Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tigritude, Obama and the Price of Saltfish

In my last post I mentioned the term tigritude, Wole Soyinka's mocking dismissal of the negritude movement. Soyinka says that a tiger does not proclaim it's tigritude, it acts. Soyinka wanted unity of the races, not racism in another shape. The colour of our skin should have the same significance (to us) among human beings that a tiger's stripes has (to him) among cats. The colour of a man's skin should be of no more significance, than the colour of his eyes. When the human race gets to this place, then we can say racism has died.

Unfortunately, in the US presidential race, colour is of great significance. Obama's colour is often up for mention (or the fact that he is, simmers right below the surface of every discussion) for one reason or the other. How can it not be, this is a historic moment in America's coming of Age. There are lots of people voting for Obama because he's black, there are lots of people not voting for him because he's black, there are lots of people who are abstaining because he's black!

In my corner of the globe I'm really just interested in whose policy will send down the price of saltfish. I love my ackee and salt fish you know.

Americans should vote for the person they believe is most capable of doing the job, the person whose manifesto they believe in, the person who has the clearer vision, the stronger will, and the greater fortitude to steer the USA out of the turbulent waters that threaten to engulf her.

I hope in another hundred years or so America will be so grown up that these will be the only issues that will guide voters to their decision.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Claude McKay, Poet Extraordinaire-2

I stated in my last post that Claude McKay is an important poet. Let me now clarify how so.

First of all he is a treasure to us Jamaicans. Anyone who can immortalize a simple Jamaican pass time such as gig throwing (the live ya Jamaican never calls them tops), or enshrine so much of the beloved landscape as Mckay does in this poem, is bound to be idolized.

by: Claude McKay (1890-1948)

O much have I forgotten in ten years,
So much in ten brief years! I have forgot
What time the purple apples come to juice,
And what month brings the shy forget-me-not.
I have forgot the special, startling season
Of the pimento's flowering and fruiting;
What time of year the ground doves brown the fields
And fill the noonday with their curious fluting.
I have forgotten much, but still remember
The poinsettia's red, blood-red in warm December.

I still recall the honey-fever grass,
But cannot recollect the high days when
We rooted them out of the ping-wing path
To stop the mad bees in the rabbit pen.
I often try to think in what sweet month
The languid painted ladies used to dapple
The yellow by-road mazing from the main,
Sweet with the golden threads of the rose-apple.
I have forgotten--strange--but quite remember
The poinsettia's red, blood-red in warm December.

What weeks, what months, what time of the mild year
We cheated school to have our fling at tops?
What days our wine-thrilled bodies pulsed with joy
Feasting upon blackberries in the copse?
Oh some I know! I have embalmed the days
Even the sacred moments when we played,
All innocent of passion, uncorrupt,
At noon and evening in the flame-heart's shade.
We were so happy, happy, I remember,
Beneath the poinsettia's red in warm December.

But Claude McKay is probably more important to African Americans (and by extentsion African Hyphen Anyones) because he was a leading figure in the Harlem Rennaisance. The Harlem Renaisance was, similar to that other Renaisance, a proliferation of all kinds of art and literature (I'm not sure about science) by African Americans. This came at a time when African Americans were just coming into a sense of themselves, and so it made sense that they should find expression in art. He is also important to African Americans because of the voice he gave to their cry against racism and injustice. He was a communist for some time but abandoned his views after visiting Russia and experiencing Communism first hand. A working class man himself, and a negro at that, living in the early nineteen hundreds, one is not surprised that (in his own words) this sonnet exploded in his head:

If We Must Die

If we must die--let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die--oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

The work of Mckay and others influenced the birth of a new movement among Black writers, called Negritude, which was a sort of consciousness and acceptance of their blackness. Chief among these writers were Leopold Senghor, former president of Senegal and Aime Cesaire of Haiti . Not all blacks suscribed to this movement, notably Wole Soyinka, one of Africa's Nobel Laureates who remarked that "a tiger does not shout its tigritude" , instead, "it acts". Ouch, not a bad point at all. It's this belief that preoccupation with blackness only reinforces prejudice that informs Denzil Washington's rejection of the idea that he's one of the best black actors of all time. I feel the same way. I'd rather be remembered as one of the best actors of time. But were Negritude not lost on so many negroes, like these women in this video at Stunner's, maybe we would save ourselves some emotional energy not to mention, money, which we could then expend toward bettering our lot.
If we were to look at the evolution of thought about black identity, we start with the Harlem Renaissance (of which Claude McKay was a leading figure), progress to Negritude then on to Wole Soyinka's idea that we should simply be. We have that right.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Claude McKay, Poet Extraordinaire-1

Claude McKay is such an important poet (and novelist) that I think I'll do a whole series of posts on him. He was born in Clarendon, Jamaica in 1889 but moved to the United States in 1912, after serving as a police officer and publishing his first collection of poetry; Songs of Jamaica. I'll begin by exposing you to one of his very nolstalgic poems, the first one, reminscent of Wordsworth's Daffodils, is (or used to be) memorised by Jamaican school children as a matter of course. Any Jamaican in the thirty something age group remembers this?

