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An adoration of the Black goddesses of music.

George Elliott Clarke and Ricardo Scipio, illuminated Verses, Toronto: Kellam Books, an imprint of Canadian Scholars'Press, Inc, 2005. 75 pages.

If I were a woman, I would want George Elliott Clarke to sing my praises and Ricardo Scipio to capture my form with his camera Alas, I am a man and have the same wish! Elliott's collection of poems was penned in the tropical paradise of Barbados. There is definitely the smell of rum and the taste of molasses in these poems.

George Elliott's new book of poetry, Illuminated Verses, is a collection of praise songs to Black female muses who infuse the poet with moments of delight and wonderment. Scipio's images act as a landscape to the poet's "wordscape," and the admixture creates a delectable form of sights and sounds. The combination produces a beautiful melody in the spheres.

The poems are lyrical and create a gustatory sensation like syrup. The rhythms are dizzying and intoxicating with a tinge of bacchanalian revelry.

The book is divided into different sections: "Daughters of Music," "Calypso," "Soul," "Blues and Jazz," "Poetry," "Reggae," "Anastacia," "Donna Beatrice," "Oxum," "Daughter of Music," "Music Redux," "More Light," and ""Land" The last section is dedicated to Ophelia Callender, also known as Calle Waterman, who is a Barbadian writer sojourning in the Montreal area. I cannot do justice in this review of all aspects of the book, so I shall concentrate on those sections that moved me the most.

"Daughter of Music is a fusion of sights and sounds that creates a kaleidoscopic view of a gat-toothed, chocolate brown woman with her arms outstretched in a cross-like form against a backdrop of denuded trees. It is a sacrificial posture and is sexually alluring:
 her form mimics fluid fire--sunlight
 breaking open, flashing, upon winter. (p.2)

There is rapture and a parallel rupture in these volcanic lines, Fire is both consuming and igniting and these exemplify the passions of the woman in the photograph. She exhibits defiance, resilience and a pliability that only Black women can resonate:
 Amid pining leaves and ganja jungles
 She augurs Joy, matrix of Songs (p2)

Black woman is primogenitor of the human race and her spirit rebounds relatedly in Calypso, for "she's a rebel/minting urgent, insurgent government" (p.6). She turns "theologians into lunatics" and with her beauty and bacchanalia, she lures the ocean that wants to be her lover. This sea nymph enraptures the soul of her listeners and those who gaze upon her. She is provocative and alluring like Soyinka's river goddess, Simi, in his novel, The Interpreters:
 Calypso stokes the bright revolt, rupture, of Dance--to
 kindle the truth
 of smouldering youth
 intercourse that arsons Innocence. (p.8)

The five sections in Calypso set the stage for an explosion of sounds and sights that electrify the mind.

Next to Calypso there is Soul. Six poems portray her beauty and triumph. Soul is everywhere Blacks are found She has no boundaries and represents all that are wondrously beautiful among Blacks--Selassie, Cleopatra, Josephine Baker, Maya Angelou and others:
 Her crux is rife
 with fire
 near rain
 inner rain.... (p 18)

The iconography of fire is representational of burning desire, consuming lust and inner vibrancy. Soul is foundational woman who supports the race, for "her soul hath grown strong like stone." (p20) Soul is voluptuous and ensnaring:
 Everyone's eyes go knock-kneed
 To espy her--(p. 26)

The section on soul is followed by "Blues and Jazz," twin muses. There is a gradation in the hierarchy of these musical forms and goddesses in Illuminated Verses. Each genre is typified by a matching female form Calypso is the matriarch of the group. She is mature and dominant.

The twin sisters Blues and Jazz are combinative and co-exist in unique forms. Jazz has a "slippery rhythm and tempo," while Blues is invasive and titillates the heart, the ear and the brain. This section of poems is alcoholic in smell and taste making you inebriated as Jazz and Blues draw you into "the gates to Canaan or Eden." P.32)

The poetry, is an Afro-centric view of all that is Black, subversive and defiant. The poems reflect the oppositional nature of blackness that refuses to succumb to Euro-centric ideology, history and philosophy:
 The Negro talks up Africa and back talks Europe,
 its barbarous, barking songsmiths." (p.38)

The Black woman has established her own identity and constantly resists European hegemony. She is master of her music, her soul, her liberty:
 Let your lyrics lust, strict to illustrate
 my priceless darkness." (p40)

The same self-assuredness of beauty, of sexual prowess and preservation permeates Reggae whose songs are:
 Hinting of honeyed abysses, chasms
 of molasses and cream, where words unfold
 chocolate-serenaded, jazz-forged orgasms" (p.47)

The five sections of Anastacia demonstrate defiance at its highest where a black woman refuses to submit to sexual exploitation and would rather die of hunger. Such is the strength of the indomitable will of the Black female; of such is black pride made.

In the entire collection, the poems and pictures are arousal in language and images. They evoke visual, tactile and passionate sensations that reverberate throughout the spheres and lift the reader to higher poetic planes. I could not put the book down from Christmas Eve to early Christmas morning when I penned this all too brief review, Read Illuminated Verses and tastes the words and view the photographs, Your experience will draw you closer to Clarke's work in general.
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Author:Goddard, Horace I.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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