The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Poetry Friday

Posted on: January 12, 2007

There is nothing like a good guilt trip to make one more proactive. No, no I’m kidding. Sort of. Olivier Stephenson, guest-blogging at the Geoffrey Philp’s outstanding blogspot, addresses the unfavourable climate for arts in Jamaica and the Caribbean in general. It is somewhat of a sore topic with me because I am, in different ways, a devotee of art and have been since a child; a devotee of the kind of art that was not often Jamaican or even Caribbean.

I’ll save my anguish and confusion about this for another post. I’ll say that a large part of this is an intrinsic part of me–I love Rachmaninoff, the Bach family, archaic madrigals and Tom Waits more than dancehall and I and everyone else will have to get past the colour of my skin to deal with this–and that for a long time, indeed up until recently, most of the authors Stephenson mentioned in his post I had never heard of until I happened on to Philp’s blog. (Metaxucafe rocks. Srsly. Oh and for all those Reading Across Borders Challenge you should check out Philp’s sidebar for Caribbean authors!) Too, my mind always seemed to stretch out beyond the Caribbean sea, eager to learn about Odysseus, Melkor and Tuath de Danaan rather than Anancy, who was too familiar. (Of course if I were quizzed I’m sure my knowledge of Anancy stories would be superficial at best.)

The original poet for today was going to be Ted Hughes but I left Elmet at home. Then I thought of Lorna Goodison, if I could find one of her poems online. After reading Stephenson’s post I was bolstered and decided I’d find something in the library if need be. Looking through the stacks I spotted a ton of Salkey’s books, plus a couple by Dennis Scott (Philp Recommended) and Kwame Dawes, whose name seems to pop up often in my online readings. Dancing my way to the carrel, Billy Talent blasting in my ears, I settled into the treasure pile.

That is how I fell into Andrew Salkey’s Jamaica, an epic poem that, from what I’ve read so far, ambitiously takes on Jamaica’s history from Columbus’ discovery to the present (I assume). It was published in 1973 (only 11 years after Jamaican gained independence from Britain) although written long before, having won a poetry prize in 1955. I drew back, skeptical, when I read the back, realising all 100 pages contained a poem, but Salkey’s street-talking, straight-forward, foul-mouthed, truth-saying voice from the first opening lines reached out and claimed my brain. It flows so well or it does for someone who understands Jamaican patois. I hesitated about posting it here because I thought, no one will understand a word Salkey wrote, or know what he’s talking about, pick something more accessible. But my ardent enthusiasm for what I was reading, my wonder at what I was learning, for Salkey mentions Spanish figures relevant to our history that I have never heard of, could not let it matter. If it goes into the ether unnoticed, a so.

“I into history, now” functions as an introduction to Salkey’s epic, identifying Jamaicans’ lack of knowledge about our history, of national pride and of direction. He’s in a dialogue with a companion, Papa D., observing a group of young women. Salkey uses them to launch his position, showing that they obliviously arouse the men around them while carrying out their daily activities. He moves from the silliness–what control do they have over that, after all, it’s none of their concern–to something that is. Their negligible sense of history translates into a more general loss, a national vacuum; and this blind spot could “come back/ an’ fuck we, one time, bap“. Even the teachers who look like us are mouthing the same lies we were told by “foreigners”, about our inferiority, our lack of achievement, our baseless experience. He avers that culture is a pathway out of this but it must come from the most basic part of ourselves, a basic knowledge of our land. That’s why he’s interested in history now and calls us to be creative, to be productive, to learn; in this way we can claim our rightful spot in our world. Note that he doesn’t set himself apart as prophet speaking to his followers, changing the definite pronouns to include himself, to ground himself as one among many.

I into history, now

You see all them
sweet, young, fuck walkin’
‘cross over so,
over by the drygoods store?

You did know say
that none o’ them
know how much history
under them skin,
coil up inside, there so,
like baby hold back from born?

You did know say
that none o’ them
or you
know how much them
an’ you
an’ me
go through,
how, when, how long,
what for
an’ where we goin’?

You see all them
rass gal jus’ givin’
all o’ we cock-stan’,
an’ moving easy,
sof’, cool breeze,
an’ droppin’ shadow
where them don’t belong?

Is that, yes!

You did know say
that none o’ them
get teach good,
how the history go,
goin’ an’ gone?
An’ goin’ come back
an’ fuck we, one time, bap?

We don’t got no’thing
that we can call we own!
We don’t ‘ave a t’ing!
We’s empty people,
wit’ not a single ‘chievement
f’dog bark wit!

An’ guess who teach them
an’ you
an’ me
all that slackness?

Nuh more tormented, twis-up,
brain-wash Black teacher them
than foreigner,
’cause the System stay same way,
like gully-mouth’,
dark as rass.

Is so, yes!

An’ what you think goin’ ‘appen
to all them sweet piece o’ pussy
you see walkin’
over so?
An’ them gal an’ bwoy pickney them?

Them same one know
but them not tellin’ a Malcolm soul!

Is only time, rockstone, cutlass,
gun an’ some class o’ bomb in we arse
goin’ catch the gal an’ bwoy them,
you an’ me,
in a sweet rass change o’ clothes,
an’ wit’out Sunday come, too.

I sittin’ down,
scratchin’ me ‘ead
an’ watchin’ the scene,
an’ I ol’ as Anancy
but wit’out f’him brain-box,
an’ I say to meself,
“Is how the mento music go?”

All o’ we losin’ out,
’cause we won’t own up to weself,
grab we soul,
grab weself like we know weself,
an’ tradition-up we tradition,
an’ fuck the nex’ man
who laugh after we
an’ say it small
an’ slave-make
an’ fragment-up
an’ dark night as Dung’ll
an’ client-tie
an’ don’t got no industry
an’ no technology.

Fuck him, yes!

Culture come when you buck up
on you’self.
It start when you’ body make shadow
on’ the lan’
an’ you know say
that you standin’ up into mirror
underneat’ you.

I say to meself,
“Is how the mento music go?”

You say,
“Is how the river flow?”
or, “How the sea does lay down so?”

Don’t bother wit’ all like me,
Mister Ignorance!

I done wit’ you.
I into history, now.
Is not’ing but song I singin’
an’ name I callin’
an’ blood I boilin’
an’ self I raisin’,
in a correc’ Anancyform,
a t’ing I borrow
an’ makin’ me own,
wit’out pretty please
or pardon.

Yes, Papa D.,
is me this!

All o’ you jus’ better start f’make
all the t’ings you use,
’cause the music sayin’, “Know you’self!”

So, look inside
an’ haul out you’self
an’ make a way in the worl’,
‘cross all the shadows them.
Is only you one you got.
You don’t want no help.
You got it
plait up
an’ hidin’ deep inside you’ ‘ead.

Is malachite in the sea!

Yes, Papa D.,
is me this;
is me;
is me an’ the sea!

I’m taking the Salkey and Dennis Scott (if I like him too) home with me so this may become a poetry weekend, what with Goodison poetry in my own library.


2 Responses to "Poetry Friday"

Thanks for the link.
I hope you will enjoy Scott and I’m glad Salkey is a library–somewehere.
Lorna is a treasure. If my featured writer hadn’t gone down this year (I’ve fixed it), the year would have ended and started with a poem by Lorna.

Enjoy your weekend

You’re very welcome. I’m hoping I enjoy Scott too. I was too distracted by Salkey to give his poems any real attention yet. I’ve put up a poem by Goodison now because she is a treasure and I love her poems to death.

Thanks and enjoy your weekend too.

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