- Home of the Best in Caribbean & Black British Writing -

Lagahoo Poems

Written by Suzanne Scafe, London South Bank University for Journal of Commonwealth Literature on no date provided

All literary categories and definitions are imperfect and are often the subject of debate and contestation: 'West Indies' and 'The Caribbean' are no exception. 'West Indies', the term used in this journal's previous bibliographies to describe the literature of the Caribbean region, accurately defines the literature of the Commonwealth Caribbean, which is Anglophone and which has historical and contemporary political, social and cultural links to Britain. At the same time, literary scholarship from the region increasingly identifies itself as Caribbean, that is, connected geographically, historically and culturally to the Francophone, Hispanic and Dutch-speaking Caribbean and to the Americas. Many of the collections in this bibliography, as well as individual essays which take a comparative approach to Caribbean narrative, affirm this connection. While 'The West Indies' continues to be used, on the whole, as a historical term to define literary production from the colonial period, as literary categories, both terms interrogate attempts to prescribe boundaries and to establish literary definitions of what constitutes 'West Indian' literature, or what can be included within the category Caribbean. Critics such as O'Callaghan, Sarah Lawson Welsh, Sheila Rampersad, Brinda Mehta and Shalini Puri continue, in their work cited here, to contest traditions of exclusion within Caribbean or West Indian literary criticism and to force a discussion of questions such as: does 'West Indian' include white expatriate colonials; does Caribbean include all migrant experiences; do both terms imply the marginalisation of Indian or Chinese communities in the region? Inevitably, a bibliography that focuses on literature of the Anglophone, Commonwealth Caribbean excludes significant literary contributions from writers such as Danticat, Glissant, Maryse Conde or Patrick Chamoiseau. Within its own prescribed limits, however, it acknowledges the attempt by writers and critics to open up the literary canon to reveal previously neglected or excluded work as well as new experiences of history, location and identity.

M. Nourbese-Philip and Joan Anim-Addo's edited volume of essays, Centre of Remembrance: Memory and Caribbean Women's Literature, is divided into two sections and, with its focus on the non-Anglophone Caribbean as well as otherwise excluded writers such as white West Indian women writers, represents both aspects of the critical project of inclusion. The first section focuses on the representation of history in Caribbean women writers and the relationship between the past and the present and the second examines the textual space and the construction of memory. In 'Living in the Spell of History', one of the essays in the first section, Denise deCaires Narain argues that a sequential reading of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John, Lucy and The Autobiography of My Mother 'reveals a gradual but firm insistence on the disabling effects of colonial history' (30). Sheila Rampersad's study of Merle Hodge's work uses the concept of 'dougla poetics', a term coined by Shalini Puri, to examine Hodge's representation of the organic integration of Indian and African communities in the Trinidad of her novels (140). Anim-Addo's own essay, the last in the anthology, looks at the function of memory as an integral part of the process of representation in a selection of Caribbean women's writing.

Evelyn O'Callaghan's pioneering study, Women Writing the West Indies 1804-1939, examines the work of neglected and excluded white women writers such as M. de C. Crommelin, Frieda Cassin, the Hart sisters, H.C. Jenkins and many others, as well as the narratives of Mary Prince and Mary Secole. While acknowledging that the work of many of these writers reveals an 'essentialized, racialized agenda', she argues that its importance is that it provides a fascinating insight into an important historical period; their work helps to reveal some of the tensions within the white communities of the West Indies. These narratives also contribute to an understanding of how racial categories were constructed and elaborated during the period of slavery and colonialism. In the final chapters of her study, O'Callaghan attempts to uncover the complex narrative positions occupied by these texts and to theorise a way of reading which admits their difference, complexity and plurality.

Rudyard C. Alcocer's Narrative Mutations: Discourses of Heredity and Caribbean Literature focuses on the ways in which Caribbean fiction is informed by ideas of heredity and traces tropes of heredity in Caribbean narratives from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominica and Guade.loupe. The fifth chapter of his study focuses on three novels: Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, Ana Lydia Vega's El Baul de Miss Florence and Maryse Conde's Windward Heights. These novels are all linked by their connection to fiction by the Bronte sisters and Alcocer's aim in this chapter is to explore ways in which the texts are also linked by figures of heredity manifested through representations of 'congenital illness and malice, children of unexpected pigmentation, and behaviour patterns based on antiquated racial classifications'. (17)

In their introduction to the collection Prospero's Isles: The Presence of the Caribbean in the American Imaginary, Dianne Accaria Zavala and Rudolfo Popelnik begin by attesting to the influence of Claude McKay on the literary production of the Harlem Renaissance. They argue that his contribution to the Renaissance made 'Jamaican folkways, its popular culture, and a distinct Caribbean sense of rhythm, movement and imagery the stuff of modern poetry' (1). The aim of the collection is to re-examine the cultural networks that link the Caribbean to America; they focus on music, specifically Afro-Cuban jazz and salsa, on architecture and on literary texts. Michelle Stephens' essay on Eric Walrond's 1926 collection, Tropic Death, reflects the trajectory of many of the essays in this anthology; she explores the impact of white American modernism, and specifically T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, on his collection of short stories, influencing, she argues, the representation of Barbados as a tropical wasteland, parched dry by the process of modernisation. Stephens also looks at the way in which his work is informed by an awareness of American expansionism in the region, and its use of the Panama canal as a sign both of American economic and political power and of the beginnings of a process of trans-Caribbean migration, driven by the American need for labour. As well as reflecting the influence of America in the Caribbean, like McKay's work, Walrond's anthology brings to the literature of the Harlem Renaissance cultural modes of representation from the Caribbean.

