Reprints highlight Kyk-Over-Al’s service to Guyanese and Caribbean literature
The mountains slowly emerge
out of the mist and clouds
This is the epitome of the event of silence
when the sun is hot and filled with
distant barking of dogs
inevitably rises in the mind
go up in the world
and exists beyond abstraction
beyond any attempt to ignore
its objective presence, so that we feel
But under the trees of the forest
shadow is darker than dark shade
mountains which are also shaded in brackets
and dreamlike so that it is not strange
they are wiped like a spider’s web against the sky
when the mist is not parted like now
to show their naked presence, their lively hue
the murder and death of time
the murder and death of the mountains
the murder and death of the midday sun
is the grave of god
succumb to the banality of murder.
Time is not yet over.
And the mountains are only darkened for a while.
The sun draws a veil of heat like a storm.
Wilson Harris (1947)
The early issues of Kyk-Over-Al, very helpfully reprinted by the Caribbean Press, reveal much of what was going on in poetry in Guyana and the West Indies at this time. Issues 4 through 10, between 1947 and 1950, contain what are now valuable archival documents, which can be considered poems and short stories from the time of emerging writers.
The service rendered to literature by these reissues is immeasurable. This can be compared to what was done by this invaluable series of publications by Klaus Reprint from Germany circa 1970 when a number of Caribbean books which would have been out of print were redone and therefore made more easily accessible to readers and scholars. . Klaus’ volumes contain a good deal of Guyanese literature, such as certain works by Norman E Cameron (The Evolution of the Negro and the Guyanese Poetry Anthology 1831 – 1931). Added to this are the large volumes of Trinidad, most notably the Trinidad and Beacon magazines, which virtually define literature from the period 1929 to 1939, and contain works by CLR James when social realism was born in the southern Caribbean.
The Caribbean Press contribution is of equal and similar value through the works reprinted in the “Guyana Classics” series. The Guyana Classics Library reprinted these early issues of Kyk-Over-Al, and Volumes 1-3 of these reprints provide insight into how literature has been shaped by both the original creative work collected there and the critical interventions on the Caribbean and Guyanese Literature by AJ Seymour and Basil McFarlaine, among others.
Interestingly, like the Barbados newspaper Bim, during its early years of publication around these years as well, Kyk-Over-Al was an outlet for new works by other West Indian writers. There are poems and a critical review of West Indian literature by McFarlaine, who at the time was one of Jamaican leading poets. Likewise, there are the contributions of H McG Keane and the hugely 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 these were the very early years of Walcott, whose first collection was 25 Poems in 1948. was Kyk’s importance in the formation of West Indian literature.
The Guyana Classics series lets you see a lot at a glance in these Kyk Volumes.
At the same time, as poetry took shape and gained strength and independence, so did the study of language. Several things happened in parallel – there was a growing sense of nationalism (fueled by ethnic cultural development movements) that began to give poetry some independence and depth. At the same time, a deeper awareness of the local landscape, the local population and the issues that allowed Edgar Mittelholzer to found the development of social realism in Guyana in 1941.
National consciousness and social realism have sharpened awareness of the language used by Guyanese and the issue of the national language. In 1949, Kyk number 9, Richard Allsopp wrote “The language we speak – 1” and began the several decades of work that followed in the West Indian language. This sparked 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 emphasizing 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 later, in the 1950s, the new Caribbean Quarterly led an intense debate on language that followed Allsopp’s first intervention in 1949.
In the field of literature there are some very interesting entries that talk about individual artists. It would not be widely known that Helen Taitt wrote poetry. She is a legend in the field of dance – well known as Guyana’s greatest classical dancer to date. His poem “Arabesque” is in line with the landscape poetry so typical of West Indian poetry of the time. But it is generally free from the imitation that was also typical but already fading as the poetry of nationalism began to develop when Taitt wrote this in 1947. Which is not well known, too, is that Taitt was also the author of the most important plays in a period of development of Guyanese drama – a rather innovative play called Stabroek Fantasy, written to include music and dance. The piece was wrongly 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 titled “Quiet’s Event” in Issue 5 of 1947. It is one of the many poems by Harris in the early volumes of Kyk-Over-Al due to the other little-known fact that Harris, now famous for his sol- breaking novels, began his writing career as a poet. Although he also had a small number of short stories in these issues, he was first and foremost a poet.
This poem “Quiet’s Event” shows that he was also at the head of the Guyanese poets because his verses showed the abandonment of the imitation which characterized the poets of the first nationalisms. While the landscape is predominant, its language is confident in its independence. In this example of his work, he obviously took modernism into verse in his departure from the old guard which begins each line with a capital letter. Even several contemporary Guyanese poets remained faithful to this, while Harris was already weaned from those early years.
There aren’t many clear directions in this poem, but Harris’s concern for the landscape was by no means part of a convention. We know what he began to deal with the landscape decades later as a novelist, actually as early as 1960. In his other poems to Kyk, several of his major concerns are visible – such as his commitment to the classics. Greek mythology deepened in his work, as seen in his first known play, Eternity to Season (1953). And again, it is not so well known that Harris, who remained a poet even in his fiction, also wrote plays. But that has yet to be shown in the Guyana Classics reprint of the start of Kyk-Over-Al.