The Political Calypso: True Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago, 1962-1987

By Louis Regis | Go to book overview

8
Ars Poetica

One of Ruth Finnegan's criteria for poetry is "local classification of a piece as 'poetry'"1 and it is in this category that the calypso 'fails' as poetry because the local public, schooled to European models, considers poetry to be the verse presented in school primers, the work of Derek Walcott and the erudites, and latterly, the work of the public poets Abdul Malik, Lasana Kwesi and the rapso artistes. The notion that "the poem is perfect only when it becomes a song; words and music at once"2 is alien to this nation, and only dimly understood. Curiously, several calypsonians seem to understand perfectly. C.L.R. James relates that Sparrow answered the criticism of one of his lines with the musing reflection that he would have to change the music. When the critic protested that nothing was wrong with the music, Sparrow replied, as if stating the obvious, that if something was wrong with the words then something had to be wrong with the music.3 Unfortunately, most of Sparrow's public do not share his inspiration; to them a calypso is "jes' a calypso".

A major irony of the political Calypso is that its aesthetic is generally overshadowed by the very elements which give it shape and form. Imaginative use of 'facts', inventive discourse on personalities, issues and positions, a high level of allusiveness, the ubiquitous 'I', and the pervasive presence of humour combine at once to give the political calypso its literary dimension and to prevent listeners from appreciating its literary quality. Audiences are already familiar with the content of the songs thanks to the conventional media, a slew of yellow tabloids, and the "Gazette Negre", as Max Ifill4 so elegantly terms that which the vulgus loosely refers to as niggergram. No audience is ever satisfied with the dismal recital of things already known and this suggests that an audience's delight in a particular song is in the artistic treatment of the common reality. Ironically, discussions turn to what is being said rather than how. This chapter dedicates itself to analysing the poetic art of the political Calypso, with a view to highlighting the elements which audiences take for granted.

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The Political Calypso: True Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago, 1962-1987
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations viii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xiv
  • List of Abbreviations xv
  • 1 - The Calypso and Politics 1956-1962 1
  • 2 - The Model Nation 1963-1965 20
  • 3 - God Bless Our Nation 1966-1970 37
  • 4 - The Roaring Seventies 1971-1975 69
  • 5 - "I, Eric Eustace Williams" 1976-1981 121
  • 6 - "The Sinking Ship" 1982-1986 163
  • 7 - Happy Anniversary: the 25th Anniversary of Independence Calypso Monarch Competition 195
  • 8 - Ars Poetica 208
  • Conclusion 236
  • Afterword 238
  • Notes 240
  • Appendixes 257
  • Bibliography 269
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