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The Chase

Written by Andrew Salkey for World Literature Today on no date provided

The Chase is a luminous trajectory of John Figueroa’s considerable achievement over forty-eight years of poetry writing. The phrase ‘cosmopolitan poet’ does not really adequately describe him or the impact that he has had on Anglophone Caribbean poetry, but it certainly goes some way in defining a part of his concern in not being tagged as regional or provincial. This is so because he is absolutely free from national limitations. One only has to take a look at a few of the titles of his poems to appreciate his resistance to any hint of insular definition: ‘Stone Hills on Nearing Jos, Nigeria,’ ‘Heartlands/Hartlands’ (which evokes railway travel in Jamaica, Trinidad, Haiti, England, and France), ‘The Ladies of Spain,’ ‘The Façade of the Eglise de Brou,’ ‘On Seeing the Reflection of Notre Dame in the Seine,’ ‘Spanish Dancer in New York,’ ‘La Taberna (After Lorca).’

Of course, Figueroa is not psychologically on the run from his native Jamaica; voluntary exile though he is, living in England; he writes affectionately and entirely memorably about people and places in the Caribbean, and some of the most poignantly elegiac verse in his new collection is written to members of his family and to personal friends back home. His work is not all things to all readers either; his literary style, Latinate to a fault, touched with Attic grace, ironical, satirical, allegorical, even anagogical, is consonant with his own classical education and appeals immediately to a classically educated readership.

And yet, cosmopolitanism remains the lasting impression of much of The Chase. In ‘Cosmopolitan Pig,’ a poem dedicated to George Lamming, the distinguished Barbadian novelist and no stay-at-home himself, with an epigraph from David Hume’s Treatise, we are asked rhetorically, ‘What is Barbados, Peru / Provence or Rome / But places which Any Man / Can make their [sic] home?’ Rather grandiloquently, but at the same time utterly sincerely, the poem ends on a decidedly metaphysical note: ‘No sharp stroke shaping stone / No bend of metal or curve / Of well-kept hill / No plotted field of cane / Or wheat or rice; / No garden by the railroad / Or formal as the French / No Ife bronze / Or illuminated script / Is alien to me.’ And yes, you, Professor Emeritus John Figueroa, and Publius Terentius Afer!

This is a review of The Chase

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