May 31, 2007

Which Caribbean?

Francis WadeMany people use the terms “West Indian” and “Caribbean” interchangeably. Yet the question still remains, is there a distinction between the terms “West Indian” and “Caribbean”? Living Guyana thinks it’s “mere semantics”, while Wade uses the terms interchangeably: “Logically I know that Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, and Martinique are Caribbean,” he says. “Caribbean primarily means English-speaking, Caribbean Basin country, but I include Bahamas and Belize in there although they are not really a part of the Caribbean Basin.”

Philp, on the other hand, has a clear distinction about the terms:

“West Indies refers to the former colonies of England – mostly English speaking. ‘Caribbean’ refers to the whole gumbo: English, French, Spanish, patwa, what-have-you speaking archipelago of islands, and the coastal regions of South and Central Americas. You could even extend the definition to places in North America such as the recently colonized Miami and the older cities in Louisiana and the Carolinas or Plantation America.”

Check out the rest of the discussion between Guyana Media Critic, Francis Wade, and Geoffrey Philp over at Global Voices


May 30, 2007

Tribute to Miss Lou

Jamaican poetMiss Lou in her life and poetry had many things to teach us. And she taught in a way that only the best teachers can—without us knowing.

She has been called the “original dubber” and certainly Miss Lou was an advocate of what the poet, Kamau Brathwaite calls “nation language” or patwa. But what is often overlooked is that Miss Lou was also about choice and dignity. She could speak the Queen’s English and she could speak patwa. However, in either setting, one thing is clear: she has a firm sense of who she is, what she is doing, and why she is practicing her vocation. How many of us can say that about ourselves?

Miss Lou also had the uncanny ability to put herself in the place of other, a great empathy for the underdog, the neglected in our societies, but in the speakers in her poems are never victims. Despite the humiliation that the speaker in the poem may be facing, Miss Lou as a revolutionary practitioner of that last weapon that Africans in the New World had—humor—practiced her craft with deadly accuracy and care.

In the poem “Bans A’Killin’,” examine how Miss Lou uses her knowledge of the history of the English language and literature to undermine the position of the person, Mass Charlie, who sought to denigrate her “nation language” by reminding Mass Charlie that English was once a patwa. She defends herself by coming from a position of knowledge and power and shows up Mass Charlie’s ignorance or her, her history, himself, or his history. Watch how she slices and dices Mass Charlie’s argument until he is reduced to the object of humor. Or as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh would have said, “Slave driver, the tables are turned.” Instead of calling Miss Lou the “original dubber,” she should have been called the original “Stepping Razor.”

Bans a Killin
by Miss Lou (from Aunty Roachy Seh)

So yuh a de man me hear bout!
Ah yuh dem seh dah teck
Whole heap a English oat seh dat
yuh gwine kill dialec!

Meck me get it straight, mas Charlie,
For me no quite understan

Yuh gwine kill all English dialec
Or jus Jamaica one?

Ef yuh dah equal up wid English
Language, den wha meck
Yuh gwine go feel inferior when
It come to dialec?

Ef yuh cyaan sing 'Linstead Market'
An 'Water come a me yeye’
Yuh wi haffi tap sing 'Auld lang syne’
An ‘Comin through de rye'.

Dah language weh yuh proud a,
Weh yuh honour an respec –
Po Mas Charlie, yuh no know se
Dat it spring from dialec!

Dat dem start fi try tun language
From de fourteen century -
Five hundred years gawn an dem got
More dialec dan we!

Yuh wi haffi kill de Lancashire,
De Yorkshire, de Cockney,
De broad Scotch and de Irish brogue
Before yuh start kill me!

Yuh wi haffi get de Oxford Book
A English Verse, an tear
Out Chaucer, Burns, Lady Grizelle
An plenty a Shakespeare!

When yuh done kill 'wit' an 'humour',
When yuh kill 'variety',
Yuh wi haffi fine a way fi kill

An mine how yuh dah read dem English
Book deh pon yuh shelf,
For ef yuh drop a 'h' yuh mighta
Haffi kill yuhself!

The tribute poem“bob marley in the daycare center,” may seem an odd choice because the poem is not written in patwa and it’s not about Miss Lou. But Bob Marley like Miss Lou always defended his right to be himself and be free as he sang in ‘Three o’clock, Roadblock”: “Oh why can’t we be what we want to be? / We want to be free.” For the ultimate lesson that Bob and Miss Lou have to teach us is to have the courage to be who we are, and to speak how we must speak, in our own voice.

In “bob marley in the daycare center” (I got the idea from Allen Ginsberg’s “ A Supermarket in California) I am imagining the kind of work that Bob would take if he reincarnated back on this plane where we are now. And I imagined, given his love for children, he would probably come back to work in a daycare center.

bob marley in the daycare center

when i first glimpsed him, the smile,

as he played peek-a-boo in the communal playpen,

inside the young president's club, mt. sinai,

after circle time with the toddlers, reading

real-life stories of heroes whose only weapons

were words aimed at the dragon's heart,

they stared, transfixed, at the sound

uncoiling from his mouth like smoke;

he placed them gently on their blue cots

while the older kids built castles with blocks,

unsteady as jericho's wall to the rastaman's song,

then retreated to the infants' area to sponge bathe

the early risers--he'd burned through life so fast,

he'd never really grown accustomed to this

human softness--no longer the hard, bitter seed

filled with a desperation that couldn't wait to shatter

its shell, like the eucalyptus pods that fell

on the playground where he'd decided

almost a lifetime ago, this time, he'd take it slow.


