"The Witness": Wayne Brown (1944-2009)

I still have the copy of On the Coast that Wayne Brown autographed for me when he visited South Florida as a guest author at Miami Book Fair International in 2003. In that slim volume, Brown demonstrated his ability to extend Derek Walcott's influence while maintaining his own voice. This is evident in the poem, "The Witness," where his mastery of lyricism, enjambment, and imagery are on full display. Wayne Brown, poet, journalist, and creative writing teacher, died yesterday.

T.S. Eliot once said, "As things are, and as fundamentally they must always be, poetry is not a career, but a mug's game. No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what he has written: He may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing." As a poet and teacher, Brown extended his legacy through the many creative writing workshops that he organized in Jamaica, and was responsible for creating opportunities for writers such as Kei Miller, Millicent Graham, Sharon Leach, and Frances Coke.

Perhaps Brown's greatest contribution to Caribbean letters was the publication of Derek Walcott: Selected Poetry, where he introduced generations of students and poetry lovers to an understanding of the many levels of Walcott's verse. His exegesis of poems such as "To a Painter in England," "The Castaway," and "Mass Man," established Brown's considerable skills as a critic.

Wayne Brown's persistence in broadening the public's appreciation of Caribbean literature will be cherished by his readers and students, who I am sure were grateful for having known this remarkable man.


The Witness

Always when the warring tides

ebb at sunset, someone comes.

At first you can hardly see

him: a black nut in the surf

Of the advancing skyline,

or as if the dusk congealed

to fleck that darkening iris:

your eyes widen in terror,

You hate him, mock him as he moves

among the schrapnel of chipped stones,

the palm trees' tattered flags, the stiff

trunks flung face down in the sand…

Later, on the well-lit train

to a colonial future

narrow as rails, you ask 'Who

was that stranger by the sea?'

Man, he is your memory

that each sunset moves among

the jetsam of the tribe, the years

widowed past grief, yet lingering.

Even as the murmuring

sea unwraps and wraps its arms

in turn around each dead, loved thing:

and the gesture may be fruitless, but is made.

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Lyz said…
Its wonderful to read about other people who knew wayne and loved him too. He meant so much to so many people, I think that just speaks to the power of his words, his insight and his life.
He certainly was, Lyz. Welcome!
Fly Girl said…
That poem sent chills through me. I'm sorry to hear that he has passed but his legacy and words live on.
He was, to be sure, a gifted poet.
Glad you liked the poem, Fly Girl.

N. Pierre said…
Quite a shock to read this as I had not known he was ill. I always read his column in the Trinidad Express back in the 80's and 90's, and our English teacher also made us read his columns for discussion and vocabulary.
After he moved to Jamaica, and I had left to study abroad, I "googled" him and found his columns in the Jamaican Observer. I have been reading his columns since.
His is a great loss for Caribbean writing. My condolences to his family, friends, and the Caribbean mind.
N. Pierre, it is quite a shock and I suspect that the full effect have not yet been felt or realized.


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