Friday, March 23, 2007

Kamau Brathwaite

Kamau Brathwaite is from Barbados. His talk and poetry reading tonight at The Loft reminds me of the generosity of all authors: he told us about his life, but not his life only, the life of a poet from a place, in questing for another place, for a home, for Palmares. This generosity is of sharing that life story with its sensitive kinds of information, too sensitive for most authors to be willing to share. His brushes with the supernatural are a sign of his suffering as a poet, and his dreams and actual writings serve as his guide. He spoke to us as interpreter of intuitively-based decisions he made to move. After ten years in Ghana, he dreams that he is to go back to Barbados, as the dream appears in his poem.

I say I am "not superstitious," but I had no difficulty understanding or believing Brathwaite's travel narrative and even thought that his real encounters with spirits and surreal encounters with everyday life were persuasive, as they could only happen to a deeply authentic poet, who quests on behalf of poetry. His poetry itself is rhythmic, comforting, and instigative. He played his hands on the wooden podium to give an indication of drumming, a sacred art he learned in West Africa.

In Barbados, following a death and a hurricane, he was visited in the night by four horsemen of the apocalypse, of the spiritual world, who "shot" him in the head, an experience he survived intact but that changed him forever. On another journey in Barbados, he learns that developers want to turn a particular pasture he is working on into a golf resort; it is where he has hoped to establish an archive and library. He decides that he, like one of Barbados' famous singers, might have to leave. First, with the assistance of his wife, he begins to photograph as much of the pasture as possible, including each blade of grass. In the course of photographing, they meet an African female spirit in the guise of a spider who reveals her sexual nature and native religious positions in the next wave of his poetry.

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