The Shape of That Hurt
In this phrase from Anthony McNeill’s poem “For the D”, Gordon Rohlehr finds the perfect title for the deep questioning of the conjunction between politics and aesthetics that these essays, mainly written in the 1980s and 90s, explore. He charts the fine balance between hope and despair that Caribbean writers from Martin Carter in the corrupt autocracy of Burnham’s Guyana, Kamau Brathwaite surveying the desolation of Kingston, Jamaica during internecine cross community political warfare, and the soca/calypsonians of Trinidad in the midst of the Muslimeen attempted coup d’etat of 1990 respond to the “turmoil of new worlds coming into existence”. Rohlehr is never less than an astringent truth-teller in confronting the darkest years of postcolonial disappointments when the hopes of independence were being buried by the neo-colonial policies of the new/old political elites and sections of the oppressed abandoned the politics of renewal for the insurrectionary despair of crime and terror. But Rohlehr’s focus on the dread political climate is only a part of his wider investigation into the aesthetics of literary form, of how writers, notably Brathwaite, Carter, Kendel Hippolyte, George Lamming, Victor Questel, and Dennis Scott, and soca/calypsonian David Rudder, amongst others, have found ways to transmute the region’s at times inchoate energies into art of the highest order. His reading of Lamming’s Season of Adventure and Brathwaite’s The Arrivants points to the sources of renewal in the Caribbean world, and his attention to then little-known writers such as Hippolyte and Questel is another sign of his critical independence, his courage in establishing a canon of relevance long before metropolitan publishing and academia offer their blessing. Rohlehr has little time for the fashions of “theory”, of the kinds of post-colonial criticism that has flourished mainly in the metropolis. His virtues are in seeing relationships between writing and the world, writing and other texts, in reading closely and imaginatively, and looking for real evidence to support a point of view. When he sees that missing, as in a couple of critical approaches to Kamau Brathwaite, he attacks with a fine mixture of Trinidadian picong and the lash of the deftest stick-fighter. Whilst these essays were written almost thirty years ago, they are as necessary as they ever were as a model of how to connect aesthetics and politics, how to move seamlessly between literature and popular oral forms, and as still the most pertinent critical work on foundational writers such as Carter and Brathwaite. If the Caribbean is currently in a state of comparative social and political quiescence, Rohlehr’s unwavering stare into the apocalyptic turmoil of those times is a necessary reminder that the reasons for that turmoil are still very much present, volcanic, if simmering and not yet blowing.
Author’s Preface: Twisting into Shape
The Problem of the Problem of Form
Possession as Metaphor: Lamming’s Season of Adventure
The Space Between Negations
“Assassins of the Voice”: Martin Carter’s Poems of Affinity 1978-1980
Three for V.
The Shape of that Hurt: An Introduction to Voiceprint
“Megalleons of Light”: Kamau Brathwaite’s Sun Poem
Brathwaite with a Dash of Brown: Crit, the Writer and the Written Life
The Rehumanisation of History: Regeneration of Spirit,
Apocalypse and Revolution in Brathwaite’s The Arrivants and X/Self
Trophy and Catastrophe: Guyana Prize Feature Address
Apocalypso and the Soca Fires of 1990