Imagining London by John Clement Ball is a work that explores representations of London in a variety of postcolonial fiction. The third chapter takes a chronological approach to West Indian writing produced in London and begins with an analysis of the complex significance of Henry Swanzy's 'Caribbean Voices', broadcast by the BBC Overseas Service to the Caribbean at 7.30 Caribbean time every Sunday. The chapter traces the evolution of a West Indian image of London, from Lamming's The Emigrants, Rhys's Voyage in the Dark, Selvon's The Lonely Londoners to contemporary novels by David Dabydeen and Joan Riley. Clement Ball covers an impressive range of texts and provides a fascinating analysis of an imagined London, transformed from the closed, claustrophobic and annihilating spaces of Lamming's text to a site of new and enabling diasporic identities in novels such as Dabydeen's The Intended.

Much of the fiction and poetry from the Caribbean continues to engage with an idea of the Caribbean diaspora and to investigate the possibilities and the desirability of plural and unfixed constructions of self. The geographical terrain of Walcott's The Prodigal extends from Pennsylvania, where his poem begins, to Pescara, Genoa, Zermatt, Lausanne, Milan, Rimini, Catagena, Guadelajara, Santa Cruz and Soufriere. Along the journey, the poet constantly returns to considerations of history and its place in the formation of a postcolonial identity. Less ambitiously, Anthony Kellman's novel explores the disabling tension experienced by its protagonist, Alphonso Hutson, between the need for the freedom that North America offers and the desire to return `home' to Barbados. Alphonso's inability to think of the United States as home is manifested in his compulsive desire to move house almost annually. Finally, in a return to Barbados he confronts some of the spectres that were the legacy of his childhood and adolescence, and which need to be confronted before he can find peace.

Each of N.D. Williams' short stories in the anthology, Julie Mango, also focuses on the way that migration, or the possibility of migration, affects the lives of his protagonists. The anthology's epigraph is from Walcott's poem 'Light of the World' and the story of the same name reflects Walcott's preoccupation with the sea not only as a site of the Caribbean's past but also as a defining image of the identity of the islander. Many of the stories in Anthony Winkler's engaging collection, The Annihilation of Fish, also revolve around the experience of migration from the Caribbean to the USA or England. The characters in the second section of Jan Lowe Shinebourne's short stories, The Godmother, are exiles fleeing the politically oppressive regime of Burnham's Guyana; the tensions created by that government are inescapable and cast a shadow over the lives of the characters wherever they go, causing divided loyalties and the break up of marriages and friendships.

Cherie Jones' The Burning Bush Woman is an anthology of beautifully written short stories set in Barbados and North America but focusing less on the anxieties of identity and place than on the struggles of the everyday. Jones has an unwavering eye for detail; her characters are vividly drawn and their lives, whether tragic or mundane, are treated with sympathy. Her sly humour enlivens even the most poignant descriptions: the emergence of Dear Aunt Cleothilda in the story 'A Day of Deliverance' is preceded by the description of her 'hawking sleep from her chest and tickling her gums with her tongue the way she does when her teeth on secondment to a jam jar of water' (71). There is more loss and sadness in the section entitled 'Away'. Miss Marie's daughter, the narrator of the story `Blind', has recently arrived from St. Kitts to North America and is living with a mother for whom she feels no affection. To counter her sense of her own invisibility she wears red, further alienating those around her, including her mother, and reinforcing her feelings of otherness: red catsuit, red boots, red earrings, lipstick `and my red wig that cost Me $19,19'(109).

Another variation of the theme of migration is represented in Joanne C. Hillhouse's novel Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, which focuses on the lives of three sisters who have migrated from the Dominican Republic to Antigua, in search of a better life. Once there they experience resentment and open hostility and struggle to keep their family together.

In contrast, Opal Palmer Adisa's new anthology of poetry is very firmly rooted in Jamaica and one of the sequences of poems uses the names of well known places in Jamaica as titles: 'Discovery Bay', 'Run Away Bay', 'Hope Gardens', and `Milk River'. The latter is a poem that depicts the slave woman's refusal to bear any more children into slavery. The language of these poems is inventive and challenging, and exploits to powerful effect the full range of Jamaica's language continuum. Laurence Lieberman's Hour of the Mango Black Moon represents an exciting new direction in Caribbean poetry. The poems in this anthology are a detailed commentary on a selection of paintings by Stanley Greaves, Ras Akyem and Ras Ishi. The paintings are beautifully repro.duced with the poems themselves.



Aboud, James Christopher Lagahoo Poems 64pp Peepal Tree Press (Leeds) £6.99.

Adisa, Opal Palmer Caribbean Passion 96pp Peepal Tree Press (Leeds) £7.99.

Dabydeen, Cyril Imaginary Origins 160pp Peepal Tree Press (Leeds) £9.99.

Ellin, Jeanne Who Asked the Caterpillar 72pp Peepal Tree Press (Leeds) £7.99.

Gonzales, Anson Crossroads of a Dream 72pp Peepal Tree Press (Leeds) £7.99.

Lieberman, Laurence Hour of the Black Mango Moon 120pp Peepal Tree Press (Leeds) £12.99.

Riley, Sandra The Lucayans 88pp Macmillan Caribbean (Oxford) £10.95. 

Simmons-McDonald, Hazel The Silk Cotton and Other Trees 56pp Ian Randle (Jamaica) U$14.95.

Walcott, Derek Another Life (fully annotated) ed Edward Baugh and Colbert Nepaulsingh 354pp Rienner (Colorado) £55.00. 

Walcott, Derek, The Prodigal 112pp Straus and Giroux csd £12.99.

This is a review of Lagahoo Poems

View this book
- Home of the Best in Caribbean & Black British Writing -