead sheep to the rivulet with a drum,
Dancing with absolutely natural grace
Remembered from the dark past whence we come.
The whole thing was more like a bloody picnic.
Bottles of white rum and a brawling booth.
They tie the lamb up, then chop off the head,
And ritualists take turns drinking the blood.
Great stuff, old boy; sacrifice moments of truth.
It is more useful to compare closely the Chapter V's, I think, than the
famous Chapter VI, for the reason that the alterations in Chapter V,
though smaller, are no less significant. But Chapter VI, I think you
will want to hear; it's been completely transformed. It ran:
Garcon-that was a fete-I mean they had
Free whisky and they had some fellows beating
Steel from one of the bands in Trinidad,
And everywhere you turn people was eating
Or drinking and so on and I think
They catch two guys with his wife on the beach,
But, "there will be nothing like Keats, each
Generation has its angst, and we have none,"
And he wouldn't let a comma in edgewise
(Black writer, you know, one of them Oxford guys),
And it was next day in the papers that the heart
Of a young child was torn from it alive
By two practitioners of the native art.
But that was far away from all the jump and jive.
The famous present version runs:
Poopa, da' was a fete! I mean it had
Free rum free whisky and some fellars beating
Pan from one of them band in Trinidad
And everywhere you turn was people eating
And drinking and don't name me but I think
They catch his wife with two tests up the beach
While he drunk quoting Shelley with 'Each
Generation has its angst, but we has none'
And wouldn't let a comma in edgewise.
(Black writer chap, one of them Oxbridge guys.)
And it was round this part once that the heart
Of a young child was torn from it alive
By two practitioners of native art,
But that was long before this jump and jive.
For its language this is an exciting and an important poem. Critics
have not always made so much, however, of what it means. This is
a rapid dramatic glimpse of a hedonistic society which explodes so
easily into a party (especially when there is freeness); the lively party
on the tropical beach has had plenty of food, women and a choice
of liquor. Set against the whole scene, but yet a part of it all is the
alienated writer a black man quoting the foreign white idealist
Shelley; a black man out of the foreign university of Oxford or Cam-
bridge. He senses vacuity in this hedonistic society of which he Is a
part. Or is he? Is he drunk to kill the pain or is he drunk because
he likes the booze?
"Each generation has its angst" that is, its anxiety about the
human condition "but we has none" The error in grammar may
signify either that the drunk alienated writer wishes (in spite of
quoting Shelley, in spite of using a fashionable German word) to
identify with the West Indian dialect class; the cultured West Indian
wishes to feel peasant. Or it may signify that the foreign culture is
only an overgrowth. Or, least interestingly, the grammar may be the
narrator's, not the writer's actual usage. And, obliquely, by placing
that final anecdote next to the hedonistic scene and the writer's com-
ment, Walcott suggests that there is indeed a West Indian angst, and
that that may be why we fete so very much.
Here I take a chance to clarify a position; or, if you like, discreetly
In an essay on Louise Bennett in 1963, I referred to Dennis Scott's
Uncle Time is an ole, ole man
All year long 'im wash 'im foot in de sea,
long, lazy years on de wet san'
and shake de coconut tree
dem quiet-like wid 'im sea-win' laughter,
scraping away de lan'
Uncle Time is a spider-man, cunning an' cool,
him tell yu': watch de hill an' yu' si me.
Huhn! Fe yu' yi no quick enough fe si
how 'im move like mongoose; man, yu' t'ink 'im fool?
Me Uncle Time smile black as sorrow,
'im voice is sof' as bamboo leaf
but Lawd, me Uncle cruel.
When 'im play in de street
wid yu' woman, watch 'im! By tomorrow
she dry as cane-fire, bitter as cassava; an' when 'im teach yu'
son, long after
yu' walk wid stranger, an' yu' bread is grief.
Watch how 'im spin web roun' yu' house, an' creep
inside an' when 'im touch yu', weep.
My comment in 1963 was, "Here we have a poet using dialect, as
Walcott does in 'Poopa, da' was a fete;', for artistic purposes that don't
seem natural to dialect at all. The poem has been thought, so to speak,
in standard English. Louise Bennett uses dialect more or less as we
can believe the normal speakers of dialect might use it, if they were
skilled enough; Walcott and Scott borrow dialect for the literary
middle-class. The image, 'smile black as sorrow' is too abstract for the
eminently concrete medium of dialect. It must be said, however, that
this poem has a careful, exquisite beauty that I cannot claim for any-
thing in Louise Bennett." 17
Now, I still hold more or less those opinions, though (in that last
sentence) "It must be said, however" is a rather reluctant tribute to
a subtle poem. It is possible to get deeper effects than Louise Bennett
without being false to the dialect: some folk song instances have been
cited in that Bennett essay, and Edward Brathwaite, in Rights of
Passage, achieves this in "The Dust"
Where my comment was most inadequate was in its failure to
Indicate ways in which meaning and apparent intention may make the
"borrowing of dialect" triumphantly artistic. Walcott and Scott are
not trying to be faithful to dialect, they are trying to convey their
complex perceptions. At the request of the Caribbean Artists Move-
ment, Scott has recently written a note on this poem, "Uncle Time".
The presentation of Anancy as a threatening and dangerous figure is
a comment in fact on Jamaican mythology and therefore the Jamaican
national character. The web is a Jamaican symbol of peace, so that
there is critical menace in:
Watch how 'im spin web roun' yu' house, an' creep
inside, an' when 'im touch yu', weep.
About the mixture of standard English and dialect, Scott makes the
Creole speech permits-indeed often, I think, encourages and
sustains the tones of irony wonderfully well. But when the poet
requires a complexity of levels of meaning in an image or a
line, somehow the dialect form shatters under the tensions he
tries to set up, and he has to have recourse to traditional
'English' Language patterns and stresses. Gordon Rohlehr
seems to make this point in some CAM Comments on the end
of Walcott's dialect poem: "Poopa, da' was a fete":
And it was round this part once that the heart
Of a young child was torn from it alive
By two practitioners of native art
"A change of tone, a change of metre," [says Rohlehr] "a swing
back to the traditional. Is it ironic that the voice of serious re-
collection should be so traditional and so English?"
Walcott himself, in introducing "Some West Indian Poets" in The
London Magazine, makes a similar point. What makes the West Indies
a complex challenge to the West Indian poet is the same thing that
eventually wearies him: how to find his specific tone without being
distant, how to invent natural forms. He suspects the raw spontaneity
of dialect as being richer in expression, but is not willing to sacrifice
the syntactical power of English. "Naturally enough," says Walcott
"where the conflict is realized, the poetry is strongest. That dramatic
ambivalence is part of what it means to be a West Indian now." 1
Yet what Walcott calls a conflict is not always seen to be that.
There are so many West Indians who with natural voice interweave
dialect and Standard English in their speech. Chapter V of "The
Islands" seems to me to do it fairly effectively. ("The fete took place
one morning in the heights") There are, elsewhere in Walcott's poetry
interesting small examples of West Indian vocabulary placed un-
emphatically in a Standard English setting. The word "galvanize"
(southern Caribbean for "zinc roofing") for example, appears in solemn
He wept again, through why, he was unsure,
At dazzling visions of reflected tin.
So heaven is revealed to fevered eyes,
So is sin born, and innocence made wise,
By intimations of hot galvanize.
("Orient and Immortal Wheat")
"Feteing" appears in "The Glory Trumpeter":
Now it was that, as Eddie turne dhis back
On our young crowd out feteing, swilling liquor,
In "Cadaver" the dead dog lying in the road is "the mashed beast"
Personally, I find unobtrusive natural West Indianism more con-
genial than the art-speech wrought from dialect as in "Parang". I have
a preference for the recognizable speaking-voice in poetry. The kind
of dialect poems Walcott has written, do not, I may add, speak any
more directly to his society than the other poems in his books.
Walcott's development has been towards a cunning, more natural-
sounding simplicity. The early rhetoric is being deliberately pruned
away. In the early "Choc Bay" he could exclaim:
All that I have and want are words
To fling my griefs about.
But that large and noisy gesture was already under criticism in In a
Green Night. For in "Islands" he wrote:
As climate seeks its style, to write
Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight.
Cold as the curled wave, ordinary
As a tumbler of island water
The development of greater complexity at the same time as there is a
simpler surface may be judged if we compare that bit from "Islands"
with the following two short quotations which are from much later
poems. From "Sea-Crab":
The sea crab's cunning, halting, awkward grace
is the syntactical envy of my hand;
obliquity burrowing to surface
from hot, plain sand.
When in "Tarpon" the poet asks:
Can such complexity of shape
such bulk, terror and fury fit
in a design so innocent,
he is, in part, reflecting on his search for a style more "innocent", more
simple on the surface.
In The Castaway Walcott preaches withdrawal at the same time
that he examines involvement. In "Lizard" asserting: "The impotence
of rescue or compassion" in the face of death, he concludes:
Withdraw and leave the scheme of things in charge
And yet, Walcott's commitment to the West Indies and to the Negro
Struggle is also very much present in the books, present enough to
pacify the most militant activist. His examination of Othello, for
example, rejects the stereotype of the Negro. The poem is worth
setting against that compelling but grotesque caricature, Lawrence
Olivier's performance. Othello, to Walcott, is a man driven by horror
at "the corruption of an absolute" Walcott sees Othello as a
mythical, horned beast who's no more
monstrous for being black.
The poem "Laventville" is a sombre analysis of class and colour grada-
tions, a relic of the Middle Passage. Up the hill at Laventville:
The middle passage never guessed its end.
This is the height of poverty
for the desperate and black.
Very firmly Walcott places real, and yet symbolic, people:
The black fawning verger
his bow tie akimbo, grinning, the clown-gloved
fashionable wear of those I deeply loved
once made me look on with hopelessness and rage
at their new, apish habits, their excess
and fear, the possessed, the self-possessed.
His cry of anguish, at the end, is informed by an analysis of history:
Something inside is laid wide like a wound,
some open passage that has cleft the brain,
some deep, amnesiac blow. We left
somewhere a life we never found,
customs and gods that are not born again,
some crib, some grill of light
clanged shut on us in bondage, and withheld
us from that world below us and beyond
and in Its swaddling cerements we're still bound.
The slave left a culture behind in Africa "customs and gods
that are not born again" but nothing has taken its place. The
image of birth, recalled in "crib" and in "swaddling", shades into
an image of death, "its swaddling cerements" (that is, grave-
clothes) Culturally speaking, the black West Indian baby is born dead.
In "grinding poverty" up the Laventville hillside the people find
withheld from them "the world below them and beyond" a separate
world of culture, economics, social class.
Walcott is concerned too, about the dominance of mediocrity in
this society. In "Codicil" he wearily laments:
Once I thought love of country was enough,
now, even I chose, there's no room at the trough.
I watch the best minds root like dogs
for scraps of favour.
Everybody is a nationalist these days. "Trough" nicely suggests the
poet's dislike of the crude concourse. "Troughs" have water for animals,
A recurring concern is religion and the absence of religion. In "The
Wedding of an Actress" we see the poet
Wrestle with prayer and fail,
It is no use.
In any church my brain is a charred vault
Where demons roost,
A blackened, shifting dust.
In "Crusoe's Island", the children return for vespers; and the poet
reflects that art will not give the happiness that truly felt religion can.
At dusk when they return
For vespers, every dress
Touched by the sun will burn
A seraph's, an angel's,
And nothing I can learn
From art or loneliness
Can bless them as the bell's
Transfiguring tongue can bless.
Walcott is deeply concerned with West Indian problems, black
problems, problems of faith, problems of art. This is the work of a
patient artist, but also (even in the crudest sense) of a man who
cares. In "A Village Life" he wrote:
And since that winter I have learnt to gaze
On life indifferently as through a pane of glass.
But this is modified by other statements in the very same book. The
trumpeter, Eddie, plays with a "fury of indifference"; and, finally, at
the end of "'Codocil" (the last poem of Walcott's latest book) a re-
minder: that we must not demand of the poet a crudely released com-
mitment: if the work of art seems indifferent to our lives, we should
All its indifference is a different rage.
There should be no doubt of Walcott's relevance to our society.
The development of a reacting public for subtle West Indian poetry
is one of our many educational needs.
A lecture delivered at the Creative Arls Centre, U.W.I. on Monday 1Bth March, 1968.
2. The Pleasures of Exile (Michael Joseph, 1960) page 42.
3. Longman's, 1967 (7
4. Heinemann Educalional Books.
5. Jonathan Cape, 1962 6)
6. Sunday Gleaner, 13 May, 1962.
7. Reported in The Daily Gleaner 23 February, 1963.
8. The Chequer'd Shade (Oxford University Pr 1958; Oxford Paperback 1963).
9. Farrar, Straus & Company, 1964 (US $4.00)
10. Jonathan Cape, 1965 (18.
"West Indian Poetry, a Search for Voices", seminar sponsored by the Extra-Mural De-
partment, U.W.I. 14th March, 1965; fifth in a series on "The Slate of the Arts in Jamaica"
12. From "The Lynching"
13. From "If We Must Die"
14. "The Intellectual Tradition and Soci Change in the Caribbean", New World Fortnightly
Nos. 27 & 28, 12 November, 1965.
15. The London Magazine September 1965, Vol. 5 No. 6
16. Devotions XVII (Nonesuch Library Donne p. 538)
17 "On Reading Louise Bennett, Seriously", Jamaica Journal Vol. No. December 1967.
18. The London Magazine, September 1965. Vol. 5 No. 6.
With a black snake's un-
thinking thinking through glass
quarries of stony water
with a doll's liquid gaze, crystal,
his brain green, a green chrysalis,
memories trunked up in a dark attic
he stumps up the stares
of our windows, he stares, stares
he squats on the tips
of our language
black burr of conundrums
eye corner of ghosts, ancient his-
he spins drum-
beats, silver skin
webs of sound
through the villages
Tacky heard him
all the hung-
ry dumb bellied chieftains
their death into the grounds
Goave, Port-au-Prince, Half Moon Fort,
dead lobster pot crews,
wire, red sea shells, coconut trees' hulls, nodding skulls,
black iron bells, clogged,
no glamour of noon on the man-
Now the poor hang him up in the ceiling
their brooms cannot reach his hushed corner
and he sits with the dust, desert's rainfall of soot,
plotting a new fall from heaven
his full mouth agape
a black pot
round fire that boils in his belly
walloboa weed words,
eyes, fireflies, sparks,
crashing coals' waterfalls
grey ashes aroused
old men's ghosts
burst memories' eyes in the hut
revealing their shadows of meaning
as the god stares down
black beating heart of him breathing
consuming our wood
and the words of our houses
black iron eye'd eater, the many eye'd maker,
dry stony world maker, word maker,
in the yard the dog barks at the stranger.
Excerpt from Islands
Dialect In West Indian Fiction
WEST INDIAN literature would seem to be the only substantial
literature in which the dialect-speaking character is the central
character. The conventional associations of dialect with comic
characters or with characters on the periphery have not been
eliminated, but they are disarmed of any stereotyping appearance or
effect by occurring among other contextualisations of dialect. The
characteristic feature of West Indian writing reflects the more
obviously new event-the centrality of the Black or Coloured character
and the articulation of this hitherto obscure and stereotyped person.
It is important to add however that while the new contexts of dialect
do not have a purely literary impulse in the way that Lawrence's use
of dialect has in Lady Chatterly's Lover, neither are they to be account-
ed for in terms of the documentary demands of social realism. Most
West Indian writers retain recognisable features of the dialects but
the literary inventions are shaped to meet wider expressive needs. In
the works of a few writers dialect is put in for purposes of coarse
realism, or to supply an anticipated exotic demand overseas, but the
more interesting West Indian writers, like artists anywhere, are con-
stantly opening up the possibilities of language, and in some of their
works we can see the dialect being expanded in this exploratory way.
It is at this growing process that I wish to look, but in order to clarify
the discussion I would like to work under three main headings. In the
first the focus will be on the relationship between the language of
narration (the language of the implied author) and the language of
the fictional character. In the second, the use of dialect to express
the consciousness of the character will be looked at. In the third
section, there will be a more rapid examination of some other sig-
nificant contexts where dialect is used by West Indian writers. The
illustrations will be chosen in such a way as to reveal chronological
developments, but I do not want to imply that each new possibility
opened up eliminates an earlier usage. The emphasis must be on the
variety of possibilities that have been created and that can still be
(i) Dialect and Distance
In Tom Cringle's Log one of the sources of the comic effect was
an incongruity between the language of the narrator (the implied
author) and that of the fictional character. The incongruity was
sharper for our awareness that the Standard English of the implied
author belonged to a different social world from the world of the
dialect-speaking character. We must begin therefore by making the
observation that in West Indian fiction the two voices no longer
reflect mutually exclusive social worlds. It increases the delicacy of our
reading in fact if we can imagine the narrative sections in a West
Indian Standard voice. This kind of delicacy is not always necessary,
however, and is hardly called for, in the dialect novels of the White
Creole, H. G. de Lisser where the Negro is still a comic character and
not much more, and where the author's attitude of withdrawal is
reflected by a stressing of the distance between the narrator's language
and that of the fictional character. An episode in Jane's Career (1914)
is transitional in West Indian fiction in the way it combines an
attitude of social superiority (recurrent in British presentations) with
the West Indian's knowledge of the dialect. Jane is said to go to
Kingston to pursue a career as a servant girl so she is taken to Daddy
Buckram, the village sage. The description of the old man sets the
scene in a revealing way:
Like his audience, the Elder was black; he may have been
about sixty years of age, and was intensely self-conscious. His
close-cropped hair was turning grey; what chiefly distinguished
him from all other men in the village was his glibness of
tongue, his shoes and his collar. Except on Sundays, every one
else went bare-footed and collarless; but this Daddy Buckram
would never consent to do at any time, holding that one who
preached 'the Word' should be clothed in proper garments even
though, as in his case, the shoes were usually down at heels,
and the collar dirty. (Jane's Career, p.8)
Thus persuaded into an amused superiority, we witness the recurrent
device of writers handling the dialect-speaking character. The authorial
markers of dissociation (my italics) are prominent, but de Lisser
inscribes his dialect with obvious zest and with a dialect-speaker's
understanding of dialect's capacity to absorb miscellaneous material
(in this case the Bible)
'Jane', he continued impressively after a pause, 'Kingston is a
very big an' wicked city, an' a young girl like you, who de Lord
has blessed wid a good figure an' a face, must be careful not
to keep bad company. Satan goeth about like a roaring lion
in Kingston seeking who he may devour. He will devour you
if you do not take him to the Lord in prayer. Do you' work
well. Write to you's moder often, for a chile who don't remem-
ber her parent cannot prosper. Don't stay out in de street in
de night, go to church whenever you's employer allow you.
If sinners entice thee, consent thou not. Now, tell me what I
say to you.'
Jane hesitated a while, then answered.
"You say I mus' behave meself, sah, an' go to Church, an'
don't keep bad company, an dat de devil is a roarin' lion. An'
dat I must write mumma.
The Elder smiled his approval. 'I see', he observed benignly,
'that you have been giving my words attention. If you always
remember dem like dat, you will conquer in de battle.'
(Jane's Career, p.9)
As a speaker of West Indian Standard (W.I.S.) de Lisser was capable of
more varied uses of the dialect than he settled for. But his repeatedly
comic purposes merely followed the convention of European writers. In
his novels, for all his inwardness with the dialect, the two voices come
from two different worlds.
Daddy Buckram is a peripheral character, so it would be unjust
to make too much of the comparison between de Lisser's presentation
and Samuel Selvon's handling of a speech-making occasion by his
peasant hero Tiger in A Brighter Sun (1952) But what I want to show
is that social attitude has a great deal to do with the effects being
pursued. Selvon is too involved with his character as an individual
person to be distracted into superficial comedy. As a result, we find
that the dialect is modified in the direction of the Standard, and the
authorial voice slips in and out of the speech without drawing atten-
tion to its greater 'correctness' The episode occurs when Tiger's parents
come to visit him on the birth of Tiger and Urmilla's first child. There
is a small party and Joe, the neighbour has proposed a toast:
Tiger saw a chance to prove he was getting to be a man.
He said: 'I is the man of the house, and I have to answer Joe's
Urmilla moved with a sixth sense and filled the glasses
again. Tiger looked at her and smiled and she knew she had
done the right thing.
But when he began to talk he found it wasn't going to be
as easy as he thought, even with the rum in his head. 'Well',
he began waveringly, we glad to have family and friends
here today, especially as the baby born. Is true we not rich
and we have only a small thing here but still is a good thing.
