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This article is taken from PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, January - February 2018.

on Kamau Brathwaite
‘Who has eyes to see’ On Kamau Brathwaite’s Art & Life
Vladimir Lucien
‘You have to be concern w/ the sources of a poet’s life his/her people’s inspiration & try protect care for this/these as best you can… We have to be concern w/ the poet’s health well-being comfort. Yes; but above all there are the archives – that written memorialized recorded record of his/her life/hope/history/art. Because if you can applaud him/her… as he/she stands before you; if, as I assume, you feel that he/she has something important to say, then you’ve got to be concern w/ the whole thing.’ – Kamau Brathwaite, ‘ConVERSations with Nathaniel Mackey’

THE OFTEN FRAUGHT relationship between ‘art’ and ‘life’ is an anxiety the poet embodies and experiences intensely. (The pressure, to be sure, is always more on art to answer to life, than on life to art.) After the release of Kamau Brathwaite’s groundbreaking trilogy Rights of Passage, Masks and Islands (subsequently published in one volume as The Arrivants), it seemed that there was a triumph for the Caribbean artist in devising a nexus between an act of imagination and ‘reality’, art and life. Brathwaite’s work, for those eager to assimilate him into their programmes, was true to life, rootsy, ‘real’ compared to what they considered the whimsical, exalted nonsense other artists were engaged in. And those who rejected Brathwaite, rejected him also along those lines: that he had reduced ‘poetry’ by making slavery and its manifestations his theme, even his form. His values, evident in his art, remained more complex than either side understood; remained fluid and searching rather than ...

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