After Reading In the Black

For In the Black: New African Canadian Literature, I decided, instead of sharing favourite stories or poems, to share favourite moments.

Moments like the way the tension escalates when the abusive husband in Catherine Bain’s One Hand Can’t Clap enters the room. It’s there in the way “…silence, like a closed door, shut out speech between mother and daughter.” Effective use of a pretty solid image. I liked this daybreak image too: “…before birds and their wives were awake to sing their songs to awaken men as the sun rose over the hills…” Yeah, very very early. So there were moments like that throughout that I liked. Of course, George Elliott Clarke’s Record of the Ruction is all imagery (and action and symbolism), and what powerful, resonant imagery it is. And what sadness: “the baas man, Captain, havocked my Queen in his hammock;/she revoked herself,/broke seawater, and sank./Her piling tears dissolved/into aqua-blue silence. I felt my soul put to death.” Translation: the enslaver raped my lady, she jumped overboard in a desperate act of suicide; it broke me. But isn’t the way he writes it so much more effective? The anger is palpable during this “terrible tantrum!” Meanwhile, in Gayle Gonsalves frustrating and depressing A Good Woman in which another longsuffering woman endures another unrepentant drunk, though not a physically abusive one as in the Bain story, the scene on the beach made for a nice bit of relief, like a beautiful painting. If Clarke’s poem is my first favourite reading cover to cover, meanwhile, Clifton Joseph’s Chuckie Prophecy and Rites/For Walter Rodney are easily second and third; he plays so masterfully with word and rhythm, inventive metaphor and allusion, wringing meaning from each note and syllable. And though his poetry seems to bellow at you, isn’t it nice to discover that he has a light touch as well, as in *footnote to the end of a love affair in which bleak lines like “skyscraper-washed white of all delight” have quiet force. The territory of Dwayne Morgan’s territory overlaps with Joseph’s, the use of language not as interesting to me but very accessible and with a persistent probing that gives the reader pause: “…we stay tight-lipped,/giving more power to those killing us,/than those uplifting us;/backwards mindset…”. Or, how about this, “there is no manual for manhood,/no manuscript,/with carefully crafted characters…” Isn’t that the truth? It took two reads for me to figure the landscape of Motion’s Locks and Love, the structure being sort of like a mental picture book, image on image, somewhat jigsawed, and the reader having to work to connect them, but once you do, it easily becomes a favourite of the collection. My favourite moment/s in this favourite story? The almost moment/s, like this: “he takes care of the baby while I cook up some ital food. But then the corner turns and the hallway is empty.” This story is a departure for Motion who is much more at home in poetry and there’s some of that there too from “the long strain of sugar cane” to the “brangalang of steel pan” in SheLand*. Jelani Nias’ Bottles’ Hustle wasn’t my favourite of his two stories nor even a favourite in the collection but there are some striking moments: “The voice slammed me concrete hard into reality” and a musical sense to the hustle: “it all came down to being in motion and being alert”. And word use rich with Antiguan-isms: “Cowboy’s ignorance was legendary as were his fishcakes.” The Antiguan-isms I see has to do with how the word “ignorance” is used, not in its dictionary sense, i.e. lacking knowledge, but in the Antiguan sense as in short of temper and the drop of humour into a rough situation, well that’s pure Antiguan, ent it? That said, Graduation was the more relatable story, a boy and his dreams and his fantasies and the coldness of his reality existing in a single space. Althea Prince’s Push, which borrows its title from a Short Shirt calypso rich with sexual suggestion (and as such serving as short hand into the situation for the Antiguan reader), was another favourite of the collection, so much so I had to drop a note to the writer/editor after reading the not overly graphic, no the language is too restrained for that, but simmer nonetheless, “as if the  sea and the land are mating”. And few can ring the humour out of tragic moments in a way at once slapstick and serious, the way Prince does in They Buried Her Mother Twice (its scenes and the internal echo within each scene so vividly rendered, one could imagine it as a hilarious and moving film short). There are too many moments here to pick favourites from the congregation chain-ganged to the moments singing round after round of those dragging funeral songs to the late pastor holding them hostage a bit longer to the symbolism of the shoes throughout. I wasn’t sure how I felt abut Djanet Sears Thomasina, Angel and Me until I got to the very end and then it all made sense: “we share the same pillow do Thomasina, Angel and me. We share the same head too.” And then I had one of those aaah, okay moments. The collection ends with a trio of stout and striking poems by Mansa Trotman, Althea’s daughter and clearly literary inheritor. “don’t worry you’re using the right term this week” she says cheekily to those bent on classifying her, “you have sucked the marrow dry,” she tells a former lover, “i. miss him. Mostly on Sundays” she admits to us.

I am a part of this collection, but I’ll leave it to you, the reader to see if any of the moments in Man of Her Dreams are worth mentioning.

As with all content on, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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