So let we make a little merry for the baby. I should really begin
different. I don't know what happen to me. I should say:
"Ladies and gentlemen" and then make a speech. But I cannot
speechify very good. I would learn though That was a
far as he could go. He felt he would talk foolishness if he
continued, and he gulped his drink.
He wanted everyone to make a speech, but all the elders
shook their hands. And it became awkward just standing and
looking at one another, as if something had gone wrong.
(A Brighter Sun, p. 52)
Writers since de Lisser have taken a less restricted view of the
dialect-speaking character, and consequently of the dialect itself. The
closer involvement of the implied author with the low-life character
is reflected by a closing of the gap between the language of narration
and the language of the fictional character. Further examples of this
may be found in the next section, called 'Dialect and Consciousness'
I want to continue this section with a discussion of some attempts
to draw the two voices together by techniques of narration.
The use of a dialect-speaking narrator by V S. Reid in the novel
New Day (1949) and by John Hearne in a short story At the Stelling
(1960) remind us that few West Indian authors reproduce dialect pre-
cisely in their works. In these two cases invention is more obvious
than in most. Both writers invent successfully, however, because
they are intimate with the dialects out of which they are construct-
ing, and have a keen eye for recognisable qualities and literary possi-
bilities: as a result we feel that the language in the works is not a
realistic reproduction of dialect as it may be spoken anywhere in fact,
but it is a legitimate extension of the familiar.
Reid's novel, which links the granting of a new constitution to
Jamaica in 1944 with the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, is narrated by
the old man John Campbell, who is a witness of the new and was
an actor in the old. The novel opens in the later period and the new
day unleashes the memory of the aged man. The whole is then un-
folded more or less continuously from the earlier time to the later,
but with regular returns to the present as the old man makes an
interjection here or emphasises a point there. Because the story is told
as an oral performance by the reminiscing man, Reid is able to make
a creditable show of narrating in dialect. But what he actually does is
push West Indian Standard and dialect even closer together in the
narrating voice of John Campbell.
Mas'r is a heady sight, this. Memory is pricking at me mind,
and restlessness is a-ride me soul. I scent many things in the
night-wind, night-wind is a-talk of days what pass and gone.
But the night-wind blows down from the mountains, touch-
ing only the high places as it comes; so then, 'member, I can
remember only these places which stand high on the road we
ha' travelled. (New Day, p.85)
Our sense of the speaking voice, rhythmic repetition, and personifi-
cation imagery make this an impressive passage, but it is not dialect
in the same way that the following from deLisser is dialect:
Who you gwine to send for policeman for? demanded Sarah,
also at the top of her voice and with arms akimbo. 'We! Y'u
must be drunk! Look at the mallata (mulatto) ooman how she
stand! Y'u t'ink I am a schoolgal, no? Y'u t'ink you can tek
exvantage of me! If it wasn't for one t'ing, I would hold you
in here an' gie y'u such a beaten dat you wouldn't wak for a
week. (Jane's Career, p. 118)
The stylised dialect in Reid's novel never sinks to such exotic vulgarity,
although it does show signs of over-writing as in the pretentious
homeliness of the following passage:
An old man now, me. Many years bank the flame that was
John Campbell. And down the passages o' those years many
doors have opened. Some o' them ha' lef in rich barbecues o'
joyousness, with good things covering the bottom of the pot
o' life and no thorns there to give me pain. And others have
opened into butteries of hell, and me soul has been scarred
with the fires. (New Day, p.42)
On the whole, however, Reid's experiment is a successful one.
Because the language of narration is pushed so close to the language
of the characters, the reader is seldom jerked into awareness of two
At less risk, since it is a much shorter piece, Hearne achieves
vivid effects with his dialect-speaking narrator in At the Stelling:
I sink far down in that river and already, before it happen,
I can feel perai chew at my fly button and tear off my cod, or
alligator grab my leg to drag me to drowning. But God is good.
When I come up the sun is still there and I strike out for the
little island in the river opposite the selling. The river is full
of death that pass you by, but the selling holds a walking
death like the destruction of the Apocalypse.
I make ground at the island and drew myself into the mud
and the bush and blood draw after me from between my legs.
And when I look back at the selling, I see Mister Cockburn
lie down in his deck chair, as if fast asleep, and Mister Bailey
lying on him face upon the boards
And John standing on the path, with the repeater still as
the finger of God in his hands
(West Indian Stories, (1960), p.62)
The first point to be made is that it would be impossible to feel the
full effect of this passage unless we imagined a speaking West Indian
voice. Repetition, monosyllabic rhythm and personification imagery
make this passage resemble some in Reid's novel, but it is much
less obviously a dialect passage than any in Reid. Little more than
the pervasive present tense prevents it from being West Indian
Although both Reid and Hearne thus come close to making a
modified form of dialect do the work both of narration and dialogue,
their use of narrating characters are conversative devices. It is in
Samuel Selvon's works that the language of the implied author boldly
declares itself as dialect differing little from the language of the char-
acters. In the story 'Brackley and the Bed', 1 the author takes up the
stance of the calypsonian or ballad-maker and both SE and WIS are
Brackley hailed from Tobago, which part they have it to
say Robinson Crusoe used to hang out with Man Friday. Things
were brown in that island and he make for England and
manage to get a work and was just settling down when bam!
he get a letter from his aunt saying Teena want to come to
Well, right away he write aunty and say no, no, because he
have a feeling this girl would make botheration if she come
England. The aunt write back to say she didn't mean to say
that Teena want to come England, but that Teena left Tobago
for England already.
Brackley hold his head and bawl. And the evening the
boat train come in at Waterloo, he went there and start 'busing
she right away not waiting to ask how the folks was at home
'What you doing in London?' Brackley ask as soon as Teena
step off the train. 'What you come here for, eh? Even though
I write home to say things real hard?'
'What happen, you buy the country already?' Teena
sheself giving tit for tat right away. 'You ruling England now?
The Queen abdicate?'
(Ways of Sunlight, p. 151)
This is as far as any West Indian author has gone towards closing
the gap between the language of narration and the Language of the
fictional character. I have argued that social attitude has something
to do with the closing of the gap. But this would be a misleading
emphasis to end with. Writers like V. S. Naipaul achieve effects of
incongruity by stressing differences between the two voices, and much
of the fun of Alvin Burnett's God the Stonebreaker comes about in
this way. A purely literary point on which to end therefore, is that
West Indian writers who possess West Indian Standard and dialect
have a wide range within which to vary the distance between the voice
of narration and the voice of the character. As we have seen this can
be of great use in the hands of the artist who wishes to take advan-
tage of it.
(ii) Dialect and Consciousness
In Corentyne Thunder (1941), Edgar Mittelholzer's first novel,
one of the centres of interest is Ramgolall, a cowminder on the breed-
ing savannah of Corentyne coast:
A tale we are about to tell of Ramgolall, the cowminder, who
lived on the Corentyne coast of British Guiana the only British
colony on the mainland of South America. Ramgolall was small
in body and rather short and very thin. He was an East
Indian who had arrived in British Guiana in 1898 as an immi-
grant indentured to a sugar estate. He had worked very hard.
He had faithfully served out the period of his identure, and
now at sixty-three years of age he minded cows on the
savannah of the Corentyne coast, his own lord and guide.
(Corentyne Thunder, p. 7)
It is an unpromising start, with the West Indian author doing his
best to accommodate his prospective British reader by providing the
geographical and historical background. The tone of the nuncio
combines with the stance of the superior omniscient novelist. But
the work recovers from this disastrous beginning as Mittelholzer moves
into his tale of fragile human endeavour in a vast inscrutable land-
Mittelholzer handles his dialect-speaking peasants with great com-
passion but his use of dialect is in accordance with a strict realistic
criterion of appropriateness to the character. This means that if he
wishes to express anything complicated about the character, he has
to work not directly through the character's consciousness or in the
character's language, but by a mediating omniscience.
I would like therefore to look at an episode in Corentyne Thunder
where an attempt is made to express Ramgolall's over-whelming sense
of desolation. This will be followed by two examples from later West
Indian novels where dialect is used and the character's consciousness
articulated in similarly complicated situations. I do not wish to imply
that one method is necessarily better than the other. My purpose is
to show by comparison how dialect offers alternative artistic possi-
bilities to the West Indian writer.
Ramgolall and his daughter are returning home from work when
the girl is seized by pain:
Beena moaned softly and her breathing came in heavy
gusts as though her soul were fatigued with the things of this
life and wished to leave her body in gasp after gasp of wind.
And Ramgolall, weak in body and in mind, could only look
about him at a loss. His dark eyes seemed to appeal to the
savannah and then to the sky. But the savannah remained
still and grey-green, quiet and immobile in its philosophy. And
the sky, too, would do nothing to aid him. Pale purple in the
failing light and streaked with feathery brown and yellow
clouds, the sky watched like a statue of Buddha.
'Ow! Bettay, you no go dead. Eh? Bettay? Talk na? Is
But Beena moaned in reply, doubled up.
'Talk, no Bettay? Try. You' belly a-hurt?'
The moan came again, like a portent, like the echo of a
horn sounded in the depth of the earth. 'The Dark gathers',
it seemed to tell the soul of Ramgolall 'and Death cometh
with the Dark. Be resigned my son.'
Ramgolall stood up in a panic, looking all around him. He
saw the cows, a group of moving spots, headed for their pen
and getting smaller as they went. He could smell their dung
mingled with the iodine in the air. He could see the tiny
mud-house, with its dry palm-leaf roof, where he and Beena
and Kattree lived. It stood far off a mere speck.
(Corentyne Thunder, p. 10)
I have italicised some phrases which seem to be too crudely intrusive,
and which get in the way of the reader's imagination. But Mittel-
holzer works in other more acceptable ways. The evocation of empty
savannah and vast sky against Ramgolall's appealing eyes are brought
home in the final paragraph. Here distant objects express his deso-
lation and panic at being cut off; and the faint smell in the air
seems to suggest his wobbly hold upon existence.
But however effective Mittelholzer's indirect method may be it
remains an indirect method at its best. Ramgolall is little more than
a figure of pathos; while we become aware of the meaning of his
panic Ramgolall himself remains without consciousness. For all the
effects of the passage are achieved through devices in standard English
or West Indian Standard Voice of the author. In this light, Ramgo-
lall's words and dialect are flat counters out of touch with the ex-
perience he has undergone.
Because of Mittelholzer's limited view of Ramgolall's possibilities,
Corentyne Thunder never really becomes the tale of a cowminder that
it sets out to be. Indeed, Ramgolall becomes increasingly peripheral as
the novel advances. The peasant character is emphatically a central
character in Samuel Selvon's A Brighter Sun (1952) And it is in this
novel that dialect first becomes the language of consciousness in
West Indian fiction. For Tiger is an introspective character and a
dialect-speaking one. As we follow his development from pre-mature
Hindu wedding to turbulent father-hood and responsible domestic
anxiety, from Indian legacy to Trinidadian citizenship, and from
obscure youth to naive enquiring manhood, dialect becomes saturated
with inner experience. Selvon does not present Tiger's consciousness
exclusively through dialect; but authorial comment, reportage of the
character's thought processes and reproduction of these processes
directly in dialect modulate into one another so smoothly that the
impression given is of direct access to the dialect-speaker's raw con-
Life was beginning to get complicated, now that he was
beginning to learn things. Sookdeo had promised to teach him
to read. Boysie was going to show him many things in Port
of Spain. Where was his life going to fit in? Perhaps, if he
liked the city, he could get a job there, and give up the garden.
Or Urmilla could keep it while he was at work. Anyway he
wasn't sure. He wasn't sure about anything When Urmilla
and the baby were asleep, he looked up at the roof and felt
revulsion for his wife and child. They were to blame for all
his worry. If he were alone, he could be like Boysie, not caring
a damn. He would go to the city and get a job He would even
go to school in the night and learn to read and write Look
at Sookdeo, he argued, you think I want to be like he when I
get old? Is only old age that I respect in him. All he could do
is read and drink rum. When I learn to read, you think is only
Guardian I going to read? I going to read plenty books, about
America and England and all them places. Man I will go live
In Port of Spain, this village too small, you can't learn anything
except how to plant crop.
(A Brighter Sun, pp. 90-91)
If Tiger's thought processes are naive, they are at least spread over a
wide area of experience. In following the character's inner workings
in a credible modification of dialect, Selvon makes the dialect a flexible
In Wilson Harris' The Far Journey of Oudin (1961) which also
takes East Indians in the West Indies for its raw material, dialect be-
comes the dramatic language for articulating a complex process in
consciousness. Mohammed and his followers Hassan and Kaiser had
deprived their crazy half-brother of his legacy and murdered him.
After an initial period of prosperity the three brothers begin to feel
their possessions crumbling and they become the prey of the ruthless
money-lender Ram. The strange materialisation of a wandering labour-
er called Oudin presents Ram with a longed-for accomplice and willing
slave. Ram sends Oudin to Mohammed, ostensibly as a useful helper
but in fact Oudin's mission is to steal Mohammed's cattle thus driving
Mohammed even further into economic dependence upon the demonic
money-lender. Oudin's resemblance to the murdered half-brother causes
consternation in the Mohammed household and from this point Mo-
hammed begins to feel himself visited by a curse:
'Is like some kind of thing circulating me.' He paused.
'What you mean?' Ram was involved and interested.
'I don't know exactly how to explain. But time itself change
since he come. Is like if I starting to grow conscious after a
long time, that time itself is a forerunner to something. But Ah
learning me lesson so late, is like it is a curse, and things that
could have gone smooth now cracking up in haste around me.
I so bewilder I can't place nothing no more. What I used to
value and what I used not to value overlapping. Two, three,
four face looking at me. Every face so different. I don't know
which is private, which is public, which is past, which is
future. And yet all is one, understand me?'
'I do,' Ram said softly, and almost inaudibly.
'I suppose I is an ignorant man. Ah lose me grip long ago.
I wish to God Ah could accept the fact that I changing. Ah
feel that I, me then, is just a piece of moving furniture and
something else, bigger by far, pushing me about until I don't
know whether I standing 'pon me head, me backside, or me
foot.' (The Far Journey of Oudin, pp.91-92)
The process of break-up of the known substances in the charac-
ter's life under the weight of an intuition of something beyond com-
placent existence is a crucial stage in the experience of a Harris
character. By boldly allowing the crumbling character to describe
his condition in dialect, Harris enlists the urgency of the rhythmic
speaking voice in suggesting the urgency of the experience. Here too,
as throughout Harris' first five novels, the recognisable elements in the
character's language offer the reader a foothold for coming to closer
grips with a disturbing and unfamiliar state of consciousness. The suc-
cessful use of dialect in a context like this carries the conventionally
simple language of the simple character to new levels of profundity in
West Indian fiction.
(iii) Some More Contexts of Dialect
In the last two sections, I have been trying to show that dialect
is a natural part of the equipment of the West Indian novelist, used
as a means of narration and for expressing the consciousness of the
peasant character in various human states. It has been suggested that
such a subtle and flexible use of dialect on such a large scale is
probably unique in literature. In this section, I want to consolidate
the argument by providing some more examples of the varying con-
texts of dialect. It has probably begun to appear already that the
degree of Englishness of the dialect varies from situation to situa-
tion and this impression will be confirmed by the passages to follow.
But certain common features which have also emerged from previous
examples will again be in evidence. These are: improvisation in syntax
and lexis; direct and pithy expression, a strong tendency towards the
use of image especially of the personification type; and various kinds
of repetition of syntactic structure and lexis combining with the spoken
voice to produce highly rhythmic effects. It would be repetitive to ac-
company each extract below with a full description, and since my main
purpose is simply to provide examples of the use of dialect in various
contexts, I shall restrict analytic remarks to a necessary minimum.
Two examples of dialect used in a broadly political situation may
be taken from works by George Lamming. Lamming's second novel
The Emigrants (1954) brings together, on a ship bound for England,
a collection of West Indians from different islands and of different
social and educational levels. This gives Lamming scope to exercise a
wide range of linguistic skills in differentiating the various dialects
of his characters. For they all find themselves drawn into frequent
council in which they discover the sameness of the islands and the
sameness of their human quest for something better-national identity
or personal freedom. The many discussions in the work are carried
on in dialect. The example I want to quote is from a long speech, by
a Jamaican who begins with the generalisation that "West Indies
people whatever islan' you bring them from, them want to prove
something." An account of the settling of the Islands from different
sources and the state of disorientation this has produced, leads to this
Them is West Indians. Not Jamaicans or Trinidadians. Cause
the bigger the better. An' is the reason the West Indies way
out o' dat vomit produce a great people 'cause them provin'
that them want to be something. Some people say them have
no hope for people who doan' know exactly w'at them want or
who them is, but that is a lot of rass-clot talk. The interpreta-
tion me give history is people the world over always searching'
an' feeling from time immemorial, them keep searching' an'
feeling' Them ain't know what is wrong 'cause them ain't know
what is right, but them keep searching' an' feeling an' when
them dead an' gone, history write things 'bout them that
themself would not have know or understand. Them wouldn't
know themself if them see themself in history. Cause what
them was trying' to prove them leave to history to give a name.
(The Emigrants, p. 68)
Lamming's 'Jamaican dialect' is not only credible as that, it is made
to carry an extremely sophisticated notion-the kernel of the novel-
without signs of strain or unnaturalness, and without announcing
itself as dialect.
In the same author's Season of Adventure (1960) a novel concern-
ed with different levels of freedom and the ways in which the political
is also deeply personal, the following conversation takes place between
Crim, who is grateful that the colonial powers have given freedom
at last to San Cristobal, and Powell, who sees the matter in a ruth-
lessly different light:
'I say it was a real freedom happen when the tourist army
went away', Crim said. It look a real freedom they give San
'It don't have that kind o' givin'' said Powell, trying to
restrain his anger. Is wrong to say that, cause free is free an'
it don't have no givin' Free is how you is from the start, an'
when you see it look different you got to move, just move, an'
when you movin' say that is a natural freedom make you move.
You can't move to freedom, Crim, 'cause is what you is an'
where you start an' where you always got to stand.'
(Season of Adventure, p. 18)
It is worth pointing out not only that the dialect is convincing and
that it is being made to work in the context of a political philosophy,
but also that the emphatic and categorical quality of the language
being used by Powell is appropriate to his character. Powell is in
fact a passionate fanatic, a man who will not be handed his free-
dom by anyone and who has a violent distrustful attitude to the liberal
gesture. Towards the end of the novAl, when the white-skinned West
Indian girl, Fola, wishes to free herself from the traditional denial
by her class of its West Indianness, it is Powell the uncompromising
fanatical victim of the history of his time who makes a murderous
assault upon her:
'No noise', he said, rubbing his hand inside his shirt, 'no
more than a sandfly can make, I warn you, no noise.'
'But but but what have I done?' Fola stammered.
'Enough,' said Powell. 'You an' your lot done enough.'
"Why? Why?' Fola's voice dribbled.
"It too late," said Powell, rubbing his hand inside his shirt,
'it too late to explain, just as it too late for you an' your lot
to make peace with me."
'You don't understand', she cried. 'You don't
'Exact, exact,' said Powell 'I don't understand. An' what's
more I don't want to. Where you an' your lot concern, I hope
I never live to understand.'
Now Powell's hand emerged slowly from inside his shirt;
but his fist was still hidden as it rubbed against his chest.
'What I do I do alone,' said Powell, 'no help from you an'
your lot, 'cause I learn, I learn how any playing 'bout with
our lot bound to end. You know the rules too good, an' it too
late, it to late for me to learn what rules you have for murder-
ing me. So is me go murder first. Otherwise is you what will
murder me, or make me murder myself.'
(Season of Adventure, p. 328)
The extra-ordinary power of the emotion in this incident might
prevent us from realising that Powell is a dialect-speaker whose way
of speaking is precisely appropriate to his highly personal condition.
The advance which Lamming's artistic use of dialect represents
may be illustrated by a quotation from an early West Indian writer
who invested in the common language. In Alfred Mendes' Black Fauns
(1935) set in a barrackyard in Trinidad, the women of the yard meet
daily and have long conversations in dialect on miscellaneous subjects.
An admiring remark about White people, and a denigration of Africans
by one of the fauns prompts the following rejoinder from Ethelrida:
'I don't know why you say that, old lady' Ethelrida retorted. 'I
see all the white people in civilised lands behaving worse than
savage an' heathen. Look at de war in nineteen-fourteen. You
ever see people made in God's image cut up and shoot up an'
mash up each other like dat? I see Mister Pompom does like
to go to the teeayter. What for? To see white girl upon white
sheet behave like dressed-up worthless woman. I hear white
priest an' white parson does go to Africa in the forest to teach
our own colour about Christ an' God. It look to me like niggers
in Africa happy when white people leave them alone. As soon
as white people, with Bible an' chaplet in hand go to our
own people in Africa like they does bring trouble and unhappi-
ness an' misery.'
