This book offers an account of Caribbean women's poetry which seeks both to introduce the uninitiated reader to this work as well as to offer an argument about the location of these texts within the broader context of Caribbean writing. It is motivated, in the first place, then, by an apparently straightforward agenda: that of making Caribbean women poets more visible in the literary discourse of the region. It is widely acknowledged that, historically, male writers have dominated the Caribbean literary landscape, and writers such as C.L.R. James, George Lamming, Sam Selvon, Wilson Harris, Derek Walcott, E.K. Brathwaite and V.S. Naipaul (among others) are generally recognized as the founding fathers of a West Indian literary tradition. The substantial increase in publications by women in the last two decades, however, has significantly altered the shape - and 'gender' - of this literary landscape. Since starting the research for this project some years ago, as part of a doctoral thesis, Caribbean women's writing has become a well-established field of literature, sustaining conferences on a regular basis and generating a steady stream of publications. Within this newly defined field of writing, it is fair to say that, while a handful of Caribbean women poets (such as Lorna Goodison, Grace Nichols, Dionne Brand and Marlene Nourbese Philip) have now established international reputations, it is women's fiction (by writers such as Jamaica Kincaid, Olive Senior, Erna Brodber, Pauline Melville and many others) which has made a much bigger impact in establishing Caribbean women's writing as a recognizable category of literature.
In focusing on Caribbean women's poetry and exploring the impact of gender on this genre, the aim here is also to contribute to a critical discourse which might help redress the rather exclusive focus on women's fiction. Nonetheless, in both prose and poetry, the belatedness of Caribbean women's 'arrival' on the literary scene raises concerns which provide another motivation for this book. I interrogate this belatedness by situating my discussion of Caribbean women's poetry alongside debates about definitions of a 'properly West Indian' poetics to ask questions about the 'origins' and gendering of this discourse. In doing so, I am motivated by a desire to explore the varied ways in which women poets have responded to the dominant tradition, rather than by a desire to construct a discrete 'tradition' of women's poetry. So, while the work of women poets is the main focus of my attention, male poets and critics are central to the arguments throughout this book.