Contemporary Poetry of the Caribbean

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    Course Map

    1. Access-the-Course-Map for Students New to Coursera online and SloPo Courses
    2. Course Overview with Sample Poems and Sample Discussion Thread
    3. The Library
    4. Week One and Two Materials: Ethnopoetics & Shaking the Pumpkin
    5. Jerome Rothenberg Assemblage of Materials: From Ethnopoetics to his own poetry and his work on A Big Jewish Book — texts, audio, video. 
    6. The Q&A with Jerome Rothenberg
    7. Week Three Materials: Contemporary American Indian Poetry
    8. Week Four Materials: Pacific Islander Poetry 
    9. Week Four Materials: Contemporary Caribbean Anglophone Poetry
    10. Week Five Materials: Contemporary African-American Poetry
    11. Week Six Materials: Contemporary Latinx-American Poetry and Performance
    12. Week Seven Materials: Contemporary Asian-American Poetry
    13. Week Eight Materials:  The Ghazal, Contemporary Middle-Eastern and South-Asian Poetry

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On this page are a number of materials you will find by scrolling down.

  1. Maps of the Caribbean
  2. Barbados. Works by and about poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite: excerpt from “History of the Voice” – poems “Calypso,” “Caliban,” “Guanahani, 11,” “I Was Wash-Way in Blood,” “Negus,” “Kumina”; readings, interviews, articles about.
  3. Trinidad and Tobago. Works by and about poet M. NourbeSe Philip: “Discourse on the Logic of Language,” poem/essay “Wor(l)ds interrupted: The unhistory of the Kari Basin,” excerpts from Zong!. interviews with discussion of her book-length poem Zong! and other matters.
  4. St. Lucia. Work by Derek Walcott: poem “Crusoe’s Island.”
  5. Jamaica. Works by and about poet Claude McKay:  poems “De Hailstorm,” “Fetchin’ Water,” “King Banana,” “Bennie’s Departure,” “The Tropics of New York,” “Harlem Shadows,” “Outcast,” “Heritage,” articles about McKay’s work.  Works by and about poet Louise Bennett: videos of interviews and performances “Miss Lou” – Hon. Louise Bennet Coverley – on Jamaica Language,” “Miss Louise Bennett on children learning language,” “Brown Girl in the Ring:” A Song by Louise Bennett, A London Performance with Louise Bennett-Coverley, poems “Bans a Killin,” “No Likkle Twang,” “colonization in reverse,” “Dutty Tough,” interviews and articles. Works by and about poet Lorna Goodison: Reading and interview with Kamau Brathwaite.
  6. ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Excerpts from and links to discussions and help with Jamaican Patois, Direct and Indirect Responses to Kamau Brathwaite’s idea of “Nation Language” and other related matters including “Poetics of the Americas” by Charles Bernstein and “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde” by Cathy Park Hong.


Caribbean_Pidginscaribbean-map (1)

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History of Barbardos:

History of Barbardos:

Slavery and Economy in Barbados:

The Story of Barbados: Economic & Social Transformation

Edward Kamau Brathwaite

Before really close reading the poems of this Caribbean section, it is necessary to read the ground-breaking work that changed how others saw Caribbean literature. Here’s a brief excerpt from The History of the Voice by E. Kamau Brathwaite. At the bottom of the page (it’s a long scroll) are both resources to help you encounter Jamaican Patois with more background and less fear, as well as Charles Bernstein’s response to the concept Brathwaite is presenting here.



