This isn’t a conventional book of academic essays, though these pieces on Caribbean, African, British and American poets are always scholarly and intellectually rigorous. They are particularly rewarding as the work of a practicing poet writing about those of his peers whose work he admires. There are essays on major Caribbean figures, on Walcott, Brathwaite and Martin Carter, and on the major African poets Niyi Osundare, Jack Mapanje and Femi Oyebode, but there are also pieces on less well-known poets such as Frank Collymore, Ian McDonald and James Berry that, without any agenda, bring to view work that ought to be taken far more seriously. As the editor of major anthologies of Caribbean poetry, Stewart Brown is more than usually aware of the new directions that Caribbean poetry has taken, and pieces on Olive Senior, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Kwame Dawes indicate some of these.
How other societies are perceived has long been a preoccupation of Stewart Brown’s own poetry and critical writing, and essays on the work of poets who have travelled frame this collection. Here he explores his own and other writers’ work to make distinctions between the discourses of tourist, traveller and troublemaker.
One subtext of the collection is a mistrust of the academic industry of postcolonial criticism. Here it is always the poem that matters (although the essays are alert to social, political and cultural contexts) and the emphasis is on close and sensitive reading rather than theory.
A good many of these essays began as papers for oral delivery. One of their great pleasures is that they retain a flavour of the speaking voice: enthusiastic, generous and respectful of the presence of listeners, and now readers.
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Stewart Brown is the editor of several major anthologies as well as critical studies of Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite and Martin Carter.