The Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to Derek Walcott should indicate that there are many other excellent West Indian poets, rather than that he is some sort of isolated genius. I deliberately say ‘West Indian’ rather than ‘Caribbean’ because Walcott’s supreme achievement, although other poets have prepared the way for him, is to make the term ‘West Indian’ in relation to Caribbean poetry in English completely justified. ‘West Indian’ poetry, as opposed to merely ‘Caribbean’, which simply refers to the region, is characterised by what another West Indian poet and novelist, Wilson Harris, called the ‘cross-cultural imagination’. It can be defined as poetry open to various cultural influences in order to arrive at new, and more mature than history has hitherto allowed, visions of what it means to be human. The poets under consideration here all focus on such visions.
... the poems in Rupert Roopnaraine’s Suite for Supriya, his first collection, make for extremely interesting reading. Also remarkable about Roopnaraine is that, as leader of the Guyanese Working People’s Alliance, he is a politician. No British politician, not even from the Labour Party, can remotely be called a poet. Suite for Supriya is a long poem, divided into forty-eight sections of varying length, which explores the entanglements of love. Allusive with Hindu myth, in which Supriya emerges as a kind of love goddess, the sections range over a geographically sophisticated consciousness that includes Guyana, Italy and England, and snatches of historical memory. One couplet could serve as an epigraph for the whole sequence: ‘Do not sit down to write a poem. Sit down with a poem to write.’ Roopnaraine’s actual epigraphs, which reveal the extent of his poetic ambitions, are from Ovid, Tagore and Wilson Harris. The sequence as a whole shimmers with dazzling imagery, and displays the urgency of a poem that needed to be written.