(Black Fauns, p. 194)
Although Mendes' usage is not as dynamic as Lamming's, the passage,
a product of the nineteen-thirties, was a sign of things to come.
In Austin Clarke's Amongst Thistles and Thorns (1965) a sonorous
dialect is used simultaneously for comic effect and to register social
protest. In one episode, Nathan feels that he is qualified to describe
the limiting society to his woman Ruby: "I have come to a damn
serious understanding during my travels in and around this blasted
past-tense village. A man could live in this backward place, Barbados,
and still could walk about the place as he like and pleases." The con-
versation occurs when Nathan and Ruby are considering sending their
son to the High School. Nathan argues that there is no hope of any
but the least considered white-collar jobs for the educated Black man:
He would even come out a saniterry inspector and walk
all through this blasted village in a khaki suit and a white
cork hat with a white enamel ladle in his han' to dip down
inside the poor people shitty closets with. But be-Christ! after
all them school fees I pay out, and all them dollars spend on
books, I hopes, I hopes to-hell that Milton do not come out as
no damn inspector, looking for a million and one larvees in no
blasted person' outdoor closet, or to see if they have young
mosquitoes in their drinking-water buckets. That Ruby that
Ruby is the lengths and advantages Milton could go in this
kis-me-arse island after he find himself in the possession of a
high-school education. (Amongst Thistles and Thorns, p. 105)
The zest with which Nathan puts this case and the rhythmic in-
sistence of his language might be thought to distract from the force
of the protest. But this would be true only if direct protest were
Clarke's intention. In fact, Nathan is an utterly irresponsible char-
acter and his intention is to regain the favour of Ruby by attacking
the things that threaten to thwart the boy. There is a protest element
in his speech which is part of an authorial intention, but it is
emphatically in the background.
The full measure of Nathan's deceptive oratory comes out when
having argued against the futility of becoming educated, he insists
that Milton must be sent to school. Aware of Ruby's vulnerability
on this question of her yearnings for a better life for the boy, Nathan
sweeps her along with the rhetoric of dialect:
'And if Milton is a boy what have a singing voice in his
head, I want him to sing in the cathedral choirs 'pon a Sundee.
O Christ, I would see that bastard now, Rube, darling love! I
could see Milton right this very now before me eyes' wearing
them red robes and that thing 'round him neck
'Yeah and walking up and down that cathedral aisle with
the choirs, and the Bishop o' the islan', and singing them
psalms and carols and songs ancient and modern so damn
sweet, more sweeter than if he was a blasted humming bird!"
'That is our son, Nathan.'
'Be-Christ, Ruby, you have just say a mouthful! Milton is
our son, our own-own flesh-and-blood possession!'
(Amongst Thistles and Thorns, p. 105)
What I am trying to suggest with the quotations from Clarke, is that
dialect has travelled so far in West Indian fiction that it is used to
produce different effects simultaneously and that it can even go beyond
lyricism to fake lyricism.
A fine example of the lyricism of dialect occurs ini Jan Carew's
Black Midas (1958) The novel as a whole is remarkable for the way
it uses the vivid immediate qualities of dialect to suggest the speech
of outdoor men, and to invoke a staggering landscape, but I shall
confine myself to a lush moment when Rhodius and Shark (the Black
Midas) are travelling up-river and Rhodius sees Shark sitting quietly.
'You hear the voices?' he asked.
'The river, man, the river. This water got more talk than
the tongue in Babel. When night-time come all the dead men
under the river does talk.' He spoke quietly, with his eyes
on John Pye's shadow in the bow all the time. 'They got good
people and bad one under the river, and me travel up and
down so often me know them all. We travel when star was
bright, when moon hang low, when dark so heavy me couldn't
spit through it. The good people does say "Rhodius, Rhodius,
don't take no chance with the power-god; Kusewayo sitting
stony-still in he big chair. Steer clear of the living rock; they
got tentacle-hand to pull you down don't take no risk by
Topoco, the green spirit of the quiet water got whirlpool to
suck you in don't make mistake at the Looking Glass, is
time of the year for sacrifice, that water deep with hungry-
ing for you.' But the bad ones does say 'Come down, Rhodius.
Come down, Rhodius. We will make you bones flute like weep-
ing wood! Come down Rhodius! the river bottom smooth and
we will roll you eye from here to Macharee." You hear them?'
he said. 'You hear them?' And I pressed my ear against the
gunwale, but all I heard was tongueless lisping and all I saw
when I sat up was starlight dancing on the rim of whirlpools.
(Black Midas, pp. 177-178)
In passages like this, Carew is able to suggest the haunting qualities
of his massive landscape, thus making credible the central faith of
the novel, upon which much of its tension is built, that the pork-
knocker characters are literally possessed that the jungle is in
their veins. In the final sentence we have an instance, I think, of
West Indian Standard more than usually suffused with dialect rhythm
The final example comes from Wilson Harris' Palace of the Peacock
(1960). In his five Guyana novels, Harris follows a vision which
demands to be worked out in unconventional ways: his characters do
not exist in a recognisable social context; he is not concerned with
the portrayal in realistic terms of the individual character; and
there is a collapsing of our usual constitutive categories of Time,
Person and Place. We find in his novels, therefore, that the living and
the dead, and people from different times and places co-exist. Fur-
ther, persons are constantly collapsing into one another and they
frequently collapse into place and thing. Harris' vision is a vision of
universal transcendence and it challenges our basic conceptions about
the nature of reality.
This means, taking the word in its common sense, that there is
an air of unreality in these Guyana novels. There are two main ways
in which Harris gives initial credibility to his strange fictions. The
first is by the sensuous rendering of an intimate, felt Guyanese land-
scape. The second is by the use of dialect. This is true in general in
the novels, but it is more sharply apparent at critical moments. At a
time when characters are undergoing the most bizarre or extraordin-
ary experiences, they express themselves in dialect.
In Palace of the Peacock, the crew of dead men pursuing their
journey up-river beyond Mariella become aware of a flock of birds
wheeling overhead. Each of the men has been dead once before, and
they are all approaching their second death. Since Da Silva is the
first to go, he "sees" the most, and between him and Cameron who
is still "alive" (only once dead) there is a tense exchange:
'What in heaven name really preying on you sight and mind,
Boy?' Cameron suddenly became curious. 'I only seeing vulture
bird. Where the parrot what eating you?'
'Ah telling you Ah dream the boat sink with all of we',
daSilva said speaking to himself as if he had forgotten
Cameron's presence. 'Ah drowned dead and Ah float. All of
we expose and float
'Is vulture bird you really feeling and seeing' shouted
Cameron. His voice was a croak in the air. Da Silva continued
-a man grown deaf and blind with sleep-'Ah dream Ah get
another chance to live me life over from the very start, you
hear?' He paused and the thought sank back into the stream.
'The impossible start to happen. Ah lose me own image and
time like if I forget is where me sex really start
'Fool, stop it,' Cameron hissed.
'Don't pick at me,' daSilva said. 'The impossible start
happen I tell you. Water start dream, rock and stone start
dream, tree trunk and tree root dreaming, bird and beast
'You is a menagerie and a jungle of a fool', Cameron's black
tongue laughed and twisted.
(Palace of the Peacock, pp. 110-111)
Harris modulates the language in this passage so subtly that we might
miss the way that we are made to follow through from Cameron's
invective to da Silva's exultation to the discreet organising touches of
the implied author. Strange as the experience may be and no matter
how undifferentiated the two men in a conventional way: the tension
between them is laid bare, and da Silva's sense of a new beginning
makes a vivid impression. Harris's use of the dialect in his novels is
quite crucial from the point of view of their readability. Because
the "folk language" is involved in such a complex imaginative world,
the range and flexibility of the dialect are made greater.
To understand properly the certainty with which West Indian
writers have turned the dialects to such literary account as I have
tried to illustrate, we must remember that coexisting with the new
literary growth in the West Indies, and pre-dating it is a long oral
tradition of story-telling and folk poetry in the dialect. A modern
representative of this tradition is Louise Bennett of Jamaica whose
dialect poems produced over the last twenty-five years have recently
been published as Jamaica Labrish: Jamaica Dialect Poems (1967)
In Trinidad, the oral tradition flourishes in the calypso whose most
skilful exponent is Francisco Slinger, called 'The Mighty Sparrow'
It would be too difficult to demonstrate here that this oral tradition
has affected the Standard English of the West Indies, but it can easily
be seen that in its wide-ranging use of dialect, West Indian fiction has
at least begun to assimilate the oral tradition. It is to be lamented
that while local audiences have made Sparrow a millionaire and a
popular hero because of his use of dialect, those who read either fail to
recognize its subtle pervasive influence, or as Naipaul relates "object to
its use in books which are read abroad. 'They must be does talk so by
you', one woman said to me. 'They don't talk so by me' "2
ieclion Ways of SuniCl :t (1957).
2. V. S. Naipoul The Middle Passage (1962) p.69.
The Unresolved Constitution
IN HER introduction to her illuminating series of essays Attitudes
Tooards 'Race' In Guyanese Literature Joyce Sparer points to
"the pivotal social problem in Guyana which, no matter how
it was generated and stimulated, has been crucial in the life
of the country for the past five years, remaining unresolved
and underestimated and constituting volcanic matter under
The italics are mine for it is this question of the "unresolved and under-
estimated (constitution) volcanic matter under the surface"
which I would like to take as my cue for this article. Edward
Brathwaite and Kenneth Ramchand have both grappled with the
nature of this issue in their critical work on the West Indian novel.
Ramchand in one of his essays on the dislocated image speaks of
"generating a tension in the reader, by immersing him in the very
debated substance of the work. The relative unawareness of the
characters is the expressive dislocated image which operates upon the
reader's consciousness. "
Brathwaite in his approach to the matter through "jazz as an
aesthetic model (a way of seeing; a critical tool) is equally intent
on exploring areas of sensibility as in Mais for example which
may easily be overlooked by imposing values rather than unearthing
In fact I believe that the kind of probe which distinguishes in their
separate ways the work of Miss Sparer, of Edward Brathwaite and of
Kenneth Ramchand is representative of a new and far-reaching chapter
opening out on the Caribbean scene. Against this it seems to me there
exists another body of influential critical assumptions held by Orlando
Patterson in particular and possibly V S. Naipaul as well (whose latest
novels were reviewed by Gerald Moore in Bim.)
Patterson has expressed a genuine concern with the folk and this
brings him closer to the constitution I would like to explore, provided
one sees him unsentimentally as part of an orchestra of deprivation -
as reflecting what Edward Brathwaite calls "tunelessness."
"With this 'tunelessness' (Brathwaite writes). .social ensemble
which still retains its sense of unity though at the brink of collapse:
we reach that dark and chaos which lies at the heart of jazz."
Patterson may well serve to provide the 'tuneless' rapport in an
orchestra of submerged community. For what he is doing is to under-
score "history" and point up to a "historylessness" within centuries of
oppression. The danger of this if danger it can be called is that
if inflated into a monolithic trumpet to wage war against philistinism
and bankruptcy, it may react with poetic justice by bolstering up,
through glaring oversimplification, the very philistinism it sets out to
destroy if in fact it does set out to destroy anything at all.
The constitution of history as it affects the Caribbean and the
Guianas is one which the creative writer is profoundly qualified to
explore, I believe, provided he can suffer again through his work the
ancestral torment of finding his tongue seized again as if he had become
a dumb thing without voice or language: yet for this very reason know-
ing himself uniquely immersed and equipped to embrace the muse
through an imaginative re-discovery of the past. As I write this I am
struck by the archetypal correspondence with Rimbaud the dis-
ordering (d&erglement) of the senses. It is easy enough to pronounce
on "historylessness," oppression etc. once one stands above it within
an order of insulation once one does not creatively descend into the
disorder of it, suffer creatively the disorder of it: an escape route which
may well prove the best of two worlds and permit a skilful shortcircuit-
ing of real crisis or confrontation in depth. The art in short not of
alienation as it is popularly called but of insulation.
The contemporary English Novel which is in direct line with the
great English Convention in the novel as exemplified by the great
English novelists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries possesses
a coherent design based on a social evolution and contract or bridge
of generations. That this is something native to a particular social
landscape that in fact it has never claimed to subsume world litera-
ture far less the imagination of man is something that arouses
the deepest uneasiness in the educated colonial from the British West
Indies who wants above everything else to escape from humiliating
reality into a style akin to first-class citizenship at the heart of Empire.
I myself have no special claim to make for the French novel or
poem of modern times (which appears so alien to English preoccupa-
tions) but it is clear to me that the historical contract in France the
bridge of generations has been swamped so often by invasion that it
suggests how complex is the mainstream of European literature itself
and that the archetypal links this may possess with the submerged and
subterranean psyche of the West Indies is something which must be
weighed with unsentimental attachment and detachment.
In this context it is interesting to note that the Irishman Samuel
Beckett has written both in French (as his original vehicle) and English
(as his medium of translation). No wonder, I would surmise, for the
Irish like the French have experienced something which bordered upon
a state of tragic humiliation and eclipse. The anti-novel of the French
(as it is called) is not therefore a fashionable and perverse conceit to
offend prejudices it has its historical motivations nor is the
incoherency of Joyce (as some critics would have it) simply an off-
putting device to outrage a Muggeridge it has its roots in anguish.
To return therefore to my earlier remark about having the best of
two worlds (not French and English for this would call for a Beckett
of genius) but English and imitation-English (Naipaul's mimic men) -
it seems to me that if a writer employs a coherencyy" based on the
English social model to describe a native world which he himself goes
to great lengths to declare invalid and non-historic or parasitic and
mimic he gains a commanding strength (which is nevertheless illusion)
over the material he describes that may entertain or divert people who
have, in fact, no real experience or perception of what he is talking
And this brings us back sharply to the ground of "historylessness"
which is beginning to set its teeth upon the constitution of West Indian
intellectual life; for if such is the bite of history upon a certain 'race'
of men (who by this very token of historical cannibalism would appear
to be without 'race') then at the heart of that crisis lies a forgotten
"crash," a holocaust of sensibility, a Gorgon's head, the pitiless self-
indulgent stare of hate, which is capable of irrupting at any moment
into dangerous civil strife, civil war, race war what have you. It is
this which makes so crucial and important the critical dimensions of
the Ramchands, the Jameses, the Brathwaites, the Sparers whose
evaluations are joined to the tasks of the creative imagination as a
centreing process, an internal representation of alien, however forbid-
ding, particulars rather than an external representation of familiar
hopelessness, stalemate and feud. It is this vision of the translation of
capacities within a violation of cultures the splinters at the heart
of the "crash" which, centrifugal-wise and centripetal-wise, may infuse
a diverse unity of consciousness into every cloak or vehicle of memory;
thereby sustaining the history of crisis as a living process of individua-
tion rather than as an expendable and fortuitous creed.
If I were asked to give in four words rather than in a four letter
word the direction in which I would like the West Indian novel to
move, my reply would be towards an act of memory. I remember in
Guyana the kind of obscene rumour bordering upon obsession which
would circulate from time to time about some prominent citizen who
was said to be dying or to have died from an erection that would not,
in all conscience, subside, remaining up and up, rigid and scandalous
and uncollapsible (I nearly said incorruptible), exercising a curious
fascination upon all mingled with embarrassment like a frozen ritual.
An ancestral clown of sorts half-censor, half-libertine, half-fact,
half-myth. Was it an archetypal extension, phallic agent, African folk
memory? Was it an Amerindian shaman, flight into the wilderness?
Was it some sort of Catholic fetish, Portuguese god? Or was it Hindu,
Mahommedan, Indo-European esoteric limb or fantasy? Whatever it
was it energised for me a funeral procession of the ages Roraima to
Atlantic population implosion, population explosion.
The gigantic grotesquerie of this clown was not indeed a mere
aberration or fantasy. It expressed, I believe, a longing for some kind
of apocalyptic return of the "lost" one, the "unborn" one.
As late as the first half of the twentieth century historians like
Webber could still perceive the terrifying consequences of unimagina-
tive policies (administration after administration) in respect of
immigration. There had been a cruel disparity of sexes, preponderance
of imported males over females, generation after generation, long before
the abolition of slavery in the early nineteenth century and long after.
Not only amongst Africans who suffered most in this respect but
amongst indentured East Indians, Chinese and Portuguese as well. As
Webber succinctly put it "Where there are no mothers the race must
And this implosion which saturated the landscape with the mock-
heroic ghost of what-might-have-been (until the landscape sometimes
appeared like a hearse in a cradle, a cradle in a hearse) marched hand
in hand with the decimation of the Aboriginal peoples after the Dutch
These facts, which appear absurd, lie nevertheless like a submerged
constitution in the jungle of time, a river of dead souls without race or
family: facts to invoke, in curious, even profane recollection, not a
conception of the virgin but a conception of the barren, a visionary trail
of "ruin" within "ruin" akin to a profound digestion of metaphysical
organs freedom and compassion. That these may congeal neverthe-
less in the subconscious, in the collective unconscious, and irrupt into
scandal or nemesis, fascist or communist womb, or proliferate mind-
lessly in the death of numbers through numbers, population explosion
- is a profound reminder that there is no creative short-cut above or
beyond the classical/grotesque mother of man.
A prostitute in the interior (even on coastal areas of the Colony
as late as the 1920s) often found herself with fifty men to serve between
eight o'clock and midnight. This psychic monster, prophylactic of
history, was nothing new to her she was inured to many masks fused
into one endless erection. It was an abnormal paradox and paralysis -
the death of children on one hand and the slow maturation of an
apocalyptic expectancy, the gigantic "imploded" leader which would
spring out of an "exploded" womb or landscape.
It was an expectancy which, with the equalisation of the sexes,
turned the tables of history into mob appetite charismatic idol -
charismatic muse the white man's black myth the black or brown
man's esoteric myth myth of the over-riding erection which must
sustain the collective rape or ghost funeral cradle that begins to
extrapolate itself out of its grotesque and original foundations -
into the womb of space, space age, the depths, as it were, into the
heights, soaring ambition. Whether, in fact, this points to the
spectacular digestion of alien factors combining into a structure of
metamorphosis (inner space and outer space) which will undermine
the monolithic infantilism of our times is a matter no one can predict.
But what it brings home beyond a shadow of doubt is that the
clown of history is not without history but in fact is pregnant with a
native constitution the "lost" ages of men. And that the tyrannous
rule of a minority over a majority or a majority over a minority has
been with us for so long, it has erected a fear of the past as well as of
the future which is so blinding it would, if it could, banish all history
- banish a "timeless" immersion in history, substance of both irony and
compassion, enduring grotesque creation true to its innermost, however
fantastic, logic the price of freedom.
I have just received a copy of Louis James's The Islands in
Between which is further impressive evidence of the new and far-
reaching critical chapter opening out on the Caribbean scene. Barrie
Davies in his essay appearing in that book quotes John Hearne's tribute
to Mais in which Hearne sees Mais as combining "in a curiously
asymetrical fashion, the attributes of the noble and heraldic animals."
I am not familiar with the article from which this quotation was
taken so I hope I am not forcing an issue by italicising "curiously
asymmetrical" and seeking to relate this back to what I have been
saying earlier about the classical/grotesque mother of man. For this
classical/grotesque mother is also a function of a classical/grotesque
animal of which we know so little. The domestic mask, the domestic
cage we accept so blithely (in order to repudiate the "asymmetry") have
become so dominant they seek to mould us into tyrants or complacent
nihilists ghetto of man, strait-jacket of man. The creative problem
of the decapitation of that ghetto, the decapitation of an illusion of
strength, decapitation of the entrenchment of misconception within a
"second" death as well as a "second" birth, is native to the unconscious
and subconscious constitution of man and to the ground of all
One's "burial" in the "womb" of history (as I understand it) in
a primordial mystery and memory of landscape, Amazon/Orinoco/
Guyana, Atlantic/Pacific, implosion of premises carries a profound
envelope of uncertainties akin to the unpredictable nurses of dialogue.
For it supports a genuine "faintness" or humility of creation within
an envelope of inner/outer spaces capable of elasticity, metamorphoses
and susceptibilities, extensive broken crew, extensive violation, remedial
shadow, a new and profound visionary wound, the birth of a poetry of
science as well as an art of compassion. Something native and com-
plex, therefore pregnant and universal, which we approach in
phenomenal ways within the abyss of the past and the future.
