"I" the white outsider,
looking at The Salt Reaper
by Lasana M. Sekou.
A book review by Dr.
Maria van Enckevort
PHILIPSBURG--In his introduction to The Salt Reaper-- Poems from the flats by Lasana M. Sekou,
Hollis "Chalkdust" Liverpool firmly grounds the St. Maarten author in the radical intellectual and poetic tradition of the
Standing on the shoulders of his predecessors, Sekou allows us a vision of the future (Hollis accentuates
C.L.R. James and George Lamming, to whom I would like to add Aimé Césaire). That this is not his vision only, or the hallucination
of an unworldly, utopian poet, was highlighted during the book party at Philipsburg Jubilee Library on November 6.
to his last volumes of poetry Quimbé (1991) and Mothernation (1991), Sekou's latest work also demonstrates a definite influence
of Kamau Brathwaite's "video style". It was there before, as in Nativity (1988)-; and even in Images in the Yard (1983), well
before Sekou "met up" with Kamau's work-; but it was not as distinct.
Observing and analyzing Sekou's performance
of November 6, the following words by Kamau came to mind: "I think that oral traditions do have a very strong visual aspect."
"In the African tradition, they use sculpture. Really, what I'm trying to do is create word-sculptures on the page,
but word-song for the ear."
This style does not necessarily make for "easy" reading, but it adds to the epithet of
the poets' nation language. And it is language that gives us our identity. Passing on the tradition of oralities, of storytelling
and of song, Lasana Sekou is singing a new nation into existence.
In The Salt Reaper, the author takes the reader
across countless texts, historical facts, and common sense, sensus communis, which literally means that the same meaning is
shared by all: Black, brown and white alike. In these texts, meanings are endless and circulate across and back from one medium
to the next as in the poem "Weekend Dose": "hear grace on radio pumping what is ours in word-up sound as she does do."
Sekou, history is a text that needs to be questioned: "Yes, Bartolomé, 'who in future generations will believe this?'" and
can be revised as he does in "Cradle of the Nation," a poem that Dr. Carolyn Cooper called "magisterial": From the "red-gleaming
gold" in Africa, across the middle passage, enslaved Africans arrived in "Great Bay/dumped. Lumped. Lashed. Raped. Reviled
Sekou gives his voice to those who for too long have been voiceless. His is a labor of love bringing
forth the birth of a people, a nation, liberation... But reader, beware, "freedom not paid for is forfeit" -the poet cautions
in "The Blockade Next Time."
Further on in the first section of the book, in the poem "Freedom," he makes it clear
that the fight for freedom is a fight for power, which will allow the claiming and reclaiming of manhood, which enslavement,
colonialism, genocide, exploitation and like ills have sought, are seeking, to crush (Sekou refreshes this theme in his more
recent "dark man" or "dm" poems).
This empowerment, however, is not limited to the "dark man" alone -that is how "I&I"
read and deconstruct the texts. "I" the female looking at the male and "I" the white outsider looking at the Black insider.
All is in the "I" of the beholder. Like Césaire who claimed before in his "Cahier d'un retour au pays natal" that: "No race
holds the monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of strength and there is a place for all at the rendezvous of victory."
addresses alternative spaces of imagination that do not fit into strategies of inclusion and exclusion. In "Caribbean road
work in St. Martin" the new Jerusalem, a nation in transition -consists of a "commingling path of tongues." The roads that
lead into the nation's future are many: "borning here/rearing here/illegal here/naturalizing here."
The poet and "the
cubs" are "kneading the word(s) to flesh" to feed this new nation, where the difference between South and North, the difference
between high and low, the difference between "us" and "them" ought to have been annihilated.
It is not only to freedom
fighters that Sekou has lent his "poet's tongue." The chilling "Doped Up Roughings" deals with "those of us falling through
the cracks" (drug addicts, the homeless, prostitutes, five-year-olds and grandmothers living in fear because of a family member
And in "Double Dutch. Immigration at Schiphol" Sekou lashes out at the neo-imperialism of the "red, white
and blue slave kingdoms"; and their global politics. Speaking with pride of the African heritage in the Caribbean, yet never
obliterating the suffering inflicted on enslaved Africans and their descendants, Sekou queries his thoughts on reparations
within the context of this latest "ship hole," where he finds himself in the same boat, but at a different stop.
Sekou, archeologist of our Black and blackest memory, teacher and prophet of "S'Maatin's" future has spoken. Now it's time
to turn to the lover. The aficionado of the eternal female caught in a moment of prayer.
But here my words fail and
I have to recommend the reader to the book The Salt Reaper -Poems from the flats. And I have to recommend the reader to attend
one of Lasana's performances. For his voice only can at the same time caress and intoxicate, antagonize and liberate.
note: Dr. Maria van Enckevort is the Director of Research and Publication at University of St. Martin. The former Milton Peters
College teacher obtained her doctorate in history at University of the West Indies-Mona.
The Salt Reaper - Poems from
the flats by Lasana M. Sekou House of Nehesi Publishers, 2004, 130 pp, US$15