Thursday, November 15, 2007

may the ancestors be pleased!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Whether or NOT

A unique collection of selected poetry tracing the history and diverse cultures of Trinidad & Tobago plus the wider Caribbean heritage. Many of these poems are included on the award winning spokenword CD:Y42K. First published in 2000, this edition is introduced by Dr Lauri Ramey and includes a commentary by Lennox Raphael.

Printed: 90 pages, 6" x 9", jacket-hardcover binding, black and white interior ink

While acknowledging the usual categories in which a poetry of conscience is often slotted, describing Kwabena's poetry as solely "political" or "performative" does not do it full justice. Raised in a home where literature was present and stressed, including the works of a broad range of Caribbean and African American writers, Kwabena also experienced the early influences of classroom memorisation at the tail end of the colonial educational system.The combination of oppression and release proposed by poetry — reciting Byron and Skeete at school, while reading Selvon and Du Bois at home — must have been instilled at a young age via such exposure. It was an early lesson that language could be a source of productive tension to illuminate forces (repressive as well as enabling) that otherwise would remain hidden.

For example, in 'westindia', cultural identity is reclaimed through the careful repetitive construction of the negative case. The poem is framed with the opening and closing couplet: "here is not west india/here is not west india." Names, our most primal linguistic emblem of identity, are shown to be symptomatic of the problems of the colonial legacy. The list of place names is solemnly intoned

st croix
st kitts
st eustatius
st vincent
st thomas

as the poem echoes the litany of saint names for locales where the namers "never, ever trod." The word "look" is repeated, a plea and demand in one, as the poet begs and insists that the irony of the situation be recognised and acknowledged. This drumming of an intoned and highly significant word becomes in this collection what is what is commonly known as leitworter (Martin Buber) — a frequent device in biblical narrative as well as the earliest African American poetry, notably spirituals (which so strongly influenced much of later Black American verse) — where single words or phrases accrue the weight of a central theme, beyond what an individual word can ordinarily bear.

The "what we are not" is impeccably balanced with "what we are." These poems amply trace the historical and political path of the Gallabi as an indigenous population through a wealth of documentation. There is a thrust in this collection as a whole to recapture the unique legacy of Caribbean peoples, who share Diasporic links but also remain distinct. Here is where we experience Kwabena as poet-teacher: the "Obeahman" he aspires to be in his anthemic poem is, ironically, the figure he has become in Whether Or Not. Traditionally, in "new age bois," the speaker in the poem calls on the spirits of the ancestors to empower him to bring their energy — and burdens — into the present for resolution, tirelessly. There is an implicit charge to the reader to enter into the process of education by means of enculturation.

MP3 audio of theme poem

An excerpt from the Introduction

Roi Kwabena's Whether Or Not

Dr. Lauri Ramey, Department of English,

California State University, Los Angeles

Sunday, November 04, 2007

in memory of ancestor andre tanker

ANDRE TANKER- see previous reference