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Edited by George Elliott Clarke
Lawrencetown Beach (N.S.), Pottersfield Press, 1992. 168pp, paper, $14.95, ISBN 0-919001-671-8. CIP

Grades 11 and up/Ages 16 and up

Reviewed by Lillian M. Turner

Volume 20 Number 4
1992 September

Clarke is the author of two books of poetry, Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues and Whylah Falls.

Volume 1 of the anthology covers the period from the seventeenth century through 1945. Clarke has coined the term "Africadian" to denote the Black populations of the Maritimes; hence, you will find its use concerning the sixteen contemporary writers appearing in this volume. They have contributed poems; historical, biographical and political essays; short stories; and a teleplay. Photographs and biographical sketches with publishing credits are provided. Poetry comprises roughly half of the book, some of it in dialect and much of it echoing the Black experience of poverty, violence, racism, injustice, and sensuality. The prose selections cover Africville, the Black community bulldozed by the City of Halifax in the late 1960s; a history of Black Nova Scotia women from 1700; and the struggle in the 1960s between Black Power and the Black United Front, which finally won.

A touching story and a poem by Maxine Tynes relate an episode in the life of Portia White, the contralto opera star of international fame who gave a command performance before Queen Elizabeth II. Invited to a tea in her honour by a Halifax dowager, White was completely ignored after her arrival, even by the hostess:

Later, one of them would say,
"It was so hard not to ask her to go down
to the cellar
to fetch a scuttle of coal."

And from a poem by Faith Nolan:

Where does the torturer live?
A gash in your jaw, teeth marks on your
A weekend visit with Daddy, just like all
the rest.
Black stockings cover your legs and arms.
You're lying for your Daddy one more

The Children's Aid took them Mother meant no harm, a burn on the little girl's chest, A burn on the other girl's arm ... But all are not so bleak. Here is David Wood's "White Folks":

White folks go to church
Can't even get 'em to smile,
Coloured folks go to church
You can hear 'em holler for a mile!

Fire on the Water is recommended to public and secondary schools for its literary merit as well as its place as a Canadian literature and history resource. It will be particularly useful in a Black Studies unit, and is a natural for Black History Week.

Lillian M. Turner is a secondary school librarian with the City of York Board of Education in Toronto, Ontario.

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