You left the horizontal mud
Loosed the cabled muscles
Of your neck
You left the reptile grasp
Another through the teeth
Your head and mouth you need
For thought and love
Out-stretch gently for food
Your hands. Embrace your lover
No need now
For cruel bitings of the neck
Rearward impositions teeth grasping
Man your hands and arms
Have made you
Upright, walk upright through
To her open-limbed enfolding
Waits head poised gently above
The slopes of
Ripe pears and the bushy mount
The mutual face to face
That only man and woman know
In sunlit lanes or star-shadowed
As lizards cannot hold,
The "Marat/Sade" at the
Creative Arts Centre,
U.W.I., Mona, (1967).
Directed by Noel Vaz, Staff
Tutor in Drama.
Simone (Jackie Aldridge),
Jean Paul Marat (Homer
Heron), Male Nurse (Paul
Layne), a n d Charlotte
Corday (Pauline Powell).
Photo by MARIA LA YACONA
I I $
Goose and Gander Folk comedy by Wilfred Redhead Extra Mural
Drama School, Montserrat.
. tutors and cast Uncle Robert Extra Mural
Jamaican Folk Music
JAMAICA'S musical traditions are undoubtedly strong, and to our
knowledge stretch back to the days of the Arawaks even before
Christopher Columbus set foot here in 1494. Shortly after he came he
was visited by an Arawak chief accompanied by attendants and a band
of musicians playing drums and trumpets. The Arawaks were later
exterminated and there is no certain evidence of their music having
been preserved but various references made to their musical activities
by the Spaniards are enough to show that music played an important
part in their lives. In addition to vocal music they had many instru-
ments including drums for worship, for use in wars, for communication
and for entertainment, flutes, trumpets, a kind of harp and timbrels.
They sang of great deeds and victories, of their love and grief as well
as for the sheer joy of it, for dancing and entertainment. It is a pity that
this music seems to have been lost to us but It is possible that some of
the tunes sung by the Maroons and said to be of African origin are, in
fact, Arawak songs learnt by the Maroons when in the mid-sixteenth
century they joined the remnant of Arawaks in caves and other natural
fortresses in the hills. These could have been passed from one genera-
tion to the next with the inevitable alterations and adaptations.
The slaves who were brought from Africa first by the Spanish and
later by the English left a rich musical heritage behind them. It is
unlikely that they brought musical instruments with them as the slave-
traders would have no doubt grudged the space for this unnecessary
baggage and weight. However, they seemed to have found singing a
welcome diversion in their intolerable conditions of travel and as their
masters enjoyed their songs they were probably encouraged to sing.
When they reached Jamaica, singing became even more important to
these people. They were discouraged from conversing during working
hours but found that they could communicate with each other by
chanting what they wanted to say. This was a happy solution, as it
was to their own liking and, as it lightened their labour and kept the
workers together, it must also have been acceptable to their masters.
The slaves also used to entertain themselves after work by singing
stories to their own dance tunes. The third way in which they used
music was for worship. This was a very important outlet and shows
these African exiles in a remarkably good light. These slaves could
tolerate the most dreadful conditions without bitterness, because even
if their bodies were sorely mutilated they felt that they could look
forward to their rewards in heaven. The slaves must have made drums
soon after they came here but the masters feared drums might incite
their chattels to rebel, so for a time, their use was prohibited.
It is interesting to know that these categories of music (1) for work;
(2) for entertainment (3) for worship have remained until the present
day and it may be helpful to consider our folk music under these
Most of these songs have been used for digging and other field labour,
but many other types exist. For instance, the song of the banana loaders
'Day Oh', is well-known and axemen's and sugar boilers' songs have re-
cently been unearthed in southern Clarendon. In St. Ann the pimento
pickers are said to have sat in family groups and sung chiefly religious
songs in rich harmony and as the music caught on from group to group,
the hillside would ring with it. Westmoreland has given us its character-
istic and robust house hauling songs and quaint East Indian rice beating
songs. Even today people breaking stones, ramming, working on railroad
lines and so on are occasionally heard lustily singing work songs. Work
songs are usually in two sections. The verse, which is sung
by the caller or the bomma, who incidentally does not take part in the
work, and the bobbin which is sung in improvised and usually very
pleasing harmony by the work gang. It is often difficult to be sure
where the main melody lies in the bobbin, so satisfactory is each strand
of the harmony. The background rhythm is provided by the synchro-
nised sounds of diggers, pickaxes, mallets, cutlasses or whatever tools
the labourers happen to be using. A digging match usually lasts for a
whole day and is attended by scores of friends, neighbours and other
guests. These people may or may not be expected to join in the work
but everyone joins in the merriment. Rum is distributed by a man who
is appointed to be the quartermaster and the women prepare large
quantities of food for all to enjoy. Because of the increasing drift
towards mechanisation and the changing pace of life even in the
country parts it is difficult to foresee any future for this type of music
in its original form. Fortunately however, these tunes are usually short
and catchy, with a strong pulse and simple rhythmic design. Because
of this many of them remain popular with youth clubs and other groups
and will be preserved for recreational purposes. Mechanization and
transistor radios are fast helping to make work songs obsolete, but they
are still occasionally used even in Kingston.
2. Music for Entertainment
Until recently our people in rural areas and many of the less
privileged in the towns have had to rely solely on themselves for enter-
tainment. Story-telling, singing, and dancing to the music of village
bands were frequent and popular pastimes indulged in at the slightest
excuse. Story-telling has perhaps been the most widely used activity
of this kind as it can be enjoyed by people of all ages and it cuts across
the social barriers more easily than other types of folk-lore. Most
folk tales are about 'Anancy' a spider which often assumes human
characteristics and depends on cunning to gain his ends. The tales are
probably originally from Ghana (Twi-ananse-spider) and must have
been in use here from the early days of slavery. Many of these stories
include songs which sometimes comment on incidents and at other
times voice the feelings and plans of the characters. The tunes are
very varied some showing distinct African origin while others
definitely have European roots. The treatment is always essentially
Jamaican. 'If you'll only be my true love' a song from 'Tacoma and
witch girl' is obviously derived from the English folk-song 'The Keys to
Heaven' and 'When you see an ugly man' from 'Parson Puss and Parson
dawg' strongly resembles the French song 'Ah vous dirais-je maman' to
name but two. Many of the tunes follow speech rhythms closely, and
would be more accurately described as recitative.
The slaves who served in the houses of their masters, must have
often heard lively tunes played by instrumental groups for dancing and
merriment in the great houses, and tunes must also have been picked
up from sailors in the towns. Among the tunes handed down in the
villages are many for set dancing; schottisches, jigs, polkas, waltzes,
quadrilles and even mazurkas. In most of them the European model
is easily recognized but the Jamaican syncopations and arrangements
quite alter the effect. The village bands that play this music are made
up of varying types and numbers of instruments but usually include
drums, bamboo-fife, guitar or banjo or homemade mandoline, home-
made wind instruments, like for example, trumpet, or bamboo saxo-
phone, fiddle and rhumba box or bass fiddle. Rarely are there more
than fifteen players. These bands are still used and nowadays their
repertoires include old time set dances, dances of African origin, e.g.
calembe, yanga, of Spanish origin like the meringue, our own Jamaican
mentos, calypsoes and the current popular dance tunes. The melody is
often played by one or two instruments at a time with vigorous rhythmic
background from strummed instruments and rhumba box or bass fiddle
and drums while the other instruments provide improvised harmonies.
Often florid counterpoint is supplied by fiddle or bamboo fife and/or an
instrument is given a 'break' when all the rest keep silent to enable
that player to display his skill. White rum seems to be indispensable
as a means of stimulating these musicians to improvise, giving them
power to play vigorously for many hours on end regardless of physical
discomfort from heat or congested conditions. These bands used to be
in great demand for bruckins and brams (outdoor dances) bowsarrows
(costumed country dances) maypole dances, crop-over dances (marking
the end of cane-reaping on the sugar estates) quadrilles, and many
other folk entertainments. In some rural areas there are still lively
folk dancing groups with members ranging from teens to sixties, and
they rely on the services of these bands. Mass entertainment media
are becoming so popular and widespread that unless a conscious effort
is made to preserve them the days of these groups are sadly numbered.
Recess times in our Jamaican primary schools are usually lively
breaks with children, regardless of heat, or dust always happy to in-
dulge in ring-play. These ring games are also played both by adults
and children on festive occasions, at nine-nights, at dinkies (wakes)
and also for impromptu entertainment whenever suitable groups may
gather. A popular time for children to play them is on moonlight
nights especially if they fall at a weekend. Some ring plays like 'Jane
and Louisa' are obviously of European origin but others like 'Zuzu wap'
and 'Ball gawn round' are very old and probably indigenous. Many of
these games are variants of similar games in many parts of the world
but the music usually is sung in a typically Jamaican way with harmony
improvised, syncopation added and liberties constantly being taken with
the original melodies.
Jamaica's becoming an important tourist resort, has given instru-
mental combinations of the village band type a new outlet entertain-
ing at hotels. Hundreds of songs, some being old folk tunes sung to
new words, telling of various aspects of the Jamaican life have sprung
into being. The influence of Trinidadian calypso is strongly felt
and many of the songs copy not only the calypso style and rhythm but
the type of lyrics too. The performers of these songs call them either
calypso or folk songs but although it is doubtful whether they truly
belong to either category they cannot be ignored when our folk-lore is
In 1725 Sloane made mention of slaves dancing in the streets at
Christmas time and in 1774 Long wrote a fairly detailed account of
masqueraders dancing with great vehemence in the streets of Jamaica
at Christmas. This was known as John Canoe. In course of time the
celebrations, which were at first clearly African, added European
elements like 'Sets' from French carnivals; horse-heads, sword dancing
and trade companies from English mumming and Morris Dancing. In
the early nineteenth century, John Canoe began to decline and the
'Sets' came into greater prominence. These 'Sets' were predominately
female groups each led by a queen and dressed uniformly in costumes
which were closely guarded secrets until the day of the performance.
They usually sang and danced to the music of violin, tambourines,
triangles, horns, and drums. The Blue Set girls and the Red Set girls
danced in the streets from about 10 o'clock in the morning until night,
and householders would invite them to perform in their houses and pay
them for this entertainment. The money they collected was used to
cover costs and pay for a dinner and dance which took place at the end
of the Christmas holiday. Another Set called 'Housekeepers' never
performed in the streets but confined their dancing and singing to
houses. The French Set girls danced only to drums and shakers and
differed from others in that they allowed men to join them.
By 1833, according to Tom Cringle, the sets had absorbed John
Canoe and although today the term 'Set' is hardly used, European
influences have remained. The terms 'John Canoe' and 'Horse-head'
are often inter-changed and various European characters are still used.
John Canoe, now has many local variations and is a thorough mixture,
but the chief figure is still the masked dancer who leads the procession
of masqueraders, musicians, and interested followers with a vigorous
prancing and dancing. The music is bright with a bamboo fife pre-
dominating and supplying typically florid improvisations over their
particular rhythmic background. Often the whole procession joins in
with a song specially chosen or created for the particular occasion, to
words which usually refer to a recent local incident which lends Itself
to bright or amusing treatment. The processions obviously enjoy their
prancing and singing, and the music appeals to dancers and onlookers
alike. It is interesting to recall the description given by Bowdltch of a
reception by the king of Ashanti in 1817 where he saw a dancing pro-
cession which included warriors, who wore rams' horns on their heads,
leopards' tails down their backs, horses' tails from their belts as well as
men prancing energetically from side to side to the music of drums,
flutes, and horns. Perhaps it is from these roots that our John Canoe
celebrations have sprung. Unfortunately, interest in these Christmas
processions has waned in recent years, but certain individuals and
groups have been trying to encourage bands in various parts of the
island to renew their activity and have been meeting with some
measure of success. A most interesting folkform that has recently
come to light is the Bruckins Party. The only known band is found in
Southeastern Portland and the average age of the exponents is well
over 60 years. Their songs and accompanying drum rhythms are slow
and dignified, with words dealing with the abolition of slavery and have
all been handed down from the 1838 abolition celebrations. Each song
is associated with a particular dance routine which is performed with
swords and in traditional costumes.
3. Music and Worship
At worship the Arawaks are known to have used drums made from
the hollow stem of the trumpet tree with manatee skins stretched
tightly across. It is interesting to note that drums made from these
stems with goat skins stretched across are being used by kumina
groups in St. Thomas to this day. It is not known, which wind or
stringed instruments Arawaks used but their timbrels or tambourines
were used only for the accompaniment of sacred songs which were
taught to the children of the chiefs by their priests. These tambourines
could be touched only by the chief or the next in importance to him in
From earliest times the slaves seem to have considered a funeral
an important event. This was in keeping both with Arawak traditions,
for they greatly reverenced their dead, and the traditions left behind
in Africa. The funeral service would be attended by slaves from many
estates and consist mainly of singing. Little is known of the actual
tunes used but the earliest known transcription of a funeral song was
made by Barclay in 1806 and is a fairly well organised melody in the
mixolydian mode. There was, according to Long's history of Jamaica
in 1774, no attempt at making the words rhyme or be poetic so pulse
and rhythm were probably suggested by drums and the movements of
the body. Tambo dancers in Trelawny claim that the dirges they sing
come directly from the days of slavery and the music of these certainly
bears out Long's observations.
Christopher Columbus, a Roman Catholic, dedicated the island to
the Holy Trinity when he landed here in 1494. After the restoration
of the monarchy under Charles II of England, the Anglicans came, and
a few years later about 1665 a number of Quakers were transported
here. None of these people, however, tried to teach Christianity to the
slaves so they remained true to the gods of their forefathers until the
Moravians came in 1874 and introduced their religion to them.
The Methodists established a mission here in 1789 and some twenty-
five years later the Baptists came. Meetings were held out of doors and
featured the rousing singing of hymns and choruses. As Christianity
spread among the slaves it became fused with their old pagan cere-
monies in a way that exists up till now, in our spirit cults. Apart from
their very definite religious beliefs, cultists have classifications for all
the other doctrinal groups. Some, like the Anglican, Methodist, Seventh-
Day Adventist, they call 'temporal' and others including City Mission,
Jamaica Baptist Freechurch, which was founded by Bedward in the
1890's and the Pentecostal Holiness they call 'spiritual.' The basic
difference between the spirit cultists and other spiritual groups is that
the former believe in the power of the dead to possess the living,
whereas the latter believe that the living can be possessed only by
Apart from the spirit cults, like the Zion Way Baptist and the
Pocomania, both revival cults, which have accepted certain Christian
beliefs, there is Kumina, that does honour to non-christian gods and
calls itself African. The music of these two types of cults is quite
different. Kumina followers use 'bailo' (songs in English usually sung
when there is not much spirit possession) and country (improvised
songs in a language which has been found to include a large number
of genuinely Congolese words) which are usually sung to appease or en-
tain the possessing spirits. It is claimed that 'country' is taught by the
spirits only to those whom they possess. Kumina songs have a
characteristic rhythm, which matches rather unusual shuffling and
twirling dance movements and the melodies are often in short phrases
- solo and chorus or question and answer style. In this cult drumming
is very important and two types of wooden goat skin drums are kbandu
and the 'playing cast' are used. The players straddle the drums to
beat them and often another player sitting behind the first uses
a 'catta tick' to beat on the side of the drum. The kbandu drum keeps
up a steady beat while the 'playing cast' only one is usually played
at a time uses whichever rhythm is needed to charm the particular
spirit being invoked. Other percussion instruments used include the
shaka, which is like a grater and stroked with a bit of metal, the
triangle and gourds with stones for shaking. Music used by revival
cults is far more varied though a lot of it is very obviously derived from
Christian hymns and choruses. The cultists use tunes with rhythms
that can be easily adapted to their purposes and sung to the accompani-
ment of clapping hands, stamping feet and 'trumping,' which is a
characteristically strong and energetic breathing used to encourage the
spirits to take possession. At times the original speed of hymns is kept
but at others the notes are considerably augmented, as this allows more
scope for singers to improvise snatches of melody in counterpoint with
the main tune as the spirit moves them. Whereas Kumina cultists
communicate with the spirit in 'country'; the 'revival' cultists com-
municate In 'unknown tongues' which is comprised mainly of nonsense
syllables which they improvise to tunes called cymbals. The music of
Revivalists has a strong appeal even to many who do not share their
beliefs and it is easy for listeners of all types to be affected by the
hypnotic beat of stamping feet, clapping hands, groaning and/or in-
struments. Although many people disapprove of certain aspects of
these cults, the open-air meetings and uninhibited atmosphere exert a
strong pull on them and the music is very appealing. These coupled
with the fanatical devotion of the cultists make it seem unlikely that
this aspect of our folklore will fade out in the foreseeable future.
So basic is the appeal of this type of music that recently a type of
popular dance the 'ska' and its music, obviously based on the style and
rhythm of these cults came into being in Western Kingston. Only time
will tell whether Ska will become accepted as a type of urban folk-music.
A non-christian cult that has developed over the past thirty years
and which has music and ceremonies all its own is the Rastafarians.
To the followers of this cult God is human and is black. They have no
patience with the other groups, spiritual and temporal, as none of them
accept their basic philosophy and their allegiance is to Africa, rather
than to Jamaica. Rastafarian music is of a very characteristic type
with chanting in chorus to the accompaniment of drums of varying
sizes and other percussion instruments. The drumming is often
brilliant, with the drummers skilfully building up excitement at certain
points. Whereas in the other cults there is the impression of hypnotic
sameness in the rhythm, the Rastafarians achieve an equally com-
pelling effect by rhythmic ebb and flow. They claim that many of their
songs are African. Many of these cultists are easily recognized by their
long hair locks which they do not trim or comb. The fate of their
music largely depends on the fate of the cult as a whole and whether
it succeeds in its 'back to Africa' aim or not.
Musicologists differ greatly in their interpretation of the term 'folk-
music.' Some hold to the production theory that folk music is created
anonymously by simple folk, others to the reception theory that
folk do not create but alter and adapt existing compositions to their
own uses. Jamaican folk music seems to be a glorious mixture with
examples that agree with both schools of thought. Much of it is
undoubtedly founded on hymns, songs and dance music of other
countries including Africa, Scotland, England, France, Italy, Spain and
America, but no one who has a deep knowledge of the Jamaican can
deny that the simple folk still find it easy to express themselves in music
that can be improvised on the spot. The growing fascination that town
dwelling has for country folk puts us in danger of leaving behind and
losing something of great value to our nation and the changing face
of life even in the remote rural areas with mechanised labour and
widespread mass entertainment media are fast removing the need for
many of our folk forms. It is therefore vitally important that some-
thing be done to preserve our indigenous culture. It is only during the
past hundred years or so, that many large countries like Great Britain
and the United States of America have made vigorous and conscious
efforts to collect their folk music, and although isolated individuals
have for many years felt the need for something similar to be done here
it is only recently that any organised movement in that direction has
been afoot in Jamaica.
The Jamaica Festival of Arts since 1962 when it was inaugurated
has not only accelerated interest in our folk-lore, but has brought to
light many songs and dances that were known only to a few in specific
locations. It has also caused interest in the actual performance of folk
music to grow and each year has seen more participants entering the
competitions. Even more significant has been the increasing en-
thusiasm with which the folk-songs and dances have been
presented and the use of folk forms like Revival and Ring play as the
basis for dance and drama presentations. Groups that normally choose
to remain isolated like Rastafarlans, Tambo and Ettu dancers and
Kumina cultists have been persuaded to enter competitions and bring
to light aspect of their rites and ceremonies. Perhaps the most import-
ant step taken has been the appointment of a Government Folk Music
Research Officer, who has been made responsible for collecting,
cataloging and transcribing the folk music of Jamaica. This officer
has to make deep researches into areas all over the island including
the very remote ones, making contact with old people who are likely to
remember folk-lore that might otherwise be lost as well as with younger
people for whom folk music is still a part of everyday living. Although
the main responsibility for preserving our folk music rests in the hands
of this officer, it is a project of National importance the success of which
depends on the continued co-operation and assistance of the general
public. If progress dictates that we must lose much of our folk music
in its original vibrant form, then we must at least record and preserve
these priceless links with our past before it is too late.
F. G. Cassidy Jamaica Talk. McMillan 1966
Walter Jekyll Jamaica Song and Story. Dover 1966
Edward Seaga Jamaica Folk Music (Essay).