THE CARIBBEAN IS a set of islands stretching out … on an arc of some two thousand miles from Florida through the Atlantic to the South American coast, and they were originally inhabited by Amerindian people: Taino, Siboney, Carib, Arawak. In 1492 Columbus ‘discovered’ (as it is said) the Caribbean, and with that discovery came the intrusion of European culture and peoples and a fragmentation of the original Amerindian culture. We had Europe ‘nationalizing’ itself into Spanish, French, English and Dutch so that people had to start speaking (and thinking) four metropolitan languages rather than possibly a single native language. Then with the destruction of the Amerindians, which took place within 30 years of Columbus’ discovery (one million dead a year) it was necessary for the Europeans to import new labour bodies into the area. And the most convenient form of labour was the labour on the edge of the slave trade winds, the labour on the edge of the hurricane, the labour on the edge of Africa.’ And so Ashanti, Congo, Yoruba, all that mighty coast of western Africa was imported into the Caribbean. And we had the arrival in our area of a new language structure. It consisted of many languages but basically they had a common semantic and stylistic form. What these languages had to do, however, was to submerge themselves, because officially the conquering peoples – the Spaniards, the English, the French, and the Dutch – insisted that the language of public discourse and conversation, of obedience, command, and conception should be English, French, Spanish or Dutch. They did not wish to hear people speaking Ashanti or any of the Congolese languages. So there was a submergence of this imported language. Its status became one of inferiority. Similarly, its speakers were slaves. They were conceived of as inferiors – non-human, in fact. But this very submergence served an interesting interculturative purpose, because although people continued to speak English as it was spoken in Elizabethan times and on through the Romantic and Victorian ages, that English was, nonetheless, still being influenced by the underground language, the submerged language that the slaves had brought. And that underground language was itself constantly transforming itself into new forms. It was moving from a purely African form to a form which was African but which was adapted to the new environment and adapted to the cultural impera­tive of the European languages. And it was influencing the way in which the English, French, Dutch, and Spaniards spoke their own language. So there was a very complex process taking place, which is now beginning to surface in our literature. Now, as in South Africa (and any area of cultural imperialism for that matter), the educational system of the Caribbean did not recognize the presence of these various languages. What our educational system did was to recognize and maintain the language of the conquistador, the language of the planter, the language of the official, the Language of the Anglican preacher. It insisted that not only would English be spoken in the anglo­phone Caribbean, but that the educational system would carry the contours of an English heritage. Hence … Shakespeare, George Eliot, Jane Austen – British literature and literary forms, the models which had very little to do, really, with the environment and the reality of non-Europe – were dominant in the Caribbean educational system. It was a very surprising situation. People were forced to learn things which had no relevance to themselves. And in terms of what we write, our perceptual models, we are more conscious (in terms of sensibility) of the falling of snow, for instance – the models are all there for the falling of the snow – than of the force of the hurricanes which take place every year. In other words, we haven’t got the syllables, the syllabic intelligence, to describe the hurricane, which is our own experience, whereas we can describe the imported alien experience of the snowfall. It is that kind of situation that we are in.

This is why there were (are?) Caribbean children who, instead of writing in their ‘creole’ essays ‘the snow was falling on the playing fields of Shropshire’ (which is what our children literally were writing until a few years ago, below drawings they made of white snowfields and the corn-haired people who inhabited such a landscape), wrote ‘the snow was falling on the cane­fields’ trying to have both cultures at the same time. What is even more important, as we develop this business of emergent language in the Caribbean, is the actual rhythm and the syllables, the very software, in a way, of the language. What English has given us as a model for poetry, and to a lesser extent prose (but poetry is the basic tool here), is the pentameter …. It is nation language in the Caribbean that, in fact, largely ignores the pentameter. Nation language is the language which is influenced very strongly by the African model, the African aspect of our New World/Caribbean heritage. English it may be in terms of some of its lexical features. But in its contours, its rhythm and timbre, its sound explosions, it is not English, even though the words, as you hear them, might be English to a greater or lesser degree. And this brings us back to the question … can English be a revolutionary language? And the lovy that came back was: it is not English that is the agent. It is not language, but people, who make revolutions. I think, however, that language does really have a role to play here – certainly in the Caribbean. But it is an English which is not the standard; imported, educated English, but that of the submerged, surrealist experience and sensibility, which has always been there and which is now increasingly coming to the surface and influencing the perception of contemporary Caribbean people. It is what I call, as I say, Nation language. I use the term in contrast to dialect. The word ‘dialect’ has been bandied about for a long time, and it carries very pejorative overtones. Dialect is thought of as ‘bad English’. Dialect is ‘inferior English’. Dialect is the language used when you want to make fun of someone. Caricature speaks in dialect. Dialect has a long history coming from the plantation where people’s dignity is distorted through their language and the descriptions which the dialect gave to them. Nation language, on the other hand, is the submerged area of that dialect which is much more closely allied to the African aspect of experience in the Caribbean. It may be in English: but often it is in an English which is like a howl, or a shout or a machine-gun or the wind or a wave. It is also like the blues. And sometimes it is English and African at the same time. Now I’d like to describe for you some of the characteristics of our nation language. First of all, it is from, as I’ve said, an oral tradition. The poetry, the culture itself, exists not in a dictionary but in the tradition of the spoken word. It is based as much on sound as it is on song. When it is written, you lose the sound or the noise, and therefore you lose part of the meaning … In order to break down the pentameter, we discovered an ancient form which was always there, the calypso.

