Am I a Writer? (Part Tres)
Art results from the combination of artist's creative imagination and craft (technical/foundation skills and concepts). An original artist re-imagines his/her chosen art form through the influences on his/her imagination, and to the extent that s/he has mastered the technical/foundational skills and concepts, she creates a new work of art.* For example, Pablo Picasso's creative imagination influenced by African, Micronesian and Native American art, combined with his technical skill re-imagines the Western artistic tradition and creates Cubism.
Using the same principle, one could apply the standard to writers from the Caribbean:
Derek Walcott's creative imagination influenced by his paintings of Caribbean landscapes, St. Lucian/Trinidadian/Caribbean history and folklore, and British/ American poetry, combined with his mastery of rhythm and metaphor, re-imagines modern poetry to create modern Caribbean poetry.
Kamau Brathwaite's creative imagination influenced by Barbadian/Caribbean history and folklores, African history and folklore, jazz, Western philosophy, and British/American poetry, combined with his mastery of rhythm and metaphor, re-imagines modern poetry to create modern Caribbean poetry.
VS Naipaul's creative imagination influenced by Trinidadian history and folklores, Indian heritage and experience in the British colonies, British literature (particularly comedies of manners), combined with his mastery of plot, character and setting, re-imagines the modern novel to create the modern Caribbean novel.
George Lamming's Naipaul's creative imagination influenced by Marxism, Barbadian history and folklore, British literature (particularly the coming-of-age novel), combined with his mastery of plot, character and setting, re-imagines the modern novel to create the modern Caribbean novel.
From these seminal writers, these inheritors added breadth of the Caribbean novel and poetry.
Robert Antoni's creative imagination influenced by Trinidadian history and folklore, the modern Caribbean novel, and the post-modern novel, combined with his mastery of plot, character, and setting, re-imagines a post-modern Caribbean novel in Divina Trace.
Edwidge Danticat's creative imagination influenced by feminism, Haitian history and folklore, the modern Caribbean novel, the post-modern novel, combined with her mastery of plot, character and setting, re-imagines a post-modern Caribbean novel in Breath, Eyes, Memory.
Junot Diaz's creative imagination influenced by science fiction, the history and folklore of Santo Domingo, the modern Caribbean novel and poetry and the post-modern novel, combined with his mastery of plot, character, and setting, re-imagines a post-modern Caribbean novel in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao .
Kwame Dawes' creative imagination influenced by fundamentalist Protestantism, British and American poetry, modern Caribbean poetry (Walcott, Brathwaite, et al ) and Reggae, combined with his mastery of rhythm and metaphor, re-imagines post-modern Caribbean poetry in Progeny of Air.
I could continue by mentioning the importance of other writers such as Austin Clarke, Lorna Goodison, Olive Senior, Michelle Cliff, Julia Alvarez, and Nicolas Guillen or the younger writers such as Adrian Castro, Tobias Buckell, and Nalo Hopkinson (see It's All About Love for a list of Caribbean authors) who are creating new forms and definitions within post-modern Caribbean literature.
It is important to note that the new ideas that the writers introduced were filtered through the particular medium that s/he chose to express his/her ideas, and his or her originality was enhanced by the mastery of craft. Without a mastery of metaphor or character, Derek Walcott and Edwidge Danticat respectively, would have merely been an interesting poet and novelist and would not have garnered the respect and admiration of their peers.
Also worth noting is that their artistic growth has been due to their ability to incorporate new ideas into their latest work without sacrificing metaphor or character development. In Walcott's case, one may compare Sea Grapes to The Arkansas Testament and his ability to move from a Caribbean to an American landscape and to capture the metaphors that are unique to each setting. Or Danticat's movement from the innocence of the protagonist in Breath, Eyes, Memory to the jaded voice in The Dew Breaker.
So, here's the question that I ask my students or whenever I am reading a book of poems: Within the poet's tradition, what are the novel influences on his/her creative intelligence and has the poet been able to capture through word choice these new variations in rhythm and metaphor? In fiction, the question is slightly different: Has the writer been able to convey a new, plausible perspective through character, setting, and plot?
Originality and growth in an art form requires a simultaneous ability to continue learning about original influences and adding to that knowledge while honing one's craft--the exact word to convey and capture, rhythm, tone, meaning, and character. These synergistic processes usually give birth to inspiration, best described by Wislawa Szymborska in her 1996 Nobel Lecture:
Inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It’s made up of all those who’ve consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners – and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous ‘I don’t know’
It is with this wanting to know and armed with only our intuition, ideas, and craft that we push forward into the great unknowing, where the Jamaican novelist, Anthony C. Winkler says, "we must trust the darkness." It is the only way how I know to become a writer.
*“Every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections – language that hears itself and what is around it, sees itself and what is around it, looks back at those who look into its gaze and knows more perhaps even than we do about who and what we are. It begins, that is, in the body and mind of concentration.”
- Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperPerennial, 1998)
(Thanks again, Peony Moon)