New Book—“Caribbean Counterpoint: the Aesthetics of Salt in Lasana Sekou”


Sara Forian’s Caribbean Counterpoint: the Aesthetics of Salt in Lasana Sekou (House of Nehesi Publishers, 2019) was launched at the 2019 St. Martin Book Fair. Also see previous post Author examines the legacy of salt in Sekou’s work. Here is a full description of this excellent critical study.

Description: Caribbean Counterpoint: The Aesthetics of Salt in Lasana Sekou by Sara Florian, PhD, is a new study of Caribbean/St. Martin’s people, culture, history, and landscape through literature, and, writes Dr. Earl McKenzie in his foreword to the book, “an engaging, illuminating and important study of Sekou’s use of the metaphor of salt in his poetry.” According to Anton G. Leitner, editor of the German literary journal Das Gedicht, Dr. Florian gives “critical insights into the background” of Sekou’s “multilingual approach and (…) the embedded vernacular” relative to his poetry, fiction, and essays.

In a comment to the author, Prof. Paul Buhle wrote that Caribbean Counterpoint: The Aesthetics of Salt in Lasana Sekou is “a tremendously important book, CLR James is looking down on you with pride. (…) You bring back memories of Caribbean Contact and other projects to bring shared cultures more closely together. On behalf of my memory of my mentor, CLR James, I say: thanks.” In his review of the book at its St. Martin Book Fair launch (2019), poet and novelist Dr. Kei Miller observed that: “the critic at her finest provides insights, does not put new words in our mouths but reveals to us what we have been saying all along. Sara’s book at its best is an insightful work of an engaged critic because what she is doing here is putting her ear against the Caribbean and listening, and listening to our poems, and to our stories, and to our novels, and looking at our art, listening to conversations between writers and what she is saying here is: ‘You do realise, don’t you, that you keep on telling the story of salt?’.”

Born out of an evolution of Dr. Sara Florian’s PhD thesis, the book opens with a dedication taken from the Gospel, “you are the salt of the earth,” in which people are envisioned as “grains of salt.” It is well known that sugar has been extensively explored by academics as the main or prominent colonial product. However, in her doctoral study and in Caribbean Counterpoint, Dr. Florian dissects its less-explored counterpart, salt, as a dense poetic metaphoric key to access the art of the national and revolutionary writer of St. Martin, Lasana M. Sekou – a leading Caribbean voice and publisher, whose poetry, short stories, performance pieces and articles gurgle out of the historical Great Salt Pond of the island.

The book has an introduction on the poet and his “I-land” (Sekou, Nativity), in which Dr. Florian takes a bird’s-eye view on Sekou’s 40 years of poetic production, political commitment and engagement with the issues of colonialism and post-colonialism, of historical injustices through his thematic “trinity” of love, labor, liberation. Sekou’s poetic and political engagement with the “liberation” of St. Martin targets the remnants of the colonial countries, the Netherlands and France, still splitting the island in half today. Sekou’s poetic revolution stands also in his “chirographic experimentation” – as Prof. Howard A. Fergus said in Love Labor Liberation in Lasana Sekou (2007) – with the word on the page, by his poetic polyglossia, creating a new system of punctuation, inventing neologisms, and being constantly sparked by great literary inspirations, among them Amiri Baraka, Kamau Brathwaite, Derek Walcott, George Lamming, Nicolás Guillén, Léopold Sédar Senghor.

The chapter about the maroons, or runaways from Slavery, echoes Sekou’s participation in the survival fight of his people against injustices and oppression as well as natural disasters. As critic Fabian Adekunle Badejo puts it: “The poet is marching with the masses (…) like a maroon in the hills” (Salted Tongues – Modern Literature in St Martin, 2003). “The woman, the land, freedom, the nourishment and pain of sweet and salty substances, youth, Africa, Rastafari, political independence, revolution, and improvement of the self” (Caribbean Counterpoint, 2019) are some of the crucial themes encompassing this study. A chapter is also dedicated to the theory of the “village chiefs,” in which Sekou criticizes the attitudes and behavior of the politicians who instead of caring about improving their own “village” society and the situation of their nation are inspired by external negative examples. In this analytical process salt is a product which hurts, nurtures, heals or cauterizes the wounds of historical pain and of present politics.

A final chapter on the evolution of a “West-Indian” aesthetics compares critical analyses from the 1940s until the present and it culminates in Rex Nettleford, Édouard Glissant, CLR James, Norman Girvan, Aimé Césaire, George Lamming, Francis Abiola Irele’s recognition of a common “Caribbean aesthetics,” comparing Sekou’s work to that of other great poets from the Caribbean and other parts of the world. The book’s title is musical in terms and aims at echoing Sekou’s linguistic and poetic musicality. Though counterpoint was a musical term invented in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, its use here encompasses a plethora of different voices from the islands, which are singing together, creating a new, independent literary melody.

Sara Florian holds a PhD in Modern Philology from Cà Foscari University, Italy. Her dissertation focused on contemporary and comparative Caribbean literature.

For more information, see, and our previous post

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