Acorn’s Third World

I give you Nicaragua
and all the other places,
I give them to you
where the sun shines naturally.

I give you the hinterland forest
where jaguars snarl
and leap from branch to branch
like playful kittens.

I give you Grenada,
—and all those islands
where sugar cane workers
plod from day to day—

Ash on their faces…
bodies bent, gnarled—
cane juice sticky on their arms,
legs, all day long.

I give you all other places
in Central America
where there’s no calm…
and I tell you of others’ survival

Which might be all that matters
as Bolivian miners
wheeze at nights,
still oppressed.

I give you this domain of land,
all that Canada is—
from East to West Coast…
Newfoundland not least;

BC forest workers,
and those in Northern Ontario mines—
all who one day will unite
(as you said).

Craggy-faced as you were (then):
and I still wanted to nominate you
Chairman of the League
of Canadian Poets

And to hear you, Milton Acorn, sing
louder from your innermost veins
now that you are truly
—at rest.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Acorn’s Third World”?

In “Acorn’s Third World” I think a number of things were happening at the same time. First an image of the poet Milton Acorn himself whom I knew briefly; I’d met him at a League of Canadian Poets’ meeting, in Toronto, sometime in the early 80s. And he always impressed me because he was a down-to-earth poet; and his politics intrigue me, partly because of my own background, my interest in working peoples, those like the ones I was close to in the sugar-cane environment in Guyana I grew up in, and then, too, what I’ve experienced in Canada. In the poem I’ve imagined life in other Third World places, the Americas mostly—and Canada is also part of the Americas—and I seem to want to juxtapose everything, if only unconsciously in the poem.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Acorn’s Third World”?

I use the personal “I” to give the poem immediacy, as I address the persona of Milton Acorn (he is known as the “people’s poet,” even when he was alive). So here, then, I am allowing the voice to make some kind of transference as I flit from place to place and bring the Milton Acorn persona with me and making him identify not only with Canada, but with people elsewhere, in the Americas and the Caribbean. In an odd way I want him to become an international poet, if only in my personal sense. I also bring in elemental aspects, like “hinterland forest” and “jaguars,” because of awareness of the changing environment also, with everything being integrated. It’s not just an urban or city poem, but a poem aiming for some kind of universality, with everything becoming associative.

In terms of form, once more it is free verse, with longer stanzas and specific line indentations—but without too many looping lines. I prefer average line-lengths and a specific stanzaic patterns to give symmetry, one which I think suits the poem best: it’s the best way to achieve my poetic effect.

This poem “Acorn’s Third World” originally appeared in South Asian Connections. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 132 (Spring 1992): 58-59.

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