Tag Archives: Eileen Hall

F is for … (from the Caribbean Literary Heritage Forgotten Caribbean Books Series)

Alison Donell of the University of East Anglia in the UK and its Caribbean Literary Heritage project started running a series on forgotten Caribbean writers on social media during the pandemic. She followed that up with a series on forgotten books (in progress at this writing), recruiting writers like me to research, draft, and submit entries  for this series. The series kicked off with a book by Antiguan and Barbudan author Jamaica Kincaid (A is for Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie, Gwen, Lilly, Pam, and Tulip, 1983, by Keja Valens). I revisited an author whose literary history I had done my best to cobble together over a series of posts here and on my jhohadli blog. it was the necessary prep for this article which I am archiving here now that it’s already run in the series.

F is for The Fountain and the Bough (1938) by Eileen Hall

By Joanne C. Hillhouse

Eileen Flora Hall, b. 1903, remains mostly unknown to not only the Caribbean but Antiguan and Barbudan literary canon. Her sole collection The Fountain and The Bough, dedicated to her husband Dr. Michael Lake, was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1938 (per a biography by a family member there may have been earlier editions – 1935, 1936; American Mercury Inc., Harriet Monroe).

The Hall family is well known in political circles in Antigua and Barbuda. Eileen’s brother, Sir Robert Hall, was a founding member of the Progressive Labour Movement, the country’s first parliamentary opposition, and the elected government between 1971 and 1976 during which time he served as deputy premier and the first minister of agriculture. Hall’s father’s family is from Oxford while her mother’s side was Irish and French. Her family’s presence in the Caribbean dates back to the mid-17th century. She migrated to America, via Ellis Island, at age 19.

Hall’s writing was well received in its time. Ford Madox Ford, an influential figure in the literary world, was reportedly among her friends and champions (another was reportedly T. S. Eliot). She spoke French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Greek, and Latin. “Her translations of works by short story writers; and her own poems from earlier issues of prominent literary journals including Harper’s, Poetry, and American Mercury, show the breadth of her literary engagements…Her short stories and translations of other women’s work are strewn in small publications on both sides of the Atlantic,” the A & B Review said. On the point of translations, much of that is lost to history, but a couple of found credits include her translation of Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner and the 1956 Penguin edition of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi.

The alumni magazine of Antigua Girls High School, then a school for elites, celebrated her on her book’s release as “an authentic poet who writes high, restrained verse, with austerity and bitterness…poetry of sorrowful but undoubted music.” Poetry magazine’s review reads, “Not often in a first book does one find structural mastery: the clean, spare welding of word and phrase that gives logical shape and direction to a poem.” It continues, “Eileen Hall’s poems are never glib and facile, always compact, meticulous, assured”. The Poetry review, however, chided her writing’s lack of “adventure…audacity…wit”, its over-attention to discipline and form.

Yet Hall was, in some ways, boundary pushing. While most of The Fountain and the Bough is written in standard English, the book is noteworthy for its use of Creole/local vernacular in several of her poems. The A & B Review commented that her author’s note in her 1938 collection re this aspect of her writing is today “invaluable; while full of irony: ‘the poems in Part IIII, referring to Antigua, West Indies, contain words and allusions that may be unfamilar.’ A rich glossary of ‘the negro dialect of Antigua’[sic] follows, illuminating those six poems – two of which are in the reputed ‘dialect’: (Obeah Woman, and Lullaby).”

From Lullabye: ‘Fool neber ‘fraid w’en moon look bright,/Say, ‘Crab and jumbie lub dark night.’/Jumbie like moon as well as we—/Dey comin’ waalkin’ from de sea./Deir foot tu’n backward w’en dey tread,/ Dey wearin’ body ub de dead/ Dat fisher-bwoy dat wu’k on sloop,/He watch dem waalkin’ from Guadeloupe./Dey waalk de Channel, like it grass;/Den, like rain-cloud, he see dem pass./ Dey comin’ steppin out ub Hell,/Wit burnin’ yeye an’ a sweet smell.”

Clearly, she references not just the language there but the folklore and mythology of home, Antigua. This is even more evident in the short and cutting Obeah Woman: “So lef’ me, ef you waan’a feel/How p’isin sting from manchineel./De bruk leaf blister w’ere ‘e touch./ Who tek lub easy, no’ lub much./Ef you min’in’ gal dat talk so neat/An’ ack so lollice in de street/Goin’ pung de root ub a pepper tree/Fu’ t’row wit’ sugar in yo’ tea./A’ done wit’ studyin’ right an’ wrang./So ‘memba, me no ‘fraid to hang.”

