[Caribbean Literature]

A Review of Roi Kwabena's Poems

Lennox Raphael

Roi Kwabena's is celebratory poetry. He celebrates not only himself and the spirit of the time, the joy of being now & alive to the pulsating rhythm of the imagination, he salutes 'geographical' wonders & emotions, places & feelings that evoke/provoke memory in new ways of seeing the familiar. His is also a lyricism of re-naming, re-claiming, valorizing, putting the common-place in a proper (and literary) perspective; the true baptism.

take back these identities
you gave my wind-swept
volcanic rocks
st croix
st kitts
st eustatius
st vincent
st thomas

these names of saints
made hallow by some
christian praise ... yet
who have never, ever trod
our shores, bitten by sand-flies
nor mosquitoes
dem never even feel a hurricane
or even sucked mango or sugarcane

look, ...., we reclaim

playground of julica
our rainbow

I like the tone, the style, the outer-beingness & the inner saturation of civilizations & movements & the calypsoness of the semiotics, a style,a rhythm, an easy-going saga-thing line that is the stitching of the best of VS Naipaul, & (Samuel) Selvon, & Mustapha Matura, Trinidadians all of them, as is Kwabena, the Trinidadianess everywhere, the celebration of worlds, a picong, give&take&laugh, a message, slap & smile, a new criticism, calling a spade a spade (no pun intended) & knowing that spade is not shovel & shovelis not fork, celebrating life in language, doubles, erecting a civilization (without borders) in language, a structure of Time where everything isnamed 'whether or not' you like it so.

There is here an inner archaeology, an excavation, digging deeper & deeper, discovering levels of being, the art of seeing.

arrows of fish bone
harvested from stone

The literature of history as a mocking pretender.

Kwabena's approach stimulates. Are things what they are, what they seem, because of who we are, how we feel, where we are? My first feeling after going through Kwabena's 'whether or not' is it must be read by others, mustget around — and not be just for my pleasure here in Copenhagen on this autumn spring morning in August, and when I read of

saints who have never, ever trod
our shores, bitten by sandflies
nor mosquitoes

I can think only of the vacation I spent recently in Kastellorizos, Greece, where the mosquitoes were awesome, inspired, truculent, not much buzz, but a lot of bite, as though, having lost their buzz to the cicadas, their bite (&after-effects) would be pure revenge.

One is impressed by a deep feeling for others (in Roi's Kwabena's world& imagination), a caring beyond the line, so the style is a style also of compassion, a generous & compassionate voice, and a place.

holy mother .... full of grace
we move in haste ....

- and, in the midst of all of this, Sour Chutney, the story of indrani and dhanraj, the story of the virginless bride, 1849 to now, Calcutta to the Caribbean, sex, salvation & suffering, simply told, searing, just enough pain to make innocence rhetorical.

the vengeance of kali
surely going to fall
on the family of ramdhanie

......ah cha ...

So the poet celebrates life & love and ' the unlucky blow' that imprisons the dhanraj in us,, no matter where we are; and reading these selected poems is like having a map spread out before me, a map of the world, and there is the Caribbean, the civilization of the Amazon, Africa, India. Europe, China, Birmingham.

stare at the
mocking shadows
on corporation street
devouring british beef ...

The poet celebrates by entrance - by entering the lives of others, the world-making-breaking others, by giving all souls equal play, an all-inclusive fete of feelings & ideas & trigger for thinking& dreaming and, well, one does have to say it, 'whether or not' is a stimulating dish, all these people-building, nation-building ingredients, and stirring the pot, well, the poet knows how to stir the pot, the light touch, the deep stir, hitting the spoon on the edge, tasting, scentedness, the sacred in the everyday, and Kwabena knows how (effortlessly) to make words taste like EATMORE ....... that's his mission

.... people as ingredients, making people come alive. stirring the pot of life, making nothing burn too much, and knowing when to lower the fire,


.....it's the morning of light
we see, beyond
the broken dispersed
of our aspirations

and one could very well echo the poet's clarity:-

Your nerve was
not only
in vein

I have been reading works by writers from the Caribbean, and by Caribbean I mean a world stretching from Mexico thru Central America into the West Indies beyond the Caribbean seas thru Venezuela into Brazil, the Amazonic mother lode I do read Naipaul, and anything written by him is worth reading, and is deserving of literary respect, and not to be taken lightly; and Naipaul is to be valued (or praised) for the sheer brilliance with which he clings to his calypsoness as style; and I must confess that reading Whether Or Not is my first experience in as many years as experience has letters that I have settled down with the work of a Caribbean writer; and, yet, this would not be altogether true because I recently read aloud, to my daughter, Papaya, Never Trouble Trouble, a delightful book of stories for children by Roi Kwabena:

so, the moment is kwabenized; and I look forward to a book by Kwabena that would be one story having nothing to do with the Caribbean, in terms of focus, only that the writer is Caribbean, and using the personal Caribbean experience as a seedbed of styles, which is the challenge today, to go outside the self, to discard (& ignore) identity, to put the future behind us, and to excavate with the intent of finding other selves, a castaway on the deserted island, imagination, to leave paradise behind & to tread the secret pathways beyond what is called 'Caribbean Literature' & the fiction of magic, into the mourning ground, beyond cultures & languages & memories that are invisible to the naked view, beyond the public self, whether or not rain falls on Sunday or sun shines on Friday, the artist going beyond compassion to exploring the possibilities & landscapes of the self as a literary paradise.

About Lennox Raphael literary critic http://cafetv.dk/solo/lennoxsolo.html

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Last modified 26 May 2006