May 29, 2007

Guess Who's on Simphani?

Geoffrey PhilpDavid McQueen has done a mini-feature about me over at his blog. Why not go over there and check it out?

Simphani is great little site:

Thank you, David.


May 25, 2007

There's Still Time to Make it to Calabash!

CalabashThis gorgeous picture from Jake's, home of the Calabash Literary Festival is brought to you via Georgia Popplewell and Caribbean Free Radio.

For those of you, like me, who can't make it this year, we can enjoy the festival vicariously through Georgia's lens.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone!


Five Questions With Xavier Murphy

Xavier MurphyXavier Murphy is the owner and webmaster of what is undoubtedly one of Jamaica's oldest and most popular online destinations - Jamaicans.Com. With a good mix of hard work, democracy, and entrepreneurship, Xavier has managed to keep on the forefront of Jamaica and the Caribbean's Internet landscape for almost a decade.

1. Why did you start

The site went live in 1995 when the World Wide Web started to take off. In 1994 I had been working for a company that did electronic marketing and had "placements" on CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL. These were the original "electronic" communities where everything was in one place. Back then the Internet was basically divided into 3 parts: E-mail, the graphical portion (now known as the World Wide Web) and Newsgroups. I remember searching many of the search directories (including Yahoo which started in 1995) for Jamaican web sites on the "World Wide Web" on the using the CompuServe Mosaic Browser. I found 3 sites: an Arlene Laing site with an overview of Jamaica, JaAlumni Yard Page, and the unofficial web site for my high school, Jamaica College. I was always very passionate about my homeland, and I was proud to find these sites online. I used to have my own magazine/newsletter years ago and I had some content, so I figured, why not start a website with some of the stuff I already had?

2. How has the Internet changed since you began publishing?

Wow...where do I start? It has grown tremendously. I used to use Notepad to edit the pages on my website. Now I have Dreamweaver and so many other great tools.
Open Source software applications has also leveled the playing field. It was very cost prohibitive to create complex applications, with Open Source you can find any application you need for your website.

3. What was your greatest challenge in maintaining

The biggest challenge is the traffic to the website. Through the years we have upgraded a few times because the site continues to grow.

4. What was your greatest disappointment?

My greatest disappointment is a bit broader than just online. I think we do not cherish our culture and the people/institutes that try to preserve it. It comes in the form of lack of sponsorship by Jamaican businesses or lack of support by the community. Even online we tend to tear down than build up.

5. What are the benefits of Internet publishing?

The ability to get information out quickly and getting instant feedback.


What makes you laugh?

The creativity of Jamaicans and just our style of humor. The online forums is the outlet for a lot of funny stuff. Whenever I need a good laugh, I take a look at some of the discussions there. We have the ability to make the serious very funny or put a hilarious spin on things.


May 24, 2007

I Just Live My Life: Muhtadi Thomas

Muhtadi ThomasThe multimedia artist Elspeth Duncan from Trinidad recently spent time here (lucky us!), and posted this about her experiences working with us on a documentary about Master drummer Muhtadi Thomas:

The name Muhtadi means ‘rightly guided’. As he says, if each one of us looks back on our lives, we will see that we have been rightly guided to be where we are now.

I came to Canada to do a course in reflexology. Two days after my arrival, when the course was unexpectedly canceled due to low enrollment, another door opened in the form of an opportunity to work with Leda Serene Films on a documentary about the drummer/musician, Muhtadi. This documentary is the fourth in Leda Serene’s documentary series on Canadian-Caribbean Musicians and Composers for Bravo!

It felt ironic to be working on a documentary about a drummer, since prior to coming to Toronto, I kept feeling that I wanted to experience drum circles while being here. Also, a friend of mine (who did not know I had been feeling this), told me before I left that she ‘saw me‘ carrying my drum on the plane. In fact she advised me to and I told her I didn’t feel like the extra luggage (although I have since bought a drum while being here), so my heart will have to be ‘my drum’. It may sound kind of soppy to say that, but looking back, it reflects what Muhtadi said later on: that once you are alive, you are a drummer, since we all have a heart, which is a drum, beating the rhythm of life and connecting us. “The drum is love. And everybody loves to love.”

I had never met Muhtadi before and, while I must have heard his name, I was not aware of him and his work. On my first day at Leda Serene, surrounded by a welcoming staff of people and cats, I sat and scrolled through 15 tapes of previously shot ‘Muhtadi doc’ footage. There, amidst the montage of images, sounds and interviews, I encountered Muhtadi as ‘the centre’. He is at the centre of himself, as much as he is at the centre of the world of souls around him. (I say ‘souls’ because his son, Talib, in his interview, casually spoke of his father attracting ‘souls’. I found it interesting that he did not use the word ‘people’). Souls of all ages, genders, nationalities, races, creeds and professions have gathered around the drum and Muhtadi. No doubt, in ways specific to each, they have been moved and inspired by him.