Consider that this was long before there was anything resembling a standard for writing this largely oral language spoken largely by the Black Creole community (Hall was white), and that acceptance of this language as a legitimate form of communication – and not just bad English – remains a work in progress to this day. It’s not known what, if any challenges, Hall encountered publishing in Antiguan vernacular, in the 1930s, especially with non-Caribbean publishers, but she makes it look and read quite effortless. It holds up; powerful imagery, well expressed.

And even with her more standard fare, Hall’s writing casts its eye to the island she never again visited after her father’s death in 1952.

“The dates and names of death no more are seen,
Obliterated by the living green.” (Graves on Barton Hill: Antigua)

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

Bio by Eileen Hall’s niece, Robert Hall’s daughter, Yvonne McMillan: – bio link https://jhohadli.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/marie-eileen-flora-hall-lake-by-yvonne-macmillan.pdf

“Biala’s beautiful friend Eileen Lake, ‘long of limb’ …and ‘lithe of back’” from Ford’s work, as referenced in the 2005 biography Ford Madox Ford and the Regiment of Women: Violet Hunt, Jean Rhys, Stella Bowen, Janice Biala by Joseph Wiesenfarth.

The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books 2012 edition Volume 5 Number 1 which spotlighted women writers, excavating, per the words of guest editor Edgar Lake, no known relation, “a small part of what lies forgotten in libraries and museums around the world”.

Susan Stan writes in Heidi in English: a Bibliographic Study (New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship Volume 16 Issue 1 – 2010, p. 1-23) that “little else is known about her (Hall). This translation, along with Edwardes’, is one of the two most widely disseminated today and may be the translation most contemporary British children have grown up on. In both the U.S. and the U.K., if one were to look for a new copy of Heidi in paperback, this would be the likely option.”

Poetry review of The Fountain and the Bough was published in January 1939 and written by Ruth Lechlitner, Vol. 53, No. 4, pp. 223-225. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20581627

CREATIVE SPACE 15 of 2018. November 6th 2018. https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/creative-space/creative-space-2018/creative-space-15-of-2018-antigua-and-barbuda-an-art-history-culture-tour-3

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Reading Room and Gallery 36

Things I read that you might like too. For previous and future installments in this series, use the search feature to the right.

READING

INTERVIEW

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“The different sides of freedom was another thing that was always interesting for me to see.” – Alice Yousef on Poetry Influence on Origins: the International Writing Program Podcast

CREATIVES ON CREATING

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“Photography is not just about what you put within an image but what you choose to leave out of that frame.” – Nadia Huggins

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“Even Jesus had to pass through a punnanny” – Staceyann Chin talking about her life and work, and in conversation with Nicole Dennis-Benn

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Through the edit, we wanted to give the suspense and a little bit of hope. That was achieved by letting the scene breathe.” – How Spencer Averick Built Suspense Through Editing Ava DuVernay’s ‘When They See Us’

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‘The questioner said he was a journalist and had trouble making his mind switch from the journalistic style of writing to fiction. “I have students who have this same problem. I understand you. There is one thing you can do; interview the character/person you want to write about. Ask him anything, then you will have enough information to move them forward,” answered McFadden.’ – by Maryam Ismail writing on the Sharjah International Book Fair and specifically a session by African American author Bernice McFadden

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“Imagine Hirut on the top of a hill, rifle ready, prepared to ambush the enemy. Along the way to this war, she is forced to contend with sexual aggression and then rape by one of her own compatriots. The smoky terrain of the front lines has expanded to engulf Hirut herself: her body an object to be gained or lost. She is both a woman and a country: living flesh and battleground. And when people tell her, Don’t fight him, Hirut, remember you are fighting to keep your country free. She asks herself, But am I not my own country? What does freedom mean when a woman—when a girl—cannot feel safe in her own skin? This, too, is what war means: to shift the battlefield away from the hills and onto your own body, to defend your own flesh with the ferocity of the cruelest soldier, against that one who wants to make himself into a man at your expense.” – Writing About the Forgotten Black Women of the Italo-Ethiopian War: Maaza Mengiste on Gender, Warfare, and Women’s Bodies By Maaza Mengiste

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‘But she was a reader, in the fiercest sense. Susan knew exactly what she wanted. When I finished my last book, she said, “I love that Paris chapter. I want more. Could you please turn it into a novel?” She said it again and again, so often that I began writing the book in my head. Last month, when Susan fell ill, I asked what I could do for her. The reply came shooting back: “The best gift would be to write me that book.”’ – ‘I Think You Need to Rewrite It’: Ruth Reichl on What Makes an Editor Great

