CREATIVE SPACE #15 of 2018 (uploaded November 6th 2018)
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Antigua and Barbuda: an Art, History, Culture Tour 3
Eileen Hall was written up in the section of the 1938 Antigua Girls High School magazine dedicated to old girls – marriages, children, death, travels; that sort of thing. Her write-up was distinctive; lengthier than some of the others and dedicated to publication of her book The Fountain and the Bough by Charles Scribner and Sons in New York. It’s hard to describe how delighted I was to find this entry, especially after so much time trying to pull the threads of Hall, by then Hall-Lake’s, literary life together (and sharing what I had sewn) after first hearing her poem Obeah Woman at a panel in which I had participated. It was that post – Do You Know Eileen Hall? – that recently had Yvonne MacMillan reaching out to me to indicate that, yes, she does indeed know Eileen Hall, that’s her aunt, and inviting me out to Hall’s Estate to look at some of her pictures and papers. This is my final stop on this day’s Art, History, Culture Tour (see Creative Space 13 and Creative Space 14 for the other stops) – and if you know Hall’s Estate, then you’ll know that one trip simply won’t do. I did get a short version of the tour they do for groups of tourists and interested locals at this, the family home of a late prominent Antiguan, Robert Hall , but the primary purpose of the visit was Sir Robert Hall’s sister (a very cosmopolitan sister I might add judging by the images – such as the aged one of her posed with her husband, a Russian doctor by name of Lake; her looking like a glamour model out of magazines of the era). Yvonne MacMillan, Robert Hall’s daughter, shared personal stories of her aunt (who moved to America at 18 via Ellis Island, who worked for a brief period as a maid, who wrote for magazines like Harper’s, who attracted her husband’s eye while commanding a horse she’d borrowed in New York, who was very close to her father and never returned to Antigua after his death, etc.) and documentation like that AGHS magazine tribute, in which she was described as “an authentic poet who writes high, restrained verse, with austerity and bitterness…poetry of sorrowful but undoubted music.” Nice, right?
I remember, when I was researching Hall, finding translation credits and wondering if it was, in fact, her. Well, her niece, Yvonne, confirms that her aunt spoke French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Greek, and the mother of western languages Latin.
In that conversation, I was fortunate to receive little anecdotes that spoke to her free-spirited nature (like her regular swims, on her trips home, to Maiden Island to sunbathe in the nude), a spirit maybe too free for our 108 square miles (certainly in the first half of the 20th century) to contain. She sounds like a remarkable woman.
Her name hasn’t come up in any literature I’ve read about the popularization of our Caribbean creole languages. A lot of the credit for having the audacity to embrace our nation language and take it to the world typically and deservedly goes to the likes of Ms. Lou, Louise Bennett of Jamaica. But it shouldn’t go without note that though Antigua’s Eileen Hall wrote in primarily standard English, there was some Antiguan sprinkled in, and local cultural references like the Obeah Woman, even as she explored larger themes in 1938’s The Fountain and the Bough. Would it be too bold to suggest that like her contemporary Dominica’s Jean Rhys (they were both part of Ford Maddox Ford’s circle), as far as feminist and cultural markers go, that Hall-Lake was ahead of her time. She wrote this in her 1938 collection:
“Fool neber ‘fraid w’en moon look bright
Say, ‘crab and jumbie lub dark and night.’
Jumbie like moon as well as we-
Dey comin walkin from de sea.
Deir foot tu’n backward w’en dey tread,
Dey wearin’ body ub de dead.
Dat fisher-bwoy dat wu’k on sloop,
He watch dem walk from Guadeloupe.
Dey waalk de Channel, like it grass;
Den, like rain-cloud, he see dem pass.
Dey comin’ steppin’ out ub Hell,
Wit’ burnin’ y’eye an’ a sweet smell.”
That’s from Lullabye.
Consider that this was long before we had anything resembling a standard for writing this largely oral language that we speak, and that acceptance of this language as a legitimate form of communication – and not just bad English – remains a work in progress. Publishing in Caribbean Creole, especially with non-Caribbean publishers, can be challenging, and here she is making it look easy and treating it as normal. And I have to say, it holds up; that is powerful imagery well expressed in that little excerpt.
If you’ve read Do You Know Eileen Hall? You already know that I loved this discovery and that I quite enjoyed reading The Fountain and the Bough (which remains out of print as Hall-Lake remains mostly unknown as part of our Antiguan and Barbudan, and Caribbean literary canon).
But it doesn’t have to be so, and fuh so, I’m going to link you the full bio of Marie Eileen Flora Hall Lake as shared by her niece Yvonne Hall MacMillan: Marie Eileen Flora Hall Lake by Yvonne Macmillan.
A final note on Hall’s estates, so much history – both Yvonne and her husband Brian, married since 1964 after meeting in their late teens – are avid researchers of personal histories (and have extensively researched their own), as well as avid collectors of everything from pictures of vintage Antigua and Barbuda to art to swords to rare rocks, to this 250 year old rocking chair and so much more; and only too happy to share. There is much there that forms part of the fabric of Antigua and Barbuda’s history. You’ll be thrilled to know that they do tours. ETA: To book a tour, call 462-7376 or 774-0206.
– By Joanne C. Hillhouse.
This sponsored post is part of the online edition of my culture-and-arts-focused CREATIVE SPACE series. As a journalist in Antigua and Barbuda for many years, it has been one of my favourite beats. Our culture and the arts don’t get covered nearly enough for me, and, as I have a platform I’m going to use it to expand that coverage. That’s why I’m doing this. I’m hoping that companies in Antigua and Barbuda will see both the online marketing potential in terms of their brand and the value in supporting Antiguan and Barbudan art and culture by sponsoring a post in this CREATIVE SPACE series. Boosting your brand while boosting local art and culture. Posts are syndicated on Antigua Nice, one of Antigua and Barbuda’s first and largest online platforms. More to come. If you wish to support Antiguan and Barbudan art and culture while advertising your brand across potentially multiple online platforms, contact me.
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