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Imaginary Origins: Selected Poems

Written by Prof. Pilar Somacarrera (Universidad Autóónoma de Madrid, Spain) for The Caribbean Voice; on no date provided

Imaginary Origins represents over thirty years of poetry by the Guyana-born Canadian poet Cyril Dabydeen. Including poems from ten different collections ranging from 1977 until 1997 as well as a final section of "New Poems", the collection proves him as a mature and established voice in the panorama of Caribbean-Canadian literature. Although he is a prolific writer whose work ranges from poetry to fiction, and was appointed a Poet Laureate of the City of Ottawa during 1984-87, his work has not received the critical attention he deserves. Having worked in race relations for some years, Dabydeen’s poetry illustrates his deep commitment to Canada’s ideals of tolerance and cultural plurality as evinced in his most often anthologised poem "Multiculturalism" which, unfortunately, is not included in this collection. Many of his poems verge on the political, dealing with the immigrant and the diasporic subject, but his themes range from the history and myth of countries as far apart as Greece, Mexico and Ireland, to a confessional vein recounting the joys and trials of throes of love and family affairs. It is in this register that he is at his truest, as in "For Claire", where his lines indulge in rhetorical strategies unusual in his otherwise terse but effective sense of imagery and rhythm.

Cyril Dabydeen’s mixed East Indian, Caribbean and Canadian "origins" make him a fascinating writer to explore. As a poet, he has drunk from various sources. He invokes Derek Walcott, whose mixture of cosmopolitanism and love for the Caribbean he shares. But Dabydeen is unique among

Caribbean writers, as he himself states in some lines of "Amazonia", in "[his] interest / in all of South America" (p. 240), an interest revealed in poems like "Lenin Park, Havana" and "For Columbus".
The Canadian critic Patricia Morley has rightly linked him to the Latin American poets Nicolás Guillén and Pablo Neruda. He is also connected to the North American poetical tradition, both of the
United States and Canada. Some of his short early poems are reminiscent of William Carlos Williams, and the conversational tone of others echoes Frank O'Hara's poetry, but it is the poetic directness
of Robert Lowell which best defines him as a poet. In his collections from the 1970’s, we can perceive his admiration for Canadian poets like Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, and Margaret Atwood.
However, reading through Imaginary Origins, we perceive how the poet's own voice emerges with more confidence as his "poem[s] take more deliberate steps, accompanying [us] with a rhythm all its own" ("For Claire", p. 229 ). Let us hope that Cyril Dabydeen accompanies us with many more volumes of this lucid poetry in the years to come.

This is a review of Imaginary Origins: Selected Poems

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