THE BUSINESS


FICTION

“This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that The War of The Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo! Starting now, we couldn’t soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night. . . so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the C. B. S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn’t mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian. . .it’s Hallowe’en.” – from the script of the 1938 radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds which you can also listen to (I recommend listening to it first)

VISUAL ART

“We do not need permission nor expensive equipment to play the game or make art” – video essay re Steven Soderberg and his film High Flying Bird which was shot entirely on an iPhone

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Flow presents the results of its 2019 amateur mobile short film contest

POETRY

“You feel like is fire inside you
a fire twisting you insides into ash
a fire that sucking the earth beneath you dry
But you watch her dancing” – Tricia Allen

“…it almost I who came
back out of each punishment,
back to a self which had been waiting, for me,
in the cooled-off pile of my clothes? As for the
condition of being beaten, what
was it like: going into a barn, the animals
not in stalls, but biting, and shitting, and
parts of them on fire? And when my body came out
the other side, and I checked myself,
10 fingers, 10 toes,
and I checked whatever I had where we were supposed
to have a soul…” – How it Felt by Sharon Olds from her collection Arias

‘Fool neber ‘fraid w’en moon look bright,
Say, “Crab and jumbie lub dark night.”
Jumbie like moon as well as we—
Dey comin’ waalkin’ from de sea.
Deir foot tu’n backward w’en dey tread,
Dey wearin’ body ub de dead
Dat fisher-bwoy dat wu’k on sloop,
He watch dem waalkin’ from Guadeloupe.
Dey waalk de Channel, like it grass;
Den, like rain-cloud, he see dem pass.
Dey comin’ steppin out ub Hell,
Wit burnin’ yeye an’ a sweet smell.’ – Lullabye by Eileen Hall from her 1938 collection

“It is far from here now, but it is coming nearer.
Those who love forests also are cut down.
This month, this year, we may not suffer;
the brutal way things are, it will come.
Already the cloud patterns are different each year.
The winds blow from new directions,
the rain comes earlier, beats down harder,
or it is dry when the pastures thirst.
In this dark, overarching Essequibo forest,
I walk near the shining river on the green paths
cool and green as melons laid in running streams.” – from The Sun Parrots are Late This Year by Ian McDonald

REVIEWS

‘The book starts with an epigraph from Jamaican blogger Paul Tomlinson’s reproach to the commissioner of police to “go inna the bush and catch” the criminals who “always escaping in nearby bushes.”’ – Vahni Capildeo on Kei Miller’s ‘In Nearby Bushes’

REPORTS

“She writes intuitively from her own rural Jamaican childhood through to her becoming a global citizen, and because she writes from a searing past of aloneness and pain, her self-discovery and choice of self makes her work relevant, not only to people of the Caribbean who appreciate that she deals sensitively with race, class hierarchies and cultural oppression ­ the legacy of colonialism – but to all sensitive people of the world who respond to her quiet assertion of personal identity.” – One on One with Olive Senior in the Jamaica Gleaner, 2004

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“Canadian writer Margaret Atwood and British author Bernardine Evaristo split the Booker Prize on Monday, after the judging panel ripped up the rulebook and refused to name one winner for the prestigious fiction trophy.” UK-based Evaristo is Ango-Nigerian though those of you who’ve read her previous novel Mr. Loverman might remember that it features an Antiguan character (I remember meeting her when she was here in Antigua researching that character). Her Booker winning book is Girl, Woman, Other; tied with Canada-born Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale sequel The Testaments. Read the judges’ reasoning here.

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Wadadli Pen founder and coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, With Grace, and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure – Perdida! Una Aventura en el Mar Caribe). All rights reserved. 

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Lullabye by Eileen Hall

Buckra pic’ney, tek’ yo’ res’,
De full moon waalkin’ to de wes’.
Dis night too quiet an’ too wile—
Wha’ mek you sech an’ own-way chile?
A’ wha’ you watch fa’? You too nyuuung.
Wait til trouble tie yo’ tongue.
Wait til you grown an’ gaan from home,
Den w’en you call, a’ who goin’ come?

Dis night air blowin’ very cowl.
Wha’ mek dat darg begin fu’ howl?

