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FEATURED POET
ISLANDS
Edward Kamau Brathwaite

So looking through a map
of the islands, you see
rocks, history's hot
lies, rot-
ting hulls, cannon
wheels, the sun's
slums: if you hate
us. Jewels,
if there is delight
in your eyes.
The light
shimmers on water,
the cunning
coral keeps it
blue.

Looking through a map
of the Antilles, you see how time
has trapped
its humble servants here. De-
scendants of the slave do not
lie in the lap
of the more fortunate
gods. The rat
in the warehouse is as much king
as the sugar he plunders.
But if your eyes are kinder, you will observe
butterflies
how they fly higher
and higher before their hope dries
with endeavour
and they fall among flies.

Looking through a map
of the islands, you see
that history teaches
that when hope
splinters, when the pieces
of broken glass lie
in the sunlight,
when only lust rules
the night, when the dust
is not swept out
of the houses,
when men make noises
louder than the sea's
voices; then the rope
will never unravel
its knots, the branding
iron's travelling flame that teaches
us pain, will never be
extinguished. The islands' jewels:
Saba, Barbuda, dry flat-
tened Antigua, will remain rocks,
dots, in the sky-blue frame
of the map.

Source: The Arrivants: A New World
Trilogy
, Poetry Collection by Edward
Brathwaite, Oxford University Press, UK,
1973 Edition.

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Poetry Corner

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FEATURED POETS

BRAZIL

CARIBBEAN
GUYANA

UNITED STATES
CARIBBEAN POET
EDWARD KAMAU
BRATHWAITE
(1930-2020)
EDWARD KAMAU
BRATHWAITE, a Caribbean
poet and historian, was
born in Barbados, an
eastern Caribbean island,
into a middle-class family.
Christened “Edward” by his
parents, he later adopted
the African name “Kamau”
—which means Quiet
Warrior—while he was on a
fellowship at the University
of Nairobi, Kenya, in the
1970s.

After completing his high
school education, he won
a British scholarship to
Pembroke College,
Cambridge, where he
received a bachelor’s
degree in history in 1953
and a diploma in
education the following
year.

In 1955, he took up a job
offer as an Education
Officer in Ghana, then the
British West African colony
known as The Gold Coast.
The eight years he spent
in Ghana, as the colony
moved toward
independence in 1957,
was a spiritual
homecoming. The
experience broadened his
thinking about history,
culture, and ways of
perceiving the world.

On returning to Barbados
in 1962, Brathwaite held
teaching posts at the
University of the West
Indies, first in St. Lucia,
and then in Jamaica,
where he began writing his
first poetry collection,
Rights of Passage.

Brathwaite returned to
England in 1965 where he
earned his PhD in
philosophy from the
University of Sussex in
1968. During this period,
his first three books of
poetry were published:
Rights of Passage (1967),
Masks (1968), and
Islands (1969). In 1973,
these three collections
were compiled into a
single volume,
The
Arrivants: A New World
Trilogy.
Numerous books
of poetry followed over the
years.

From 1982 to 1991,
Brathwaite was professor
of social and cultural
history at the University of
the West Indies. Made
professor of comparative
literature at New York
University in 1992, he
divided his time between
New York and Barbados. A
member of the board of
directors of Unesco’s
History of Mankind project
for more than thirty years,
he also served as cultural
advisor to the government
of Barbados.

His numerous awards
include the Neustadt
International Prize for
Literature (1994), Griffin
International Poetry Prize
for his collection
Born to
Slow Horses
(2006), Casa
de las Américas Prize
(2011), PEN/Voelcker
Award for Poetry (2018) in
recognition of his lifelong
contribution to American
and Caribbean literature,
and Bocas Henry Swanzy
Award (2020) for
Distinguished Service to
Caribbean Letters.

My poetry has been concerned, for a long time now, with the
attempt to reconstruct, in verse, in metric and in rhythms, the
nature of the culture of the people of the Caribbean. This
involves not only discovering what I would call “new poetic
forms” — a breakaway from the English pentameter — but also,
and more importantly, discovering the nature of our folk
culture, the myths, the legends, the speech rhythms, the way
we express ourselves in words, the way we express ourselves
in song. That has been my concern for about ten years and is
increasingly so. One has to develop technical resources of a
very complex nature and at the same time one has to get an
increasing knowledge of who our people are, where they come
from and the nature of their soul.
— KAMAU BRATHWAITE IN CONVERSATION WITH KALAMU YA SALAAM,
NEO-GRIOT, OCTOBER 12, 2014.
Barbadian Poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite
The Arrivants
A New World Trilogy
by
Edward Kamau
Brathwaite

OXFORD UNIVERSITY
PRESS
UNITED KINGDOM
1973