From the Philadelphia Tribune. . .
Poetic rhyme has always been an appreciated art form in the Caribbean culture. Therefore, it is not surprising that many Caribbean writers have risen to the top by penning the words buried in the depths of their soul on paper. Audiences applaud with deep appreciation for a poem that expresses new ideas or brings to light some of the atrocities that often existed within the (Caribbean) society. The appreciation for the poetic overflowed into the classroom curriculum in many forms and also into churches during plays and concerts as poets young and old rehearsed to display their God-given talent.
It was a given that teachers of preschoolers for instance, required their students to memorize not only their ABCs and 1-2-3s but also short poetry and rhyme from book series like “Mother Goose.” Children were expected to recite and in some cases sing the words of a poem until it became ingrained in their memories.
The history of the Caribbean would be incomplete if poets such as Derek Alton Walcott, a son of Saint Lucia; Edward Kamau Brathwaite, a son of Barbados; and Claude McKay, a son of Jamaica were not mentioned.
Walcott was the recipient of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. He received the notable award two years after the publication of his poem “Omeros,” the work the he is most known for producing. In 1971 he was awarded the Obie Award for his play (“Dream on Monkey Mountain”). He also received the following awards: Royal Society of Literature, The Queen’s Medal for poetry, the OCM Bocas prize for Caribbean Literature and the T.S. Eliot Prize. His writing shows the cross-cultural influences of the years he lived in St. Lucia and Trinidad. He currently spends most of his time here in the United States teaching literature and creative writing at Boston University.
Brathwaite of Barbados was the co-founder of the Caribbean Artist Movement no longer in existence that focused on promoting the work of Caribbean writers. Therefore, it is not surprise that Brathwaite was considered one of the major voices of the Caribbean. In addition, Brathwaite was the International Winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize for his volume of poetry “Born to Show Horses.” He also received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Bussa Award, the Casa de las Americas Prize and the Randall Citation for Performance and Written Poetry.
McKay was born in a small town near Clarendon in Jamaica. He recounted that his parents would share stories of Ashanti customs with him. When he was 7-years-old, McKay was sent to live with his oldest brother, Uriah Theodore — who was a teacher — to be given the best education available. McKay loved to read classical and British literature, as well as philosophy, science and theology. He started writing poetry when he was 10 years old.
In 1907, McKay met a man named Walter Jekyll, his mentor. Jekyll convinced McKay to write in his Jamaican dialect. Jekyll helped McKay publish his first book of poems, “Songs of Jamaica,” in 1912. These were the first poems published in Jamaican Patois (dialect of mainly English words and African structure). And his poems have been taught in schools throughout the Caribbean since then. My favorite was and still is the “Spanish Needle.”
Today the culture has evolved and even though recitation and poems are still appreciated, young people are using their computers, phones and iPads to focus on the “spoken word.” But the older generation of 30-something and up, will forever cherish the days when, as a small child, they would captivate an audience as they demonstrated mastery of McKay, Walcott and Brathwaite — poets who have left an indelible mark on Caribbean society.