But not only is there a difference in syllabic or stress pattern, there is an important difference in shape of intonation. In the Shakespeare, the voice travels in a single forward plane towards the horizon of its end. In the kaiso, after the skimming movement of the first line, we have a distinct variation. The voice dips and deepens to describe an intervalic pattern. And then there are more ritual forms like kumina, like shango, the religious forms, which I won’t have time to go into here, but which begin to disclose the complexity that is possible with nation language, the other thing about nation language is that it is part of what may be called total expression …. Reading is an isolated, individualistic expres­sion. The oral tradition on the other hand demands not only the griot but the audience to complete the community: the noise and sounds that the maker makes are responded to by the audience and are returned to him. Hence we have the creation of a continuum where meaning truly resides. And this total expression comes about because people be in the open air, because people live in conditions of poverty (‘unhouselled’) because they come from a historical experience where they had to rely on their very breath rather than on paraphernalia like books and museums -and machines. They had to depend on immanence, the power within them­selves, rather than the technology outside themselves …

The other model that we have and that we have always had in the Caribbean, as I’ve said before, is the calypso, and we are going to hear now the Mighty Sparrow singing a kaiso which came out in the early sixties. It marked, in fact, the first major change in consciousness that we all shared . . . . In ‘Dan is the Man in the Van’ he says that the education we got from England has really made us idiots because all of those things that we had to read about – all of these things really haven’t given us anything but empty words. And he did it in the calypso form. And you could hear the rhyme-scheme of this poem. He is rhyming on ‘n’s’ and ‘l’sn and ht’ is creating a duster of syllables and a counterpoint between voice and orchestra, between individual and community, within the formal notion of ‘call and response’, which becomes typical of our nation in the revolution.

NOTE 1 The Maroons were escaped slaves who set up autonomous societies throughout Plantation America. Nanny of the Maroons, an ex-Ashanti Queen Mother, is regarded as one of the greatest of the Jamaica freedom fighters.

(The above is highly abridged from the full book.)

104612-jdgryodall-1541157992The Old Plantation​, ca. 1790, attr. to John Rose



Kamau Brathwaite reading “Calypso” (10:11): MP3

after she found out she was bleeding she went to a neighbour’s home and called the police.

She was later taken to   the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and detained for three days, she said

Asked by prosecutor Ms Donna Babb if she had quarrelled with   Collymore before the incident she replied no. The witness also told the prosecutor that  she did not interfere with the accused.

Babb asked her if she had attacked the accused with a hoe but she said she was not given a chance to do so.


When defence lawyer Dr Waldo Waldron Ramsey’s turn came to cross-examine Collymore, he asked her how long she knew the accused and she said it was since childhood. She also said she and Hinds once worked together in they understand each other.

Waldron-Ramsay suggested to the witness that on the day of the incident, marl was on the accused woman’s property and she was pulling it down to make a road for her daughter and son-in-law.

She denied the suggestion.

He further told Hinds that she told the accused that she cold not stop her from pulling down the marl, and this she denied.

Waldron-Ramsay put it to the witness that when she refused to stop moving the marl the accused left her and went back home, but Hinds said this was not < true.

Continuing his cross-examination, Waldron-Ramsay suggested to Hinds that Collymore came to her a second time and told her to stop racking away her dirt but the witness [the accused!] again denied this ever took place.

The witness further denied the suggestion that this second time she became more vicious and told the accused [Hinds] that if she did not move her

X X X X 
she would lick her to

Waldron-Ramsay also suggested to Collymore that she had the hoe in the air ready to lick down Hinds, but she denied this.


The crown will call its third witness this morning in the trial of 48-year-old Philamena Hinds, before Mr Justice Frederick Waterman in No. 3 Supreme Court.

Hinds, a machine operator, of Date Tree Hill, St Peter, is charged with causing grievous bodily harm to 65-year-old Mildred Collymore, of Date Tree Hill, on December 13, 1993, with intent to maim, disfigure or disable her…

Hinds, who pleaded not guilty… is represented by attorney-at-law Dr. Waldo Waldron Ramsay while the Crown’s case is being put by Acting Crown Counsel Donna Babb.

Collymore’s 45-year-old-daughter, Linda, is acting as her interpreter, because the witness has a hearing problem.