The Caribbean Artists Movement
WHAT WAS to become the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM)
started in December 1966 in my Bloomsbury basement flat. I had
recently arrived from the Caribbean on study leave to Britain, and as
a writer myself, wanted, quite naturally, to get in touch with as many
Caribbean artists as possible. But where were they? The novelists'
books were being regularly published; at the Commonwealth Arts
Festival I had seen work by a few painters, designers and sculptors from
the Caribbean; but no one seemed to know how to get in touch with
them. In addition to this, it seemed to me that our West Indian artists
were not participating significantly in the cultural life of the country
that had become their home.
Since 1950, nearly every West Indian novelist worth the name had
come to London and more than a hundred books had come from their
typewriters and pens. But despite this, the British public didn't seem
to be very much aware of the nature and value of this contribution.
Apart from a poetry reading at the Royal Court arranged by George
Lamming, West Indian writers had not been represented at the
Commonwealth Arts Festival. This was mainly the West Indies' own
fault. Those concerned with the islands' contribution to the Festival
had clearly not felt it necessary to call upon their 'exiled' writers;
though Trinidad sent Errol Hill's musical drama Man Better Man, a
play first produced in the United States.
But I didn't see any West Indian writers, painters and only a very
few actors (and these in stereotyped parts) on British Television, either.
I was not hearing their voices or the sound of their work on radio.
They didn't seem to be participating in the literary and arts pages of
the newspapers and magazines that were concerned with these things
in this country. This was a remarkable change from the 50's when
West Indian writing was the 'new thing' and had been warmly and
perhaps somewhat uncritically welcomed as such. Now Donald Davie
writing about the West Indian poets included in Young Commonwealth
Poets '65 could write "they are to be the colourful chaps, the ones with
the ringing tones and the wide gestures. West Indians believing their
own travel-posters"--and go unchallenged.
This situation, it seemed to me, was something to be deplored. The
isolation of West Indian writers from each other and from the society
in which they lived could eventually only stultify development and could
do nothing to contribute to perhaps the most important problem of
our times the problem of the future of race relations in Britain.
With this in mind, I got in touch with John La Rose, a young
Trinidadian poet who was about to start his own publishing company
designed primarily to make long-out-of-print West Indian material
available to West Indians, and all those interested, as cheaply as
possible. La Rose and I felt that the support of Andrew Salkey on this
was essential. Salkey is one of the longest-established West Indian
writers in London and one of the most distinguished. What is even
more important, he is warm-hearted and generous and has the gift
of bringing out the best in people. Without him the Movement might
never have got underway. At our first meeting there was also Orlando
Patterson who was then lecturing in Sociology at the London School of
Economics and whose first novel, The Children of Sisyphus had just
about then received a special award at the Dakar Festival of Negro
Arts; Evan Jones, the Jamaican-born television and screen writer; Dr.
Louis James, a young Englishman I had known when he was lecturer
in the Department of English at the University of the West Indies at
Mona, Jamaica and who had just arrived back in Britain to take up
a similar appointment at the University of Kent; and Aubrey Williams,
an internationally recognized Guyanese painter who, with Patterson,
was to become one of the leading theoreticians of the group.
It was clear from the outset that this was something that these
artists had been hoping and waiting for. News of the group spread
rapidly along the grapevine; and from seven the Movement grew to
twelve to twenty and by February 1967, when we held our first public
meeting, we were fifty strong and had an audience of over a hundred.
By February, too, we had worked out the 'format' of the Movement.
It was to be essentially an artists' co-operative. Our primary concern
was to get to know each other and each other's work and to discuss
what we were individually trying to do as frankly as possible, relating
it, whenever this seemed relevant, to its source in West Indian society.
Secondly, we were concerned with meeting our readers, viewers
and listeners, and setting up a dialogue with them. This was one way,
we felt, of breaking down the barriers of exile. The response here
indicated that this is what the 'public' wanted too. For years, for
instance, it had been assumed that the abstracts of Wilson Harris'
prose and Aubrey Williams' paintings, were 'difficult' and had no con-
nection with the social realities of the West Indies. Now people could
meet Harris and Williams. Hear them, question them, talk with them
and listen to their work being discussed by other artists.
Thirdly, our object was to provide a forum of discussion between
ourselves and artists and intellectuals from outside the Caribbean.
Here again we found the response more immediate and generous than
we had imagined it would be. Louis James brought in colleagues from
the University of Kent. Ulli Beier, editor of the now defunct West
African cultural magazine, Black Orpheus, attended several sessions
while he was in London. Gerald Moore and Dr. Donald Wood from
the University of Sussex jonied. So has Arthur Ravenscroft, an editor
of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, and Rosey Pool, editor
of the anthology of Negro American poetry, Beyond the Blues. John
Stallworthy, an English poet and poetry editor of the Oxford University
Press; Randolph Stow, the Australian novelist and poet; Calvin
Hernton, an American poet and sociologist; Kwabena Amoaka, a
Ghanaian poet and James Ngugi, the well known Kenyan novelist
(Weep not, Child, The River Between), as well as several British
intellectuals and publishers' editors, have taken part in CAM pro-
This cosmopolitan aspect of CAM was most brilliantly in evidence at
our first Conference on Caribbean Arts held residentially at the Univer-
sity of Kent over the weekend September 15-17. Over ninety people at-
tended including the two professors of History at the University of the
West Indies (both at present on study leave), lecturers and students from
the Universities of Kent, Sussex, Leeds, Leicester, Cambridge, London,
York, Birmingham and the West Indies; editors from Longmans,
Heinemann, Macmillian and Faber & Faber, visitors and artists from
Canada, Ghana, Australia, the United States, Nigeria and the West
Indies; and West Indian writers, painters, sculptors and actors includ-
ing C. L. R. James (who is an Honorary Member of CAM), Ronald
Moody, George Lamming, Michael Anthony, Clifton Campbell, Bari
Jonson, Horace James, Lloyd Reckord, the literary critic Kenneth
Ramchard, and well as La Rose, Salkey, Louis James (who was Director
of Studies) and Aubrey Williams.
From the West Indies, now, the Institute of Jamaica and the Arts
Council of Barbados have expressed interest and support. This is
perhaps the most encouraging development in the life of this still
young Movement so far; for we feel and know that it is essential that
there be contact and correspondence between West Indian artists
here in exile and the society that still awaits them back in the Carib-
The Predicament Of The Artist
In The Caribbean
I WAS very disturbed, intellectually, by Professor Elsa Goveia's talk
to you this morning. She made it clear that we have just done a very
difficult thing in breaking out of one phase of our development and
entering the new freedoms of the different islands and countries in the
Caribbean. We will also at the same time have to move from colonial-
ism into the 20th century in one jump, and we will have to do this In
our creative arts first.
It always seems in the history of man that the arts give the direc-
tion for the technology, the philosophy, the politics and the very life
of the people. Art is always in the foreground; it is the true avant
garde. The visual arts, being the simplest and the most direct, should
be a little ahead of literature, because with emerging peoples you have
the problem of illiteracy, and direct contact is the natural level of com-
munication in this society. We have considered the strength of folk
lore in emerging societies. We know that this is direct contact. It is
one man or one person sitting in front of a group of other persons.
Painting is this kind of direct contact in. that the artist must see the
object before he can contemplate it, and before it can enter his state
of being. Writing will be less effective until we achieve a higher level
Now, I am worried about a prevalent conception that good art,
working art, must speak, it must be narrative. I do not see the
necessity for art to be narrative, in that in thinking about the past and
man, art has never been "narrative" to any great extent. (It has acted
as a leaven to release intensity of inner life that we could manifest in
our living environment in time to come.) I would not call primitive
art in any sense directly representational or figurative. The arts of
(our greatest) past civilisation were to a great extent non-figurative.
One does not question the validity, or the strength of impact, of so-
called primitive abstract designs on shields, on houses, in pottery in the
weave of fabrics; one just accepts them. But strangely in the West
today, one makes demands upon the visual artist, demands that I think
are not warranted in many cases. (It was a bit sad for me to see that
it was our elder statesman in letters, C.L.R. James, who has turned
over the past two years, into being a champion for the more advanced
and adventurous avant garde in the visual arts. I would have thought
that our young writers would have footed the bill far easier as they
should bd involved in the tensions that would produce an avant garde
art in the Caribbean.)
If our intellectuals have not got an automatically functioning visual
chain reaction going yet, what must we hope for from our people at
home? When I was last in Guyana at the celebration of Independence.
I was stopped in the street by a man driving a dray cart that was
loaded with people who had come all the way from a village named
Buxton on the east coast of Demerara. They had come to Georgetown.
And this man came up to me. I was taking photographs, and he made
himself known. I did not know him and he told me how glad he was
to meet me and he told me of a new function in his life, one that gave
him great pleasure. He said to me "You see that dray cart there. One
day every month I load it up with people from my village and I bring
them down to look at your paintings." I felt very crushed and humble,
and I just didn't know what to say. I said to him, "They are abstract,
people say they are abstract." He used a very strong Guyanese cuss-
word. He said "Abstract, what is that? I don't understand abstract.
When I look at your paintings I can think about my days in the bush.
And I thanked him and I went up to the dray cart and I shook every-
body's hand and I spoke to the children for a while. And it was one
of the most touching episodes of my visit back home. (I look at my
immediate family who in the early years demanded of me narrative
paintings. They left accounts of my first experiments and non-
figurative painting. They have all now come around to finding more
in the non-figurative as compared with my early efforts in the figura-
tive.) I am not trying to ask Caribbean intellectuals to consider
abstraction as "high art," or the "art of the future" or anything like
that. As a matter of fact I don't even think of my paintings as being
abstract. I can't really see abstraction. Abstraction to me would be
two colours on a surface, no shape, no form and no imprint of the
hand of man. I do not think that painters paint abstraction, nor do I
think that sculptors sculpt abstraction. I am not very sure that I
understand the meaning of the word.
Another much abused term is the one of "modern art." We should
see to it that this awful virus does not get a foot hold in the Caribbean
- the attitude to the visual arts that automatically attaches labels to
what we see when we look. Much of my work has come out of a long
contemplation and a search into the pre-Columbian civilisations in the
New World primarily, the Aztec, the Maya, the Toltec and the Inca.
Also, a long immersion in the work of our South American indians in
Guyana. I firmly feel that such art should be automatically appre-
ciated by people from the Caribbean and from Guyana because they
show the same environment. The South American and the Caribbean
environments as compared with the ordered environments of much of
the rest of the world, appears naturally 'abstract.' It is yet, thank
Heavens, not rearranged too much by the hand of man. We are losing
it fast, but we are lucky to have our roots still in the earth of the
Caribbean. We are still in a position to contemplate terrestrial reality
It is a beautiful landscape; unbelievably beautiful in some cases; but as
compared with the ordered landscapes in the countries that have been
over-lived in, bizarre, unreal, incongruous. It is a very strong land-
scape and the primitive art that came out of this landscape remains
unique. We should be proud of our non-figuration. We should be
proud of the essences of human existence that the people from that
neck of the woods has produced in the world. We should be very proud
of people like Tomayo, we should be proud of people like Matta
the first from Mexico and the other from Peru. We must become more
involved with the visual output of our artists in the Caribbean, because
they are going to change the real "seeing" of the world. They are
going to do it just as the politicians and the writers will do it.
And I would be far happier if I could see a greater interchange
between (the avant garde in) all the arts in the Caribbean. Caribbean
art seems to me up to now terribly isolated. Everybody is in his niche,
using up endless energy working alone without the help of his colleagues
in the arts. We should have more interchange, we should have a bigger
dialogue between the novelist and the painter, the musician and the
dancer, the potter, the weaver; even the artisans should be included in
this. And the dialogue with the people would then be automatic.
(There isn't such a great visual hunger in the people in the Caribbean;
not a great visual hunger because so far their environment is not to a
high percentage man-made or artificial.)
We come from this environment, we came out of this environment,
and we produce the things that belong back to the environment. If
our painters must grope and search and forge ahead, we do not as yet
know the language they should speak, we will have to grow into this
language and it is a movement from a great state of frustration into
one of a growing norm. I hope that we will eventually reach what can
be called a norm visually, but we must not be too impatient, and I would
hope that interchange between all the arts would promote an atmos-
phere in which the Caribbean people will find a greater intimacy with
the visual arts.
NOTES AND COMMENTARY
I. "The Fine Arts"
Discussed by: Edna Manley, Karl Parboosingh
and Robert Verity
Verity: I think that everybody who knows anything at all about the
history and development of the fine arts in the West Indies and
particularly in Jamaica would concede that this whole movement
originated only about 30 years ago. Prior to this, little, if anything
was done in the creation of actual works of art or the creation of an
interest and appreciation in them, and there was very little of any sort
of educational project towards the development of an indigenous West
West Indian art, so that we are faced with what in effect is a very
young art movement. The participants in this discussion played a
very vital and leading role in the whole development of the fine arts
in Jamaica. And I am going to invite Mrs. Manley first of all to tell
us of her own involvement in the whole art movement and specifically
how she came to be so dedicatedly involved with art and artists in
the West Indies.
Manley: Well, I think that's a rather difficult question to answer
because you put it on a very broad basis. I think that if one discovers
that there is something to which one can dedicate everything one has
got, time and work and energy and that sort of spiritual, passionate
love, ultimately you look outside yourself and as it were you are looking
for kindred spirits, you're looking for a world that you can share with
other people. Now I am putting this quite simply and I am afraid
almost too simply. I myself, have always been dedicated to one form
of art-sculpture in its many phases-wood carving, or sometimes
stone carving, for a shorter period work for bronze, and often and
quite steadily, terracotta.
I think that once you leave an art school where you are surrounded
by a world of people who are living and thinking in the same terms
and you strike out by yourself and you move out into a community
and there is nothing there, there is nobody to meet you, there is no
one who understands your problems and in a sense there is no stimulus,
except the stimulus of the layman, the sympathetic person, the
connoisseur, but there isn't the stimulus of the person who is battering
out this world for themselves and I think that it is a very short step
from that to say, well, something's wrong here. Then you wonder
where you go to look and I think I was fortunate when this overtook
me that there were people, just a few, who were thinking in the same
terms though not artists themselves. I refer to people like Moldsworth
of the Institute, Sir Philip Sherlock, Theodore Sealy, who were thinking
along the same lines but not with the same motive that I had and I
think that you can't help moving around in Jamaica or the West Indies
and not knowing that even if the thing, the actual object is not there,
there is this deep urge, this frustrated urge for self-expression.
Now this is from the very, very early days and I think that was
the aim, that was what caused me to become involved in the movement.
I was lonely, really in the first place, and then I have always loved
the company of artists, even disagreeable ones like Karl Parbooslngh
with whom I fight the whole time, so that blood runs all over the
place; or people like the lately resuscitated Roger Mais who was remark-
ably like Parboosingh in temperament and maybe they have an equal
talent. And I have always loved young people and I think that in a
nutshell, that is how it started. And once you start a thing like that,
it grows and it grows.
Verity: Now, before we get specifically into the question of the whole
movement: Karl, you came a little bit later on in the scene but could
you tell us your background and motivation in entering into the whole
projection of the art movement?
Parboosingh: Well, my position is rather different because I didn't
start out as a painter. As a matter of fact, my parents had ambitions
for me to be a violin player and my introduction to art was through
music which I started at the age of three at St. Hilda's in Brown's Town.
I continued playing violin up to the time when I left Jamaica. Up to
that time I had never painted. I was 19 years old and I had never
seen paintings in oil as a matter of fact. I was completely ignorant
of the existence of painting and ignorant of the professional standard
of a painter and I discovered on my very first visit to America that -
I just felt an instinctive attraction when I saw the galleries and paint-
ings in the museums. I immediately persuaded my mother to send me
to art school and to discontinue the violin. I went into the army
shortly after the same time and continued art work whilst in the Army
and when I came out of the Army I went to Europe and studied.
I actually entered the scene in Jamaica in 1952 when I came back.
Even though I had been painting for a while, I was still unknown here.
The only practicing painters I found here were Albert Huie and Karl
Abrahams and Roger Mais. Ralph Campbell, I think, was away in
England at the time. I remember I had written from Mexico to Sir
Philip Sherlock who had been my Headmaster at one time, and suggest-
ed to him that I would like to come back to Jamaica. You see, I'd been
very strongly influenced by the social attitude of painters in Mexico
which is a very unique situation in itself and I came back here full of
ambition and intent for the social message to be painted. Of course, I
got a bit of frustration because at that time, Jamaica being a Colonial
country, very few people were actively coming out and saying what
was supposed to be said. When Roger said it, he got imprisoned. I
remember that painting that I did 'Give Us Our Heritage' which
was in my first show at the Institute of Jamaica which I would like to
believe was the first social comment made in painting, politically, here.
Manley: I agree with that.
Parboosingh: Well I suffered many frustrations on the scene and I
decided to leave. And I left and the minute I got down in New York
I wanted to come right back to Jamaica again and I have found now
that my dedication is here. I am committed to offer everything I have,
because by doing so, I also fulfill myself. Incidentally one of the
things that led me to become an artist was the influence of the poetry
of Claude McKay who I discovered while I was in America. I mention
this because he was an artist who was unknown here. He was practic-
ing abroad, you know what I mean, but his poetry gave me a great
feeling and sense of dedication to Jamaica by its clearness and I really
saw what I had to do from reading his poems. It was almost like a
Bible for me.
Verity: Now this discussion is West Indian orientated but in fact
Jamaica was the leader in the nascence of a West Indian art movement.
Perhaps we had a leap of about ten to fifteen years in the whole
business of the development of indigenous art movement by virtue of
the fact that there was this social and political awakening which took
place around 1938, early 1940s, in which the artists played a very integral
part. Once they had awakened themselves to the talent which they
had they managed to give creative expression to what they were think-
ing, feeling, suffering, hoping etc. And all of this in fact, was given
visual expression and quite profound visual expression by the very
But apart from the fact that the whole social and political awaken-
ing did in fact help to give impetus to a nascence art movement and
vice versa it was fortunate that just at that time public recognition
and encouragement and inspiration was given by all that was taking
place at the Institute of Jamaica. We mustn't undersell the part that
this played. The fact that we had a public institution through which to
Manley: Yes, Bob, it is true that the Institute has played a great part
in the life of the Arts, but please let me tell you we had to have one
heck of a revolution.
Verity: That's right.
Manley: Remember the famous revolution because the Institute was
Verity: That's right.
Manley: And remember that famous Board meeting when Braithwalte
said tear down these pictures from these walls? All the old pictures of
the old Governors. You remember? Then the Institute got into
Verity: Yes, but the point I was trying to stress is that this was one
of the factors which helped to put Jamaica way in front. In front of
the other West Indian islands.
Manley: You know, Federation smashed up partly because it started
off with statements like that.
Verity: Well, it's an absolutely true statement. Anyhow, having raised
that question perhaps Mrs. Manley could you tell us to what extent
your political views have contributed towards your involvement?
Manley: Now the minute you ask that question Karl Parboosingh is
stalling. Yesterday, we met and we discussed this and he said now
don't let's bring politics into it. Let's strike that question out art
and politics politics and art don't belong. Now I totally and abso-
lutely disagree with him. I think that the business of life is the
business of the artist. I think politics is part of the business of life
and a very important part. I think there is such a thing as party
politics and partisan politics which maybe has nothing in the world to
do with the arts but the people who are prepared to rule out politics
from art are ruling out a great big section of life. Let us take the
broadest, simplest sense of what politics really means of how you
govern and to what purpose are you governing. I mean when the
world decides to turn its back on democracy this is a very strong, fatal
and dangerous political step and that step is tremendously the con-
cern of the artist. I feel you almost come back to Abraham Lincoln's
famous phrase, you know, 'Government of the people for the people by
the people'. This is the business of the artist. I think when you look
at Mexico and that tremendous outbreak, outburst of painting. This
was inspired in the biggest and broadest sense by politics. I think that
when any country is struggling out of colonial rule-and this is a political
battle as well as a human rights endeavour, this struggle is almost the
sole concern of the artist until this freedom has been achieved. So that
the struggle for freedom was the concern of all the artists of those days.
I don't say they went around and painted politicians standing on tubs
addressing crowds but I do say this: the values, the recognition of the
image our image as a people and a country played a tremendous
part in the art movement of the early day. I think you can overstress
it, I think the younger generation are bored to death with this state-
ment. But then they didn't have to go through it. I think perhaps,
the poets of that time played a much greater part in that struggle than
many of us realize.
George Campbell and Carberry and Mike Smith and Ingram and
all those people and Roger Mais of course all the people who were
writing for 'Focus' at the time. They were involved and inspired by
politics in the broadest sense; and I don't like dragging myself in but I
remember when I carved 'Negro Aroused' the unholy horror it created
in the cocktail parties.
