Discussing Columbus

Written by Andy Brown for Poetry Quarterly Review on

PEEPAL TREE produce some excellent books of Caribbean, Black British and South Asian writing. The variety of their list picks up on a wide range of contemporary poetic practice. As Fred D’Aguiar noted in his (oh-so-long-ago) introduction to the Black British poets in THE NEW BRITISH POETRY (Paladin 1988):

Dualisms such as oral and literary, European and African no longer define the work of individual poets, much less explain the differences between them. [...] At the level of composition many poets are moving towards a coalition of the two: the performance poem which also works on the page.

Cyril Dabydeen was born in Guyana and has published over nine books of poetry, three books of short stories and two novels. His work shows an accomplished confidence which makes his one of the most self assured voices of the Caribbean. The poems deal with journeying, settlement and cultural mixing – our foreign beginnings. Although much of the vocabulary is South American, the syntax and rhythms of speech come very much out of the European and Spanish-American literary traditions. Dabydeen writes poems more like Borges than the dialect-based poems most usually associated with Caribbean Writing:

as I am still travelling with you

Being Garcia, Borges, Fuentes; and I am also
Guillen and Neruda at the heart of a sacrifice,
Giving the best part of myself
To be close to Montezuma -

which links back to Fred D’Aguiar’s comment mentioned above. There is a poem about driving with him in this book, that captures much of the very essence of this collection, both in its serious, meditative style and its personally philosophical content:

Boundaries - reminiscences of London
or Amherst, even longing to be elsewhere 
at special moments - evanescent over time 
because of what I have always cherished 
and will always remember best

The final 30 pages of the book are given over to a verse play for voices, THE CARIBEES. Here again, as with Anthony Kellman, we are in the realm of colonial settlement and betrayal; Adam and Eve and Robinson Crusoe; Christianity and Voodoo. It’s musically fluid and politically charged.