Come Back to Me My Language:
Poetry & the West Indies

by J. Edward Chamberlin,
328 pages,
ISBN: 0252019733

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Brief Reviews - Non-fiction
by Ramabai Espinet

J. EDWARD CHAMBERLIN'S Come Back to Me My Language (McClelland & Stewart, 325 pages, $19.99 paper) is a study of contemporary Caribbean poetry that, despite its title, fails to fully come to grips with the painful process of claiming a language that was once thought to be articulated only in mimicry.

The book aims to be comprehensive and, indeed, a wide spectrum of poets is discussed in its pages. Of these, the major figures are seen to be Derek Walcott, Edward Kamau Braithwaite, and Loma Goodison. Goodison emerged in the late 1970s, along with other contemporary women poets such as Dionne Brand, Grace Nichols, Claire Harris, M. Nourbese Philip, and Mahadai Das; it is not clear from the text why she is given significantly fuller treatment.

An interesting feature of this work is its innocent outsider's assumption that the Caribbean is exclusively part of the African diaspora, which is particularly evident in the historical background. However, Chamberlin does discuss - and refute - V. S. Naipaul's statement that the Caribbean is a place that has produced nothing. Chamberlin allows that in some senses Naipaul was correct, but his treatment of this writer's thought is far too simplistic to do justice to the complexity and the sense of pain and outsiderhood in perpetuity that is inherent in Naipaul's oeuvre.

On the whole, Chamberlin's analyses are full of insights and unexpected correspondences. In particular, the section on Walcott's poetry is a joy to read. And the connectedness of Caribbean poetry to the merging of the sensual and the spiritual is explored with a poet's sense of language and a scholar's thoroughness. Come Back to Me My Language stands as a substantial critique to be reckoned with and an important new text on Caribbean literature.


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