Parboosingh: There is a slight misunderstanding here about this ques-
tion because I don't want to be identified as saying that an artist is not
concerned with politics. I only mentioned that
Manley: It shouldn't be P.N.P. or J.L.P.
Parboosingh: Not only that. You see, I don't know Edna Manley as a
political figure. I have never seen her, I mean, run for office. I know
her as a politician's wife and therefore her political views have not
influenced her art in any way. Her artistic views have influenced art.
So that what I am saying is that politics is a part of everything in the
Manley: But whatever you believe is part of your art, you see. And
you know Karl, I mean I don't mind going on record that I have done
a heck of a lot of backyard meetings political meetings in the back-
yards not at the big meetings with the big mikes and the crowds;
but while the big boys were up on the hustlings I used to go to the
backyards and talk to the women and the old men and the people
who could not go out to the meetings. I did. I am not going to hide it.
Verity: Let us talk about your views on the wider question of educa-
tion, in the arts, first of all in relation to children. There has been a
certain development in the education of children, although the develop-
ment and the improvement is by no means on such a nationwide basis
that we can be at all complacent about it. There has been a startling
difference between the art that was produced by children pre-1940 to
the art that is coming out of some of the schools and some of the
institutions and some of the art children's art groups that are meet-
ing now. Karl, what are your views about this?
Parboosingh: Well, while it is very difficult for me to assess the
attitude of parents about their children. I know that there are parents
who are actually against the child having any art training. They feel
their art should only be studied professionally, in a specialised school.
But to encourage art appreciation and art creation for their therapeutic
value in child education, we need a programme of authentic teachers
who know how to teach them. My view is that a broad policy would
be that an artist who graduated from the Art School for instance
should be dispatched to a parish or an area in the country in the
same way as the Arts Council operates in England distributing graduate
scholars of the arts in the country. In other words, we have a lot of
people teaching art in the schools teaching children art in the
schools of Jamaica today who know nothing about it. The programme
I am suggesting of course, will call of course for a number of things
like the setting up of accessible exhibitions. It is very difficult for the
child of Jamaica for instance to see composite exhibition of Jamaican
art at any one time. I mean he really doesn't have a point of reference.
He has to look at it from how he sees himself in the mirror and he has
not been taught yet to see himself. He is afraid of his own face.
Manley: Some homes haven't got a mirror you know, a poor home
hasn't got a mirror.
Parboosingh: There must be a social plan in other words for the
education of children to appreciate and to understand art. The inten-
tion would be not to turn them out as professional artists, but to
improve their standards and their taste as they go along, and help
them to learn to appreciate the beautiful things of life.
Verity: Yes. Edna?
Manley: It's difficult. I have never taught children art. I have
taught teenagers and adults. But to go back to the past again (which
of course is a bad thing to do), I think that child art has moved forward
in a quite extraordinary way with or without the help of trained
teachers. How it has happened I am not quite sure but I could tell a
story of an experience I had somewhere around 1940, or 1948. I went
to judge an all-island primary school exhibition which was being held
in May Pen and I had an experience there that I have never got over.
I learnt so much from it. There were all sorts of pictures and all
sorts of expressions of things some of them quite free and some not
free, you know, I mean, just what you would expect. There were two
pictures in this exhibition of market women and the market women
had the bandana and the tucked up skirt at the back. They were
dressed absolutely correctly as market women and yet they had blond
hair and blue eyes! I was fascinated because of course, no market
woman in Jamaica had blond hair and blue eyes. And I wonder what
had happened: perhaps in the little homes there were calendars or
religious pictures of angels or saints or you know, the pretty girl, with
the blond hair and the blue eyes so the child associated a picture with
a certain type of image. But perhaps the subject had been set 'Now
do the market women going' The child hadn't got to have a mirror
to look at her mother or her grandmother going to market and she
knew what her mother and grandmother looked like but she also knew
that she was supposed to be making a picture!
Now I felt that this was in some odd, queer, twisted way all tied
up partly with the glorification of the white conqueror, though perhaps
'conqueror' is rather a big name for it. Also it was tied up with this
totally confused idea of what does, or doesn't make a picture and
although the teachers may not be trained if you go and look at the
exhibition of children's art right now at your Art Centre at the Uni-
versity, there is a marvellous quality of freedom. The freedom is
shattering because one wonders if one hasn't totally lost the ability to
be as free as that. Something has taken place without good art educa-
tion necessarily, and that is, the struggle that went on to recognize
and face ourselves as a people of a country; to know our own image
and be able to not even represent it but through one's self expression
to be able to put the real image without anything coming in between.
So that although the teaching is perhaps not good, I think the teacher
in Jamaica is a far more emancipated person. And this emancipation
and our recognition of the fact that we have thrown off foreign rule,
I think has seeped through to the children so that a more honest and
valid child art is there. Because you know Karl, I am not sure that
you teach children. I think you give them the courage to be themselves.
Parboosingh: But these particular pictures that you referred to here
on Campus are from trained children. They are from Kingston
secondary schools who have specialised artists teaching them.
Verity: But you also get work of that high standard from very small
children who have imaginative leadership.
Manley: And that's what I think is necessary, trained leadership.
Regardless of class or type of school.
Parboosingh: Well, my idea is to have these artists sent to a parish.
Now we have 15 parishes in Jamaica, for instance, there is no reason
why one artist can't be sent for a year to each parish for instance. His
job would be to provide inspired leadership in schools not to teach
the children, because he couldn't teach every school in the area but
provide that leadership so that the child would learn to know and
associate with the artist as an integral part of his society and not
thing of the artist as somebody living in an ivory tower, someone
Manley: Yes, fair enough. It sounds a good idea.
Verity: Now you could move on to touch an even more thorny question,
let's move on to the critics and see where you relate to them. Would
you like to lead off on that Edna?
Manley: Well, I just love and adore all critics but I never read them.
I never take the slightest note of what they say. If they praise me,
well I think, my goodness I must be slipping. If they blame me I think,
you know, I ought to know better than them. I am not terribly
interested in critics and I think we should really ask Karl. I think art
criticism not only in Jamaica but all over the world has become so
commercial. The poor chap has his wife and his children to feed. He
has got to get on with his Editor, and God knows that the Editors of
the world are not always the most enlightened people. Now, when I
want criticism I go to my totally honest friends and foes and I listen
maybe to what they say, but not too much because I find it confuses
me. I am not going to say little spiteful things like, a critic is a dis-
appointed artist, because I really think that that is a bit of a cliche
now. I am going to simply say that I think he has got to earn his
bread and butter. He has got to write the kind of article that may
be read and I think he spends a moderate amount of time thinking
about the arts. But often he spends far more time thinking about his
own reputation as a human-being, as a journalist, as a writer. And
he has after all, got his responsibilities.
I think that the essence of one's approach to one's work is that
one's got to be one's own critic. You have got to be capable of know-
ing just how far you have succeeded. I don't say you have got to go
and announce it in King Street; but I think you have got to be able
to say to yourself, well this time I pulled it off, or, this time I failed
here where my concentration slipped or something. But the critics!
Just look at the history of criticism how every single time they seem
to back the wrong horse. Let's face it. Look at the people they have
Parboosingh: Ruskin is a good example.
Manley: You couldn't think of a better. People have died and starved.
Wasn't it Keats who was killed by a critic? He simply couldn't take it.
I don't take it seriously.
Parboosingh: I would like to add one thing here in this thing because
you mentioned Mrs. Manley about a critic having his responsibilities.
I really don't like the word critic and critics don't affect my work one
way or the other but I would like to think that newspaper editors should
Manley: That's a much better word.
Parboosingh: A reviewer of the artist's work could explain to the
public what the artist is doing rather than imposing his lack of know-
ledge about art on the public and damning a man's work.
Manley: This job should be liaison -
Parboosingh: Exactly. He should be liaison man between the artist
and the public and should not have any effect on the artist whatsoever.
Verity: Yes. I think we must distinguish between the critic the
man who does a really good, well thought-out critical essay which adds
something to the aesthetic education of the public and the mere
journalist who does a criticism or a review. They are quite different.
We only have the reviewer in Jamaica largely because we only have the
avenues of journalism and there is no real journal which can deal with
a well thought-out critical essay.
Parboosingh: Probably Caribbean Quarterly.
Verity: Caribbean Quarterly. Or the new Jamaica Journal that
is being started by the Institute. But we haven't got the critics of
sufficient calibre, yet.
Manley: Sometimes it would be a good thing if artists themselves
wrote about art but you see it takes a lot of vitality
Parboosingh: Very dangerous too.
Verity: Now I think all three of us here apart from being involved
with the plastic arts do more or less, take an interest in all the other
arts. But one of the things that one does notice is the lack of cross-
fertilisation of the arts in the West Indies. On the whole, I think it
would be true to say that musicians don't take very much interest in
the fine arts of painting, sculpture etc. and that the visual artists
aren't very prominently seen at the performing arts.
Parboosingh: I think that one of the basic causes for this lack of
integration of the different artists has been the lack of a centre where
artists can meet and perform. Now at the University here we have
the start of a Creative Arts Centre. Artists want to see other artists
working out. I know that the years that I was studying in Greenwich
Village visitors to my studio included poets, sculptors, dancers those
were the people who were affecting each other. The need for centres,
the need for art studios will bring about the integration because I
know that artists in Jamaica do support other arts.
Manley: I don't think they do.
Parboosingh: Well, I buy paintings and I buy sculpture and I go to
theatre and I go to
Manley: But Karl you are an exception. You are an exception. You
and your wife, both of you are fine-arts people and you are an excep-
tion. And anyway, she is a poet. But I am absolutely heart-broken
at the way most of our artists treat other art forms. Take a thing like
the National Dance Company which could be an inspiration, I mean
for heaven sake, the dance uses human bodies, almost the heart and
croe of the fine arts. How can you see the body better than in dance?
And the Company itself can hold its own anywhere. How often do you
see a painter there, or a sculptor or a musician. Mind you, I think
of all the arts, the musicians are the worst, but I think it is heart-
breaking. You don't see them at the concerts. You get a young
pianist like Nerine Barrett coming back who was received abroad. You
don't see a single painter or sculptor and practically not an artist there.
I think we have to face this thing.
Parboosingh: There are social problems there too I think because for
instance, theatre in Jamaica has become such a commercial thing that
it is a status quo event to be attended in black tie and tails
Manley: I don't believe that at all. Look at 'The Barn' theatre. What
about this theatre up here, the University Arts Lecture Theatre. People
go there in slacks, people go there in sports shirts. I mean if you have
got to go and sit in the 'royal box' at the pantomime now that's
a different thing. But even there I don't agree. I don't think it has
any status quo at all. I think there is a lot of experimental work going
on and don't tell me anybody has got to dress up to go to the National
Dance Company shows.
Verity: What has puzzled me is the lack of understanding of one
artist for another art than the one he practices. I have known
musicians who will accept the avant garde composers but they come
into an art gallery and say what's all this nonsense and vice versa.
An artist who works in the abstract will say: this bloody nonsense, it
just doesn't mean anything to me at all.
Manley: May I say something. I think the worst offenders in the
whole of the West Indies are the University students. I go to play
after play right on this Campus and don't see three students. They
are all where they think they should be, swatting away for their exams,
and they don't support the arts. Put on an exhibition and you don't
see twenty of them there. Let's face it. When I saw the lack of
students at all the Roger Mais things I nearly dropped dead. I thought
that that was what it was for, but they don't go! What's wrong with
Parboosingh: Well what's wrong with everybody? I think that what
is lacking in Jamaica as I said once in a speech, what is lacking in
Jamaica is the art spirit and it is nationally lacking. There is no
overall appreciation as yet of what makes a thing fine art or what
makes a thing a copy. People are concerned with visual reality as it
looks to them, as it looks to the camera, and the general art spirit is
missing throughout the entire country. Because as you say, I have
seen beautiful groups come from abroad and put on shows and things
here and it is not attended and yet still there are others that come
and have a full house. I mean, Sparrow is an artist in his own right
and Sparrow can fill a house in Jamaica anytime.
Manley: And yet if the School of Music puts on a concert right in the
University and they are free, so it doesn't involve money, it doesn't
involve a bus, it doesn't involve anything but the people on the campus,
few faculty people go as far as I can see. Very, very few.
Verity: A lot of the expatriates
Manley: That is the trouble. You do see the expatriates They
go, but not the West Indian staff.
Verity: Well what about the presence or the absence of local patrons
in the arts? You two are in the position of trying to sell your work
and knowing that there are some patrons and not by any means
enough, how do you feel about this Karl?
Parboosingh: Well, I agree with you that there are never enough
patrons of the art. But I must say that I am pleased at the trend
especially among the businessmen. Some of the young businessmen in
building homes, in building hotels are making sure that they are getting
Jamaican art as part of the decor and
Manley: And bless his heart, Mr. A. D. Scott.
Parboosingh: Well, I was going to mention the whole staff of the
Gallery of which Mr. Scott is our Chairman and Mr. Verity is Executive
Director. But I do bemoan the lack of more patronage. I live on the
northcoast for instance and funnily enough a lot of young artists
Manley: You live where all the best people live.
Parboosingh: I really don't. You see, I live on the outskirts of the
northcoast really but a lot of people assume that I am doing more
business with tourists than I am doing with local people and I want
to say that is not so. I actually make the bulk of sales through local
people but not people in my area; people from Kingston, and some
foreign people who reside in Jamaica and have homes here. You know
that in Canada for instance they passed a law that one per cent of all
funds used on public buildings have to go into art decorations. I think
something like that should be if not, made a law here, at least strongly
encouraged. All public buildings should have some mural or sculpture
decorations, as a public service they owe it to the people to provide
them with that! And this should apply not only to Kingston; children
in the country should paint their own murals. It's a basis of increasing
Verity: Not only would this be a wonderful thing for the artist and
the people and the whole art movement in Jamaica but in fact this
would give the shot in the arm to the tourist trade which it wants.
This is something which could have a terrific impact on the whole of
the tourist development in Jamaica. It's happened elsewhere. People
would come to the country specifically to see the artists work and I
think that this is a very, very important aspect. We can't get people
orientated to our art and to the reflection that it gives of the whole
of our cultural and spiritual development if the large mass of the
people are not exposed to it, if they don't live with it and see it in all
aspects of their living at all stages of their development. I think that
this is something that has to be brought home very forcibly to govern-
Parboosingh: And may I add one thing there too that there are
certain limitations here really on the artist from the fact that there
are lack of reproduction, a lack of the use of drawings in our local
magazines, for example on record albums. These are outlets.
Parboosingh: Calendars. Greeting cards. A whole lot of things that
can bring art into the everyday life of the people
Manley: And you know, I have always held the view that if a person
is not being exposed to the arts up to the age of 14 it is incredibly
difficult to expect them to take a spontaneous and real interest.
Parboosingh: Well, we have to beat down the prejudice that they have
Manley: You see, you absorb the thing until you are 14 and after that
it is part of your whole mental
Parboosingh: It's part of your life. Or should be a part of life.
Manley: If you leave it until too late you don't achieve anything.
Verity: This perhaps, leads us naturally to the extent to which
metropolitan international trends penetrate and influence the whole
of the art movement in Jamaica. What do you think about this Edna?
Manley: You mean is art or is art not international really? Its exact-
ly that that Parboo and I fought about yesterday. We had found in
"The International" a picture which was beautifully framed but it was
just black. Everything was black you know, not black on white or any-
thing but black on black and I will defend to the very death the right
of a man to paint a picture which is plain black on plain black. I mean
he has a right! Parboo has just done a drawing as he is sitting there
which is white on white. I don't think you can put the clock back. I
don't think we can isolate ourselves. I think a certain amount of the
very abstract work that is going on in Jamaica has been influenced
by reproductions that people have seen and the knowledge that trends
are going a certain way. Some of it is because people have been away
and studied and got caught in that particular field but I feel that you
can't stop it. Where it is very good you accept it. Where it is bad you
criticise it. But I do hope we are not going to get a chip on our
shoulders as to whether we should or should not be abstract. I think
that would be fatal. I think that it would be a terrible mistake. To
say that one must be abstract or one must not be abstract is silly. One
must be one's self regardless.
Parboosingh: You have to concede the fact also that there are some
people, artists, who think abstractly and can only express themselves
in that way. I mean, Milton Harley or Reggie Lynn for instance or
even Eugene Hyde think in the abstract. They are in the graphic arts
and their insight is into space and mass and colour rather than telling
any story about the outside world.
Manley: But you will admit that at this stage in West Indian history
where there is so little expression of our image, where we are desperately
in need of something that widens our horizons about ourselves, that we
must not allow ourselves to be swept away by the modern trends and
discourage the people who can add to the sum total of one might
almost say the record of us as we are. I do not mean by this repre-
sentational art-that has its place too. People like Eric Smith. But
the expression of a West Indian as a West Indian of the society in
which he lives as himself as he sees himself. We have such a thin
heritage, such a short history that we must not allow a few ruthless
critics to discourage these people provided they are real works of art
and provided they fulfill all the standards.
Manley: All the standards of good and fine sculpture or painting. Now
at the moment there is a great cleavage I would say on the whole
the critics are on top. They want the West Indies to move I had
better say Jamaica because I am out of touch They want Jamaica
to 'move forward' as they put it with the contemporary world of art.
This I think is a mistake. I think that people who hang paintings or
put on an exhibition must keep a balance. All forms, all types of
expression in painting and sculpture ought to be shown provided the
standard of achievement is high enough the people of Jamaica, the
young artists of Jamaica can be exposed to a wide area of artistic
expressions. Don't you agree with me, Karl?
Parboosingh: Yes. I don't believe in "schools." I think that what
Mrs. Manley said right there was correct. That the integrity of the
artist and the work stands by itself no matter what rules he is painting
Verity: Mrs. Manley, an artist who is not faced with problems of one
sort or another, and I am thinking largely now of artistic problems.
is a dead one. And both you and Karl Parboosingh are very much alive.
What particular problems are you faced with now?
No, you are not talking about yourself, you are talking about your
problems in relation to creation. And I think it could be a very valid
and valuable contribution to what we are saying.
Manley: It's awfully difficult. There are two things at the moment -
and you see personally, it is not of the slightest interest to anybody
but me. I have always been interested in what I call the woodiness of
wood. I am always being accused of doing unfinished work. I am
trying to be unfinished. Look, a tree has bark, a tree has sap, a tree
has grain and texture and there are many types of wood. Just at this
particular moment I have two problems. One is in the last carving I
finished, 'Eve and the Serpent' I finished the work and I was totally
unhappy. It seemed so dead. So I did something which I never had
the courage to do before. I picked about four chisels and I shut my-
self up with a mallet and the four chisels and I simply let fly at it
because I wanted every chip to be like a dancer's feet moving, moving,
moving; big chips, little chips, everything, depending on their place in
the carving, depending on what it was being used for. And I would
say that I think I pulled it off I am not saying that I think that is
a good or bad carving. I am just saying that for the first time and
after all these years I have had the nerve to do this thing to finish
a piece and then let it be reborn almost with the concept of truth and
love and grace. Now this takes nerve and everybody thinks you can't
carve when you do it like that. That doesn't really very much matter.
That is a problem that I am working on now. You see, I have
always carved direct. I don't carve from sketches and big things. And
I am carving more direct than ever right now. That is one problem a
technical problem and the other problem is something that is terrify-
ing. I have been working a lot on public things and I am working
on two now one you know about and the other one that is for a
township in England something that is almost monumental. You
see Bob, when you carve a thing in a studio and a studio size alright
that's one thing. But nine feet of a mistake is an awful lot of a mis-
take you know. And to carve that size and still try to keep this direct
immediate finish on it and a realization of the form (and a surface
is part of the realization of the form) Well, that's the problem. I
know it doesn't sound terribly interesting for a layman but those
are the two things. I have done it small and now I want to do it on a
very large scale, still with my tree with its bark, with its grain, and a
chisel and a mallet and me and really and truly nothing else very
important. Because the blocking out of the figure has been done, the
concept of what one has to do: and I will always believe that sculpture
is not only form; that sculpture is a kind of thought. And a thought
is not only in the form but its in the concept. And so you can imagine
me locked up on the top of the mountain. It's exciting! And a little
Parboosingh: Well, my big problem right now is space. I am an
artist who has never been identified with any one type of work. I have
delved in many different styles I am at the point now where I need
big wall space, I want to be monumental. I want to sum up and this
is not something that you can do on easel in the studio. I need big
wall space and that is my problem that is frustrating me. I can't just
go around and start painting up everybody's walls.
