World Poetry Day: UCCI professor shares Caribbean tradition

Writers across continents will celebrate World Poetry Day Wednesday, March 21, marking a time of dialog, recitals and recognition of the arts.

In the Caribbean, poetry represents a long-standing tradition that incorporates history, spoken word, rhythm and lyric.

This tradition is honored and revered by many in the Caymanian community, including Christopher A. Williams, an assistant professor of philosophy, history and sociology at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Warwick and serves as acting chair of the UCCI Department of Social Sciences.

Mr. Williams visited the Cayman Compass studio to discuss the Caribbean poetic tradition and share one of his own pieces, “I’ll Tell You,” selected for an anthology in honor of the late Saint Lucian poet, Derek Walcott.

“Poetry, poetics is a part of who we are as Caribbean people. It’s been said that the best poets tend to come from the Caribbean for the simple fact that we inherited a fusion of languages, be it African languages, French, English, etc. So we have mastered the English language in the British West Indies but the thing is, we have all of this cultural baggage, which is not a bad thing,” Mr. Williams said.

“We are very creative as Caribbean people. Maybe that has to do with history. Maybe it has to do with everyday life and the hardships therein. But we are a very rhythmic region. What better way to express that rhythm than through poetry.”

As a trained historian who claims roots in Cayman and Jamaica, Mr. Williams draws much of his inspiration from the stories of the Caribbean and its people.

“I love Caribbean history from that sort of racial vantage point because it is true that you cannot look at the Caribbean and our history without looking at race, and the intersections of race and the social and cultural,” he said.

His poem, “I’ll Tell You,” delves into the importance of this history and how it can rear back to life in unexpected ways: “Often, that history, its underbelly, creeps up and before we know it, we’re reliving history in certain terms, be it racial terms, social terms, cultural terms.”

I’ll Tell You
Not quite two centuries ago
the past became
the raucous canard
of every truth we hold dear.
Try to forget
about that history
on which dead
things hinge
and swivel into
the present with
a dizzying speed that
arrests.
Funny how scarcity has a way
of revealing the
hidden things that
do not matter
until reality
is stripped
of its
secrets.
and history’s
underbelly permits
embarrassing glares
at its botched reincarnation.