Fool neber ‘fraid w’en moon look bright,
Say, “Crab and jumbie lub dark night.”
Jumbie like moon as well as we—
Dey comin’ waalkin’ from de sea.
Deir foot tu’n backward w’en dey tread,
Dey wearin’ body ub de dead
Dat fisher-bwoy dat wu’k on sloop,
He watch dem waalkin’ from Guadeloupe.
Dey waalk de Channel, like it grass;
Den, like rain-cloud, he see dem pass.
Dey comin’ steppin out ub Hell,
Wit burnin’ yeye an’ a sweet smell.

This poem was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, in Hall’s 1938 collection. Think about that – 1938 – and then read that poem again, ahead of its time for many reasons including the use of our nation language and the common man’s perspective in so-called high art when in 2017 there are some who still think of our various creoles as nothing more than bad English. Hall is from Antigua where just a few years ago, in this time, its use on school campuses was outlawed though it, frankly, never went out of use because, come on, you might as well tell us to cut out our tongue. That the colonial attitude that devalues our natural speech was dismissed (as suggested by her embrace of it here) by a poet who would have come of age in colonial times and, her history suggests, as part of the middle to upper class is interesting to say the least and just one of the ways Hall seems to be ahead of her time. The entire collection is illuminating. I wish it were still in print but, alas, it isn’t and Hall as poet is little known in Antigua. Even Wikepedia claims her for America even while acknowledging her Antiguan birth and lineage. “Eileen Hall was an American poet. She was a friend of Ford Madox Ford’s. She married Dr Michael Lake and her first collection – The Fountain and the Bough (1938) – is dedicated to him. After the marriage she was also known as Eileen Lake and Eileen Hall Lake. Hall was born in Antigua; her father’s family was from Oxford and her mother’s family was part French and part Irish, the French side having been in the West Indies since the mid seventeenth century.” I feel like asking Wikepedia, “how, Sway?” But I’m happy for what little information they do provide as the only previous information I had on Hall was from the summer 2012 edition of The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books which does credit her as “an Antiguan-born poet” and speaks to the fine reviews her collection received. It provides some more information on her writing journey: “Her translations of works by short story writers; and her own poems from earlier issues of prominent literary journals including Harper’s, Poetry, and American Mercury, show the breadth of her literary engagements…Her short stories and translations of other women’s work are strewn in small publications on both sides of the Atlantic.” On her use of Antiguan vernacular, the Review notes, “Her Author’s Note, included in her 1938 volume is, even now, invaluable; while full of irony: ‘the poems in Part IIII, referring to Antigua, West Indies, contain words and allusions that may beunfamilar.’ A rich glossary of ‘the negro dialect of Antigua’[sic] follows, illuminating those six poems – two of which are in the reputed ‘dialect’: (Obeah Woman, and Lullaby).” Incidentally, that edition of the Review, Volume 5 Number 1, is a good introduction to the early writings of women from Antigua, invaluable because significant as the discovery of Jamaica Kincaid was for me as a teen and wanna-be writer in the late 1980s and as monumental as her contribution has been to world literature while coming from this small place, there is a literary legacy that predates her, little as it’s known.

Hall’s poem, excerpted from a larger work, is shared purely for informational and educational purposes. No profit is being made. We believe that sharing it here falls within internationally understood fair use guidelines but, if we are incorrect, in respect of the rights of the copyright holder, we will remove if instructed to do so. We just thought that it was important for Antiguans and Barbudans to become more aware of the contribution to the literary world of this born Antiguan. – JCH, Blogger

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Obeah Woman

I first heard this poem at a youth forum held during Independence. One of my co-panelists used it as an example in literary analysis. It made me want to read more of Antiguan and Barbudan poet Eileen Hall. But her work is out of print. I’ll share just this bit (hopefully staying within fair use parameters) just because as a country we should be aware of our artists (albeit that Wikepedia lists Hall as an American poet while in the same posting acknowledging  that she is Antiguan born to parents who had been in Antigua for generations). No profit is being made from this sharing and no copyright infringement is intended.

Obeah Woman by Eileen Hall

So lef’ me, ef you waan’a feel
How p’isin sting from manchineel.
De bruk leaf blister w’ere ‘e touch.
Who tek lub easy, no’ lub much.
Ef you min’in’ gal dat talk so neat
An’ ack so lollice in de street
Goin’ pung de root ub a pepper tree
Fu’ t’row wit’ sugar in yo’ tea.
A’ done wit’ studyin’ right an’ wrang.
So ‘memba, me no ‘fraid to hang.

 

What’s your interpretation of this work?

 

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