Manley: Well you painted up my wall. And did a marvellous job.
Parboosingh: But it is a big problem with me. I want to work big and
if I work on a big picture in my studio I have difficulty in selling that
picture because a lot of people don't have the wall space to put it on.
Not only that, but the picture is too dominating for a home. In other
words I need the public space for murals
Manley: And the public needs murals.
Parboosingh: And the public needs murals.
II. Walcott On Walcott
Interviewed by Dennis Scott
Scott: Derek, you are a poet as well as a playwright. The two things,
the two activities, combined in one talent, so to speak, must affect the
way in which the artist performs in either capacity. How do you find
that your concern with poetry changes the way in which you approach
writing a play?
Walcott: Dennis, I would say that the stress would be to try to pre-
serve the verse at the expense of anything else. So that in terms of
performance (and that's a subtle word because the content in the
word 'performing' means that you can write poems if you work in the
theatre) you can be attracted towards the poem that is dramatic in
expression. The other thing is that you have to watch out as a play-
wright that you don't write, or that you cut out lyrical and or sweet
or you know, 'nice sounding' stuff. You may feel that as a writer it
sounds good but you know how much you have to excise and in my
own particular case you know, people do ask questions. They say, I
know you wrote a play in verse but what have you been doing lately
in poetry? You know what I mean? Well, the thing is that I do write
my plays in verse and I hope that there is a moment, or there are
moments, when the thing becomes a poetry on stage; and I would
prefer to, I would suppose that I would eventually write a play which
would be a poem. And if that happens I would be satisfied.
Scott: Yes, but I am going to needle you on this point you see, because
I have felt sometimes in the case of your early plays like "Christophe"
or "lone" for instance that there are times when the verse takes over
and what we get is not so much a poetic drama as a dramatic poem.
Scott: How do you react to this kind of accusation?
Walcott: Well, I think that a play is a dramatic poem. I think that
any play that has any stature and I am not talking about whether
my plays have stature I think that any play that works completely,
is a poem; and now the components of that particular poem are
physical, there is an actor saying certain things lights, all the rest;
(and I am not talking about playwriting a kind of play that is, you
know, overtly metaphorical or is overtly symbolic. I am talking about
something which is like a functioning unit) and once you have a com-
plete concept of any play whether it's lights or you are cueing in with
the cameraman, (sorry, but I mean it's true about the film too) it is a
poem in the sense that it is conceived as a structure and it works
metrically as finely as a poem does. And if you happen to write in
verse then that's all the better.
Scott: Roughly then, you want the whole work to be a metaphor in
itself, a totality.
Scott: Let's talk more about your poetry. Are you aware of any
particular direction in which you are moving?
Walcott: Well, I think this is not being glib or fancy: My poetry
is getting worse in a sense that it is becoming terrifyingly plain to me
and I am afraid that I am writing well you know that I have a
nostalgia for obscurity in a way I find myself at 38 writing almost
so directly that I wish I were younger in terms of well I wish I were
more 'important' or complicated. Now this is much better for me as a
poet but its terrifying as a person you know what I mean?
Scott: Yes, but I think its much better for you as a poet as you say.
Why do you think this is so?
Walcott: The answer is that I am probably a serener person some-
times. And then for instance what one might want to say is that
happiness is not a theme for poetry these days. You know,
domesticities, ordinary things we are just talking glibly not
glibly I mean, I am just doing this as I feel like talking. I am very
keen on the painting of Bonnard and people like that. In other
words I think that people after the impressionists are great painters
in the fact that they concentrated on a sense of the intimacy of an
object, you know, the painters like Vacquery who go beyond the senti-
mental. Degas has a woman bathing or a table with flowers or some-
thing well, I don't mean sentimental. And I think that this is some-
thing that has happened to me personally and its something that is
happening to me. And I find that my stuff is getting so plain that I
am scared. You know, it simply becomes like a vase or a glass of water
or something. This clarity is terrifying to me.
Scott: It's an interesting comment to have made by a painter in a
way. Perhaps that is one of the reasons. Do you paint as much now
as you did earlier?
Walcott: I do a lot of painting now.
Scott: And might there be some correlation?
Walcott: Yes, yes.
Scott: And what about the film? You seem to be moving by your own
admission more towards the visual; not the merely visual but the strictly
Walcott: Well, when I say the visual I don't mean a visual thing that
has the solidity of the object. It's a way of looking, you know, a con-
centration that is calmer. Now my personal life is calm and my poetry
is not that involved or tormented. And everybody has a big yearning
in a wey after a while for being unhappy, but you can be professionally
unhappy and this is what I am trying to avoid. I wouldn't like to be
Scott: Talking about being serene
Walcott: When I say the word 'serene' I don't mean that everything
is swinging and fine.
Scott: I understand. Eddy Brathwaite, another poet, once said that
you were a humanist poet as distinct from a folk poet. Put' it this way
and it seems I think, fairly self-evident. What was your reaction at
the time to this kind of statement?
Walcott: Well, I still don't like the division because that is a personal
statement and that is a statement that means that Eddy and I come
from different roots or different backgrounds. This is completely not
true. It may be that Eddy is talking about a question of style and the
division is being made between a humanist and a folk poet in any
small and intense and very dull kind of area, you know, in terms of
political excitement, or very big kinds of meaning. I don't think the
division can be made because there is so much access and even to
use the word access means that you are reaching a difference between
somebody who is a poet somewhere and a guy who is, I don't know,
cutting your lawn. And both Brathwaite and I would employ people,
you know what I mean. And a man who cuts a lawn is not a 'folk'
person anymore than you who are paying him to cut your grass. You
know, this is a sociological statement that I am not interested in.
Scott: Might it not be more than a sociological statement? For
instance, would you say that a regionalist poet was of less importance
on a world scene
Walcott: Absolutely not. I think one of the finest poets in the world
- one of the finest poets not in the world, but one of the poets who
has had one of the subtlest influences in terms of the content of any-
one's work, has been Thomas Hardy; and you know, if you look at the
intensity and the closeness and the privacy of Hardy's poetry as com-
pared to some of the loudest statements made by some of the other
kinds of poets, the more locked in hermetic kind of statements made
by other poets, Hardy becomes every year I think, a greater poet, simply
because of the age, the kind of a prose age; the content of Hardy's
poetry is so strong that everybody knows now that poets have to learn
from novelists. I have been influenced now, and I hope that, I am
glad that, I am still open to influence not by writers abroad but by
West Indian writers.
Scott: I was just going to ask you this because there seems to me a
greater sense of community among artists now than there ever was
before. But at the same time I am not all sure whether this com-
munity has drawn the poets themselves closer.
Walcott: Well, I think for instance, in the poem "Rights of Passage"
the beautiful ending of Eddy Brathwaite's poem you know "The
Dust," is a magnificent piece of timing. You know, an admirable thing.
Scott: In terms of the total rhythm of the work.
Walcott: And this is derived, obviously derived; I mean we couldn't
have had that except we had Lamming's novels and we couldn't have
had Eddy's section about the Rasta Man except Roger Mais had already
written that book Brother Man. And I couldn't have written
certain things except I had watched how closely the novelists used the
language. I have been influenced as much by West Indian prose
writers as I have ever been when I was younger as a poet.
Scott: What about the West Indian poets? Have you been influenced
Walcott: No I think
Scott: You were about to say something -
Walcott: Well, I was going to say really that a lot it really
sounds very affected but I mean, the bulk of West Indian poetry that
we have is very, very bad. Don't you think so? I mean it's pretty
Scott: Yes. Why?
Walcott: Well I believe the West Indian poet never approached the
language as a construction problem, as a structure which the novelist
did. I mean Lamming and Naipaul and Hearne and even, not 'even',
I am talking about more recent people, someone younger than I am,
Michael Anthony for instance. They have a terrific sense of structure.
as well as there is an elation in composing; something that the poets
never bothered with. They depended a lot it seems to me on the
'Landscape' and 'Pain.'
Scott: Which coming from you is an interesting comment once again,
since I could say fairly justly that you are dependent on landscape.
Walcott: No I am not dependent on landscape. I think I can't
separate I don't think anybody can separate you can't separate
your growth from your soil You can have separate ideas but there
is a way of looking at something. I mean, people look at the flowers
and not at the trunk of the tree in West Indian poetry. You know,
this sort of poinsettia and this sort of croton; but they don't know,
they don't look at the ugliness of the bark. The strength that went
down into the thing.
Scott: So selectivity then is possibly an over-simplified way of talking
about the difference -
Walcott: No I think they were provided with a language in which you
could change daisies you know, instead of putting 'daisies' you have
'poinsettia' so the tree was there but the flowers were tacked on. That's
what I mean.
I mean this was not happening in some of the younger poets -
you know in Wayne Brown it's not there, in your poems it's not
there; but it used to be there. But I think what altered what must
alter the strength of West Indian poetry is what the prose writers
have done with language, poetically. You know, whether its Wilson
Harris or Naipaul, the use of the language is
Scott: Or Lamming, of course.
Walcott: Yes, yes. All of them.
Scott: There is another major factor which seems to inform any dis-
cussion on culture; in fact, on anything in the West Indies. And this
is of course the old thing of identity. First of all, how have you
approached this as a poet and secondly how have you where have
you got to in this forgive the word quest.
Walcott: Well, I don't I understand that you are asking me a ques-
tion that is sort of set, you know, it's a conversation we are having,
and when you use the word 'identity' I suspect you don't mean it in
that sense. You know as a poet yourself that nobody sets out to
resolve his identity because you know, if you come home drunk, you
can't resolve your identity then, you see what I mean?
Walcott: So these are personal and to me poetry is an intimate and
domestic thing. It gets more and more like that because the world
outside is crushing and in terms of saying, you know, some character
called Walcott is in search of a West Indian identity and everybody
marks a question like a four-forty, I mean I am not interested in
that! Because if an artist is resolving his identity then you are asking
him private problems about friendship and a lot of people who would
ask about resolving your own identity would make very poor friends-
so therefore they are not talking about character, they are insisting
that you develop a style that they would like.
Scott: I take your point. But let's look at it after the event. After
two books, two books of poems, a persona has emerged. Well, long ago,
longer ago than that. A Walcott feeling has emerged.
Walcott: Well, I don't think so. I don't feel that. I think that I
remain and I think that for the next generation or two of West Indian
poets, I will be described as someone who broke ground, which is good
enough for anyone to do. And that if anyone wants to call me -
which will happen naturally, this is very good for poetry a fake, it is
because they would have assumed that I was assuming a mask that
I was hiding behind something follow? I mean a lot of the
poems have been about Robinson Crusoe and all that and that's a very
easy mask to assume, but everybody hides behind some mask some-
thing is built something sets in the face you know, and what is
happening in the West Indies is simply like: since I have come to
Jamaica this character who is being interviewed and met and so on
is not somebody I recognize. I don't know really who this person is.
You know, and the role is played up to a certain point.
Scott: Okay. But you said yourself that one cannot I think you
said that one cannot avoid describing one's self in terms of masks
Walcott: Yeats said that before, he said if you want to find there
was something about 'give a man a mask and he will talk the truth.'
Scott: And your own mask in your poetry -
Walcott: Well, this it doesn't fit anymore. I mean two, three years
ago I was very attracted to the Robinson Crusoe idea the poems
remain to me if they are any good, they remain poems, but I am not
interested in that idea anymore. I have written my last kind of
Crusoe poem and now I am very keen on looking at how a table looks
good in the morning you know across the table with your wife
looking down on your children. This is what facinates me now.
Scott: As well, I would imagine, as what you are reading at any
Walcott: Well you would tend to read those things that justify,
endorse, underline the feelings that you have. You always justify your
aesthetic by going to other people and saying oh yes, Pasternak says
that and Neruda says that I will always remain, as long as I write
in the West Indies I will always seem to be, a visible imitator, and
superficially I will always be an imitator.
Scott: But at the moment who are you reading? Who do you read
for pleasure among the English-writing poets?
Walcott: Well, I don't read poetry for pleasure. I read to be terrified
in a way. And people who terrify me from their size and the grandeur
of their imagination now are people like Pasternak and Neruda, a lot
of Latin-American poets, Lowell very few English poets. Ted Hughes
a little Very few English poets now in fact, you know, I think, I
get this thing from now.
Ill. The Jamaica School of Art
Discussed by: Milton Harley, Eugene Hyde, Norma Segree *
Segree: Milton, could you give us some idea of the history of the School
and how it began?
Harley: It dates back to the 30s and 40s, a time of political and social
and cultural ferment; a minor type of revolution in Jamaica was taking
place at the time. The School began as classes under the regime of
Dr. Philip Sherlock and Mr. Bob Verity. These classes took place in
the Institute of Jamaica, and were limited primarily to drawing classes;
later they added painting. It is interesting to note that at this time
also the teachers were voluntary and some of those instructors included
Edna Manley. Around 1950 the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts was
founded and this was made possible by a Trust given by Hon. Altamont
DaCosta and also a donation of a Thousand Pounds donated by Eustace
Myers. The Ministry of Education in conjunction with the British
Council also contributed and the School was set up in the building that
Altamont DaCosta donated. The first students for part-time classes
in drawing, painting, modelling and applied art were registered on
October 10, 1950. These classes were conducted by Albert Huie, Edna
Manley and the then Lyndon Leslie. The first pottery classes begun
in November, given by Cecil Baugh, who is still associated with the
School. The School became a full time institution in 1961. The full
time classes were given from 9 a.m. in the morning until mid-day and
then from 1.00 until 3.30 p.m. There were also evening classes at this
time from 6 till 8. But that of course is just a brief sketch of the
Segree: Is it the only Arts School in the region? And if not where
are the others? Do you think there is any possibility of collaboration
Hyde: In the English-speaking Caribbean the Jamaica School of Arts
is the only one of its kind, but I know that Puerto Rico and in Cuba
there are other institutions I don't want to stress Cuba too much
but from the Puerto Rico school we could learn some very, very
important lessons for ourselves. I think one of the possible reasons
why Puerto Rico is far in advance is that they have taken advantage
of the fact that the mainland, the U.S.A. is so close to us. Instructors
from the U.S.A. come down and take part in the social and cultural
activities of the country. I think Jamaica could have benefitted much
more even than Puerto Rico. Because I think Jamaica as far as inter-
national relationships are concerned could get even more people both
from Europe and U.S.A. and Canada to take part in this activity.
Segree: So this interchange is very important Well you know
the Creative Arts Centre at the University has been started. Do you
think that this Centre has a contribution to make to the community?
Harley: Yes. I would imagine that it does. I think that its function
has to be clarified though. Until this happens and its objectives are
more or less clear to not only the University of which it is a part but
also to the community that it exists in, I don't think we will be able
to benefit very much.
Hyde: I have some very strong ideas on this. I feel that the basic
structure and purpose as outlined in the introductory brochure of the
Centre is pretty vague. I hope that all their stated aims can be
implemented and not remain just dreams. As for the physical outline
of the place in this the tendency is more towards encouraging and
facilitating the performing arts. A typical example of this is putting
the art in the basement and music on the top floor. I mean this just
doesn't work. I know, because of my experience in places like this in
other parts of the world. There is a terrible neglect of the plastic arts
and there is an over-emphasis on certain performing arts. I mean,
there is not a gallery there for hanging, it isn't structured that way
Yet I think that if a programme were instituted towards this end, of
making people sound people for the society in the arts I think
it could be done quite easily. I think the University is in the best
position to do this kind of job.
Segree: This brings us to the point of the location of the Jamaica
School of Arts and Crafts. Would you think then that it would be a
good idea if this School were re-located and perhaps instead of the
fragmentation which we have at the present time there were a com-
bination of the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts with the Creative
Hyde: I think that the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts could
benefit tremendously by such a physical move. I don't think that the
Jamaica School of Arts can continue as it is. It's a hobby school rather
than a professional school from my point of view and I think it's about
time that the art-conscious people of Jamaica who are capable of
making these things possible start realizing that the only place art can
be transformed into a functional thing in society is a place where the
elements exist. I think the more you put into it the more you can get
out. I think the University, that is, the area of the University I'm
not speaking necessarily of the compound or the grounds of the Uni-
versity but from it you can draw a fantastic wealth of information
and correlation. I mean, a painter is just a painter unless he has
extensive information on psychology and philosophy for example and
all those things in the humanities and the liberal arts which are so
important for a well-rounded person, not just a painter but a person.
The society needs this type of mind, a correlation between the craft
of the maker and existing learning and knowledge.
Segree: Yes, and I think also of this whole feeling of mistrust between
town and gown that exist at the moment; if there was this sort of free
interchange, people coming from the town to practise their art in the
University precincts, it would make for possible better relations.
Hyde: Oh, most definitely.
Harley: I personally don't know how the Creative Arts Centre would
function in relation to the Art School. The Art School at the moment
is going through a series of changes. It is progressing from this hobby
school to which Gene Hyde refers, to a professional school. But the
objectives of the Creative Arts Centre as I said before are not clearly
outlined and until then I can't see how it will relate even to the Uni-
versity that it's a part of at the moment.
Segree: Milton, you mentioned changes One important possibility
occurs to me Why is it the School's Diploma is not recognized by the
Ministry of Education?
Harley: The School's Diploma is recognized at the moment but it's
not recognized as a professional diploma. For example, most of the
graduates of the School don't have the background to pursue a course
in teacher's training and as the Ministry determines salary, the salary
of such pre-trained people is considerably lower than that of pro-
fessional graduate teachers who have had teacher training. The
Ministry recognizes a part of the art course and its recognition really
as far as the salaries are determined, has no relationship to the
Ministry's recognition of the part of the Diploma that is recognized
Segree: I see. And what are the basic entry requirements for the
Harley: The basic entry requirement over the past two years has been
a pass in GCE English. We give an examination which is in three parts
- a written paper, a drawing exam and an interview with a portfolio.
Before this there were no entry requirements. We are still interested
in raising the requirements, we've made certain recommendations to
this effect. These recommendations are being studied at the moment
but until there are some conclusions the school will exist as it is today
Segree: This change then is one of the major steps now under con-
sideration, is it?
Harley: Yes. In order to relate the curriculum and the school in
general to the demands of the society and to relate the educational
objectives of the school to the demands of the advertising world, and to
teaching, there is no question but that we need to raise entry require-
ments. We need to ask for at least three or four passes in GCE.
Segree: How do you get your money at the present time? I know you
gave us a rundown on the historical background but how do you func-
tion now finance-wise?
Harley: The School is part of the Institute of Jamaica and it's ulti-
mately financed by the Ministry of Finance and Planning. It has a
Board of Management which more or less dictates the policies, and all
the finances of the school are handled through the Institute of Jamaica
Segree: And what is the fee?
Harley: We have a minimum of Three Guineas per term and students
themselves supply most of the materials they use. We however have
some materials which are made available for use in the school for
demonstration purposes. Their cost is financed by the Institute of
Segree: Are there any scholarships offered by the School?
Harley: Not very many. There are some scholarships for maintenance
and there are some tuition awards. For example, we have a scholarship
donated by Gerry Dunlop, an Advertising Executive from Gerry Dunlop
Associates who has given a full three-year scholarship which includes
Segree: But how do these scholarships work? Do donors find some-
one who they think has talent or do you just select someone? What is
the basis of selection? And having got the scholarship are there any
provisions made for the winner to be placed in a job when he has
graduated from the school?
Harley: The scholar is usually selected from a class or classes. For
example in the case of the Gerry Dunlop Scholarship, we were asked
to suggest a graphic design student. We weigh the factors of need and
also of ability and members of the staff decided the student best
qualified for the scholarship. With reference to the ultimate employ-
ment of the student; we do not have the facilities to create what I
consider a placement service whereby we could process the requirement
for jobs and place the students. However we do get some requests from
agencies and schools for the services of our students or ex-graduates
and we usually inform them of these enquiries.
Segree: Don't you think it's vitally important now for the School of
Arts to gear itself to turn out people for jobs in schools and advertising
agencies? Especially in view of the work permit situation which makes
it very difficult now for firms to import trained and experienced
Harley: Yes, it is. At the moment we are still unable to fill the
requirements of the agencies and the schools. Several schools that I
know of, need teachers now and we are unable to send some of our
graduates who are now looking for jobs in the teaching profession
because they did not have the academic and educational background
to pursue the course to an extent whereby they could later go into a
teacher-training college, for example, and ultimately teach.
Segree: Eugene, do you think there is any relationship between the
achievement of the school and the view that the society has of the
artist in general?
