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Friday, 4 May 2007

Dream books

In the May 2007 CRB, Brendan de Caires ends his review of Derek Walcott's Selected Poems and Edward Baugh's Derek Walcott with this daydream of a complete edition of Walcott's works, literary and artistic:

The large-format editions of The Bounty and Tiepolo's Hound suggest that a brave publisher really should consider a stately, plump compendium of Walcott's poems and paintings, perhaps even an accompanying volume of Collected Plays. This probably won't happen in my lifetime, but I'd like to think it could.

This got me thinking about my own "dream books"--volumes that I wish some intrepid (and deep-pocketed) publisher would take on. For instance, the Walcott book I'd really like to own would be a collection of the book, art, and theatre reviews he wrote for the Trinidad Guardian in the 1960s and 70s. The selection of his essays published under the title What the Twilight Says in 1998 completely omits these, focusing instead on pieces from the "international" phase of his career. Perhaps Walcott considers those Guardian pieces apprentice work, but they're nonetheless important documents not just of the evolution of his own artistic sensibility, but also of a crucial period in post-Independence West Indian culture. In the late 70s Victor Questel compiled a bibliography of these reviews ("Walcott's Hack's Hired Prose"), and I could go to a library armed with that and dig them up for private reading--but I'd much rather that they were in print in an accessible, annotated edition.

And what about V.S. Naipaul's book reviews, the ones he wrote for various British newspapers and magazines in the 1960s and 70s? A couple of these--including his review of C.L.R. James's Beyond a Boundary--appeared in The Overcrowded Barracoon, but, like Walcott, Naipaul seems to consider these pieces "hack's" prose, and they've all but disappeared from the record of his writing career. ("Cricket", that review of Beyond a Boundary, has disappeared too--it doesn't turn up in either The Writer and the World or Literary Occasions, the two collections of his essays currently in print.)

Here are some more of my Caribbean "dream books":

- A complete edition of James's correspondence, which I imagine would run to many volumes. Not only was he apparently interested in everything, but by all accounts James was a prolific letter-writer, with hundreds of correspondents. His letters to Constance Webb have been published under the title Special Delivery, and a few other letters have appeared in various collections of his writings, but the immense task of tracking down the greater part of his correspondence (before it disappears) remains to be begun. --Ditto Samuel Selvon's letters....

- A.J. Seymour's collected prose. He's remembered now for his poems and his editorship of Kyk-over-Al, but Seymour also wrote many important--I might even say groundbreaking--critical essays on West Indian literature, which he collected in various self-published books, and several volumes of memoirs. Needless to say, it's all out of print. I've read some of this material--but not nearly enough--in libraries and archives. It's high time someone assembled the best of Seymour's prose into a neat volume, and reprinted his Collected Poems at the same time.

- Speaking of Kyk-over-Al--why not a facsimile edition of the entire first series of this landmark journal, the 28 issues that appeared from 1945 to 1961? Same for Frank Collymore's Bim.

seymour the west indian

Opening pages of "The West Indian", an essay by A.J. Seymour in Kyk-over-Al vol. 3, no. 12, 1951

- And what about a series of uniform-format, modestly-sized books on the major Independence-era artists of the Anglophone Caribbean, offering concise biographies and a generous selection of full-colour reproductions? Art books along these lines are the staples of museum bookshops around the world, except here in the Caribbean, where it can be frustratingly difficult to see the major works even of important figures like Karl Broodhagen, Edna Manley, Sybil Atteck, Carlisle Chang, Kapo, Philip Moore.

My list could go on and on. Anthony McNeill's collected poems. An annotated critical edition of Kamau Brathwaite's Contradictory Omens. Wilson Harris's early poems. A Caribbean Voices anthology collecting some of the stories, poems, and reviews originally broadcast on the pioneering BBC Caribbean Service programme....

What about you, dear readers? What are the "dream books" you'd like to have on your own bookshelves? Leave your lists in the comments below, and maybe some enterprising publisher will come across them and make a few dreams into realities.

1 comment:

Geoffrey Philp said...

Definitely Tony McNeill