Black and Blues (Barbados)

Barbados Mapbook coverby Kamau Brathwaite

courtesy of a special order from Auntie’s Bookstore

It’s a good thing that this volume of poetry from “Barbadian Troubadour” Brathwaite is slim, because these poems are rich. He’s very good at using the language as a song, but it is like he can sing harmony and melody at the same time. Listen to the lines in Schooner, for example:

Schooner

A toss night between us
high seas
and then in the morning
sails slack
rope flacking the rigging
your schooner comes in

Barbados boatsOn the deck. buttress
w/mango boxes
chicken coops. crocus rice bags I see you
older than I wd wish you
more tatter than my pride
cd stand

you see me
movin reluctant to the quai-
site. stiff as you know me
too full of pride
but you had travel brave
the big wave and

the bilge swishin stomache
climb the tall seas
to come to me

ship was too early
or was I too late

beach hut(That’s only half the poem, btw but you get the idea. Quai=English quay. Wharf, in American. It turns out the languages spoken in Barbados are French, English, Spanish and Creole, hence various spellings. Unfortunately the indigenous language/s seem to have been wiped out, although a revitalization effort for Kalinago speakers is underway.)

This isn’t dead language though. Brathwaite’s English is full of the blues–pain, outrage, history, sweetness. It’s like the words just jump off the page to light you on fire. Here is the beginning of Glass:

Glass

the author

Portrait of the Poet as a Man

Through corneas of glass I see my people
black
I see them homeless still and shift
less. Slack
& hungry. white
lipped. ray mouthed
beggar at the corners
bugged. drugged
crying out to the enemy for bread…

Even the titles of the poems are resonant of island history: Starvation, Manchile, Moor, Caliban (the demonized Black in Shakespeare’s play of the same name)…

A common word that’s heard, no that rings throughout this collection is REVOLUTION and the need for it, even now, even after hundreds or even a thousand years.

Goodness, I feel that reading these poems have made my voice more poetic, even if it is temporary, I feel grateful. (Great, and full?) But sad and angry too. Hot under the collar, hot like roasting in a tropical sun, burning with injustice like chili peppers or whatever sort of spicyness grows in the Bahamas.

Sunsong is about “the great Ahanamanta comet of that year:

Sunsong

ackee rice and salt cod

“Ackee, rice, salt fish on ice and the rum is fine anytime of year…” –Kingston Trio

The sun has dried my tropic
my mellow suns
my fat banana green
termites wings visit me
spindles of tamarind leaves
falling through the yellow light…

Here are the last lines of this poem, which appear in a bigger, louder, dancier font: (notice how he keeps splitting lines to get a double meaning from the words?)

storm-
tossed. oludumare’s con-
flagration. i wd speak twinkle

As I’m always saying, one of the great pleasures of reading is learning. Well, I Googled “Ahanamanta comet” and got only ONE website…and it is in Spanish, which I do not speak. So if anybody knows about this, please comment. Oludumare, I learned is the Supreme God in the Yoruba pantheon.

Final Comments

I don’t normally enjoy poetry for a variety of reasons. I did enjoy this. I think you would have to be dead not to. Five tamarind leaves! (Oh, and a 1994 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.)

 

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