Before the shoot, I decided to meet Muhtadi by physically going to one of his Saturday drum classes. That day it was being held outdoors, on Hanlan’s Point (Toronto Islands). He brought a djembe for me and we rode across together on the ferry. He is not an overly talkative person, but whenever he speaks, what he says is interesting and meaningful. That day, by being a part of his class, I realised that he does not need to speak loudly, if at all, to command love, attention and respect from those around him.

On the day that Jeff (production co-ordinator), Powys (camera), Ayol (sound) and I went to Muhtadi’s home to interview him, I asked him if he would open our filming session in the same way that he opens his drumming sessions, with his hands playing a prayer (for centering) on the drum skin. As we watched him do this, I felt drawn in … and there came a point where he and the drum merged, becoming one. It struck me in that moment that I am yet to truly connect with and know my own 'drum' as deeply. That may be so for many of us. From meeting Muhtadi, I realize there is no big secret to be discovered or revelation to be had where this is concerned. The answer is in his simple statement: “I just live my life.”

Thanks to Frances Anne, everyone at Leda Serene Films, Sniper and crew (cats), Powys, Ayol, Jay (editor) and Muhtadi for this experience.

The Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, "celebrating the drum as an international instrument,... and that nurtures a lifelong appreciation of the drum as a unifying symbol" will bring together professional drummers from all over the world - free all weekend - at Queens Park, on June 2-3rd.

Via Newz From Leda Serene & CaribbeanTales:

Our work documenting artists here is wonderful for us. It is dynamic, uplifting, and empowering, not least because many of these talented creators have been working in the community and having an impact on life here for years with little or no recognition of the breadth and importance of their contribution. Muhtadi is one extraordinary example. He is from Trinidad.

Creation is generally a lonely unsung process, so it's wonderful when artists are able to come together to share and serve each others forms of expression.

I feel like in a simple synergistic way, this happened here. I would like all of us Elspeth, Muhtadi, me and my little company (and our office full of cats) to get the widest possible circulation.


May 22, 2007

St. Martin Book Fair: "Writing Justice"--May 31 to June 2, 2007

Caribbean writers

GREAT BAY/MARIGOT, St. Martin—The 5th annual St. Martin Book Fair (May 31 –June 2, 2007) will open in Spring Concordia, Marigot at the Maison des Entreprises (Chamber of Commerce Building) on Thursday, May 31, at 8pm..

Most of the book fair workshops will be hosted in Great Bay (Philipsburg) at the University of St. Martin (USM) on Friday, June 1 and all day on Saturday, June 2.

"Famous and new visiting writers will crisscross the island to primary and high schools. The cultural concert will be held in Cay Hill. The main book launch and closing ceremony will conclude the St. Martin Book Fair in Cupecoy, at the American University in the Caribbean, " said book fair coordinator Shujah Reiph.

With its theme of “Writing Justice,” book fair 2007 will see over five new books released. Workshop topics will range from constitutional matters to death penalty issues, to one entitled “RasTafari as Image & Voice of Justice in Caribbean Literature,” said Reiph, who is also president of Conscious Lyrics Foundation (CLF).

The cultural night, which was such a hit in 2006, with poets reciting in their native language, will be repeated with readers from St. Martin, St. Lucia, Nigeria, France and the Bahamas—to name a few of the places where the authors are originating this year.

The standard favorites such as the ponum dance, the day-long “In the Children’s Room” (for ages 4 – 12), and the computer/Internet media workshops will return in style. Remember the massively popular celebrity hair-care workshop in 2006? There will be a different twist in 2007, by a French author who will use her book on hair and skin attitudes as the center piece of discussion, said Jacqueline Sample, president of House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP).

“The Book Fair Committee [BFC] will have its hands full with a record 18 workshops and general sessions. “House of Nehesi is pushing the envelope to have five books ready for book signings and the main book launch, and we added more schools that will be visited by the writers,” said Reiph.

“As usual, we got the multi-lingual features as an aspect of the St. Martin culture, and the BFC is busy with plans to attract more people from all over the island to enjoy and benefit from this new book fair edition.

“This year, also for the first time, we were contacted by tourists, from New York and Puerto Rico, who are coming in especially for the St. Martin Book Fair. So news about this cultural event is growing at home and abroad,” said Reiph.

The St. Martin Book Fair is organized by CLF and HNP, both non-profit NGOs, in collaboration with USM. The St. Maarten Tourist Bureau is the major patron of the St. Martin Book Fair.

Visit for St. Martin Book Fair 2007 updates. View Book Fair 2006 photos at

May 18, 2007

Book Giveaway Contest: Caribbean-Americans and the “American-Dream”

In celebration of Caribbean-American Heritage Month, Geoffrey Philp’s Blog Spot in coordination with Akashic Books and will be hosting a book giveaway contest on the theme, “Caribbean-Americans and the 'American Dream.'”

The Prizes

The top four winning entries will receive a copy of one of the following books from Akashic Books:

The Girl With the Golden Shoes by Colin Channer

She’s Gone by Kwame Dawes

Dog War by Anthony Winkler

The Lunatic by Anthony Winkler.

How to Participate

1. Write a brief paragraph (250- 500 words) about any Caribbean-American and her/his contribution to the “American Dream.”

