Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Sounding Off: Performing Ritual Revolt in Olive Senior's "Meditation on Yellow"

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Sounding Off: Performing Ritual Revolt in Olive Senior's "Meditation on Yellow"

Article excerpt

In "Meditation on Yellow," the introductory poem of Gardening in the Tropics, Olive Senior demonstrates the significance of voice in the staging of Afro-Caribbean rituals of revolt. Throughout the entire collection, but in that poem in particular, not only does Senior focus on women who are wily, crafty, Anancy-esque in their rebellion against hegemonic discourse, but her own poetic voice is also just as "(de)ceitful." (1) Indeed, the tonal turbulence of Senior's poems exposes her reliance on the resources of Afro-Caribbean expressive culture--"kass-kass," "drop-word," "back-chat" and the general use of a "ceitful" tongue--to enunciate her body-memory poetics of revolution. For Carolyn Cooper in Noises in the Blood, Afro-Caribbean disruptive sounds can be mobilized as verbal weaponry (136). Although Cooper's postcolonial, feminist paradigm, invested in counter-discursive subversion, continues a tradition of artistic evaluation primarily in terms of verbal reference, she importantly demands an expanded reading strategy that takes into account the "noise" or voice of oral culture (4-5). Senior herself declares, "The concept of the voice is crucial to my thinking for it is the means by which I believe we bridge the two traditions of the scribal and oral" ("Poem" 35). Using Cooper's work as a point of departure, and re-reading (Edward) Kamau Brathwaite's and Gordon Rohlehr's performance criticism in light of body-memory poetics, I argue that this extension of our critical practice to include aurality/orality is also a critical move from a reading almost exclusively preoccupied with verbal reference to one that includes verbal rhythm. I maintain that verbal rhythms, fluctuations, and pulses of Afro-Caribbean speech rituals, for example, mark Senior's work as a kind of "verbal marronage" (Cooper 136), and that this aural disruption facilitates an understanding of the ways in which cultural retention becomes a revolutionary weapon against discursive oppression. Her female personae's revolts against colonialism, patriarchy, poverty, and other damaging discourses are captured in the sounds of Senior's semiotic sedition.

Situating Olive Senior's tonal turbulence in the tradition of Afro-Caribbean ritual performance that foregrounds verbal marronage helps to provide a theoretical context for conceptualizing Senior's poetics of sound in particular, and African-diasporic trauma literature in general. In her review of Carolyn Cooper's Noises in the Blood, Barbara Lalla classifies Cooper's cultural critique as performance criticism, and this labelling highlights the impact of Afro-Caribbean performance traditions on our scribal production (see Lalla). Although Lalla's christening of such critical practice is fairly recent, Caribbean literary and cultural critics of an earlier generation, such as Kamau Brathwaite and Gordon Rohlehr, have been producing for some time what is now belatedly called "performance criticism." (2) Lalla's review suggests that performance critics explore the significant relationship in Afro-Caribbean literary production between the scribal and oral traditions, between print and performance, and, as I will argue, between verbal reference and verbal rhythm. While Caribbean scholars such as Maureen Warner-Lewis, Edward Baugh, Curwen Best, and Idara Hippolyte (3) have begun to ask crucial questions about the relationship between performance and literary studies, I would like to begin to trace the conceptual connections among damaging discourses, ritual performance, and postcolonial resistance. I am not so much invested in establishing chronology and lines of influences as I am concerned with the ideas that have coalesced into what Lalla calls performance criticism, and the value of these ideas in understanding African diasporic writing. What conceptual purchase may be derived from such terms as nation language (Brathwaite, History), voice print (Rohlehr) or verbal marronage (Cooper) when they are used in performance criticism? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.