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The Long Gap

Written by Icil Phillips for Weekend Investigator on no date provided

Anthony Kellman’s most recent book of poems published by Peepal [Tree] Press, is indeed a testimony to the long gap that separates yet binds him to his island home and his adopted residence in the deep South of the United States.

The 25 poems in this slim volume move from island testimonies, through praise songs of local and regional poets to sombre notes on life in the South with its similarities to his island home, but full of the deep ambivalence shown by the inhabitants who are a mixture of old world cultures.
Kellman is no polite poet concerned with painting an idyllic view of the island rock that he has chosen to leave. Neither is he the groveling immigrant extolling the virtues of his adopted home. In each of the poems there is evidence of the tug-of-war he feels at having to see a world where he can practise and live by his craft.

In the undertow of this surge of emotion there is the forgotten memory, the re-kindled memory, and the anger of a young man who sees an innocence lost to progress and its attendant evils. What makes these poems stand out is the perspective of the poet who often internalises his Barbadian experience to make social and political statements. Throughout all the poems, there is a connection with his island source, sometimes subterranean, sometimes on the surface, but nonetheless present, obvious and cleverly deliberate. The volume can be divided in four sections although this is not indicated in the printing. There are poems that reflect on the island as home of which the title poem ‘The Long Gap’ is one. There are lines penned for three poets, a historian and a dead politician all acerbic in their treatment while some poems spring directly from his North American experience. Always though, Kellman never loses his rootedness in the island, his faith in its power to heal time and history’s wound: 'salt water / heals all manner of illness', and never ceases to worship its memories whether bitter or unexplained. That Barbados has shaped and continues to shape his view of the world is the thread that weaves together the fabric of his poetry.

Imagery

In his choice of language, Kellman moves from standard English to national language with ease, employing the distinctive tones and rhythms of the latter, while displaying daring and skill with the former. At home with the precise metaphor and rainbow-hued imagery, the poet shows that his intensity comes from his philosophy.

His comments on ‘The Last Stronghold’ (for Hilary Beckles) reflect his political perspective. In this poem he internalises Beckles’ animus and concludes that the struggle with the economic past cannot be done without the march and the conchshell sound.

On the two literary artists, Bruce St. John and Timothy Callendar, whom he would honour in ‘Calypso’s Island’ and ‘Sea Horse pass by’, respectively, we see Kellman’s lament of his island’s failure to accord an honoured place for its artistic sons. The tortured sensibility of these two men and its implications for himself as an escapee from neo colonialist anarchy is devastatingly noted:

Will I join them, or will I accept
a foreign land and earn a living from my art?
A wound opens wide inside me, 
for where shall a man find sweetness
to surpass that of his own home?
'Calypso’s Island'

So I left it all, left it all 
left those floors fouled by institutional serfs.
Now each day I respond to the sea’s call
and wrap my burden in my surf.
'Sea Horse pass by'

Despite his academic tenure abroad, Kellman shows in this collection that he remains a committed son, a passionate lover of things Barbadian - ‘orange sunset, coconut tree, blood-red ixora, mahogany, sand dune, fossil, coral reef, cliff edge, blue eggshell sky’ - an islander in touch with the saltwind, the sea’s slack and the people and places who crowd his childhood years.

'The Long Gap' which bridges the worlds of Barbados and the USA, celebrates, records and redefines what for Kellman is an unique existence and which for us, the lovers of poetry, should be a rediscovery of the 'saltwater kingdoms of the tribe'.

(Icil Phillips is the Acting Coordinator of the Associate Degree in Performing Arts, Barbados Community College, a poet, and short-story writer.)

This is a review of The Long Gap

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