2. Post it on Geoffrey Philp's Blog Spot, “Caribbean-Americans and the American-Dream” under the Comments, or post on your own blog with a link to the book give away contest, “Caribbean-Americans and the American Dream.”

(5/23/07) Entries may now be e-mailed to me: geoffreyphilp101 [at] You MUST have book giveaway in the subject line or else it will be treated as spam.

If you leave a Comment under Anonymous, please leave your name (or alias) in the box and send me an e-mail confirming your identity. My e-mail address is geoffreyphilp101 [at]

3. One entry per person.

4. Entries close at 4:30 PM EST, May 31, 2007.

5. The drawing will be held on Saturday, June 2, 2007 and the winners will be announced on Wednesday, June 6, 2007.

6. The winners will be published in and Geoffrey Philp’s Blog Spot.

The Judges

Preston Allen, author of All or Nothing.

Nicholas Laughlin, editor of The Caribbean Review of Books, and, Antilles, the CRB blog.

Geoffrey Philp, author of Florida Bound.


Be as creative as you want to be with the topic.

Personalize. Make the judges believe that you didn't just copy from Wikipedia.

“Caribbean American” refers to any person, first or second generation, from the Spanish speaking, French speaking, and English speaking Caribbean.

Here is a link to a few Caribbean-Americans: Wikipedia.

Don't forget the oldies, but goodies such as Jose Marti, Nicolas Guillen, Felix Morriseau-Leroy, Luis Pales Matos, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) , and Colin Powell.

And, of course, so many writers.

Link to the post, “Caribbean-Americans and the American-Dream or leave your entry in the Comments.

Other Requirements:

To enter the book giveaway, you must meet these requirements:

*You must be 18 years of age or older. Sorry, I don’t want to be accused of corrupting the youth.

*Only English language entries are eligible.

*You must either submit under Comments or link to the post “Caribbean-Americans and the American-Dream.”

*You must submit your entry no later than 4:30 PM EST, May 31, 2007.

Thank you, Johnny Temple of Akashic Books and Xavier Murphy of

Good luck to all!


PS. Please check here for updates. I've just learned that Xavier is going to throw in some T-shirts courtesy of


Five Questions With Kyra E. Hicks

African-American writer Kyra HicksKyra E. Hicks taught herself to quilt after visiting a museum exhibit of African American story quilts in 1991. Her quilts have been shown in such prestigious venues as the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery in Washington DC, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. One of her quilts is included in the Permanent Collection of the Museum of Arts & Design in New York City.

Kyra’s story quilts have been featured in several books, including Textural Rhythms: Quilting the Jazz Tradition by Carolyn Mazloomi (2007), Creating Black Americans by Nell Irvin Painter (2005), and American Quiltmaking 1970 – 2000 by Eleanor Levie (2004). Kyra’s essay, “Black Women Have Always Quilted,” appears in Elise Schebler Roberts book The Quilt: A History and Celebration of an American Art Form (2007).

Kyra holds an MBA from the University of Michigan, a diploma from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a BBA from Howard University. Kyra is a marketing professional. She has worked in marketing and ecommerce for major corporations including America Online,, and Hallmark Cards. Currently, she is the Director, Online Sales Programs at Marriott International.

1. After viewing Eva Ungar Grudin’s traveling exhibition, “Stitching Memories: African-American Story Quilts,” you said, “I found my voice that afternoon in the museum.” How did that epiphany change your life?

Geoffrey, I couldn’t imagine that the 1991 quilting exhibit I was about to visit at the Taft Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio would indeed change my life. I had never made a quilt. There was no way to know that my quilts would one day be exhibited in museums and galleries. There was no way to know that I would write Black Threads: An African American Quilting Sourcebook, the most comprehensive sourcebook on the topic. Or that I would write a children’s book, Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria, about a nineteenth century African American quilter named Martha Ann Ricks.

2. What was the biggest challenge in telling Martha Ann’s story?

First, let me tell you about the greatest joy. It was the actual research of Martha Ann Ricks’s life as a slave in Tennessee and of her journey and life in Liberia. I learned about her life from a simple magazine article. I then spent about four years following endless threads to recreate her life. I read many, many books and articles about nineteenth century Liberia and East Tennessee.

Martha Ann Ricks’ father purchased her and her family from slavery and took the family to Liberia in 1830. Unfortunately, within the year, malaria and other events led to the death of all her family members except her oldest and youngest brothers. The three children stayed in Liberia. Over time, Martha Ann would observe the British Navy patrolling the coast of Liberia (and Sierra Leone) to prevent slavers from landing and capturing people for the slave trade. Martha Ann wanted to thank Queen Victoria for sending the Navy. Despite ridicule by family and neighbors, Martha Ann pursued her dream to see Queen Victoria for fifty years. In 1892, Martha Ann Ricks had an audience with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, where she presented the queen with a handmade quilt of a coffee tree in full-bloom.

The greatest challenge in writing the children’s book was to indeed learn how to write a children’s book! My goal was to stay true to Martha Ann’s story, while having her story span from childhood to old age when she finally meets the queen. I also wanted to provide a context of why Liberia was so important to African Americans in the 1800s. When we learn about American slavery, we rarely learn about the Liberian connections.

