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This article is taken from PN Review 254, Volume 46 Number 6, July - August 2020.

On Edouard Glissant Brian Morton
     The Collected Poems of Edouard Glissant, translated by Jeff Humphries (University Of Minnesota Press), $22.95

On the morning of 27 April 1932, carrying bruises and contusions from a beating he’d received after trying to pick up a male crew member, a hungover Hart Crane came on to the deck of the steamship Orizaba wearing pyjamas and an overcoat. According to some of those who were there, he performed a series of knee-bends and stretches at the rail, drunken barre exercises before crying ‘Goodbye, everybody’ and vaulting over the side. This was in the Gulf of Mexico and not among the Antilles, and Crane has only apparently superficial qualities – a heightened, incantatory manner most obviously – with Édouard Glissant, who was a child of three on Martinique when the American poet committed suicide. And yet in the mythos of 20th century poetry – Anglophone and Francophone – they stand on opposite sides of a profound dichotomy that is partially hidden by their shared obsession with what might be called ocean madness. It killed one and nourished the other.

Crane’s paradigm was as much Homeric as homoerotic. That strain of Mediterranean epic/lyric presupposes a serial sequence of heroic challenges, each to be met on the voyage home, each to be overcome with cost, and with the hero intact at the centre. Glissant belong to what might be called a Columbian or post-Columbian aesthetic, in which the arrival of the white coloniser is sudden, singular and marks an absolute break not just in the islander’s contract with ‘nature’ ...

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