Monday, October 27, 2014

And I Alone Escaped To Tell You - Sylvia D. Hamilton (Gaspereau Press)

Today's book of poetry:
And I Alone Escaped To Tell You.  Sylvia D. Hamilton.  Gaspereau Press.  Kentville, Nova Scotia.  2014.


"The settlement of African peoples in Nova Scotia is a richly layered story encompassing many waves of settlement and diverse circumstances–from captives to ‘freedom runners’ who sailed north from the United States with hopes of establishing a new life. The poems in And I Alone Escaped to Tell You endeavour to give these historical events a human voice, blending documentary material, memory, experience and imagination to evoke the lives of these early Black Nova Scotians and of the generations that followed. This collection is a moving meditation on the place of African-descended people in the Canadian story and on the threads connecting all of us to the African diaspora."
      ...from the Gaspereau Press website introduction to And I Alone Escaped To Tell You by Sylvia D. Hamilton

As a white man who is approaching sixty years of age, history would tell us that I've grown up with a catalogue of privilege.  So I might not be the best equipped reader to handle the incendiary poetry of Sylvia D. Hamilton, but I'll give it a shot -- and you should too.

Melville Island


                                                                                                                                                           1814



                                                                                                                                 Silenced by the snow

                                                                                                                        they wondered if even God
                                                                                                                          had finally forsaken them

home a stone prison
temporary officials say
we used to temporary

come in from the fields one day
to find out we been up and sold
we invented temporary

when they line us up
after they drag us
off them waterbeds of death
we ready for a new kind of temporary

nova scarcity
seed potatoes turnip tobacco
good crop in the fall
now all froze to the floor

and if we still here
in spring
we try again

...

Hamilton's And I Alone Escaped To Tell You is a sad litany, a terrible history and a necessary part of our tapestry.

If some of these poems are hard to read -- imagine how hard they were to write  -- imagine how hard they were to live.

Today's book of poetry rarely talks about form or technique and the firm, terse, precise and haunting narrative Hamilton hammers out moves with such compelling force and content that the form hardly matters.

Excavations

7.

English Level 4, Book 2 c.1962

Lesson: Listen to the Language

I worked like a ____________________.

He's a real ____________________ driver.

She ____________________ over a hot stove
all day to cook his supper.

He cracked the _________________ to make
them work harder.

Today's Announcements

INT. HIGH SCHOOL -- DAY. C. MAY 1966

FADE UP: EMPTY PALE HOSPITAL-GREEN HALLWAY, BEIGE
LOCKERS ON BOTH SIDES:

IN VOICE-OVER, MALE VOICE, THE PRINCIPAL

...And next week will be our slave auction. All those participating must
remember that you can't have your slave do anything that is illegal or
embarrassing. Only those students participating will be allowed to attend
the school dance of Friday. Funds raised will go to the student council.
The glee club will meet today at noon in the Library. The boys' basketball
team will have a home game...

CROSSFADE

...

Racism in its' many guises razes havoc across the globe and here at home.  We here at Today's book of poetry think there is only way of conquering racism and all it's evil spawn and that is through mutual understanding, tolerance and respect.

Books like Sylvia D. Hamilton's And I Alone Escaped To Tell You offer a small portal, an open door, to just that much more understanding.  Hamilton has given us access, nay, forces us to take a look at a dark part of our collective story.

We are all richer for the light.

Malcolm's Question

I was fourteen when Malcolm X was murdered. I didn't know him then.
Later in that b/w file when he asked me where did you get your name, I
had no answer. Tarbaby, Sambo, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Topsy--they
weren't my name but that's what people called me. Don't let anyone call
you out of your name, the Sunday School mothers said. You got but two
cheeks, defend yourself. When I told my white grade four teacher that, she
didn't believe me, strapped me anyway.

...

Hamilton reads like the very best of George Elliot Clarke and that makes her very, very good.

Sylvia D. Hamilton

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sylvia D. Hamilton is a filmmaker and writer whose awards include a Gemini and the Portia White Prize. Her poetry has been published in The Dalhousie Review, West Coast Line, The Great Black North andUntying the Apron: Daughters Remember Mothers of the Fifties. She was a contributor to, and co-editor of,We’re Rooted Here and They Can’t Pull Us Up: Essays In African Canadian Women’s History. She lives in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.