3. Do you see any similarities between your life and Martha Ann’s?

I would love to have met Martha Ann Ricks in real life and spent an afternoon quilting with her. Here was a creative, determined black woman. Can you imagine? She designed a quilt to highlight the coffee tree, one of the most important cash crops at the time. She saved enough money to afford a voyage across the ocean. She actually set out to meet one of the most powerful women on Earth at the time. What Martha Ann accomplished was like a young, poor girl today in San Pablo, Brazil telling her friends she is going to go to Chicago and see and talk to Oprah Winfrey at Harpo Studios. Who would believe the young girl?

I can only hope that Martha Ann and I share a creative vision related to quilting and a determination to accomplish our dreams.

4. Although Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria is a children’s book, what do you think older readers and parents will learn from it?

There are a number of themes that both older readers, parents, and social studies teachers can learn from: believing in one’s self, saving for one’s dream, pursuing one’s dream, honoring one’s creative talents.

I visited PS76 in Harlem earlier this year to visit with 4th and 5th graders who read the book. What marvelous questions and comments the boys and girls had about Martha Ann and her story! Several of the students were from outside of the US and could identify with Martha Ann’s travels to start a life in a new country. I have a free book discussion guide for the book at for parents and teachers.

5. Is there a connection between quilting and the African-American experience?

Black men and women have been quilting in American for more than two hundred years! I have a blog to capture today’s news, exhibits, and profiles of black quilters at Do come visit!

What makes you laugh?

I love wit. I’m embarrassed to say, but I love laughing along with the British Comedies on PBS – shows such as Are You Being Served?, The Vicar Of Dibley, and Desmond’s (the comedy about a West Indian family).

Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria

Brown Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-933285-59-7

$16.95 US retail

Book Guide: African American Quilting News

May 17, 2007

The Power and Grace of Poetry

Lucille Clifton"But I rejoice because Clifton reminds me always of why writing poetry is important and why it is good to believe this. She has taken many blows to her body through sickness and to her heart through the deaths of so many of those close to her, and yet she has managed to remain resilient, engaged and wonderfully ebullient through it all. Her poetry is a gift to us; that is the good news. But for me, that audience I had with her, and the opportunity to watch her embody the poet’s art, will remain with me for a really long time."

Kwame Dawes' very moving and eloquent meditation on James Dickey, Lucille Clifton, and the power and grace of poetry. For more, follow this link over to the Poetry Foundation's blog: Lucille Clifton

May 16, 2007

"Uncle Time" by Dennis Scott (Read by Geoffrey Philp)

In Mary Hanna’s retrospective of Dennis Scott’s poetry, she notes Anthony McNeill’s claim that on publication, “Uncle Time” “almost immediately achieved 'classical proportions in Jamaican literature'” because it was “the first attempt at writing serious poetry” (my italics) in Jamaican “nation” language. Although many poets from Jamaica now write using “nation language,” during the late sixties and seventies for a writer of Scott’s stature to use Jamaican Creole, not only in poetry, but in his plays demonstrated his engagement with the nascent culture of the island.

In the poem, “Uncle Time,” Scott employs poetic elements once thought only to apply to “traditional” poems written in Standard English. One of the interesting facets of the poem is the way Scott plays against the popular notions of “Father Time” and his use of use of imagery, personification and myth (Anancy/Eshu ) to strip away the cozy, paternal descriptions. Time becomes a terror. Scott’s also undercuts the avuncular image of time that is created at the beginning of the poem, “long, lazy years on de wet san' /an' shake de coconut tree dem/ quiet-like wid 'im sea-win' laughter,” with “but Lawd, me Uncle cruel.” Scott's visual and tactile imagery is drawn from the Jamaican/Caribbean landscape, so the poem not only sounds Jamaican, but is grounded in the corpus of the Jamaican experience. As Hanna and many other critics have noted, underneath the surfaces of Scott’s poems which sometimes seem deceptively simple, there is always “'the threat of violence and anarchy'.” However, as Scott demonstrated in his later collections, what emerges from this violence is a pattern, a dream yet unrealized by either the actors or creators.

Uncle Time
Uncle Time is a ole, ole man…
All year long 'im wash 'im foot in de sea,
long, lazy years on de wet san'
an' shake de coconut tree dem
quiet-like wid 'im sea-win' laughter,
scraping away de lan'…

Uncle Time is a spider-man, cunnin' and cool,
him tell yu: watch de hill an' yu se mi.
Huhn! Fe yu yi no quick enough fe si
how 'im move like mongoose; man, yu tink 'im fool?

Me Uncle Time black as sorrow;
'im voice is sof' as bamboo leaf
but Lawd, me Uncle cruel.
When 'im play in de street
wid yu woman--watch 'im! By tomorrow
she dry as cane-fire, bitter as cassava;
an' when 'im teach yu son, long after
yu walk wid stranger, an' yu bread is grief.
Watch how 'm spin web roun' yu house, an creep
inside; an when 'im touch yu, weep…


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May 15, 2007

Song of the Post-Colonial Self: A Review of Kamau Brathwaite's DS (2): Dreamstories

 Kamau Brathwaite

Fiction: Song of the Post-Colonial Self by Vijay Seshadri
Kamau Brathwaite, DS (2): Dreamstories (New Directions, 2007)
At the end of each of the narratives in Kamau Brathwaite’s new book of stories DS (2): Dreamstories, the West Indian poet provides a prĂ©cis of the piece’s compositional history. For example, his exquisite reminiscence of the literary critic F. R. Leavis, one of Brathwaite’s tutors at Cambridge, was written in 1954; revised in March 1999 at CP, presumably Cow Pastor, Barbados, where the poet was born and continues to spend much of his time; revised again in May and June of 2003, in New York, where Brathwaite teaches at N.Y; “reform[ed]” on July 16, 17 and 31; and revised again on November 21. Finally, the piece was subjected to a process called kerning, a smoothing by minute space adjustments that creates an even right-hand margin and can now be accomplished by a standard word-processing program.

