April 15, 2011

21 Days/ 21 Poems: A Poem Whose Meanings Have Grown with Rereading

Excerpt from SHAR by Kamau Brathwaite. SHAR. Savacou Publications, 1990.

From the first time I read it, SHAR’s meanings have grown with me.

The poem combines the existential trauma of living through a hurricane with the historical tragedies of the Middle Passage, and is, perhaps, one of the best examples of Braithwaite’s Sycorax video style.

The language and text of the poem begin with early warning signs of the tragedies of the past, “Four hundred years of Columbus dragging us here,” and a foreshadowing of what is to come: “O  longshore   late   light   duppy   Kingston   nights.”

Then, just as a hurricane would intensify before it makes landfall, in a remarkable feat of mimesis, so does the text and language. It would be extremely difficult to portray the full text of the poem while maintaining the integrity, so I can only offer this sampling. For is no other way of saying this: SHAR is a poem to be experienced.

And once experienced, its meaning(s)--one of which is a region trying to define its identity in the face of physical and psychic terror which belies the paradise of tourist brochures--will grow on you. The Caribbean will never be the same.

About Kamau Brathwaite

Kamau Brathwaite  is one of the major voices in the Caribbean literary canon Brathwaite is the 2006 International Winner of the Griffin Poetry A holder of an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Sussex and co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM), Brathwaite has received both the Guggenheim  and  Fulbright Fellowships, and is a winner of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Bussa Award, the Casa de las Américas Prize, and the Charity Randall Prize for Performance and Written Poetry.Prize,  for his volume of poetry, Born to Slow Horses.
Brathwaite is noted for his studies of Black cultural life both in Africa and throughout the African diasporas of the world in works such as Folk Culture of the Slaves in Jamaica;The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820; Contradictory Omens; Afternoon of the Status Crow; and History of the Voice.
Kamau Brathwaite is currently Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University, a position he has held since 1992.

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