Contemporary Caribbean Women's Poetry: Making Style

By Denise Decaires Narain | Go to book overview

2

The lure of the folk

Louise Bennett and the politics of Creole

More than any other single writer, Louise Bennett brought local language into the foreground of West Indian cultural life. 1

Dem dont want dis concert end
dem want carry home dis legend
like beads of boonoonoonoos words/
dis pride in mudder language giver
dis lady who could sing in C
but prefer to sing in river 2

…all of us, I think, have been influenced by Louise Bennett, who was a pioneer in writing Creole and speaking it - because it was something revolutionary. 3

It is largely thanks to one woman's warmth that the prejudice against dialect has gradually melted away, and that a climate has been established in which a whole new generation of creative users of the vernacular could flourish. 4

By fortuitous circumstances in 1943, a 24-year-old Jamaican lady, Louise Bennett, was allowed to read a few of her dialect poems on Jamaica's first radio station. That event launched a people's voice. 5

[My emphasis]

In the previous chapter, I outlined some of the concerns which militate against Una Marson being celebrated, unreservedly, as a literary mother-figure; I also discussed the kinds of issues which may have 'disqualified' Phyllis Shand Allfrey from sharing that platform with her. Louise Bennett's reputation as a literary mother-figure, by comparison, is broadly recognized and her work is celebrated as being unequivocally West Indian. In contrast to some of the complications and ambiguities surrounding the work of Marson and Allfrey, Louise Bennett's poetry, as the epigraphs above demonstrate, is often cited as marking the birth of an 'authentic' West Indian poetry, the moment when the region finds its voice. Where Marson's oeuvre is constrained by an over-reliance on European poetic models and where Allfrey's West Indianness is contested (at least as it is manifested in her

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