If you google her, you might find her wiki entry (no pictures though) describing her as “an American poet”. Not true. She is, though, a largely forgotten Antiguan poet; and the same wiki entry does disclose that “Hall was born in Antigua; her father’s family was from Oxford and her mother’s family was part French and part Irish, the French side having been in the West Indies since the mid seventeenth century.” Like I said, Antiguan poet, one of the first – research would suggest – to be published internationally. Her 1938 book, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, was The Fountain and the Bough. I just read it and while I won’t be reviewing it, I thought I might do a post about Hall – sharing some of what I’ve learned about her and some of what I liked in the book.
She was referred to in writings by Ford Madox Ford, influential figure in the literary world, remembered for, among other things, championing new literary works and literary experimentation, and friend, as Mrs. Hall Lake – married to Dr. Michael Lake.
I’ve posted about her before at my Wadadli Pen blog where I shared her poem Lullabye
I said in that post, among other things, that the poem was, to my reading, “ahead of its time for many reasons including the use of our nation language.” The collection in which this poem appears, the collection I have just finished reading, is out of print and, as I noted in that post, Hall the writer “is little known in Antigua”. I, of course, had to shade Wikepedia a little bit for referring to her as an American poet, though given her publisher and the literary circles she moved in it was probably intended to reflect where she fits in the canon. Of course, since I’m so much about the place of Antiguan and Barbudan writers in the Caribbean literary canon, I’m pulling a Maxine Waters and reclaiming (well, not my time) but one of our literary artistes. Oh and (sidebar) I need that mug.
I don’t want to suggest that I’m leading this reclamation as I really became aware of Hall when she was featured in the 2012 edition of the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books(an issue spotlighting women writers and guest edited by Edgar Lake who described it as “a small part of what lies forgotten in libraries and museums around the world”) which credited her as “an Antiguan-born poet”. The Review informed us of how well received her writing was, and the fact that she was published in the likes of Harper’s, Poetry, and American Mercury; “Her short stories and translations of other women’s work are strewn in small publications on both sides of the Atlantic.” The Review, too, singled out for mention her use of the creole in the time that she wrote.
The January 1939 edition of Poetry, meanwhile, credited her “structural mastery: the clean, spare welding of word and phrase that gives logical shape and direction to a poem” and further added, “Eileen Hall’s poems are never glib and facile, always compact, meticulous, assured” even as it critiqued the over-attention to discipline and form at the expense of adventurousness in her poetic exploration.
The Wadadli Pen blog also has my share of her poem, also from the book, Obeah Woman. I first heard this poem during a panel I participated in. The person who presented it is a former teacher of mine (Gordon George) and it caught my attention – as it did the many students gathered in the room. I, of course, asked him if he had more of her work and he shared the book with me.
Information on Eileen Hall, Eileen Hall Lake, Eileen Lake is scant. There is a reference to “Biala’s beautiful friend Eileen Lake, ‘long of limb’ …and ‘lithe of back’” from Ford’s work, as referenced in the 2005 biography Ford Madox Ford and the Regiment of Women: Violet Hunt, Jean Rhys, Stella Bowen, Janice Biala by Joseph Wiesenfarth. Yes, Dominican born Jean Rhys, author of Wide Sargasso Sea (recently reviewed here), was, from what I’ve glimpsed, part of that literary crowd as well; wonder if Rhys and Hall’s paths ever crossed.
I also found a couple of translation/writer credits for two BBC series – Emil und die Detektive/Emil and the Detectives, in 1966, for the BBC’s children television series Jackanory (there’s also a credit for this story in 2016 collection Der Krimi: Crime Fiction in German) and It Isn’t Enough, in 1959, for Saturday Playhouse. I am not 100 percent sure this is her but there is evidence that she moved to Europe and did translation work, so, maybe. There’s a credit as well to a 1956 translation of Johanna Spyri’s classic Heidi for Penguin Books. The reference I found, wrote this: “Eileen Hall was also the translator of Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner, which was first published in English by Jonathan Cape in 1931, but little else is known about her. This translation, along with Edwardes’, is one of the two most widely disseminated today and may be the translation most contemporary British children have grown up on. In both the U.S. and the U.K., if one were to look for a new copy of Heidi in paperback, this would be the likely option.”
So these new finds mean two things – I need to update her listing in the data base of Antiguan and Barbudan writers, and I really don’t know a lot about her.
But I’ve read her book (dedicated to Michael Lake) and some of the language was truly sublime. Some favourite lines:
“My childhood litany of rock and water
is now the sweetest of dead languages.
The stars are altered – Now the dawn
Can tell me nothing that I wish to know.” – from Dead Language
“…For death, the sculptor works in living tissue.
The starving soldier, without eyes or fingers,
Stands with the medals on his breast to prove
The impotence of valor.” – from Street
“I remember the nameless ones,
The incorruptible, who, not being meek,
Inherit nothing but a little earth.” – from Laurel
“My heart has withered on your grave,
and what I had of grace or truth
Lies there with you, and now my youth.” – from The Night Comes Down
Check out Obeah Woman – it’s short and sweet (or maybe I should say, vicious).
“From hot canefields, far voices float.” – from Afternoon: New Division
“The dates and names of death no more are seen,
Obliterated by the living green.” – from Graves on Barton Hill: Antigua
“We laugh, because we must create
A god, from time to time, to hate
Something to hear us when we curse,
Locked, raging, in this universe.” – from Sonnets I – VII
Okay, I’ll stop there; I’d say go read it but it’s out of print. Maybe there are more used copies out there; I don’t know. But I’m glad still to share and claim this Antiguan and Barbudan writer as I continue to explore our literary legacy.
I’m making this my Sunday Post because it’s the reading that ends my week. As for what else I’m reading, see my post So anyway, that’s what I’m reading which has been updated with a new review since I initially posted it for Top Ten Tuesday.
As for my own writing, I’m doing advance publicity on Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, my new picture book, and post-publicity after my ghost story, Papa Jumbie, was posted to Akashic’s Duppy Thursday (check it out and come back and tell me what you think).
Finally, as a reminder, the islands and countries of the Caribbean have been dealt the one-two punch of Irma and Maria, and the daunting reality of busier and more violent hurricane seasons if we don’t step up our efforts to curb climate change.
We still need your help – whether your contributions, or your advocacy, or your tourism dollars so that we can stimulate our economies and help ourselves. We are a resilient and a resourceful people, and we will recover but everybody needs a little help sometimes. Here are some hurricane relief links.