Georges, Richard William Ethan.pdf (1.01 MB)

Charting the sea in Caribbean poetry: Kamau Brathwaite, Derek Walcott, Dionne Brand, Alphaeus Norman, Verna Penn Moll, and Richard Georges

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posted on 2023-06-09, 04:34 authored by Richard William Ethan Georges
This thesis consists of a poetry manuscript and a critical component that considers the poetics and history that inform the writing of that manuscript. Critical Component: Charting the Sea in Caribbean Poetry This thesis focuses on the influence of the sea in constructing identity in the writing of Kamau Brathwaite, Derek Walcott, and Dionne Brand. It is particularly interested in examining how these poets trace identity primarily in The Arrivants, Omeros, and No Language is Neutral through their various employments of the sea and liquidity in those works. I then read selections from two of my poetic forbearers from the British Virgin Islands - Alphaeus Norman and Verna Penn Moll - in order to examine the construction of the sea in their poetry against the canonised work of Brathwaite, Walcott, and Brand. I argue through close contextual readings of the selected works that through engagement of various approaches each poet arrives at a portrait of Caribbean identity that is constructed integrally through the fluid, mutable natures of the sea. The five poets are scrutinised in four chapters, in relation to their personal philosophies regarding national or regional identity through essay writings and interviews but more prominently in close readings of their poetry and in particular their representations of the sea. I begin by arguing that in Brathwaite’s The Arrivants (1980), the importance of the sea in the various formations of West Indian identity is represented through the exercising of his tidalectic process in his reconstructions of the archetypes of Legba and Ananse, and his ritualising of cricket and calypso. In Walcott’s Omeros (1990), the sea is presented as the embodiment of history itself through which all of Saint Lucia’s contemporary inhabitants must access their ancestral memories. Walcott utilises the Atlantic as a creolising force in his reimagining of the Homeric archetypes of Philoctetes, Achilles, Hector, and Helen. Brand however, departs from this metaphorical interpretation of the sea and turns inward, redefining the boundaries of land, sea, and sexual desire in Trinidad through a remapping of that island that is focused on the ocean, waterways, and the bodies of women. Lastly, British Virgin Islander poets Alphaeus Osario Norman and Verna Penn Moll embrace different mythic versions of the sea. Norman’s work creates a distinct sailor aesthetic that resonates with classic European naval and militaristic poetry as a way to invoke a national pride, while Penn Moll focuses on performances of cultural and communal waterside rituals to frame narratives of local history and village culture. Ultimately, I argue that the sea is presented variously as a portal through which history and tribal memory can be accessed, and as a supernaturally transformative force for the poet. Creative Component: Make Us All Islands Make Us All Islands is a poetry manuscript based in the British Virgin Islands that explores historical and personal relationships with the sea. The first section revolves around the various arrivals of liberated Africans rescued from slave ships wrecked or captured by the British Navy in the early 1800s. The liberated Africans were not enslaved, but rather forced into indentureship before ultimately being segregated from society and then disappearing from history. The second section is built around the departure of a generation of Tortolan men to work in the sugar plantations of the Dominican Republic at the turn of the following century, alongside other Anglophone Afro-Caribbean migrants. A large portion of these poems are built around accounts of the greatest boating disaster in the islands’ history, the loss of a schooner christened Fancy Me which wrecked in a hurricane in 1926 off the coast of the Dominican island Saona. The final movement personalises this exercise and focuses on the poet’s interactions with the sea and memory.


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University of Sussex

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