The kerning is important. No writer I know of, and certainly no writer of such stature, has been as sedulous as Brathwaite in pursuing the expressive opportunities offered by the modern technologies associated with writing. The poet is an orthographic extremist, and for this reason, DS (2) is daunting to read at first. A host of idiosyncratic effects characterize his pages: text fragments in different fonts, of vastly different sizes, flush right, flush left, indented, centered and in kerned columns; text that is fenestrated by gaps, gulfs and fissures of white space. His fretted print puts up resistance, but it requires us to recognize that reading is a physical activity, and more importantly, a physical activity with political dimensions. While peering and peering at Brathwaite’s words, it’s impossible not to be reminded of how much mendacity is delivered into our brains by the easy reads we pick up at the newsstand and obliviously consume on the subway after a day’s work.

The political dimension of his orthographic extremism—or, rather, the fact that this political dimension is inalienable from every other aspect of his work—is what distinguishes Brathwaite from other poets of the post-industrial, postmodern avant-garde. Though his writing can superficially resemble his contemporaries, the secret spring of his graphic obsessions lies far removed from the ideologies of experimentalism. He was born in 1930, only five years after Frantz Fanon and twelve years after Nelson Mandela. He is a member of the first, select generation of post-colonial intellectuals, the generation that was called on to represent its people and witnessed the Algerian war of independence and the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. There is probably no writer of that (insufficiently celebrated) generation who has felt so keenly, and responded so vigorously to, the burden of the colonized and ex-colonized mind forced by circumstances to think and work in the language of its colonizer.

Unlike his contemporaries, Brathwaite’s response has not stopped at his masterly use of patois, his neologist fabrications, his constant, inventive word play, or his collagist appropriations of other tongues. It has extended itself to all the hidden transactions in language, down to the very typefaces being employed. Writing for Brathwaite has to be made apparent as writing, in order to flush out the technologies of power that infect language in its habitual uses. He has chosen not just to master the language of his colonizer but has gone ahead and changed that language, and changed it so completely, and with such force, that one can almost believe he has redeemed English from its complicity in the sorry imperialist enterprise. The radical Brathwaite page is an invention born out of necessity; and its success in rendering a painful history is a testimony to both the poet’s substantial powers and to the strange, revivifying surprises that literature can offer.

In one way or another, all the stories in DS (2) are concerned with the passing of time and the movement of history as experienced by an individual. They end with a retrospective account of their making. They begin, more often than not, by the indirect, circumspect action of memory. “Now that I think back,” the phrase that opens the story “Black Angel,” could stand as the motto for the entire book. These tales take place across the theaters of Brathwaite’s experience—in Africa, where, as an Africanist poet from the Diaspora he spent many years as a young man; in Britain, where he studied at Cambridge after World War II; in pastoral Caribbean settings. The writer has a unique connection to the sea, which appears as both a lovingly rendered natural force and, in “Dream Haiti,” a desperately vivid story about Haitian boat people, as the roadway of the “endless purgatorial” middle passages of African enslavement.

Read individually, these pieces of prose present themselves as shapely, limpid narratives, and they remind us that along with all the other things he has been, Brathwaite is also a casual master of orthodox English writing. But to read the stories in DS (2) individually, to reduce them to literary artifacts, would undermine their purpose. This book is best read—and ultimately can only be read—as a memoir that comprehends the individual known as Kamau Brathwaite, his fictional alter egos, the stunning arc of his personal history, and all his identifications and allegiances, not excluding either Haitian boat people or a formidable, ailing F. R. Leavis, Cambridge theorist of the Great Tradition and champion of D. H. Lawrence, who himself mourned bitterly for the white race.

To read DS (2) is to come into contact with its author’s consciousness, to experience at a cellular level its inflections and refraction and get a sense of the history it has endured. The experience is a thrilling one that transcends the ordinary experience of literature. We are lucky, in our bleak time, that this poet is still at the height of his powers.

About the Author

Vijay Seshadri is the author of two books of poems, Wild Kingdom and The Long Meadow. He lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Photo Credit:


Miss Lou Inna Miami

Miss LouFrom Frances-Anne @ Newz from Leda Serene and Caribbean Tales

Two clips from "Miss Lou Then & Now" that will screen on Thursday 17 May, at 6.30 pm, at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida.

After the screening, writers Malachi Smith, Donna Weir-Soley, Andrea Smith, and Geoffrey Philp will perform some of the Jamaican icon's works.

Miss Lou: "Wherever which part me go: Toronto, London-oh, Florida-oh...a Jamaica me deh. Aoh!"

