Poetry as a performing art in the English-speaking Caribbean
This thesis seeks to demonstrate that there is a direct relationship between the emergence of poetry as a performing art in the English speaking Caribbean and phases of nationalist agitation from the uprisings against unemployment, low pay and colonial neglect during 1937-8 to the present. Though the poetry has many variations in scope, ranging from light-hearted entertainment, its principal momentum has been one of protest, nationalism and revolutionary sentiment. The thesis seeks to relate tone, style and content both to specific periods and cultural contexts, and to the degree of engagement of the individual artist in the political struggle against oppression. Frequently theatrical, the poetry has commanded a stage and a popular audience. Though urban in style, it is rooted in older, rural traditions. Creole, the vernacular of the masses, is a vital common denominator. The poetry is aurally stimulating, and often highly rhythmic. The popular music of the day has played an integral part, and formative role in terms of composition. The fundamental historical dynamic of the English-speaking Caribbean has been one of violent imperialist imposition on the one hand, and resistance by the black masses on the other. Creole language, with its strong residuum of African grammatical constructs, concepts and vocabulary, has been a central vehicle of resistance. It is a low-status language in relation to the officially-endorsed Standard English. The thesis argues that artists' assertion of Creole, and total identification with it through their own voice, is a significant act of defiance and patriotism. Periods of heightened agitation in the recent past have each led to the emergence of a distinctive form of performance poetry. Chapter two examines the role of Louise Bennett as a mouthpiece of black pride and nationalist sentiment largely in the period preceding independence. Her principal aim is the affirmation of the black Jamaican's fundamental humanity. She uses laughter both as a curative emotional release and as an expression of mental freedom. She lays the foundations of a comic tradition which does not fundamentally challenge the contradictions of the post-independence period. Chapter three relates the emergence of the Dub Poets of Jamaica to the development of Rastafarianism into a mass post-independence nationalist revival, and to the contribution of intellectuals, most symbolically Walter Rodney, to the process of decolonization. Reggae music, the principal creative response to the dynamics of the period both in terms of lyrics and rhythmic tension, infuses the work of Michael Smith, Cku Onuora, Mutabaruka and Erian Meeks examined in this study. Chapter four illustrates the development of performed poetry in the context of periods of insurrection and revolution in the East Caribbean. It examines the Black Rower movement as a stimulus to cultural nationalism and revolutionary sentiment, and its transcendence to internationalism and socialism in the context of the Grenada Revolution. Abdul Malik straddles and exemplifies the creative dynamic which exists between urban, industrial Trinidad and its tiny, rural and poor neighbour, Grenada.