Elegguas: New Poetry Book by Kamau Brathwaite

This autumn offers readers a cornucopia of poetry, variegated in style and quality. Among the best books is Kamau Brathwaite’s Elegguas (Wesleyan University Press; 128 pages; $22.95). Eleggua, a word for “the Yoruba deity of the threshold, doorway, and crossroad,” coincidentally resembles “elegy,” a poem for the dead. “Elegguas” weaves epic and elegy, lyric and polemic, to celebrate and mourn the dead of Brathwaite’s extended family, from “Ivie Andersonnng” to Mikey Smith, “stone to death on Stony Hill Kingston Jamaica on Marcus Garvey birthday 17 August 1983” (“Stone”). Homeric and Joycean allusions harmonize with Caribbean dialect and Brathwaite’s own fine lyric idiolect.

Brathwaite’s form-shifting Sycorax fonts, named after the African witch who bore Caliban (in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”), can be both fun and distracting; besides, his wordplay expresses the topsy-turvy nature of modern language without excessive visual aids. Read/hear the invocation: “my Mother the Noun” and “alphabets stuff upside-down/in my mouth.” He guides us “… from moscow over the alphs …// the grey tundril steppes of mangolia …” and “thru/to the thick slugging streams/ of Kurtz horrow.” “Elegguas” sings with anger and righteousness, but the balm of tender creation emanates from its overtones.

 

Deeply felt requiems from an internationally celebrated poet

Kamau Brathwaite is a major Caribbean poet of his generation and one of the major world poets of the second half of the twentieth century. Elegguas—a play on “elegy” and “Eleggua,” the Yoruba deity of the threshold, doorway, and crossroad—is a collection of poems for the departed. Modernist and post-modernist in inspiration, Elegguas draws together traditions of speaking with the dead, from Rilke’s Duino Elegies to the Jamaican kumina practice of bringing down spirits of the dead to briefly inhabit the bodies of the faithful, so that the ancestors may provide spiritual assistance and advice to those here on earth. The book is also profoundly political, including elegies for assassinated revolutionaries like in the masterful “Poem for Walter Rodney.”

Throughout his poetry, Brathwaite foregrounds “nation-language,” that difference in syntax, in rhythm, and timbre that is most closely allied to the African experience in the Caribbean, using the computer to explore the graphic rendition of nuances of language. Brathwaite experiments using his own Sycorax fonts, as well as deliberate misspellings (“calibanisms”) and deviations in punctuation. But this is never simple surface aesthetic, rather an expression of the turbulence (in history, in dream) depicted in the poems. This collection is a stunning follow-up to Brathwaite’s Born to Slow Horses (Wesleyan, 2005), winner of the Griffin International Poetry Prize.

Endorsements:

“For nearly half a century, Kamau Brathwaite has been doing nothing short of rewriting the relationship between Africa and the aging ‘new world’—one exquisite and haunting syllable at a time. Elegguas, his newest book, is a tidalectic wave of remembrance and remonstrance. It is, as well, one of Brathwaite’s most compassionate songs.”—Mark Nowak, author of Coal Mountain Elementary

“Kamau Brathwaite is the major Caribbean poet of his generation and one of the great poets of the second part of the 20C anywhere. While framed by elegiac writings of a personal nature, this volume remains profoundly political through a range of elegies for departed public & political figures, and includes what I consider one of the greatest and most poignant political poems of the era, namely Brathwaite’s ‘Poem for Walter Rodney.’ The greatness of the work lies in the fact that the poet never falls into political rhetoric, but that his language, breathtakingly innovative & inventive at the formal level, always carries a lyrical and poetic charge of unequalled intensity.”—Pierre Joris, author of Poasis and A Nomad Poetics

To place a book order go to http://www.upne.com/0-8195-6943-7.html

The brief review above can be found at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/11/06/RV5I1FQGEK.DTL#ixzz14ZJuQG3R

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