'If freedom writes no happier alphabet': Martin Carter and Poetic Silence



Robinson G (2004) 'If freedom writes no happier alphabet': Martin Carter and Poetic Silence. Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism, 8 (1), pp. 43-62.

First paragraph: In the 1966 Guyanese independence issue ofNew World Quarterly,Louis James wrote, "Martin Carter has his niche in the national evolution of Guyana: one hopes he will maintain the fire in his verse in less fiery circumstances." James contends that Carter's poetry finds its voice and its home in the Guyanese anticolonial movement, and James's "hope" suggests that there may not be a clear role for such poetry in the newly independent and newly renamed Guyana. By the 1970s it seemed not only that Carter had been unable to maintain "the fire in his verse" but that he had been unable to maintain even the writing of verse. Addressing the first Carifesta in Guyana in 1972, Gordon Rohlehr argued that Carter had moved from "rhetoric to reticence." Rohlehr matches political despondency (in response to the 1953 suspension of the Guyanese constitution, the dismissal of the government of the People's Progressive Party [PPP], the split of the PPP, and the increasing polarization of politics along racial divisions) with despondent poetry: "In 1955 when it was clear that Guyana's future would for some years be fracture, fraud and frustration, hope, the kind eagle had lost its wings." For Rohlehr, Carter becomes so good at articulating the political despair of Guyana that he is virtually forced into silence, unable to offer a positive reckoning of West Indian society. Kamau Brathwaite, writing in 1977, reports the generally held opinion that Carter had "resigned himself from poetry." However, Brathwaite rightly points out that these judgments were precipitant. If Carter's profile was not prominent during the period when most Caribbean writers of his generation secured publishing contracts (in the United Kingdom and the United States), part of the explanation for this can be found in his decision to publish his work in Guyana. V. S. Naipaul was published by André Deutsch in 1957, Wilson Harris was published by Faber and Faber in 1960, Derek Walcott by Jonathan Cape in 1960, Kamau Brathwaite by Oxford University Press in 1966. As the Caribbean Artists' Movement galvanized literary and cultural activity for West Indians in London, members of this generation of "lonely Londoners" (whose stories Samuel Selvon had narrated in the 1950s) discovered and debated the unity of their Caribbean identity. Martin Carter's decision to remain in Guyana placed him on the fringes of these discussions but at the center of Guyanese debates about the future of a postcolonial Guyana and Caribbean.

Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism: Volume 8, Issue 1

Publication date31/03/2004
PublisherDuke University Press

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Dr Gemma Robinson

Dr Gemma Robinson

Senior Lecturer, English Studies