Dear readers:
For our sixth anniversary in May 2010, The Caribbean Review of Books has launched a new website at www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com. Antilles has now moved to www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/antilles — please update your bookmarks and RSS feed. If you link to Antilles from your own blog or website, please update that too!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

"Seek it in his poetry"

Césaire once quipped that anyone confused by his politics should seek it in his poetry. He seemed, at times, an advocate of poésie pure, a follower of Mallarmé’s craft of absence and elimination, especially in Les armes miraculeuses. But his poems also bear witness to the harsh realities of life in a colonial outpost under Vichy rule. He meant the “miraculous weapons” to be arms for the struggle against colonialism, as well as, in and of themselves, poetic annunciation. Behind the flames, grasses, guava, and hibiscus of his impossible landscapes, one catches sight of the lashing of bodies and rotting flesh, the stench of slave ships, the postures of sanctimonious politicians.

-- From Colin Dayan's beautiful essay on the late Aimé Césaire in the current issue of the Boston Review. (Dayan is, among many other things, one of Césaire's translators.)

Friday, 17 October 2008

Donald Locke: Ruby Garden

Ruby Garden (1994-2004, bronze with painted sticks) is one of the sculptures in Master Works/Recent Works, a show by the Guyanese artist Donald Locke which opened yesterday at the Skoto Gallery in New York. It runs until 22 November. Read a brief profile of Locke here (and take a look at The Kingdom of the Blind, a major installation by his son Hew Locke which ran recently at InIVA in London, here.)

Thursday, 16 October 2008

A judge's journal: part two

bedside pile

I am old enough now to recognise that as I have grown older my reading habits have greatly changed. And I don't mean just that I prefer different writers to the ones I admired (or adored!) when I was younger, or that I read more or less, more quickly or slowly, at different hours of the day.

(Though, as an aside: it is one of the ironies of my present life that although you might say I read for a living--how else to succinctly describe the job of the editor of a small literary magazine?--I often feel like I hardly read at all anymore. Skimming through dozens of review copies, keeping up with literary news via the WWW, and red-penning through contributors' copy is reading, yes, but of an entirely different kind to that blissful sinking into bed at day's end with fat volume in hand for a few hours' escape into someone else's stories and ideas. The day seems to end so late now--it is 10.43 pm as I type these words, and I am still at my desk--that by the time I do pick up whichever book tops the bedside pile, I am almost too tired to open it, and after five or six pages my eyelids sag.)

In her wonderful essay "Hours in a Library", Virginia Woolf asserts that "the great season for reading is the season between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four." That was certainly true for me. She goes on: "it is not only that we read so many books, but that we had such books to read." Such books to read! Ah, to be reading To the Lighthouse for the first time--or Middlemarch, or Wonder Boys, or Howards End--all touchstone books of my youth. (To not know how they would end, what would happen next! I tremble a little at the thought of that innocence.) Also--all novels.

And that is the great difference between my reading habits of, say, ten years ago, and the present. In my younger days I had an immense appetite for fiction. It is quite possible that in the "season between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four" I read nothing but novels. Nowadays? Perhaps every tenth or fifteenth book I read is fiction, and when I do read a novel it is more likely to be an old favourite read for the third or fourth time than the latest prize-winner.

I wonder if this is an idiosyncrasy, or a widely noted aspect of getting older? (I'd be interested to hear, dear readers, if any of you have noticed a similar pattern in your own reading lives.) Is it that I'm losing the taste for made-up stories, and am hungry instead for narratives that describe and explain facts? For what do I read mostly these days? Travel writing. Biographies. Diaries. Cultural histories.

I've been conscious of late that this shift in my personal tastes has been reflected in the CRB. I've realised, with some dismay, that over the last year or so I've been commissioning fewer reviews of novels and short stories. I didn't plan this. When the time comes to commission reviews for each upcoming issue, I send out the dozen or so books in the current pending pile that seem most interesting, most worthwhile, most substantial--balancing subject matter, regional coverage, famous writers and unknowns. But somehow, without meaning to, I've developed a blind spot for fiction. I've got to do something about that.

So here is another reason I agreed to help judge the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize (apart from my belief that literary prizes are good things and ought to be encouraged). It compels me to read a wide cross-section of the new Caribbean fiction published over this twelvemonth. Not every single novel and short story collection by a Caribbean writer this year--just those entered for the prize by their publishers--but close enough. At the end of it all, I hope I'll have a clearer sense of the scope and direction of contemporary Caribbean writing (Canadian too, because of the geographical divisions of the CWP), and that I'll be introduced to some exciting new talents. The CRB can only benefit from that. And maybe it will also stir up my old appetite for fiction.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

"It is never my own voice"

Vahni Capildeo Reading

Vahni Capildeo, reading from her poems last night at the Reader's Bookshop in Port of Spain, hosted by the CRB. Photo by Georgia Popplewell. See more photos of the event here.

