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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Anonymous said...

It's beautiful!!!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Yes, Dennis was a great poet.