Also noted

Other new and recent books

Hope’s Hospice and Other Poems, by Kwame Dawes, with photographs by Joshua Cogan (Peepal Tree Press, ISBN 978-184523-0784, 64 pp), a sequence of poems that emerged from Dawes’s interviews with Jamaican HIV/AIDS patients in 2007. In unadorned verse stripped almost to prose, Dawes juxtaposes individual life (and death) stories with larger meditations on mortality. Occasionally, as in the rainbow vision of the final piece, Dawes slips into mawkishness, but in his most piercing poems he lets his subjects speak for themselves: “I have these pills / that make the fat / grow on my hips. // I have more ass / than I ever had.”

The Stone Gatherer, by Esther Phillips (Peepal Tree Press, ISBN 978-184523-0852, 57 pp), a second book of poems by the Barbadian author of When Ground Doves Fly (2003). Phllips shifts without fuss among linguistic registers and narrative points of view: from a tender remembrance of her mother and “her farewell to a girlhood gone too soon,” to a wry vignette “on teaching an adult male to read,” to an unabashed lyric of passion thwarted that references the French feminist writer Hélène Cixous and ends with a cold shower. “A Precipitate Sorrow”, the clear-eyed poem that closes the book, anticipates the death of an older lover: “I negotiate: make a dry-run / of tomorrow’s grief against the long, slow / hours when I shall wish my heart a palimpsest.”

Wifredo Lam in North America, ed. Curtis L. Carter (Haggerty Museum of Art, ISBN 0-945366-22-1, 157 pp), the catalogue of an exhibition that opened in late 2007 at Marquette University in Wisconsin. The show surveys works by Lam in North American collections, but also raises questions about the Cuban painter’s relations with American artists, curators, and collectors. The catalogue features seventy-odd colour plates; its contributors include the Jamaica-born writer Edward Lucie-Smith on “Wifredo Lam and the Caribbean” and curator Lowery Stokes Sims on his femme cheval, the image of a horse-headed woman that recurs in Lam’s works.

Jamaica in 1687: The Taylor Manuscript at the National Library of Jamaica, ed. David Buisseret (University of the West Indies Press, ISBN 978-976-640-166-5, 330 pp), the first published edition of an important early account of Jamaica, little known even to historians. John Taylor, born in the Isle of Wight in 1664, arrived in Jamaica in 1687. After a brief spell as a bookkeeper, he signed up as ship’s clerk on HMS Falcon, a pirate-hunting vessel based in Port Royal. He returned to England the following year, and soon set to work on a manuscript that was part memoir, part record of his observations of Jamaica as he knew it. He covers history, geography, flora and fauna, laws and customs, and ends with advice for future colonists. The text is comprehensively but not obtrusively annotated by Buisseret, a historian who formerly taught at UWI’s Mona Campus.

Voice of the Leopard: African Secret Societies and Cuba, by Ivor L. Miller (University Press of Mississippi, ISBN 978-1-934110-83-6, 364 pp), an illuminating historical study of Abakuá, an Afro-Cuban mutual-aid society that evolved from elements of Ékpè, the “leopard” society of the Cross River basin of today’s Nigeria and Cameroon. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Cross River societies were “organised not in kingdoms but in dispersed, sovereign communities united by networks of obligation and prestige,” Miller writes. Enslaved peoples from this region “were able to regroup and re-establish an important homeland institution in the process of their self-liberation.” Miller examines the history of Abakuá from the early nineteenth century to the present day, and demonstrates its influence on contemporary Cuban music.

Freedom and Constraint in Caribbean Migration and Diaspora, ed. Elizabeth Thomas-Hope (Ian Randle Publishers, ISBN 978-976-637-531-1, 392 pp), an addition to the burgeoning field of migration studies; in this case, a collection of papers originally delivered at a 2006 conference in Jamaica. The twenty-nine contributors hail from various departments of the academy, and they examine the nuances of migration from and within the Caribbean from cultural, social, political, and even psychological perspectives. Examples include a study of Haitian asylum-seekers in Guadeloupe, of Venezuelan student emigration to Trinidad, of an oral history project in Barbados, and of the fiction of Andrea Levy, the British writer with Jamaican roots. In her introduction, Thomas-Hope argues that “the dialectic of freedom and coercion . . . permeates the migration dynamic” in the Caribbean, but is largely ignored in the reigning paradigms.

Transatlantic Solidarities: Irish Nationalism and Caribbean Poetics, by Michael G. Malouf (University of Virginia Press, ISBN 978-0-8139-2780-0, 259 pp), an attempt to chart common elements in the separate literary histories of Ireland and the Anglophone Caribbean — both former colonies and immigrant societies “reinventing their national cultures abroad.” (The comparison is not new; in an epigraph to his first chapter, Malouf quotes Froude’s description of “the Antilles” in 1888 as “so many fresh Irelands.”) Chapters on Marcus Garvey, Claude McKay, and Derek Walcott argue that all three were influenced by Irish nationalist discourse as expressed in the works of Eamon de Valera, George Bernard Shaw, and James Joyce, via a “re-imagining of transatlantic space and the new forms of solidarity created by cross-cultural strategies of reading and appropriation.”


The Caribbean Review of Books, May 2009