Hyde: Well, I suspect that students enter the school where there is
nothing better to do. This Is what I gather from my information. Let's
face it, ideas of art and the appreciation of art in Jamaica still go back
to the time of say ten, fifteen years ago when artists approached to sell
their paintings at the back door and never went to the front door. In
a conversation with Parboosingh and myself, Albert Huie once explained
that in 1940 when he went to some house to sell his painting he was
asked to go to the back door. I mean, we still maintain this feeling
about art in Jamaica art belongs somewhere in the back. Anytime
you think about the mind, you know, the creative or anything that has
to do with the mind, you are either a sick person or an idler or some-
thing like that and I think that the School represents this attitude in
Jamaica. I think this is the image that the school projects in Jamaica;
that the people there I mean the students, are serious people in them-
selves, but the image that they project is one of wasters. And it is
caused from the outset by the way in which the School started as a
hobby school, a workshop. And unless something drastic is done about
the administration and the structure and the entire system of the
school, the school will always present the image of a sort of a
reformatory school for kids.
Segree: But if they had the necessary talent or rather if they could
produce the output that the commercial people could take advantage
of, what sort of opportunities do you think exist?
Hyde: Oh, fantastic. The advertising industry, which I can speaK
about, has a great demand for students but nothing is coming out of
the School. Once in a while you get a student whom you think would
be something worthwhile and then he ends up being an apprentice,
and he spends five or six years being an apprentice; and this is one of
the problems. The School's system is not tuned to turn out pro-
fessional people it's not a professional school in the right sense of
the word. Far, far from that. I give you an example. It takes four
years to complete a course in professional advertising at a professional
advertising school. And when I say four years, I mean four years of
hard work, meaning five and six days a week in school; and the pre-
requisite is high school level education which I am sure most of the
kids at the School now could be considered to have attained. Students
are brought into the school at a professional level and they are trans-
formed into professional people based on the administration. So I
still maintain that the administration and the system of the School is
completely wrong and they will never turn out professional people
unless the entire system is changed.
Segree: Milton, what would you say is the main problem, lack of
teachers ? The statutory body?
Harley: It's a combination of several things and several factors which
are deep-seated and far-reaching. The problem goes back even earlier
than the 30s and 40s. There is a sort of stigma surrounding the School
as to its function and the whole purpose of an art school. You know
this society still to a certain degree thinks of an artist as a sort of
social derelict. It feels that he is unable to compete and cope with
the other professions, to do things that are necessary for a livelihood
or to develop in a way that would create an individual who could func-
tion in the status quo of the society as for example in the recognized
professions of Law or Medicine. In point of fact this may be partly
true. In the Art School I have had to take what I consider most of the
students who have not been able to cope with the courses given in other
schools, who haven't been able to cope with the problems of life today
in general, and we still function as sort of a home for people who are
unable to get along delinquents. This has caused tremendous
problems because we have a lot of talent in the country and there are
people with academic and educational background who could pursue
a course in an institution on the level that Gene referred to. They are
the type of professional student we need that could fill not only this
school but the two or three other schools that we still need, and these
people as a result of not being able to find the kind of training that is
necessary necessary because the advertising agencies and schools are
demanding teachers or professional persons are wasted.
Segree: It seems to me that there will have to be a definite drive on
the part of the Board of the School to make representation to the
Government in the light of this experience.
Harley: Yes. A couple months ago there was a committee formed to
investigate the function of the School and its role in the community
and its ultimate objective; and the type of curriculum that is needed,
whereby when a student graduated he could find a job in whatever
field he majored in. All these factors have been studied and there
have been proposals presented, to the Institute in the first instance.
and ultimately to the Ministry of Finance and Planning. To the best
of my knowledge these proposals are still being studied. There has
been a lot of talk about a new School being built, possibly becoming a
part of a cultural centre. As to how soon this will come about is any-
Segree: It seems to me from some of the work I have seen being done
at the Art School that you have had some very special talent in the
field of sculpture, for example.
Harley: There is a tremendous amount of talent. But unfortunately
talent is not enough. In order to become I hate to use the word
'artist' because it is such an ambiguous term In order to function
as a sculptor or as an art teacher you need certain academic require-
ments and experiences. Recently I have introduced English Literature
and this is as foreign as physiology but all of this is necessary and the
idea that being able to paint and draw is sufficient is a myth. You
cannot paint and draw successfully unless you are intelligent!
Segree: Have you employed any of these people or worked with any
of them Eugene, in the course of your commercial experience?
Hyde: Yes, as a matter of fact I think that Hyde, Held & Blackburn
was the first advertising group which made an agreement with the
School of Arts to train people in our agency as a part of their course
The pre-graduate students, the advanced students, we take them on
Monday and Fridays and we are doing a complete on-the-spot train-
ing, something which is very necessary. They have come through quite
well, you know. There is one chap for example whom we feel we should
like to hire as part of our staff as soon as he graduates in June. We
were very happy with this. One of the problems though is that
advertising agencies take trainees from the school, give them summer
work and pay them a salary and the salary is so inviting you know, its
their first chance at money, that they don't go back to the school! They
just stay on at the advertising agencies and for years they are there
getting measly salaries when they should go back to the school, finish
their courses and be able to do a little better for themselves.
Segree: This is very sad but I can see in the context of the society
how this could be the sort of reaction.
Hyde: Well, this goes back to administration, because from my
experience in professional art schools outside of Jamaica we find that
no student is allowed to work for money until he graduates, if he is
going to school to graduate. If he is a part-time student it's his
problem; but he should not try to work for money while in school.
Once he gets the feeling that he is a professional person, then he stops
learning and all he thinks about is earning.
Harley: Yes, the need for money is quite a problem not only for other
people but also for the Art School and the students. We found that
there is a tremendous amount of fluctuation in the registration even
within a term because a lot of the students leave in the middle of the
term, for example, to take jobs. I don't know as to whether or not
the need for money is a need to pursue education or whether or not the
School functions as a sort of stop-gap. What I mean by this is that
there are a lot of students who enroll in this school as full-time students
or in some instances to do a course and as soon as the opportunity
affords itself to get a job they leave; so they are using the facilities of
the School to just earn a livelihood. This also causes a lot of the
problems because a lot of these people take up valuable space that the
students who are interested in pursuing a four-year course could have
Segree: I take it though that you have had people who have graduated
after doing the full course. Have you kept in touch with these people?
Do you know how they are progressing, have they made any significant
mark in the society?
Harley: Yes, because most of the graduates do from time to time come
back to the school to be rejuvenated. Most of the students either teach
or go into the advertising agencies as apprentices. To the best of my
knowledge and from most of the reports I have had I would say most
of the ex-graduates haven't done very well as teachers because they
lack the educational background that is necessary to teach. In the
field of advertising there are some minor successes at sign painting.
But this is not my concept of advertising or graphic design.
Hyde: I understand that Milton has quite a problem at the School
and I do hope that they can change the entire School system. It could
function as an institution that can produce or provide professional
people that the society lacks so badly.
Segree: Well, I think it's very clear from our discussion that we are
all agreed on one thing. That there is a tremendous need for a func-
tioning School of Arts and Crafts in Jamaica no matter what you call
it or where it will be located. We need the people and we feel that we
have the talent. It is only the money and the organisation which are
necessary and I do hope that with these various surveys which have
been made on the school and its curricula will in the very near future
enable something definite to be done to help these artists. I am con-
vinced that they have a very big contribution to make in an evolving
Milton Harley-Poinler-Dir of the School.
Eugene Hyde-Pai r-Comm Artist.
Norma Segree-Librarian-UWI, Mona.
IV Gordon Rohlehr's 'Sparrow and
the Language of the Calypso'
CAM Comment -
Edward Brathwaite: Was listening to the tape of your talk this morn-
ing, and came upon this passage towards the end:
We cannot help noting how close Sparrow has kept to the
rhythms and idioms of Trinidadlan speech It seems to me
that there is in the spoken language of Trinidad a potential
of rhythmic organisation which our poets have not yet dis-
covered or if they have, have not yet exploited It [the
calypso] may help the West Indian poet to realise the rhythmic
potential of his ordinary use of English, for the calypsonian's
language is pretty close to standard English, yet his organisa-
tion of language is entirely different. The breakthrough, it
seems to me, can come not only in the use of creole, such as
that which is written by Louise Bennett, but through the use
of English as it is [transformed] when translated into WI
I'm taking this up with you because I too am interested in critical
standards; and because you have been a great opponent of the
generalisation. Leaving aside your limitation of the above generalisa-
tion to 'the spoken language of T'dad', I really must take you up on
your statement on 'the WI poet.'
My point here is this: Derek, your countrymen Lorrimer Alexander
and Wordsworth Mc Andrew have all, from time to time, used, quite
successfully in my view, speech rhythms; and so has Dennis Scott in a
less direct way. And of course Rights of Passage is committed to this
approach right down the line. I can understand your thinking these
efforts not worthwhile; but I cannot see you, as a critic, ignoring them,
in your context, as if they didn't exist. As a matter of fact, on your
own principle of non-generalisation, one would have expected some
little indication as to why you think these efforts fail.
My own opinion on this kind of discussion is that the academic
critics I have so far heard on this matter of 'dialect/poetry,' start off
with the preconception that an artist like Sparrow is in some way an
entirely different being from an artist, say, like myself or Derek or any
of the others; so that in discussion the two types tend to be kept
This was surely the case with your talk on Friday; though I hope
you will understand that I'm in no way trying to detract from your
positive contribution: the subjection of Sparrow's lyrics to critical
analysis and illumination; the emphasis on his truth-telling; the moral
implications of his statements and situations; the ironic twist evident
in so much of his work; and (for me one of the high-spots) the
explanation of the calypsonian's dramatic eye and I: the fact that 'I'
is not necessarily personal, but often a persona.
But after all this, the generalisations about 'the West Indian poet,'
who has not broken through to West Indian speech rhythms, remain.
In ignoring what in fact has been attempted, and failing to link these
attempts with Sparrow's achievement and present them for further
discussion, you lost a chance, I think, (which is the final justification
of criticism), to help elucidate the work of the artists involved.
Gordon Rohlehr: I think my point towards the end was not
really grasped because it was so sloppily made, and so
hurriedly sketched in. 'The calypso may help the WI poet to
realise the rhythmic potential of his ordinary use of English.' You
took this to mean that I was implying that the WI poet did not realise
this, that no effort had been made to capture WI speech rhythms, or
that I didn't think such efforts worth either mention or even considera-
tion. But this wasn't my point at all. What I was remarking was the
calypsonian's ability to blend words with extremely complex rhythmic
phrases of music and still retain the fluidity and basic rhythms of
speech. Let me quote from two sentences before 'One doesn't feel
that language is being coerced into the rigidity of form, but that
language is alive and fluid as it plays against the necessary strictness
of the music.'
What I think I was saying is this: Calypso provides us with living
examples of a very complex metric organisation of language. It is not
simply a matter of using WI speech rhythms and idioms, but of being
conscious of the syncopated drum-rhythms in the background of a 4/4
time signature broken down into semi-quavers so that one has a maxi-
mum of 16 syllables per bar of the extreme freedom which this
creates not only in the music, but in the bending of words to match the
sinuosities of rhythm. I am probably wrong, but I felt that because
Sparrow's musical language is so close to that of speech, there must be
something in the speech itself which hearkens towards music.
Now, our poets have always been conscious of WI speech. Derek
Walcott uses it in a poem like
Poopa da was, a f6te; ah mean it had
Free rum free whisky and some fellas beating
Pan from one o dem band in Trinidad
to play against the traditional pentametrical structure of the English
sonnet. .Compare the first line of 'Poopa' with, say, Shakespeare's
'Not marble nor the gilded m6num6nts' (etc.) and you will find a
beautiful counterpointing. The ear accustomed to traditional English
rhythms (and many WI ears are) is continually surprised by the rush
and lightness of the movement of Walcott's poem which seems, but
only seems, to ignore the martial rigidity of the heroic metre, where
stresses are fairly predictable, as in a quick-step or fox-trot. It seems
to me that one assumes the presence of the main stress and forgets
about it that (to use a musical Image) the bass is there in the back-
ground, but no longer to keep time.
Poopa da was a fete a mean it had
Free rum free whfsky and sbme fllas beating
Pan fYrdm one d dem band Yn Trfnfdad.
Now compare this with say Marlow's heroic verse
What is beauty salth my sufferings then
If all the pens that ever poets held
Had fed the jewels of their masters' thoughts
It is an extreme example chosen to give an idea of the rigidity of
the heroic metre; but we can see where Walcott departed from this
and at the same time how the older form remains in the background.
One notes e.g. 'a mean it had' at the end of the first line, where the
verse obeys for a moment the dictates of traditional metrics. And one
notes the complete change of tone and metre in the last part of the
And it was round this part once that the heart
Of a young child was torn from it alive
By two practitioners of native art
A change of tone, a change of metre, a swing back to the traditional.
Is it ironic that the voice of serious reflection should be so traditional
and so English?
It seems that I am providing the best argument against myself.
In fact this poem of Walcott's is like 'Parang' something of an excep-
tion in his work.
I have only just noted, by the way, the similarity between the
thump of heroic verse and the thump of most English dance rhythms,
which are unsyncopated, simple, and obviously influenced by the
march .Pomp and Circumstance. The difference between Calypso and
Quick-step, both of which have the same time signature, is .similar to
the difference between a Sydney sonnet, say, and Walcott's 'Poopa! da
was a fete.' The one marches, the other trips.
Now about Rights. Did I mention that I found your calypso
remarkable for its metric organisation of speech rhythm to suggest the
syncopation of music? I am sure that I did so in a former letter, that
I told you or Doris this last weekend. This is, in fact, the best example
I know of the rhythms of calypso being exploited by a WI poet to
heighten the rhythmic potential of speech. Walcott achieves one kind
of counterpoint, you another. Let us therefore look a little more closely
at 'Calypso.' You will, of course, appreciate that my stresses may vary
from yours. I mentioned how I differed from Maureen Warner when
we tried to determine where the strong stresses should be placed in
some of Sparrow's kaisos.
'The stone had skidded arc'd and bloomed into islands
Cuba and San Dommngo.
Problems immediately. The strong stress on 'arc'd' detracts from
the strong stress on 'skidded,' plays against it and moderates it. I
would have only a moderate stress on 'islands' and so on.
And if course -it was a wonderful tfme
A pr6fft ble hospvtable well-worth-ydur time
When captaYns carried receipts fdr riches.
According to the music rhythms 'was' in the first line ought to be
stressed. According to the speech rhythms it ought not. The verse
falls back into strict time with the third line 'when captains' etc. . and
this contrasts with the extra semiquaver passage in 'a profftable
h6spYtble' etc. Compare 'an elgant benevdilnt r6dld'nt time' where
a similar thing (but not quite the same) is being achieved. In steel-
band the counterpoint strum for the line 'a profitable hospitable well-
worth-your time' would be played by the second pans, and the counter-
point strum for 'an elegant benevolent redolent time' would be played
by the guitars.
Now let's consider a calypso Robbery with V
(X man wfth) no6 rYgmnalrty no stage personality
They tr~Yng t. make m6 ldok small.
'Make' may be light, heavy or moderate depending on the mood of
the calypsonian. The rattling (allty) rhythm recurs throughout the
kaiso and conveys Sparrow's bitterness and contempt for the king they
Take another example, Simpson
It w s Simps6n, the fudnerl ag'encF man
Wid e coffin n 9 han
You mean to say ydu didn't know Sfmpson the funeral etc.
That 'You mean to say you don't know' is one of the extreme uses
of the semi-quaver passage in Sparrow. Gunslingers has a passage
Nearly every young man is k gilnsl(nger
WYd e razrr Ynd e steel knuckle' on finger
Again one is uncertain of quantities. But am I making my point
or any worthwhile point? My point is that we can create the metrical
equivalent of heroic verse by a consciousness of the extreme variety
of our speech rhythms and our musical rhythms. After all the
Elizabethan Lyric is being read as poetry Are we conscious of this
great variety? Sparrow published a book with 120 calypsoes each of
which merits careful metrical study and analysis. There are calypsoes
with long lines, calypsoes with short lines, all sorts of calypsoes. Under-
standing how they have been organised, determining how far one can
use some of their rhythms to gain very un-calypso effects, or how much
the words can be considered on their own all this remains to be
done. A vast job. I get the feeling that whenever our poets (a
dangerous generalisation I know) consider our speech rhythms they
feel like pioneers confronting a vast unmapped world which promises
to be exciting. I don't know how much they are conscious that this
world has been thoroughly mapped, explored, exploited and presented
to them for their benefit by Sparrow (and by so many others). You
know more about our poets than I, and I was rash to make the kind
of statement I did. But are they conscious? By the way I ought to
have mentioned A. J. Seymour's poem To a Calypsonian (is that the
name?). It begins 'A thousand running radios blare your song
and reminds the calypsonian (Kitch I think it is) 'Remember that the
children need fathers too
Morality to misery
You celebrate for the world to see.'
It was published in Kyk-over-al and I sometimes wonder why it
has never been anthologised. Seymour too uses calypso rhythms con-
sciously and well, to examine the calypso mind.
Finally, you said that academic critics like myself when discussing
'dialect/poetry' start off with the preconception that an artist like
Sparrow is in some way an entirely different being from an artist like
yourself or Derek or any of the others. I am really sorry that this is
the impression I conveyed, since I thought that by applying to Sparrow's
work the strictest academic standards I was really placing him on par
with any other artist. A distinction can obviously be drawn from his
unself-conscious exploitation of language and rhythm and that of the
'academic poet' who must, because of his great weight of learning, be
self-conscious. But don't get me wrong. I don't think that Sparrow
uses words carelessly, that his art is 'natural,' spontaneous,' 'native,
full of an 'unsophisticated vitality' etc. I think his mind and irony are
sophisticated in the important sense of the word. They are the result
of a full and alive awareness I think him a better artist than most
of our poets. Intellectual patronage was the last thing I wanted to
suggest. If I didn't make the comparison with the rest of WI poetry.
that was because I was so sleepy after a night's work that I forgot or
gave up. Moreover you see how much time such a comparison would
have required, for even now, I probably haven't made myself clear.
Brathwaite: I agree with you that not enough has been so far
made of our speech rhythms by our poets though your qualitative
analysis is revealing. More will be done as 'dialect' becomes
validated by critics such as yourself. We've left out of our discussion
so far the one undoubted mistress of this world Louise Bennett. Here
the poems live in performance as the calypsonians' do; and this to me
is the most important aspect of the business. I think too that we must
look at the calypso as only a part of a much wider and richer tradition
which includes folk song, folk tale and 'oral performances' such as tea-
meeting speeches. I've been trying to say something about this in my
'Jazz and the West Indian Novel' at present appearing in BIM.
V. Bennett On Bennett
Interviewed by Dennis Scott
Scott: Louise, I heard you say once "I believe in laughter." This
is one way, your way of looking at the world, but tell me, how far does
your use of dialect depend on this attitude? If you were a Jeremiah,
for example, would the dialect serve you just as well?
Bennett: I have found a medium through which I can pretend to be
laughing. Most of the time when we laugh it is so that we may not
weep. Isn't that so?
We can laugh at ourselves The nature of the Jamaican dialect
is the nature of comedy, I feel. As it is used by the people to express
their feelings, the dialect is very adaptable. You can twist it, you can
express yourself so much more strongly and vividly than in standard
English. Maybe I feel this because I think in the dialect; but I haven't
really answered you. Now what I think is, that you have to feel deeply
about what you do. My business of believing in laughter forces me to
look for the medium through which I can express that attitude. And
the greatest medium I can find is the Jamaican dialect the dialect
I know, I feel; the dialect that I understand; the language, the comedy
that I understand. And your other question: If I did not believe in
laughter would the dialect serve me just as well. Well I can't say
- I could say something in dialect that could make you cry right now.
but I don't know because I don't feel tragedy as strongly as I feel
comedy. I can portray the tragic side of things or the serious side of
things; but immediately the comedy of it comes to mind and that's
what I want to express.
Scott: Quite apart from your own intentions do you think that this is
a particular quality of the dialect?
Bennett: It is a quality of the dialect. The nature of dialect is almost
the nature of comedy though it may be difficult to define either of them.
Why do people talk a dialect? Why do people laugh? I mean, look
how many years we have been using it. They say it came out of slavery
- the mixture of different languages (I am talking about Jamaica
now) but we find dialect all over the world.
Scott: And do you feel that this inability to be serious without being
funny as well is a particular quality connected with people of negro
origin? It certainly is there in the American blues tradition, in the
whole field of jazz. Even when you are closest to tears there is a bit
of an ironic twist in your expression there is a joy as well.