"Her knowledge of his weaker moments"

The supreme need of the arriviste is to be able to disown and forget those who have helped him so far. But this isn’t always so easy. If Pat Hale had really turned into a frump or a shrew or a bore, or taken to attacking the cooking sherry when company called, Naipaul’s treatment of her might perhaps be more understandable. But French leaves me in no doubt that Naipaul hated her because he had depended upon her, and because she had sacrificed everything to help him both as a person and as a writer, and to be consecrated to his work and his success. He used her as an unpaid editor and amanuensis, and then spurned her because he resented her knowledge of his weaker moments.

In the November issue of The Atlantic (already available online), Christopher Hitchens writes a vigorous and rigorous review of The World Is What It Is, Patrick French's V.S. Naipaul biography. (The US edition will be published in a few weeks--expect a flood of reviews in North American newspapers and magazines. And look out also for a review in the November CRB.)

Monday, 13 October 2008

"Dark and unaccustomed...."

In today's Newsday, Andre Bagoo profiles Trinidadian poet Vahni Capildeo:

“What is dark and unaccustomed in one context is clear and bright in another,” Capildeo explains of her newest collection’s title.

The book is a dazzling display of Capildeo’s poetic process, which grounds itself in formalism but not pedantically so. Her analysis of images and ideas is rigorous, but this is accompanied by an elegant and musical use of metre and form which opens each piece to syncopated emotional effects.

The poems aim to crystallise relationships of all kinds: between human beings and their masters, between man and the environment and between society and history. But it is the self, and its relationship with that vexing theme of the meaning of “home,” which dominates....

Don't forget, readers, the CRB will host a reading and discussion of Vahni's work tomorrow evening--more information here.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

R.I.P Alton Ellis, 1 September, 1938 (?)-10 October, 2008

Alton Ellis, the "godfather of rocksteady", died on Friday in London. He was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, but was still performing up to last August. No doubt fuller obituaries will follow; the Jamaica Observer offers some tributes from members of the Jamaican musical scene. (There seems to be some confusion over whether Ellis was born in 1938 or 1940--sources disagree.) Geoffrey Philp also pays tribute at his blog:

We've lost a great pioneer whose music goes back to the days when the word "shotta" did not exist--not that there weren't rude bwais. But the sheer innocence and optimism of the Ellis's music reminds me of a time when the island was not ruled by fear of the gunman, and you could walk down the street singing, "I'm Just a Guy," or even try singing it to a dawta. For here was a song written in your own idiom and without any apologies for the emotion or delivery.

As does Laurence Cane-Honeysett at the Trojan records website:

For well over forty years, his inimitable voice has thrilled hundreds of thousands worldwide on countless classic Ska, Soul, Rock Steady and Reggae recordings, many of which he also happened to have penned. His passing ... is a terrible loss not just to the world of music, but the world at large, for, as all who came to meet him can testify, he was truly a prince among men.

Sunday links

- In his "Arts on Sunday" column in the Stabroek News, Al Creighton takes a look at a poem by the linguist and lexicographer Richard Allsop, published a while back in the Barbadian literary journal Poui.

- Also in today's Stabroek News, a fascinating and tantalising look at the 1969 Rupununi "Uprising", one of the most troubling and puzzling events in Guyana's recent history. Miranda La Rose interviews Steve Sagar, who was assistant district commissioner of the Rupununi at the time of the event.

- The Institute of Jamaica has announced the names of this year's Musgrave Award recipients (the Musgrave medals, first awarded in 1897, are for distinguished contribution in the fields of art, literature, and science).

- In the Jamaica Gleaner, Michael Robinson reviews an exhibition of recent paintings and sculpture by the celebrated "intuitive" artist Michael Parchment.

- Also in the Gleaner, Billy Hall reviews Caribbean Culture: Soundings on Kamau Brathwaite, a collection of essays on the Barbadian poet edited by Annie Paul.

- In the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, Kevn Baldeosingh reviews a new history of Presbyterianism in Trinidad by Jerome Teelucksingh.

- Lagniappe: Signifyin' Guyana has got hold of a copy of Ian McDonald's new Selected Poems, and she offers two favourites.