The mountains slowly emerge
out of mist and cloud
This is the epitome of quiet’s event
when the sun warm and filled with
distant barking of dogs
rises inevitably into the mind
rises into the world
and exists beyond abstraction
beyond any attempt to ignore
its objective presence, so that we feel
But beneath the trees of the forest
the shadow is darker than the dim hue
of the mountains which too are shadowed in parenthesis
and dreamlike so that it is not strange
they are wiped away like cobweb against the sky
when the mist is not parted like now
to show their bare presence, their living hue
of blue distance.
the killing and death of Time
the killing and death of the mountains
the killing and death of the sun at high noon
is the grave unflowering of God
succumbed to the triviality of murder.
Not yet is time broken.
And the mountains are only obscured for a while.
The sun draws a veil of heat like storm.
Wilson Harris (1947)
The early issues of Kyk-Over-Al, very usefully reprinted by the Caribbean Press, reveal much of what was going on in poetry in Guyana and the West Indies at that time. Issues 4 to 10, between 1947 and 1950, contain what is now valuable archival material, which may be taken to include the poems and short stories of the time by emerging writers.
The service to literature provided by these republications is immeasurable. It may be compared to what was done by that invaluable series of publications by Klaus Reprint of Germany around 1970 when a number of Caribbean works that would have gone out of print were redone and therefore made more easily available to readers and researchers. The Klaus volumes include quite a bit of Guyanese literature, like some works of Norman E Cameron (The Evolution of the Negro and the anthology Guianese Poetry 1831 – 1931). To match those are the great volumes from Trinidad including the magazines Trinidad and Beacon which virtually define the literature during the period 1929 to 1939, and containing works of CLR James when social realism in the southern part of the Caribbean was born.
The contribution of the Caribbean Press is of equal and similar value through the works reprinted in the “Guyana Classics” series. The Guyana Classics Library reprinted those early issues of Kyk-Over-Al, and Volumes 1 to 3 of these reprints allow an insight into how the literature was being shaped as much through the original creative work collected therein as by the critical interventions about Caribbean and Guyanese literature by AJ Seymour and Basil McFarlaine, among others.
Of interest is that, like the Barbados journal Bim, in its early years of publication around those years, too, Kyk-Over-Al was an outlet for the new works of other West Indian writers. There are poems and a critical examination of West Indian literature by McFarlaine, who at the time was one of the leading Jamaican poets. Similarly, there are contributions by H McG Keane and the extremely important presence of Frank Collymore.
Collymore was the founder and editor of Bim, playing a similar role in Barbados. Apart from poetry, he has a review of “The Poetry of Derek Walcott” published in Kyk Number 8 in 1949. Now the value of this is that those were the very early years of Walcott, whose first collection was 25 Poems in 1948. Such was the importance of Kyk to the shaping of West Indian literature.
The Guyana Classics series makes it convenient to see a great deal at one glance in these Volumes of Kyk.
At the same time, when the poetry was taking shape and gaining in strength and independence, so was the study of language. Several things were running parallel – there was a growing sense of nationalism (fuelled by the ethnic cultural development movements) which began to give some independence and depth to the poetry. Along with this was deeper awareness of the local landscape, local people and issues which allowed Edgar Mittelholzer to found the development of social realism in Guyana in 1941.
National consciousness and social realism sharpened awareness of language used by Guyanese and the question of national language. In 1949, Kyk number 9, Richard Allsopp wrote “The Language We Speak – 1” and started the several decades of work that followed in West Indian language. It was to trigger off a strong tradition in Caribbean linguistics and led to the eventual publication by Oxford of the Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage in 1996. All of this is captured in the reprints further highlighting the discourses on what is and what makes Caribbean literature – how is it different from British English just as Caribbean English is different from British English.
Years after this, in the 1950s, the newly established journal Caribbean Quarterly ran an intense debate on language which followed on from Allsopp’s first intervention in 1949.
In the field of literature there are very interesting entries which tell about individual artists. It would not be widely known that Helen Taitt wrote poetry. She is a legend in the field of dance – very well known as Guyana’s greatest classical dancer to date. Her poem “Arabesque” falls in line with the landscape poetry so typical of the West Indian verse of that time. But it is generally free of the imitation which was also typical but already fading as the poetry of nationalism was beginning to develop when Taitt wrote this in 1947. What is not well known, too, is that Taitt was also the author of one of the most important plays in a developing period of Guyanese drama – a fairly innovative play called Stabroek Fantasy, written to include music and dance. The play has been incorrectly attributed to Cicely De Nobrega who was once a member of Taitt’s dance troupe.
Another point of interest is also an important factor in Guyanese literature. Wilson Harris has a poem called “Quiet’s Event” in Issue 5 of 1947. It is one of several poems by Harris in the early volumes of Kyk- Over-Al because of the other little known fact that Harris, now famous for his ground-breaking novels, started his writing career as a poet. While he has a small number of short stories in these Issues too, he was then primarily a poet.
This poem “Quiet’s Event” shows that he was also in the lead among Guyanese poets as his verse showed the move away from imitation that characterized those poets of early nationalism. While landscape is prevalent, his language is confident in its independence. In this example of his work he has obviously taken on Modernism in verse in his departure from the old guard that starts each line with a capital letter. Even several contemporary Guyanese poets stuck with that, while Harris was already weaned from those early years.
There is not very much clear indication in this poem, but Harris’ preoccupation with landscape was by no means part of a convention. It is known what he went on to deal with landscape decades later as a novelist, in fact as early as 1960. In his other poems in Kyk, more of his major preoccupations are visible – such as his engagement of the Classics. Greek mythology deepened in his work, as is seen in his first known play, Eternity to Season (1953). And again, it is not so very well known that Harris, who remained a poet even in his fiction, also wrote plays. But that would not yet have been shown in the Guyana Classics reprint of the early Kyk-Over-Al.