May 14, 2007

Interview: Talking to Jamaican litblogger Geoffrey Philp

Jamaican writer Geoffrey PhilpExcerpt from an interview @ Global Voices:

Over the last year and a half, Geoffrey’s blog has become an important meeting place for Caribbean writers and readers. He posts samples of his own work, short literary essays and meditations, interviews with other writers, news about upcoming literary events, and regular birthday celebrations for major Caribbean authors (most recently, Barbadian poet Kamau Brathwaite). I chatted with Geoffrey recently about his blog and Caribbean literary blogs in general. Here is an edited version of that conversation.

NL: Has the blog pushed your writing in different directions stylistically, or in subject matter?

GP: The focus of my blog is pretty narrow: to promote my work and the work of Caribbean and South Florida writers.

Now, I started off writing as a poet, and I’ve learned not everything can or should be a poem. As I’ve often said to my students in my creative writing workshops, a poem is that bok! of when the ball meets the bat and it shakes you up. A short story is about bottom of the ninth, the bases are loaded, both teams are tied, and the pitcher begins his motion. A novel is the whole shebang–what Henry James called the “loose, baggy, monster.” A blog comes closest to the feel of a novel–it can be anything. This is why I’ve given myself such strict limits about what my blog should be and what it shouldn’t be. By setting such narrow parameters, my writing doesn’t end up all over the place and I know exactly what my subject matter will be.

For more of the interview, head over to Global Voices.


Forthcoming from Akashic Books: All or Nothing by Preston L. Allen

South Florida writer Preston AllenPreston L. Allen's witty, charming, and very likable school bus driver, named P, is a desperate gambler. He has blown the hundred thousand dollars he won at the casino six months ago, but his wife and family still think he's loaded. P spins out of control on the addict's downward spiral of dependency, paranoia, and depression, as he must find ways to keep coming up with the money to fool his family and fund his growing addiction. The bets get bigger and bigger, until finally, faced with the ultimate financial crisis, he hits it really big. Yet winning, he soon learns, is just the beginning of a deeper problem.

The one constant for P--who rises from wage-earner to millionaire and back again in his roller-coaster-ride of a life--is that he must gamble. That his son has died, that his wife is leaving him, that his girlfriend has been arrested, that he has no money, that he has more money than he could ever have dreamed--are all lesser concerns for P as he constantly seeks out new gambling opportunities.

While other books on gambling seek either to sermonize on the addiction or to glorify it by highlighting its few prosperous celebrities, All or Nothing is an honest, straightforward account of what it is like to live as a gambler--whether a high-rolling millionaire playing $1,000-ante poker in Las Vegas or a regular guy at the local Indian casino praying for a miracle as he feeds his meager life savings into the unforgiving slot machine. All or Nothing is the first novel to dig beneath the veneer to explore the gambler's unique and complex relationship with money. If you've ever wanted to get into the heart and psyche of a compulsive gambler, here is your chance.

All or Nothing
by Preston L. Allen
ISBN 978-1-933354-34-7
Fiction l 280 pages | $22.95
Forthcoming: November 2007

Preston L. Allen is a recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship and author of the thriller Hoochie Mama, as well as the collection Churchboys and Other Sinners. His stories have appeared in numerous magazines and journals and have been anthologized in Brown Sugar (Penguin) and Miami Noir (Akashic). He lives in South Florida.


Photos of Preston Allen & Vicki Hendricks: "Noir Night" @ Books and Books.

May 10, 2007

Update on the Great Imperative Meme

great imperative memeWhen I started the "Great Imperative" meme I never guessed it would generate the fantastic responses on this blog, and some interesting conversations happening over at these blogs:


Stephen Bess

Jim Brock

Professor Zero



Tales From the Reading Room


The G-Bitch Spot

The Primary Contradiction

Scenes from a Slow Moving Train

Fort Wayne African-American Independent Woman

And this, perhaps, is what blogging is teaching us--that you don't have to be famous to have a great imperative in life. Blogging may be the realization of the democratic ideal: we all have a voice and each of us can be the main character in the story of our life.

And the list keeps growing…


May 9, 2007

Lorna Goodison and Caryl Phillips: Poetry and Fiction Reading

Caribbean writer Lorna GoodisonCaribbean writer Caryl Phillips

Lorna Goodison and Caryl Phillips: Poetry and Fiction Reading

On Thursday, May 10, 2007 at the Americas Society, two major authors from the Anglophone Caribbean—Jamaican poet, prose writer, and painter, Lorna Goodison (Tamarind Season; I Am Becoming My Mother, Goldengrove) and Kittitian novelist Caryl Phillips (A Distant Shore ; Cambridge, Dancing in the Dark)—present autobiographical and historical pieces from their formidable bodies of work, selections of which will be included in Review 74 (Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora Writing and Arts). Goodison's and Phillips's works explore their African heritage, the legacy of the Atlantic slave-trade, and themes relating to language, the notion of home, and filial relationships. Copies of the authors' books will be available for sale during and after the program. Reception to follow.

Thursday May 10
7 PM

680 Park Avenue at 68 th Street ,

New York
Free admission

This event takes place at Americas Society and is free, open to the public and wheelchair accessible.

Reservations are required. Please email or call (212) 277 8359. Members receive priority seating.

