Kamau Brathwaite and the Poetics of (Re)Possession (Critical Essay) - Journal of Caribbean Literatures

Kamau Brathwaite and the Poetics of (Re)Possession (Critical Essay)

By Journal of Caribbean Literatures

  • Release Date: 2009-06-22
  • Genre: Language Arts & Disciplines


Repossession is the driving force of Brathwaite's poetry. It is part and parcel of the West Indian response to the idea that "Africans in the New World are doomed to conspire in their own futility and despair, unless they repossess themselves by repossessing their hidden past" (Ramazani et al. 542). Brathwaite's poetic figures attempt to repossess a culturally sound identity in the Caribbean. It is of necessity that this identity subsumes the "African" side of West Indian existence. He presents images of Africa that suggest necessity "is even better understood with some grasp of West African history, language, and culture upon which he situates much of his imagery, allusions, and themes" (Dawes 202). Observe the mythic references in "Veve" from The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy: those which challenge cultural despair and whose intent exists for all West Indian culture to embrace their African heritage: "And so the black eye travels to the brink of vision / but not yet; / hold back the fishnet's fling of morn- /ing; unloose the sugarcane;" (20-3). This seemingly ambiguous example of repossession portrays the native's indigenous search for cultural wholeness. Perhaps a compelling question is what shape Brathwaite's repossession takes. Just how do we understand, how do we even comprehend these lines in "Veve": "possession of the fire / possession of the dust / sundered from your bone / plundered from my breast" (3.69-72)? At first our persona has the "fire" and "dust" of his African heritage, and then it is stripped away. Forcefully, the speaker recovers the repressed heritage from the oppressor who seeks to obscure it. There is an element of necessity here. In his essay "E. K. Brathwaite and the Poetics of the Voice," Simon Gikandi suggests the "meaning of [repossession] in Brathwaite's poetry hence lies in the reader's ability to [interpret] common structures of address and images which have become reified [as African]" (730) in West Indian literature. Brathwaite's necessity corresponds with the need to repossess cultural wholeness in the West Indies.