The Spanish Needle

Lovely dainty Spanish needle

With your yellow flower and white,

Dew bedecked and softly sleeping,

Do you think of me to-night?

Shadowed by the spreading mango,

Nodding o'er the rippling stream,

Tell me, dear plant of my childhood,

Do you of the exile dream?

Do you see me by the brook's side

Catching crayfish 'neath the stone,

As you did the day you whispered:

Leave the harmless dears alone?

Do you see me in the meadow

Coming from the woodland spring

With a bamboo on my shoulder

And a pail slung from a string?

Do you see me all expectant

Lying in an orange grove,

While the swee-swees sing above me,

Waiting for my elf-eyed love?

Lovely dainty Spanish needle,

Source to me of sweet delight,

In your far-off sunny southland

Do you dream of me to-night?

Claude McKay

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Tribute to our National Heroes

In recognition of Jamaica's National Heroes' Day, I share with you this poem:

The Ballad of Sixty-Five
by Alma Norma

The roads are rocky and the hills are steep,
The macca stretches and the gully’s deep.
The town is far, news travels slow.
And the mountain men have far to go.

Bogle took his cutlass at Stony Gut
And looked at the small heap of food he’d got
And he shook his head, and his thoughts were sad,
‘You can wuk like a mule but de crop still bad.’

Bogle got his men and he led them down
Over the hills to Spanish Town,
They chopped their way and they made a track
To the Governor’s house. But he sent them back.

As they trudged back home to Stony Gut
Paul’s spirit sank with each bush he cut,
For the thought of the hungry St Thomas men
Who were waiting for the message he’d bring to them.

They couldn’t believe that he would fail
And their anger rose when they heard his tale.
Then they told Paul Bogle of Morant Bay
And the poor man fined there yesterday.

Then Bogle thundered, ‘This thing is wrong.
They think we weak, but we hill en strong.
Rouse up yourself. We’ll march all night
To the Vestry house, and we’ll claim our right.’

The Monday morning was tropic clear
As the men from Stony Gut drew near,
Clenching their sticks in their farmer’s hand
To claim their rights in their native land.

Oh many mourned and many were dead
That day when the vestry flames rose red.
There was chopping and shooting and when it done
Paul Bogle and the men knew they had to run.

They ran for the bush were they hoped to hide
But the soldiers poured in from Kingston side.
They took their prisoners to Morant Bay
Where they hanged them high in the early day.

Paul Bogle died but his spirit talks
Anywhere in Jamaica that freedom walks,
Where brave men gather and courage thrills
As it did in those days in St Thomas hills.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Trumpets, drums and applause!

Today, I am thrilled to accept and pass on not one, not two, but all of three awards! Do share the love and make some friends.

First, thanks to Del for this lovely award:

It translates the "Friendship Around the World Award". Although the blogosphere is teaming with bloggers (technoratti says it's tracking over 100 million), it's very easy to never actually connect with people. So I'm very happy to pass on this award to eight people I like a lot (who will each do the same) . Lots of hugs to you:

Kyt (you'll just love her 'about me' at blog catalog)

Thanks Geoffery for these other two awards. The interaction has been wonderful. I was recently reminded of the rest of that Jamaican parting phrase;
Walk good
and [may] good duppy
walk wid you.

When I heard my colleague say it, I thought I must let you know, all this while I've been invoking good spirits! Scared?
But this is an award ceremony, let's get on with the show.

The Arte Y Pico award

originated here and the term Arte Y Pico according to the originator of the award "translates into a wonderful phrase in Mexico, “lo maximo.” .... will never find its counterpart in English, but if it HAD to, it would be something like, Wow. The Best Art. Over the top."
Here are the rules:

1. You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, no matter what language.

2. Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3. Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.

And the Arte Y Pico award goes to:

1. Dorothy, who has the blog that I would want to do about my family and about Jamaica if only I knew how, I might do it yet, now that she's showing me! A Fantastic treasure.

2. Stephen, who offers a an interesting mix of history, literature, photography, and personal.

3. Linda, who writes with finesse and care. See for yourself here and here.

4. Louise, who writes about Carmine, a village in Italy, about motherhood, books and life. Her style of writing is quite refreshing.

5. Rethabile, who writes about his native Lesotho, its language and culture. Rethabile's comments on various blogs are usually inspiring, insightful and enriching.
And now the Brillante Weblog Premio 2008 Award goes to:

*drumroll again*

2. Megna, a thirteen year old in India who has no business to be as mature as she is
3. Deloris, a sagacious retiree who now has time to make soap at home, garden and blog. Be sure to read her "Say Bye-bye Now" post.
4. Fly Girl, whose travel blog throbs with life
5. Stunner, a foundation Jamaican blogger whose blog I used to read long before I started blogging.
Again, please pass on this award to five other deserving bloggers.
Walk good all a oonu.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Grapes of Wrath

Some literary works are timeless and I think the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is one of them. And what could be more timely given the current economic climate, and given that today is Blog Action Day, than to muse on some of the parallels between the time in which this novel is set and our time?

