Despite the gloomy interior and pounding rain on the roof of the Alliance Française building on Elmshall Road, the room took on a cozy atmosphere as writer, politician and courageous woman, Phyllis Shand Allfrey, came to life through her work, Dominica News Online reports.
New life was breathed into them as her poems were read one by one, to a captive audience by DFC Events Director, Nathalie Clarke and given broader perspective by Lizabeth Paravisini- Gebert, Professor in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Vassar College in New York and Editor of the publication, Love for an Island, at its official launch on Thursday.
Love for an Island which is a collection of poems written by Allfrey over four decades ago, reflects Allfrey’s personal circumstances of place and politics, both tropical and temperate.
The earliest poems date from the 1930′s after Allfrey had left Dominica, first for the United States and then London – the temperate period, as she described it, of her writing career. In the UK, Allfrey became involved in left-wing and anti-colonial politics and such undertakings are expressed in her poems. Later, on her return to the Caribbean and her years as a politician, her poetry rediscovers its tropical note.
In an exclusive interview with DNO after the launch of the publication, Editor Lizabeth Psravisini-Gebert, who is Puerto Rican, said although she has no family tie with Allfrey and never met her, she felt a real connection to her.
“At that time in the early nineties, there was not really that much knowledge about women writers and I was very committed to highlighting the work of women and I was particularly interested in her,” Psravisini-Gebert said of Allfrey.
“More so since a famous historian in the Caribbean had put her down and he wouldn’t have done that to a man. But also because for a woman of her class to have come and done tremendous work against her own class, she got ostracized, people wouldn’t speak to her she couldn’t really consort with the people she had grown up with, so many of them would not be speaking to her,” she stated.
Psravisini-Gebert disclosed that she spoke to Christopher Loblack who assisted Allfrey in the founding of the Labor Party and he admitted that he sometimes feared for her life and, “That is the kind of courage that really attracted me. I mean I really I don’t know if I would have the courage to just challenge society in that way. She was quite hated my many people for what she was doing,” Loblack stated.
Some of Allfrey’s work has been out of print since 1940 and this volume brings together the four collections published in her lifetime, some unpublished poems and examples of her later satirical work as the Editor of Dominica’s The Star newspaper.
Professor Paravisini-Gebert who wrote the introduction to Love for an Island says the publication signals a new respect for Allfrey’s literary reputation, pointing out that the old arguments as to whether Allfrey could be identified as a Caribbean poet, have been discarded while academic interest in her writing has been gathering pace: “She is rightly being placed as a Dominican and more broadly as a Caribbean poet.”
Love for an Island has already garnered critical acclaim. Stewart Brown, editor of the Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse writes of this work, ‘Thrillingly, the collection includes real gems that truly enrich our sense of the treasury of Caribbean poetry.” Professor David Dabydeen, of the Centre for Caribbean Studies at the University of Warwick and a known enthusiast of Allfrey’s writings, says, “her poetry is humane, radical, and refreshingly disdainful of the elite.’
Poet, politician and novelist, Phyllis Shand Allfrey (1908-1986) was a white Dominican who defied her class and colour in her politics and her writing. Her famous novel, The Orchid House, was published in 1953.
On returning to the Caribbean in 1954, she co-founded the Dominica Labour Party, Dominica’s first mass political party. She became a minister in the West Indies Federation.
Allfrey died in Dominica in 1986.