Xango Music

Written by Phillis and David Gershator for The Caribbean Writer, Vol. 16 on

How rich and textured these two collections are! [Also reviews Orlando Menes’s Rumba Atop the Stones]

Jamaican poet Geoffrey Philp writes in a more populist vein, with references to psalms, pop songs, and reggae. He has a political side, a humorous side, a lyrical side, and a romantic side, too. Although we must speak up for Buddha, who knew his earthly delights well, 'easy skanking' is a beautiful love poem:

all saturday evenings
should be like this, caressing
your thigh while reading neruda
with his odes to matilde’s arms,
breasts, hair - everything about her
that made him
a part of this bountiful earth -
lilies, onions, avocadoes - that fed
his poetry the way
rain washes the dumb cane with desire
or banyans break through the asphalt.
this is the nirvana that the buddha
with his bald monks and tiresome sutras
never knew - or else he’d never have left
his palace and longing bride -
the supple feel of your leg in my hands
for which I’d spin the wheel of karma
a thousand lifetimes, more (24)

Using rhythm and riffs, he can pull the stops on language and give it a high energy kick. In 'jam-rock' he winds up with 'the crack of bones, the sweat of the whip; girl, you gonna get a lot of it; get it galore; my heart still beats uncha, uncha uncha, cha'(31).

Philp successfully uses a variety of traditional forms, including the sestina - not an easy form to master but masterfully handled in 'sestina for bob.' Eclectic, the poet pays homage to Kamau Brathwaite, Bob Marley, and Derek Walcott.

Both books are handsomely produced, though the print for Xango Music could have been darker. Helpful glossaries are included, in Philp’s from anhingas to zetoile, in Menes’ from Adoshem to zunzuncito.

For all their energy and wide range, both poets are controlled and in charge of their material. And both live in Florida. A coincidence? Maybe not. It seems Florida is now the cultural capital of the Caribbean.

These poets come from different islands, but they sing the songs of a shared island world, an awe-inspiring, heady mix of peoples and cultures. [...]
For Philp, the whole Caribbean is a 'carib stew,' (a poem which originally appeared in The Caribbean Writer):

africans, indians (three continents),
chinese, lebanese, the odd jew.
add to the stock: english beef, scotch
bonnet peppers, a smack of spanish
parsley, irish potatoes and slivers of french
bread; bring to a boil with colonialism,
capitalism, democratic socialism,
and simmer for five hundred years (47).