Is English We Speaking and Other Essays

By Pollard, Velma | Caribbean Quarterly, June 2005 | Go to article overview
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Is English We Speaking and Other Essays

Pollard, Velma, Caribbean Quarterly

Is English We peaking and Other Essays published by Ian Randle Publishers in 1999 is Mervyn Morris' prize winning (Una Marson Award 1997) collection with three additional essays.

The collection is a timely reminder that Morris the poet and professor (of Creative Writing and West Indian Literature) has also been a literary critic of long standing. Parts or versions of most of the essays have appeared elsewhere, in many instances in foreign academic journals. The collection brings these essays home.

Morris in the preface says the essays address a general audience but offers readings "which may be of interest to specialists". The collection will no doubt become a staple for students of Caribbean Literature all over the world and an easily accessible source book to people interested in the Caribbean. Morris is aware of the extent to which language and literature are intertwined and of the difficulties associated with Caribbean language particularly the written form. He introduces the reader at the very outset to some of the inner workings of the language the writers use. .In fact the title (and the longest) essay " Is English We Speaking" is a comprehensive lecture on the language of Caribbean literature, one which every student of Caribbean writing should be made to read. In addition to Morris' discourse there is the list of texts he makes use of and to which he introduces the reader. The beginning researcher will be particularly well served by this essay.

In the preface Morris hints at a loose organizational layout with the first nine pieces and three of the later ones more concerned with oral engagement than the others. The reader might wish to introduce sub-categories or to make his/her own quite different categories which cut across those Morris recognizes. Of particular interest and usefulness are the essays on Namba Roy and Mikey Smith both of whom sometimes get overlooked in the rush to write about artists still alive and writers more well known but who have earned the recognition they have been given here. In both cases Morris accounts for their treatment (or lack of it) in the annals of literary criticism and gives the reader the background against which he makes his claims for them.

Geoffrey Philp and Claudia Rankine, born in Jamaica but writing out of the USA are part of a growing community of Jamaicans and other Caribbean people writing in North America in this case the USA. In the Essay "The American Light" Morris discusses the work of Rankine and Philp, the latter a more recent migrant than the former. His commentary on their work is insightful and certainly complimentary enough to send the student of Caribbean Literature to them and to others writers of similar history.

One might wish to create a category which places Philp with Andrew Salkey and Claude McKay ( both of whom have been given two essays) as people writing of home from a location outside of home; or Pauline Melville, Namba Roy,Samuel Selvon as artists writing in England at different times;or perhaps Mutabaruka and Brathwaite as poets who have always written from within the region. In the final analysis however this collection is not about categories it is about engageing the student of literature in discussions of a variety of concerns of the Caribbean literary writer and his/her craft.

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