‘Anthology of Contemporary Guyanese Verse’
Ed. Petamber Persaud
Published by The Caribbean Press
On Friday August 15, 2014, an ‘Anthology of Contemporary Guyanese Verse’ (along with other books) was launched by Prof. David Dabydeen, one of the founders of The Caribbean Press.
The occasion was witnessed by scores of writers and lovers of literature. And what an event it was, igniting the evening with performances of prose and poetry by their authors, endowing the moment with authenticity and a sense of great achievement, many of the authors, some published for the first time, acknowledging the role of the press in affording them the opportunity to be published, thereby affording them the opportunity to share their work with a wider audience.
Anthologies play a major role in the assessment of a country’s literature, recording the achievement of the people and so serve to build a sense of national pride. Based on this concept, an anthology is a very important mechanism in literature, and the work of the anthologist is vital to a nation in that the anthologist becomes the bookkeeper of the nation’s invaluable literary heritage. Anthologies ought to bring out the best on offer at a particular time, bring attention to the best on offer during that time, have a reasonable representation of the literary landscape, and provide writers with a wider audience. Sometimes, all these criteria are not fulfilled leading to the fact that many anthologies begin with apologies, citing the lack of space for omissions, lack of knowledge of existing works, and lack of access to certain works leading to exclusions.
This anthology focuses on contemporary writers of poetry, many of whom have explored and exploded the frontiers of poetry, challenging canonical notions of poetry. Of course, there are others who are contented to conform to convention yet bringing fresh perspective to the typical theme by enriching their writing with local flavours and nuances.
One of the features this anthology brings to our attention is that ‘many writers from Guyana still use poetry as their medium of choice’ while poetry is declining in other parts of the world. By sticking with this genre, the writers are saying that ‘poetry matters’ and that poetry has the power ‘to move, inspire and motivate both its writers and readers alike.’
And there is more to this anthology. Of the twenty-one writers, nine are women – almost half of the book. Of the seventy poems in this book, about one third dwells on the subject ‘woman’ including ‘Adore’, ‘4 Women’, ‘Home’, ‘Goose on the loose’, ‘Black Coffee’, ‘Vishma Diana’, ‘The altar’, ‘Black lost girl’, ‘Hindu Woman’ and ‘I apologise’.
The introduction by Dr Lynn Macedo, Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick, sums up the range of this anthology. Macedo wrote, ‘[t]he work of the twenty-one poets in this anthology provides the reader with a new look at Guyanese identity from a twenty-first century perspective, as well as examining more universal themes such as the complexities of human relationships or the exploration of race and ethnicity. Guyanese writing has long been characterised with a close engagement in politics and social issues, and many of the poems in this collection continue that tradition of questioning and challenging facets of society that are perceived as being ambivalent towards the suffering of the poor and the dispossessed.
‘Unsurprisingly, the violent history of the Caribbean continues to provide material with which several of the poets engage as does, in complete contrast, the natural beauty of the region’s landscape, flora and fauna.’
And there is more: the writers are from varying backgrounds, lawyer, youth advocate, transformational leader, playwright, actors, performance poet, photographer, film maker, sports journalist, television producer, fiction writer, bringing all those experiences to bear on the art.
And there is more: at the launch of the book, the performances were awesome, bringing the work alive, never before has poetry sounded so good. Why? The reason is found in the introduction: ‘Contemporary society surrounds us with many art forms that are highly poetic in nature – from rap music to advertising ‘jingle’s, or football chants to political slogans. By working with such frameworks and stretching them into new poetic dimensions, the writers in this anthology are able to speak directly to today’s reader in a format that can be easily recognised and related to.’
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(By Petamber Persaud)