May 16, 2008

“The Jaguar and the Theorist of Négritude”by Slade Hopkinson

Slade HopkinsonSlade Hopkinson was born into a middle class family in New Amsterdam, Guyana in 1934. His father was a barrister-at-law, his mother a nurse. A few years after the death of his father, his mother took Slade & his sister to live in Barbados where he attended Harrison College. In 1952, he went to the University College of the West Indies on a scholarship, coinciding with Derek Walcott and Mervyn Morris as students. He obtained his BA in 1953 and a Dip. Ed. in 1956. 

His writing career began in 1954 with the publication of The Four and Other Poems; the plays, The Blood of a Family, 1957, Fall of a Chief, 1965, The Onliest Fisherman, 1967, Spawning of Eel 1968, rewritten as Sala and The Long Vacation. In 1976 the Government of Guyana published two companion collections of poetry, The Madwoman of Papine, which contained mainly his secular poems ranging over his Caribbean experiences, and The Friend, which contained his religious and philosophical poems, written in the process of discovering the teachings of the Sufis.

Sadly by 1970 Slade Hopkinson, now Abdhur-Rahman Slade Hopkinson, having become a Muslim in 1964, was suffering from kidney failure and by 1973 was on regular dialysis, bringing to an end his acting career. He worked for the Jamaican Tourist Board for some years before moving to Canada as Vice-Consul for Guyana. Later he worked as a classroom assistant and teacher before taking long-term disability leave.

Hopkinson wrote a couple of short stories, and his poetry was widely published in journals such as Bim, Savacou, New World and in anthologies such as Anansesem, The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse and Voiceprint. Snowscape With Signature, from which “The Jaguar and the Theorist of Négritude” is taken, was published by Peepal Tree in 1993, with an introductory memoir by Mervyn Morris.
The Jaguar and the Theorist of Négritude

The Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka, apropos of the literary movement known as Négritude, has said somewhere that a tiger does not go about proclaiming its tigritude: it just pounces.
The jungle, grown impatient with us all,

Has marched on military feet,

Has assaulted the rice and sugar coastland,

Checkerboard of historical habit.

The jungle’s retribution

Has invaded the capital.

In every street, branched giants have uprooted houses.

Monkeys with green faces and critical eyes

Open doors or climb into windows.

Terrible is their barking laughter.

Contrivances of our desperate spirit fail.

The sham we thought was our reality boils,

Evaporates, is gone, not even a fume

Remains. Inside each hollow skull

Something rattles - perhaps a knuckle

Of the dead, still weeping man, that, as he rubbed

The dusty trickle of his tears, became unhinged

And fell behind the absence of his eyes.

Ant-bears scribble with their snouts and tongues

Daintily on the infested skin of corpses.

Fleshy flowers, beating like live hearts,

Decorate the starkness of our pavements.

Troops of vipers move deployed, my love.

Essential horror has occurred, my love.

In the middle of an important street

An inventor of the black man’s soul lies dead.

His fingers clutch neither machete nor bomb,

But an anguished book he wrote - published in England.

O jaguar, lady, muse, teacher, it was you

Who banged your jaws into his throat, then ripped.



Anonymous said...

very nice blog... Keep up the good work! God Bless!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thank you, Did you know? Glad you stopped by.


Jdid said...

is he any family to nalo hopkinson?

Geoffrey Philp said...

Slade Hopkinson is Nalo's father.