The Spring 2007 Literature Department activities are funded by: Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, The Reed Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, and the Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature.

Special thanks to the Consulate General of Jamaica in New York and InterAmericas®--Society of Arts and Letters of the Americas.


May 8, 2007

Top 5 Ways to Become a Major Poet or Problogger (With Apologies to W. H. Auden).

Top 5 Group Writing ProjectSpring is in the air, so it must be time for a new Group Writing Project over at Problogger. The task is simple: post a list about any Top 5 things, but they must be related to your blog. My list combines two of my interests, an old one and a new one: Caribbean poetry and blogging. So here are my Top 5 Ways to Become a Major Poet or Problogger (With Apologies to W. H. Auden).

In a recent post over at the Poetry Foundation, Patricia Smith noted five criteria that W.H Auden listed for a writer to be considered a major poet. Interestingly, the same guidelines may be applied to becoming a problogger and by using the work of three major poets from the Caribbean and posts from probloggers, you may well be on your way to becoming a major poet, problogger or both?

Mr. Auden, no slouch himself, offered these principles:

A large body of work

Anyone who has studied the work of Derek Walcott will immediately recognize the vast amount of work in the theatre, journalism, and poetry that he has done. Especially in poetry. One of his major works, Omeros, which was cited when he received the Nobel Prize, weighs a ton and has a fifty dollar words thrown in for good measure. Word for word, there isn’t a better bargain in town!

Similarly, a problogger such as Al Carlton has posted 10-15 times per day for the past eighteen months, and Darren Rowse has even advised that newbie bloggers should have at least ten posts before announcing the birth of a blog. In order to gain problogger status, you will need a substantial amount of posts before anyone will even consider linking to your blog, and you will need to keep adding posts regularly. So, gentlemen and ladies, fire up your keyboards and begin posting.

A wide range of subject matter and treatment

The one trick pony days of blogging are out. For example, Nandini Maheshwari, manages approximately 133 blogs and posts on a wide array of subjects and styles. Even a cursory glance at the subjects covered on Instablogs should give an indication of the range and the variety of treatments that she applies to each post.

Over the years, the Barbadian poet, Kamau Brathwaite, has incorporated history, court documents and snippets from newspapers into his revolutionary Sycorax style of poetry and the cross –fertilization of his profession as a historian, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820, and his practice as a poet have yielded dazzling poetics.

3. An unmistakable originality of vision and style.

I don’t think it’s just the bald heads, but Dennis Scott and Seth Godin have a lot in common. Dennis Scott’s placement of words and the way the words danced and paused on the page were the hallmarks of his poetry that demonstrated a truly unique vision unrivaled in Caribbean poetry. Also his use of everyday subjects, knives, cats, birds, spiders, and his ability to transform these into surreal images was just part of his appeal.

Seth Godin’s popularity is linked to his vision and style. He can change the most humdrum experience such as parking or choosing a wine into a valuable insight, not only about blogging or marketing, but about life.

Of course, you can always use these methods to increase your creativity. But if that doesn’t work, you can always try shaving your head. Darren did, and see what happened!

4. A mastery of technique.

Derek Walcott once called himself “a mulatto of style,” and he has mastered many of the forms of poetry, sonnets, ballads, and terza rima and techniques such as metaphor, simile, and imagery to make his verse truly memorable. Thirty years later, a line from Another Life still haunts me, “Darkness, soft as amnesia, furred the slope.” Good writing is unforgettable.

And that’s a valuable lesson every blogger needs to know--how to write well. This comes about by reading and practicing with metaphors, similes and analogies or even some of the techniques from the old masters like Cicero or modern masters such as Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut. Many probloggers such as Liz Strauss employ a conversational style—almost like someone we’d like to pull up beside a bar stool and listen to them talk about anything. Very few of us are born with that gift, so we have to work at writing everyday so that our content will match our technique.

5. A constant, progressive process of maturation--so that should an author's individual works be placed side by side at any stage of his or her career, it would always be clear which work came first and which came after.

If anyone would like to witness the growth of a poetic voice, they should read Derek Walcott’s earliest poems, “Prelude,” where Walcott states, "And my life ... / ... must not be made public / Until I have learned to suffer / In accurate iambics," and the confident voice of “The Schooner, ‘Flight’”: “In idle August, while the sea soft,/ and leaves of brown islands stick to the rim/ of this Caribbean, I blow out the light/ by the dreamless face of Maria Concepcion.” Walcott’s early work, which one critic said was filled with “verbal pyrotechnics” matured into a voice that Seamus Heaney said is “sponsored by Shakespeare and the Bible, happy to surprise by fine excess.” Walcott's steady growth as writer can clearly be charted as his later work showed all the promise of his earliest poems.

The work of probloggers shows similar progress. Darren Rowse has admitted that the first posts that he wrote for Living Room weren’t all that great, but as he posted more frequently, his style and confidence changed, so that without looking at the byline on Problogger, a reader can now tell whether it’s Darren or a guest blogger who’s writing. The writer grew into his voice and that is a lesson no other writer can teach.

So there you have it. Five ways to successful career in blogging and poetry. In fact, some probloggers have suggested that code and metatags are forms of poetry—one misplaced comma or parentheses and nothing works! Oh, did I forget to mention three other things? Practice, practice, practice.