Caribbean Impulse in Lilian Allen's Psychic Unrest

Article excerpt

"de root of all language is impulse" -Lillian Allen (53)

"the square root of impulse is language" -Lillian Allen (68)

Cultural debates on Canadian multiculturalism have variously created a literary landscape that is ever changing. Particularly since the 1980s, with the flowering of women's writing, issues of ethnicity and race have been energized by issues of gender and class to transform, even as they challenge, the national image of a mosaic tile work of Canadian body. Current discussions focusing on diaspora aesthetics, taking into consideration the marked presence of Caribbean writers in Canada, have sought to redeem national consciousness from the "edge of the diasporic map" (Eldridge 171). For example, George Elliott Clarke's Odysseys Home presents a comprehensive discussion of the challenge to Canadian national identity posed by "the diversity of black communities" (Clarke 16). As the text presents it, the origins and history of this fragmented group of people are clearly reflected in, and shape, the literature emerging out of that community (14). Odysseys Home uses the term "African Canadian" to recognize "the diversity of black communities" in Canada (16). Discussing various markers of cultural identity, Clarke says that the term Caribbean Canadian would accentuate the Caribbean heritage of those who accept the Canadian identity they have acquired, and that some Caribbean Canadians use the term black as a "signal of their affiliation with some larger African universe" (16). Clarke's argument that those within this community choose to classify themselves by various labels which act as modifiers of identity is validated by the literature emerging from this arena, a point that will be later substantiated by a critical analysis of the dub poetry performance of Caribbean Canadian, Lillian Allen.

Rinaldo Walcott also makes a case for reading black writings in Canada for its diversity and difference. In Rude: Contemporary Black Canadian Cultural Criticism, discussing multiculturalism and its effects on black Canadian writings he points out that, "The politics and discourse of multiculturalism in Canada have allowed for a particular enactment of cultural differences, which in fact pre-empts any coherent or imagined national black community" (Walcott Rude 43). In his Introduction to Black Like Who? Walcott also suggests that "black Canadian works be read within the context of black diasporic discourses" and that "music and other imaginative works best demonstrate the processes of black diasporic invention and (re)invention" (Walcott Black xii). Furthermore, he suggests that black Canadian writings should not be approached as "merely national products" but as works that "occupy the space of the in-between, vacillating between national borders and diasporic desires, ambitions and disappointments" and as such they "suggest the possibilities of the "new", but in many cases cannot leave various kinds of "old" behind" (Walcott Black xii). Among other scholars, both Clarke and Walcott see the literature emerging out of black communities in Canada as distinctly relating to the writers' sense of cultural heritage and identity.

In view of the foregoing, this paper suggests that, as they read the literature emerging from within the Caribbean Canadian community, critics pay attention to how Caribbean heritage acts as an impulse, producing as well as sustaining the work, even as they reflect on the impact that the Canadian environment brings to bear on such impulse. Take the case of Jamaican born Lillian Allen who has been performing dub poetry for over two decades in Canada, although, as Maria Caridad Casas points out, "her commercial debut album, Revolutionary Tea Party, was not released until 1985" and "her first commercially-distributed collection of print poems, Women Do This Every Day, was published in 1993" (Casas 11). According to Carr, Allen's poetry offers a "transformative vision of social change and cultural affirmation in the African tradition of the griot or storyteller-keeper of social memory" (Carr 7). …