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George Elliott Clarke

Winlaw (B.C.), Polestar Press, 1990. 159pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0-919591-57-4.
Distributed by Raincoast Books, 112 East 3rd Ave., Vancouver, B.C. V5T 1C8. CIP

Grades 10 and up/ Ages 15 and up
Reviewed by Ian Dempsey.

Volume 19 Number 3
1991 May

The author was born in 1960 in Nova Scotia. He has studied at Dalhousie University, the University of Waterloo and Queen's University, and his book is published in British Columbia. He is a seventh-generation black Canadian who could be more at home in Canada than many of us. Still, he is like a ghost among us, and the "mythic community" of Whylah Falls, Nova Scotia ("strange Latin land"), does not appear rooted in the country that we know.

The people of this community are listed as dramatis personae at the beginning of this lyrical drama. The poems tell something of the lives of seventeen people, beginning with Xavier Zachery, a poet. The story appears to be set some time in the past, in this century. There is a lot of singing, drinking, love-making, back-breaking labour and misery. Central to the story is the murder of one black man by another over a woman. Completing the scenario is a despised politician, a puzzled preacher and a seer.

The telling is doing what Americans have done in plays like Porgy and The Green Pastures. But these poems, though sometimes using the rhythm and words of the black South, are world-gathering instruments. We see the ancient Middle East, Rome, Africa, Spain, Cuba and England, all poured into rural Nova Scotia. The styles of the poems are as diverse as the geography. There are biblical phrases, quotes in Latin, blues ballads, haiku, plain prose passages, and modern Canadian free verse.

Survival in this place and for these people is in their music and drink and love-making. For us, the lesson of survival is in the connectedness, the life lines that the poet throws out to all places, all times from our isolated land. Some readers, looking for the other-culture experience in literature, might be happier if the author had given us a clear, contemporary picture of life in the black community in Nova Scotia, without the mythic mistiness. Still, this attempt is recommended, both for the poetry and for the other world within our own.

Ian Dempsey, Cambridge, Ont.
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