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This article is taken from PN Review 194, Volume 36 Number 6, July - August 2010.

'The Pain of History Words Contain' (2010 W.P. Ker Lecture, Glasgow) Edward Baugh

The development of West Indian poetry is a function of the story of English in the Caribbean. What has been happening to English in the Caribbean – the mining and appropriation of it, the extension of it, the challenges to it – is itself a vital part of the meanings that the poetry has been making and of the poetry’s distinctive character. It has been a matter of the poetry finding its own voice, or, I suggest, its own voices, part of the story being a contention as to what is, or ought to be, the Caribbean voice.

This story is an integral part of Caribbean history, beginning with a colonialism based on the slave-plantation system, in which language and education, or the lack of it, were crucial factors. In 1986, Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert McNeill published The Story of English, the book of their invaluable BBC television series of the same title. Significantly, the section on English in the Caribbean gives substantial space to poetry and poets. Similarly, the chapter on Scotland, ‘The Guid Scots Tongue’ has a section headed ‘From Burns to Lallans’, which takes us from Robert Burns to Hugh McDiarmid, by way of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. This kind of focus confirms the idea that a language lives, is extended, re-vitalised and preserved in its literature, even as it lives and develops and adapts to circumstance in the mouths of the people; and that the life of the ...

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