Caribbean Bookshelf (May/June 1997)

What's new in Caribbean books


Lilian’s Songs

Cecil Gray (Lilibel Publications, 1996; ISBN 0–9681745–0–7)

In these poems, more than ever, Cecil Gray focuses on identity and race. Toussaint L’Ouverture, “the defiant son/of a slave who stormed the bastille/built on the black back of his island/and scattered its stones”, or Sam Selvon, who took “the small/language used by the island/for picong and calypsoes/and stretched its vowels across the mouth of the world”, are heroes; but the soldiers honoured in Port of Spain’s Memorial Park, who “died for colonisers who called us apes and niggers,/or at best, backward children”, do not draw a tear. Gray pounces on the right phrases without fussiness or self-congratulation. An adjective might have been lopped off here or there, and less didacticism not gone amiss, but these are quibbles. From panmen to revolutionaries; Port of Spain to mistrusted immigrant life; matinée shows with “glad shouts/of victory” as John Wayne polishes off tomahawk-waving Indians — Gray is expert at evoking local flavours. Part nostalgia, part post-colonial stone-throwing, part romanticisation, this is an intelligent and enjoyable collection. (BdC)

The Caribbean Raj

Heather Royes (Ian Randle Publishers, Jamaica, 1996; ISBN 976-8100-86-9)

There are barely 30 poems in this slim volume, their tone thoughtful, controlled and understated. They have striking poetic titles — Theophilus Jones walks naked down King Street, Death came to see me in hot pink pants, Me and my self-flagellation committee, In the middle of the journey of my life. They fall into four sections. In The Caribbean Raj, images of colonial clienthood and degradation are juxtaposed with more recent images (there’s a sharp scene at a Governor-General’s Ball). In Songs of the 70s, Jamaican sufferer Theophilus Jones walks into Kingston harbour and drowns, a Jamaican soldier is killed in Vietnam. Personal Songs and Halcyon Days record private moments and reflections (Do not rush to it/but linger/like a virgin bride removing her white veil . . ./Take time and HeartEase will come). This is Heather Royes’s first collection, the work dating from the late 1960s to the present, introduced admiringly by Professor Ken Ramchand of the University of the West Indies.

West Indian Development And The Deepening & Widening Of The Caribbean Community

William G. Demas (Critical Issues In Caribbean Development no. 1: Ian Randle Publishers, Jamaica, 1997; ISBN 976-8123-02-8)

For the small states of the Caribbean, some form of integration and coordination in the modern world is inescapable. In 1968 they formed the Caribbean Free Trade Area, which in 1973 evolved into the Caribbean Community (Caricom). The quest for economic integration, policy coordination and common services continues. But meanwhile, how should Caricom react to the formation of the Association of Caribbean States (with its potential market of 200 million), the North American Free Trade Area, and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas? Will Caricom be irrelevant in this brave new world of open markets and goliaths? William Demas — the first Secretary General of Caricom and subsequently President of the Caribbean Development Bank — is a tireless and passionate advocate of Caricom and the integration movement it represents. Unless Caricom spearheads West Indian competitiveness, self-reliance and identity, he argues, the Caricom states will face marginalisation or absorption into a larger bloc as mere dependents (he is particularly fierce about creeping recolonisation). In this book, Demas sets out to show why Caricom remains crucially important for regional development, and why it must be a major player in the future, forming its own relationships with other regional and international blocs. It is not an easy case to make, given Caricom’s historic sluggishness and the scepticism of a new generation of policy-makers speaking the language of globalisation. But if anyone can make it stick, Demas is the man.