BIM: Arts for the 21st Century Volume 8
I wasn’t going to write about this because, since there’s no have-to here in my blogging space, I mostly write about the books I want to write about (because I like and want to rec them, or have something to say and want to talk about them). And, much as I respect BIM, that most enduring of storied Caribbean literary journals, this issue – in tribute to Barbados’ 50th anniversary and featuring Bajan contributors – didn’t do it for me. Heavy on the dryly prosaic political and scholarly essays, light on the creative pieces (fiction or non-fiction). I’m sure the essays have their audience (and I tried with some of them) but I’m not it. Even historian Hillary Beckles, who often makes history current in an engaging, resonant, and accessible way in his writing, didn’t grab me. Though he came closest among the essays of this type.
BUT I decided to write about this book anyway, because of some of the creative pieces. Like Paule Marshall’s ‘To Da-duh in Memoriam’ which if it is creative non-fiction as the name suggests is so in a way that delights: from the strong character and character interaction older to younger generation, like recognizing like; to the immersive sense of place, time, and the shifting of time; to the contrasts and the tensions they provide – (wo)man v. time/machine. Power v. the lack of. Agrarian v. industrial. The new world v. the newer world. Old and young. The tensions between these things is the substance of this story. It’s a now not unfamiliar tale of a girl from up North discovering the wonders and the mysteries of the more rustic island life, the compare and contrast between her world and the world she finds herself in for a time. It’s visually and emotionally vivid, especially that penultimate heartbreakingly symbolic scene; but then we should expect no less from the author who has brought us such classic works as Browngirl Brownstones and Praisesong for the Widow – the latter my introduction to Marshall while I was yet a university student. I also liked John Wickham’s ‘Birthplace’, which also reads like a personal essay but with all the touchstones of fiction as this author too grapples with change (or the perceived unchangingness of island life and who gets to comment on it) during a passage home -a good read on that particular brand of small island claustrophobia…with love. . Much of it takes place inside the character, not much happens externally, but through him we see the island and experience how conflicted he is about it. I didn’t love Karen Lord’s ‘A New Panama’ but I liked it enough to – with the reading of another story of hers that I heard during the 2016 BIM lit fest and all that I’ve read about her work – want to read more. She writes speculative (specifically science) fiction in a way that gives you this other-space while still suggesting the Caribbean. A. N. Forde’s ‘On the Rim’ of the Circle was interesting in the most disturbing way in that you’re in the perspective of an unreliable narrator, unreliable because he’s clearly not quite right in the head and it doesn’t take long for the reader to grasp that, though we’re trapped there with him. Timothy Callender’s ‘A Price to Pay’ was a fugitive on the run story that didn’t surprise as such but was still engaging and impactful. My favourite of the creative pieces – tie between this and Marshall’s maybe – was probably Austin Clarke’s ‘Early, Early, Early One Morning’ a dated/throwback (time wise if not necessarily thematically), slowly paced yet tightly woven, simple and situationally humorous tale – the situation being a boy getting ready for church on a monumental day – monumental enough to have great significance to his mother and community and as a result be smotheringly torturous for him. Really, that’s all that happens, the boy – the narrator – gets up, does his chores, gets ready, goes to church – but so much tension and drama (class, social, religious, familial, community) in those moments, and possibly jumbies in the cane fields (it is a little boy’s perspective in the Caribbean of a certain time after all). One imagines the boy is the author himself – the late and also legendary Bajan writer, acknowledged as one of the greats. These stories were interesting and engaging, gave a real sense of place, and also a sense of the tension between what the place was around the time of Independence and the place it was coming to be (i.e. the more modern society it was emerging into, with a sort of melancholy over the parts of itself it would sacrifice in the process).