IN his energetically titled collection of essays Inward Stretch, Outward Reach, Jamaican writer and dance pioneer Rex Nettleford writes of the cultural, economic and political challenges facing the Caribbean people. Nettleford writes from the perspective of a creative artist. He was the founder, director and leading choreographer of the brilliant National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica. His writing radiates a belief in the creative imagination as the central energy of change in his region. 'It is,' he asserts, 'the cultural inventions of the people from below' that will spark a unique developmental direction. The unleashing of the Caribbean imagination - pathwayed by cultural inventors like Bob Marley, The Mighty Sparrow or Edward Kamau Braithwaite - is what Nettleford sees as the motor of betterment, ‘for it is the recognition, mobilisation and involvement of the creative potential of the mass of the Caribbean population by its leaders’ that can make a truly independent and self-reliant future.
Quoting Bob Marley, he declares: ‘A further truth is dawning now upon us even in our deepening; and that is the realisation that no-one can run that race for us. None but ourselves, indeed, can free our minds.’
The voice of another Jamaican, Geoffrey Philp, comes in more alienated tones in his collection of poems, Florida Bound. For Philp is engaged in an outward move toward a US exile, but one with a constant hearkening-back and his evocation of dance is not so much Nettleford’s cultural resistance but social menace:
‘Fa ya cyan cum a dance widdout a gun inna yu wais.’
His poems are expressed in two different languages. There are the sonnet-like verses in the nation language that begin the collection - beautifully crafted with a mounting tension between the rebellious of the words and the discipline of the form. The other poems speak with an English voice and, as they articulate a deeper and deeper exile, they consciously lose touch with their earth until
‘We are left in the silence
Of motels with nowhere to go.’
Here the community has gone. There is only the poet and the realisation of struggle in the final, title poem.
‘For our exile will never end until we free
Of those who teach only the whip and the rope.’
Philp is a poet of real substance, spanning two existences, forging two voices.