The most striking parallel, of course, is that the time of The Grapes of Wrath is the Great Depression of the 1930's. The economic collapse and the mass unemployment which followed the stockmarket crash of 1929 form the backdrop, on one level, to the tale of the survival of the Joad family, and on another level, to the resilience of human beings. The Great Depression is a point of reference for understanding the enormityof any recession, because it was the worst in history. A very knowledgeable Geoffery traces the impending recession of our time here, for anyone wanting to read one post that summarizes what you'd have to glean from dozens of different sources and experiences.

Out of this major parallel comes several smaller ones;
-the war time factor,

-mass migration (often illegal, often of Mexicans), the exploitation of these migrants, and how there came a time when desperation drove Americans to compete with migrants for jobs that they otherwise scorned, will history repeat itself?

-climate having a major impact on daily life- then it was drought conditions creating the dust bowl and destroying livelihood as well as food, now it is global warming and all its spin-off effects,

- a sizing up of the current politico-economic systems- whether they work and what are the alternatives.

This is an excellent novel for everyone to read now because it explores the ins and outs of living through a crisis like this. The central message, in the words of Ma Joad, is that "They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people-we go on." Although it is set in America, the novel has universal appeal. The title, taken from the Battle Hymn of the Republic, is pregnant (and you will see that I use this word deliberately) with meanings that are shared by many people the world over. The title signals that the novel will touch on religion, liberty, the anger of the poor, and human interdependence.

I admit, I had to read it in small portions because it is an agonizing story. Yet I read because it was such a compelling story; I had to go with the Joads all the way to California and see how things would turn out for them.

So, as I promised, today I write on the issue of poverty, and I do so by simply echoing the essence of the story of the Joads: in the face of abject poverty, sub-human conditions, in the face of sheer starvation, we people tend to dig deep and find the resources to survive, we tend to acknowledge our need for each other, and we tend to go on.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

To us all Flowers are Roses

In this post I asked you guys what title you'd give a poem written by Angel Girl. I got a few awesome titles, but I also got some perspective on the notion of titles and how to eat a poem. Linda said that a poem just is, and can exist quite well without a title, although, she pointed out, a poet may want to send his reader in a certain direction with a title. Geoffery noted that we can simply love a poem without poking and probing at it.

Lorna Goodison, a leading West Indian poet has done some very interesting things with titles as with poems; several of her titles are poems, stories by themselves, for example there is

- The woman Speaks to the Man who has Employed her Son which uses irony to capture the betrayal of some 'role models' who send young men to commit crimes,

- and there is For my mother (May I Inherit Half her Strength) -the story of a woman who wasted (it seems to me) half her enormous strength on her sweet-talking man, and nurtured nine children with the other half.

-and then there is Annie Pengelly- what a weird name for a poem! A lawyer has filed a suit on Annie Pengelly's behalf against her tormentor- her white owner who deprived her of countless hours of sleep, now history owes her her rest.

Two of these poems are from her sixth collection To us All Flowers are Roses. The poem that bears the title is a magnificent invocation of many place names in Jamaica, most of which range from the silly to the sublime, but all of which reflect our robust personality. Enjoy the first two stanzas of the title poem:

To us all flowers are Roses

Accompong is Ashanti, root, Nyamekopon. Appropriate name, Accompong, meaning warrior or lone one. Accompong, home to bushmasters, bushmasters being maroons, maroons dwell in dense places deep mountainous well sealed strangers unwelcome. Me No Send You No Come.

I love so the names of this place how they spring brilliant like "roses" (to us all flowers are roses), engage you in flirtation. What is their meaning? Pronunciation? A strong young breeze that just takes these names like blossoms and waltz them around, turn and wheel them on the tongue.


For the rest of the poem she groups the names in various categories; those that originated from Europe, those from Africa, those from Israel, those that express our frustrations, those that reflect our eternal faith. So there are lines like:

"at Bloody Bay where they punctured balloons"


"Rhine and Calabar, Askenish where freed slaves went to claim what was left of the Africa within"


"and Wait a Bit, Wild Horses, Tan and See, Time and Patience, Unity"


"There is Amity and Friendship and Harmony Hall"


"and Tranquility and Content. May Pen"

If you want to read any of the poems in it's entirety, drop me an email from my profile. To get a peek into the collection To us all Flowers are Roses click this spot, and to chat with me about this post click the comments button below :-).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

More cool poetry, on a T-shirt this time

I recently saw a very pretty girl, her dark complexion unmarred by bleaching cream, and her hair all her very own, wearing a T-Shirt marked: