Book Review: "Dub Wise: A Gift from Maker to Reader" by Mary Hanna






Geoffrey Philp is a fine poet and a friend of poets. His latest collection of poems is lauded by Olive Senior, Mervyn Morris, and Kamau Braithwaite on the back cover of the text. Olive Senior is attracted to Philp’s humour. She says:  “Without losing the joy of play or the play of the rhythms, Dub Wise celebrates the burdens and delights of love, friendships and the responsibility of being at home in the world.” Mervyn Morris admires Philp’s scope and the complexity of his heritage. Morris says:  “Epiphanies in the US and the Caribbean, sensuous love poems to his Colombian wife, poems about family, hurricanes, injustice and other challenges; poems in dialogue with myth, literature, the Bible , music – these are some of the many graceful treasures in this book.” Kamau Brathwaite remarks on Philp’s clear and accomplished voice and its “new strong sense of place…family & history.” He sees “a continuing unfolding of a ‘Jamaican Tradition’” and calls the names of all our major poets in the influences he sees in Philp’s work. It is with delight that one opens this collection and partakes of the offerings there.
           
Here is a simple, lovely poem by Philp. It is called “Rest Poem” and appears in the second section (“Dub Wise”) of the collection:

My sister drags her shadow across
the back of Miami Avenue, her head
brewed in wood smoke, fingers
knotted around the smell of money.

Rest, little sister.

Leave the money in the till, uncounted,
rumpled beds, unmade,
dust in the corners, unswept.

Rest, little sister.

Rest, your head on the cushion of my shoulder,
your arms on the pillow of my chest,
your feet in the cradle of my lap.

Rest, little sister, rest.

I have quoted this poem in full so the precious intensity of Philp’s work can be appreciated, the world of caring and loveliness he can build into a simple poem. It comes as a gift from its maker to the reader, and is symptomatic of this entire collection.

Dub Wise is made up of roughly 70 poems divided into four sections:  “Poems for the Innocent”, “Dub Wise”, “Beyond Mountain View”, and “Mysteries”. These sections address the core concerns of relationships, blessings, and epiphanies.

We hear echoes of the voices of Morris and Dawes, McNeill, Baugh, Mikey Smith and Garvey, Joan ‘Binta’ Breeze and Derek Walcott. Yet Philp has his own distinct voice, as shown in the above quoted poem.

The influence of Walcott can be seen in “Beyond Mountain View”. Here, Philp draws pictures of the landscape that lies along the Palisadoes and harbor View.  He starts with locating the poem in space:

As we descend Mountain View Avenue,
past houses that lie prone
beneath Wareika, scarred by hurricanes
and bulldozers, past walls
smeared with graffiti that still divide the city,
I roll up my window from the stench
of the sea at low tide that creeps
into storefronts and rum bars,
into the hair of sisters in floral
prints, shirts of brothers
with spliffs tucked behind their ears,
up the legs of children rolling
spokeless bicycle rims down a lane…
(“Beyond Mountain View”)

Philp writes with a love of place and purpose, his rhythms always flawlessly attuned to the subject matter of the poem. He builds humour out of unlikely subjects, as for example in “Warner Woman:  Version”, a poem dedicated to Edward Baugh and carrying something of Baugh’s tone in its measured phrases:

“Woe to you, for you have stoned and exiled
my prophets.  Woe to you, for you have defrauded
the homeless and the poor.”  Then she ripped
her dress in two, spat on the asphalt three times,
and ran like a horse without its rider,
back up to Long Mountain, up into the darkness
gathering around the tops of trees
with the smell of rain around their roots.

Philp intertwines his fresh vision with myths of other cultures with remarkable results. Here he draws on the Erzulie myth to write a beautiful paean to the Creole:

But then, the scabs became scars became scales,
her hair grew wild and untamed,
and a garden of yellows, blues, and reds sprouted
on her arms, legs, and back –
her ears and lips studded with gold –
and almost overnight she changed into something
she had always resembled in her own dreams,
in the mirror of her mother –
something beautiful and fearsome.
(“Erzulie’s Daughter”)

In the closing section called “Mysteries”, Philp retells the biblical stories of transformation in a moving sequence. “Isaac’s Sacrifice” is the story of Abraham preparing for the sacrifice of his son, but told from Isaac’s point of view. It is a loving and humorous rendition of terror:  “Isaac probably held Abraham’s trembling/hand against his cheek, and forgave, /yet he couldn’t help but think, /”What would have happened/if the old goat hadn’t had been so lost?”

Philp’s collection is a pleasure to read and remember. The master poets have praised it rightfully and respectfully.

Geoffrey Philp is the author of nine books of poetry and fiction. He teaches English and creative writing at Miami Dade College where he is the chairperson of the College Prep Department. His poems and stories have been published in prestigious journals and anthologies.

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Hanna, Mary. "Dub Wise: A Gift from Maker to Reader." The Sunday Observer 12 December 2010: 3.

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